Stepping Up Your Game, Are You Ready?

By , October 13, 2012 1:48 pm
New York Public Library. a room sorrounded by ...

New York Public Library reading room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You were kind enough to give me three minutes two months ago so I could show you how to become a better entrepreneur.

Earlier in the year I hit you with a pre-summer checklist to grow your business.

If you are ready to take your venture, and yourself, to a whole new business development level lean in close I’ve found something else.

Chris Brogan (if you’re not familiar with him you should certainly peruse his site ChrisBrogan.com) has issued a dietary challenge. Read only three, that’s right he said three books, for an entire year.

3 for 3
The impetus of this 3-book diet is the fact that people (read “we”) don’t do well implementing a book’s lessons. We suffer from a “getting it done” bias who’s intrinsic value is crossing it off of a list. The diet’s point of concentrating on such a small number of titles is to disrupt this purpose bias and give you the chance to implement what you’ve learned enough times so that it becomes a habit. After all, the reason we select the titles that we do is so we can improve what or how we do something.

Chris’ rules are simple:

  • select three books to read from November 1, 2012 through November 1, 2013
  • read each at least twice during the 12 months
  • implement what you can
  • after November 1st you have only one week to change one title
  • students have permission to read outside of the 3 books

But,…
No excuses. We can all benefit from this challenge even if you’re in a role, like myself, which requires that you consume a number of books that far surpasses three.

This is what I plan on doing.
Follow the framework. By making the time read to each of my selected books at least two additional times, not eliminating other titles. My thinking is that each time I re-read the book, along with my previous notes, the speed of doing so will increase which means the incremental yearly reading load will only grow by three books equivalents. Will this give me the same benefit as those that only concentrate on three titles for the year? Perhaps not, but the insight and deeper understanding, and behavioral shifts I expect to receive certain surpass the “one and done” nature of past years.

Notice that there is no requirement against concentrating the subject matter. I’m going to select a set of books that focus on business model discovery and effective speaking. Here’s why; in today’s complex, uncertain business environment those that are able to capture and succinctly communicate a value proposition rule the day.

I’m kicking my diet off in January – it’s an academic trait that’s hard to shake – and I’ll certainly keep you posted of my progress. But, the big question is are you down to join the challenge?

 

Donald McMichacel teaches BE 261 – Starting a Small Business.
Follow him on Twitter at @DonaldMcMichael or Google+ at +Donald McMichael

Business Development: 3 Business Expansion Pillars

By , September 8, 2012 1:13 pm
Thinking Carol

photo credit: kaje_yomama via photo pin cc

We don’t want to, but it’s often irresistible.

What is it? Looking around and seeing scores of possible new opportunities to boost our business.

We look at virgin (well at least to us) terrain through rose colored glasses and think wouldn’t it be great. We need to…

…tweak our product so it can help a new demographic
…get Company X to make us a business partner, then the sky would be the limit
…go national – no international

If even half is true, why do so few execute on perceived opportunities?

Breaking into a market is difficult.
Expanding can be an attractive and lucrative proposition. It is, however, also a pivotal point in any business’ life because it requires doubling down on the bet that it is the preferred solution. This increase in risk causes our subconscious, and correctly so, to trigger a mental circuit breaker. You’ll recognize the statements for they usually contain “but if” or its close cousin “but what if”.

But if:

  • We move by ourselves, it will take years.
  • We have a hiccup, will we have enough cash to safely sustain what’s already built?
  • I’ve never done this before, how will I know what’s right?

Let’s all thank our subconscious. With so much at risk it is important that we take the time to understand how we are going to avoid jeopardizing current success.

This isn’t a how-to list.
There are tons of books, articles, and blog posts that rundown the different expansion techniques and explain which ones are suited for particular types of businesses. What I want to armor you with are the strategic actions that will help carry you to victory, or keep you from entering into a losing situation.

A simple, yet powerful formula.

  • Do your homework. Make sure you first build the infrastructure and resources to adequately support the move. Many try to rely on outside service providers to do virtually all the heavy lifting. Although it is quick and easy to implement, it often leads to its own set of problems; escalating costs, delays, and poor service delivery. Don’t double down on your risk by doing this.
  • Timing is everything. Make sure you’re operating at or above industry performance levels for your size business. Proving that you can consistently operate at those levels for several consecutive quarters provides you with managerial confidence and more importantly, the financial heft to work through the challenges expansion will inevitably throw your way.
  • Seek out guideposts. First, you can read articles like this (yes, a shameless plug). More importantly, take a look around and find a role model. Someone who has encountered this very challenge and reach out to them. You’ll be surprised how open they are to talking about their great accomplishments and brilliant insights.

Patience is the companion of wisdom.
Saint Augustine

If you currently can’t meet the above, there’s no shame in waiting. Expansion requires understanding and managing a whole new set of challenges – in essence, a very different business. Being a great business development professional means that you know when to pullback and wait for the right signals.

 

Donald McMichacel teaches BE 261 – Starting a Small Business.
Follow him on Twitter at @DonaldMcMichael or Google+ at +Donald McMichael

Give Me 3 Minutes and I’ll Make You a Better Entrepreneur

By , August 4, 2012 1:38 pm
English: Inside a Harvard Business School clas...

Photo credit: WikiMedia Commons

Everyone around here is tuning-up for the new school year.

The grounds have be spruced up, class assignments doled out, and learning objectives have been set.

All is in order to help aspiring students advance their knowledge beyond their expectations.

Pull in close. I want to let you in on our secret.
One of the most overlooked (and undervalued) keys to what takes place in any superior learning environment is having an integrated learning roadmap. One that balances shared knowledge (academic plus peer-to-peer) with experiential discovery.

A mix, which not surprisingly, has served me well for decades outside the walls of academia as I constantly seek to improve my professional skills and knowledge base. If I could prescribe your ideal mix I would, but alas this is something that each of us must define for ourselves.

Chin up all is not lost.

Good news, you can do it for yourself.
Here are a few articles that can help kick start your fall learning initiative and keep you moving forward…

The Most Common Strategy Mistakes
This should be the first stop for everyone who is interested in, sets, or executes strategic initiatives. This is an excerpt from Joan Magretta’s new book on Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter the focus of which is the importance of strategy in delivering competitive advantage.

Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution
This explains how you can identify holes in your planning processes and make smart choices. This base of which is seven questions you should ask… and seek the answer to.

Three Ways to Find an Edge in a Crowded Market
Lets face it, we are all in competitive markets. No matter how you slick it there are real alternatives to our solution. What’s needed is insights on how to stay ahead of the pack and that’s exactly what this article helps you uncover.

The CEO’s guide to corporate finance
It’s all about the Benjamins. And, this article introduces you to four principles that can help you make great financial decisions. One of them, internalizing the principles of value creation, is one of the most powerful things you can do for your business. Doing so emboldens you to make independent, courageous, and even unpopular decisions in the face of myths and misconceptions about what creates value.

To Get Venture Capital Funding, Know the Risks and Tell a Good Story
Peer into the mind of a seasoned VC and develop a better understanding of how they evaluate risk. Even if you’re not looking for direct funding, these nuggets of wisdom will help when dealing with key suppliers and stakeholders.

 

Donald McMichacel teaches BE 261 – Starting a Small Business.
Follow him on Twitter at @DonaldMcMichael or Google+ at +Donald McMichael

The World That Was and Is No More

By , July 7, 2012 1:05 pm

What if I said that as humans our behaviors tend to gravitate around comfortable rhythms which often leads to dramatic chaos?

Not only that, but what if I also said that it has a way of limiting our business success and at times seeding its downfall.

Why would I say such a thing?
Getting into a rhythm in of itself isn’t bad, there’s the Sunday morning routine, how we interact with family & friends, and the way we approach work tasks. In fact, it allows us to function quite efficiently in a settled environment.

The danger from a business perspective is that we tend to blow past the last point – “in a settled environment”.

Here’s why
Economies always had and will continue to have plateaus of calm. In fact, substantial periods of clam have allowed humans to build the economic platform that powers our organizations to this day. We’ve grow accustom to this trend.

What we shouldn’t lose sight of, however, is the fact that things do not, and in some cases, should not remain unchanged. Looking at it from a generational timespan (about 30 years) and our economic pattern looks like a singular smooth arching line. Step forward and it looks entirely different; certainly the past few years with it various economic cliffs have shown this to be true. At this operating level you will see that what appeared to be singular and smooth is in reality multiple trends that unsymmetrically oscillate around each other. Even more revealing is the fact that the cycle between relative calm and uncertainty in contracting.

That’s right the rate of change is accelerating exponentially, it has become so quick that it is tough to even make short-term predictions accurately. In other words, don’t expect long periods of calm for constant change is the new normal.

You already feel this in your business. Competitors pop-up out of nowhere, successful methodologies have begun to fall flat, and you can’t seem to put your finger on what’s wrong but you know all is not right.

So, what must you do?
Here are three insights to help jump start your vision quest.

  1. Get liberated. Break connections to make room for your new ideas.
  2. Take a walkabout. Go discover new perspectives by talking to customers and industry insiders, and then challenge their unspoken assumptions. Develop a clearer understanding of the future drivers and constraints that will shape your market.
  3. Be comfortable with multiple realities. There is no one right. Pick a path to traverse and don’t be afraid of having to take a detour, being proven right, or hitting a dead-end being.

I’m not going to pretend that this is going to be comfortable, stressless, or pretty. But you’ll certainly come out the other side in better shape.

And, after all that’s what really counts.

Donald McMichacel teaches BE 261 – Starting a Small Business.
Follow him on Twitter at @DonaldMcMichael or Google+ at +Donald McMichael

 

Grow Your Business During the Summer: the Pre-Flight Checklist

By , June 9, 2012 1:46 pm

Pop quiz: Does business growth activity slow to a crawl in the summer? In particular the development of strategic alliance initiatives.

If you said “yes” then you have plenty of company.

Summer is almost universally loved. Lazy warm days in the park, making family memories with see the world vacations, and with the plethora of festivals what’s not to love. It seems that everyone’s mind is distracted from business. So, it’s not hard to see why this feeling of ‘shut it down for summer’ is so prevalent.

The reality is that summer is the best time to structure sustainable relationships. Not only do you have less business noise to cut through there are more avenues to have personable discussions.

With that in mind here are three strategic business development tips:

Disclose the right information early in the dialogue
If you want to earn respect, move the dialogue forward quickly and gain power, then share the right information early in the discussion.  Many of us have the misconception that disclosing information creates weakness—not true.  It creates trust and an understanding of the other person’s position.  Summer is fleeting, don’t waste their time because if you do it will lead to distrust and disappointment. The goal of is not to lengthen the process but to complete it as soon as possible, saving time, money and other things you value most.

Block unreasonable demands (but don’t reject them)
Don’t automatically argue against an unreasonable demand. Instead, set your desired benefits (price, timing, etc.) such that it exactly mirrors the demand. Doing so shows the other side that your condition(s) is a corollary of its demand – a blocking tactic.
Once blocked seize the initiative with a realistic proposal.  Take the time to walk through your thinking asking for input as you go. A much more open and relaxed exchange that fits right into a summer mindset.

Agree (be sure to have clarity)
Be sure to agree on what is actually agreed upon, because it’s much easier to clear up ambiguities at this time than later when both parties are in the midst of selling the concept internally.

And, how is this done? By:

  • Confirming the agreement in an acceptable form (I favor a formal letter.)
  • Ensuring that everyone is comfortable with the terms and is ready to put it into practice.
  • Avoiding deal creep, by jointly developing a balanced and detailed summary that doesn’t leave anything up for interpretation; ambiguous language or understanding is a big killer.

Try it and let us know how it works. Most importantly have a great and productive summer.

Donald McMichacel teaches BE 261 – Starting a Small Business.
Follow him on Twitter at @DonaldMcMichael or Google+ at +Donald McMichael

How to Verify Profitable Hunches Like a Professional Reporter

By , May 12, 2012 1:55 pm

In business the most valuable tool you possess is the ability to gather information. You’re constantly on the lookout for insights on industry trends, competitor actions, economic forces, key supplier grumblings, and most importantly what job(s) your idea customer needs done.

Good insights are worth their weight in gold, but bad information can be deadly. Actions predicated on it waste not only money (salaries, prototype expenses, misdirected marketing efforts, etc.) but more importantly can tank professional relationships and your business’ reputation.;

But how do you avoid being burned from unreliable information?

Think like a reporter.

They aren’t compensated for finding the story but for verifying to the best of their ability all sources and ensuring that the information they’re using to weave the full story is authentic before it hits the light of day. Unfortunately for most, but great for those who excel at it, evaluating the reliability of information is an art as well as work – much of which is detective work.

Here are three ways that you can find key data/proof points that support your primary research.

Climb to the mountaintop. Confirm your information with a 3rd party. Seek out 2 to 3 experts to cross verify the information. These could be individuals who are deeply familiar with an area like the targeted market, industry economics, or the particular company.

Dig for details. Ask pointed follow-up questions, not only to your source but also to the world. Tap into the knowledge of the collective by utilize tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn to push a specific question to a knowledgeable sub-set of your connections. Granted individual data that comes from ‘crowdsourcing’ has its own creditability issues, but widespread beliefs can verify trends and core issues.

Extrapolate upon existing creditable sources. Utilize sources of secondary information, the main providers of which are governments, trade associations, academic institutions, research houses, and national & international institutions.

Do you agree? What other methods can you add to our knowledgebase?

Donald McMichacel teaches BE 261 – Starting a Small Business.
Follow him on Twitter at @DonaldMcMichael or Google+ at +Donald McMichael

How to Build Trust in the Business World

By , April 14, 2012 1:33 pm

7 Behaviors You Must Know

Last month’s post touch a raw nerve and set off a series of conversations. What did this? We talked about selling, in particular how to become more confident in our skin while selling.

It’s great to get feedback and have the post’s life extend beyond the pages of the blog. But, what I don’t want to be overshadowed is an assumed foundation point – when given a choice we deal with people that we know, like, and trust. Without these three working in your favor you’ll be in for a very long voyage.

It’s that simple.

So, it stands to reason that if we would like to make the sales process easier we should focus on strengthening our know/like/trust quotient.

Seems straight forward enough. We understand that to be ‘known’ we have to present, or be presented, to our target market. There’s tens of thousands of blog posts, articles, and books on business networking. ‘Like’ as well is also a fully covered topic. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we’ve been honing our like skill our entire lives. Just think back to all the times your mom decided that it would be nice if you spent more time with [fill-in relative of choice], encouraged you to go meet your new classmates, and the all time classic “play nice”. This leaves us with ‘trust’. This one’s not so straightforward.

Trust needs to be earned…
We’re all familiar with the first half of this mantra (see section title), but it’s the second half “and should come only after the passage of time” that we never hear. So, exactly what should we be doing to shorten this incubation period? Here are seven simple, everyday behaviors we can follow.

  1. Don’t waste others time. Be on time; show that you have a high level of respect for and commitment to other people. Prepare, failing to do so not only wastes their time, but is also a very loud signal that you don’t feel they are worth your time. Question for you. If you waste someone’s time how likely is it that they will trust you with something else that matters?
  2. Be present; listen with complete attention. Focused listening provides you with enough information to carry on a robust conversation. You’ll be able to ask pertinent questions, deepen the engagement, and possibly provide insight that helps them with a need or want.
  3. Share your knowledge. There’s no better way to earn trust than to help others succeed. An added bonus is that it makes you look like an expert.
  4. Honor your promises. Try your best to keep your promise, but if you realize that you can’t let them know early and have a Plan B teed-up. I the end, you might not be able to ultimately come through but you did honor the commitment and more importantly the relationship.
  5. Be big enough to admit when you don’t know. We would all love to be perceived as the ‘go to’ source. In reality admitting what we don’t know is a sign of strength. Why is this? It allows us to focus deeply on an area of knowledge, thus when we do speak people stop and listen. Doubt this, think about Warren Buffett and how it works for him when he talks about how to identify a strong business.
  6. Own your mistakes. In fact, do it one better own your mistakes and take responsibility for the consequences.
  7. Extend trust to others. All the above is great and you should certainly engrain them into your behavior. The most powerful behavior to earn trust, however, to is to extend it to others.

What do you do to ensure that you’ve done everything you can to establish trust?

 

Donald McMichacel teaches BE 261 – Starting a Small Business.
Follow him on Twitter at @DonaldMcMichael or Google+ at +Donald McMichael

5 Ways to Feel More Confident Selling

By , March 10, 2012 11:00 am

For as much as we humans love to share experiences and insights with each other (just checkout Twitter, Facebook, and your local water cooler), why does the thought of ‘selling’ conjure up nightmares for many?

  • Talking about yourself feels uncomfortable.
  • Public speaking opens you up to public criticism.
  • Haggling, it’s just not you.

But, at least you seem to be in control and after, at most, an hour it’s done. So we can handle them.

When we look at selling though, we just can’t see an end so we don’t even want to try. Instead we choose to hide behind tools like social media sites, glossy brochures, and others, hoping that our good work wins the day. At a time in the past this might of been enough to pay the bills, but in this day and age we all need to be at a minimum comfortable selling ourselves.

I know this fear
While I’ve been fortunate enough to have finance and engineering as my base disciplines it did little to develop my sales acumen. I was horrible at it and as a consequence turned away from sales because I didn’t understand selling. I thought it was about being pushy and arrogant. Something that you do to people.

The rub is that if you want to advance in business… heck life, you need to sell and in such a way that they want to help you succeed. So, somehow I had to change my perspective. This led to a voyage of self learning and understanding. What I ultimately discovered is that selling is helping people fill their needs and wants; a mutual win-win activity.

5 keys to becoming comfortable with selling

Focus on selling what you geek out about. The more you know about and love the value derived from your product, the easier it is to identify and convince those who can gain the most from buying it.

Pullback the curtain. Follow (replicate) the leaders. Discover how they overcome their hurdles. Yes, we all still and always will have them.

Control your inner dialogue. The greatest discovery of all time is that you become what you think about all the time. Focus on helping those who can benefit from your solution. The feeling experienced from truly helping someone is powerful.

Commit to lifelong learning. Here are three authors that can provide you with a solid base.

1) Brian Tracy
2) Zig Ziglar
3) Harry Mackay

Resolve to work hard.  This just might be the secret ingredient to most successes. I guess there’s good reason then that we heard it from our parents from day one.

What are you going to commit to doing?

 

Donald McMichacel teaches BE 261 Starting a Small Business.
Follow him on Google+ at +Donald McMichael

 

Business Growth Strategies You Must Know – 5 Biz Dev Hacks

By , February 11, 2012 3:00 pm

picture via Flickr Commons

When it comes to growing your business one of the most significant functions is business development. Often people push this off as being just sales, if you are one that does this then you’re making a big mistake. Business Development has a intense focus on growing a business in a sustainable manner.

This charge means that the potential activity list runs the gamut from leading service/product introduction initiatives, to designing and implementing market expansion, to locking down strategic partnerships. It is one of the ultimate transformer roles, however, since it incorporated aspects of marketing, finance, and sales it is easy for a streamlined organization to rely on individuals, or better yet cross-functional teams, versus building out a dedicated department.

But what if you’re a soloprenuer? You can’t do it yourself – well, you can but the execution time would be too costly – but don’t worry you can easily implement the quick start tips below.

Business Development Tactics that Work: The Hacks
If taken seriously this role will deliver solid returns for years to come. But, it requires a significant investment of time and energy. So what do you do if your shop is already stretch too thin or you need to kick start growth now? I’m here to help, here are five hacks that you can run with today.

Co-marketing
This is where two businesses work together in their advertising efforts. Ideally they have complementary product or service which they push your product down one or both partners marketing/distribution channels in return for incremental marketing dollars and/or a sales commission. A perfect example of this is the recent agreement between Verizon and Comcast to market each others products as a bundle (wireless, cable TV, landline and internet services) in selected markets.

Leverage referrals
Word of mouth matters. It’s no secret that today, buyers rely more on their friends and peers to help vet buying decisions. According to InsideView, a negative review on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube can cost a company 30 customers. Make yourself available on platforms where your customers congregate and use all of your communication pieces to encourage them to share their experiences.

Improve your unique service proposition
Think Zappos. Ensure that the service that you provide to your customers and potential customer is phenomenal. There is no doubt that you have to supply a spot-on product, it’s just that the overall experience (purchase, fulfillment, and after sales support) is what drives repeat business and referrals. What can you do to better serve your market?

Charge more
That’s right, charge more for your service. This has a two fold benefit:

  • For those that love your service you’ll receive compensation closer to the value your customer derives.
  • More importantly, you’ll drive away marginal customers who’s lifetime value is typically dramatically below that of a good customer.

The fringe benefit is that it will free resources that can be used to attract, service, and retain more core customers.

Collaborate
Work together with another business to realize a shared goal. Granted when businesses collaborate they typically generate a bigger bang for their buck, but the benefits can extend beyond the bottom line and into a more sustainable environment and community. Of all the above hacks collaboration is the hottest growing trend. the most basic form is powered by social media where “communities of interest’ operate as an information exchange.

Getting Started
Pull together a basic business development plan.

  1. Evaluate your environment. Pull together a market research plan. This exercise will help you better understand how you can thrive by uncovering the right opportunities to exploit.
  2. Set your goals for what you want to accomplish; service line expansion, new market entry, more core customers?
  3. Determine how you will recognize success. What are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and how will you measure them?
  4. Action plan. What is it the you need to be successful? In house knowledge, strategic partners, freedom for trial and error?

This post is meant to get you started on (and thinking about) very specific opportunities and tactics you can execute.

What’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments…

Donald McMichacel teaches BE 261 Starting a Small Business.
and follow him on Google+ at +Donald McMichael

How to Build the Right Business Relationship (In 5 Steps)

By , January 12, 2012 11:16 am

Go on a walkabout:
Give yourself the freedom to explore ideas, opinions, and perspectives beyond your, and the entities, comfort level. In a sense undertake a corporate growth journey.

Discover the vein of gold:
Start with a strategy not a partner. Find the intersection at which your entity and another could create significant and sustainable value. Don’t run off of your gut, put into writing what you believe to be the right framework, then share with your advisors the why, how, and what.

Be specific:
You have 8 seconds to grab initial interest. Vague, unfocused general requests will find the circular file because you’ll appear confused and a waste of time. Set the agenda by asking a specific question.

Minimize the swagger:
I know this doesn’t happen to you, but often ego tends to trip people up more than they realize. Almost everyone wants to avoid blowhards. At this point your role is to learn and receive just as much as you give.

Don’t jump ahead:
The glue that holds everything together is relationships and there is no substitute for the hard work of getting to know people / organizations. You each have to get to know, like, and trust one another before serious conversations can be had. To keep from becoming frustrated, set a series of goals (returned email , call, etc.) that build upon one another.


Donald McMichacel teaches
BE 261 Starting a Small Business.
and follow him on Google+ at +Donald McMichael

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