Best Advice for Small Biz Professionals

Enjoy this slideshow where experts from around the US share their insight about business growth!

Say Yes to No

It’s critical to learn to say NO in business. I discuss the importance of doing this with JJ Ramberg on MSNBC’s Your Business.

I’d love to hear your experience saying NO to an opportunity that simply didn’t align with you company’s goals.

When Did Hiring a Lawyer Become the Easy Way of Handling Conflict?

 

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Ever have one of those days (or weeks) when you just felt like  sticking your head in the sand? I love a good challenge and embrace the opportunity to learn from every scenario presented to me. But I have no patience for people who don’t practice a high standard of business ethics and morals. 

In this month’s blog, let’s talk about why shared business values are so critical in selecting your partners, clients, customers and anybody with whom your business interacts.

Beth

I admit it, I’m a bit of a domain hoarder. In fact, I own over three dozen domains. I’m a marketer still plagued by the fact that I didn’t buy marketingedge.com in time. So now whenever an idea for a product or service pops in my head, I check to see if the domain is available…and buy it. They automatically renew, so oftentimes I forget I own them – which can create issues….

Recently, an organization that I did business with a few years ago decided that they should be the legal owners of a domain that I bought in 2008. This is a group to whom I had donated hours and hours of my time to help them create their product.

Instead of picking up the phone to call and ask me to transfer the domain to them, the head of this non-profit organization hired a lawyer (who I presume works pro bono) and sent me a certified letter DEMANDING that I turn over the domain to them.

As a small business owner getting a letter from a law firm via certified mail does not constitute ‘a great day.’  I turned to two different legal experts for advice and spent hours piling through contracts since I needed to know my rights. Frankly, I was shocked. If you’ve done any work with me, you know that I am a huge supporter of small businesses (for profit and non-profit). It’s simply not part of the ethical business standard that I follow to try to cause harm or disrupt the operation of any other organization. I won’t get into the legal issues here, but both lawyers assured me that I had not done anything wrong and could not be held liable. Nonetheless, I spent days dealing with this before I spoke to the organization’s president.
 
What was most surprising and what  I wanted to know was why she decided to hire a lawyer rather than simply calling me. Her response? It was easier to hire the lawyer. REALLY? When did hiding behind lawyers become the easiest way to handle conflict... especially when one party doesn’t even know that conflict exists.

A simple call would have been more than sufficient to resolve the issue. I would have given her the domain had she just asked.  Instead, this non-profit organization forced me to hire my own legal experts to confirm my rights.

In the end, I have agreed to give them the domain because I still believe in the stated mission of the organization and it is the right thing to do. But I’m disappointed (no, horrified) by this organization’s actions against me and by the fact that their stated mission to support small business owners somehow did not extend to me.

Contrast this recent domain-name trouble with an earlier one. About a year ago, I received a call from an organization that was running a national event called The Small Business Tour. They were using the domain name: thesmallbusinesstour.com and contacted me because I owned SmallBusinessTour.com (which, at the time, automatically directed to my website m-edge.com). It was causing confusion amongst individuals who wanted to register for their tour. They were interested in purchasing the domain from me.

The woman who called me was terrific and we had a great exchange about our business models and goals and quickly recognized that our missions intertwined. She asked me if I would be interested in being a speaker and sponsor for the “Tour.” To make a long story short, I pointed my site to their site (it’s still pointed there) and also got involved with the event. It was a win-win and they are great people whom I totally respect.

Both of these incidents raise the question: Should goodwill be a core value of a business or organization? 

Where do YOU draw the line for what constitutes right and wrong in terms of ethical and honorable business practices?

Please email me your thoughts on this compelling issue and, as always, I look forward to being inspired by what you have done to propel your business forward

Empower Growth By Learning to Say NO

I want to share a story about a recent challenge I faced saying ‘no’ to an opportunity that my gut immediately rejected but my heart fought for (and lost). Back in November I was asked to serve as the president of an impressive product marketing organization based here in Massachusetts. I was honored to be asked, especially since the founder is an individual whom I greatly respect. The organization is successful and they are looking to take themselves to the next level. So, I had two key questions to answer: ‘Was I the right person to help them grow?” and “Was this the right organization to help my business grow?” The latter was harder to answer than I anticipated.

Over the past few years I have worked diligently to establish myself as an expert in business growth (building upon my marketing/sales background). While I love ‘all things marketing,’ as a small business trainer I have learned that teaching marketing on its own simply isn’t enough to help business owners achieve the success they desire.Being able to set actionable goals, understand cash flow and manage and motivate your team is just as important as understanding why customers buy from you and why they might also buy from your competitors.  I now integrate all aspects of business strategy, tactics and growth in my workshops to ensure a more significant impact on the small business communities I work with. Returning to a role focused solely on marketing strategy doesn’t align with my business model.  So, this should have been an easy ‘No,’ right? Wrong!

Lucky By Design RoadmapHere’s where my dilemma began. I was personally excited about working with this group because the people in the organization were truly passionate, dynamic and interesting individuals with whom I wanted to collaborate.But, the organization didn’t fit into my wheelhouse, so how could I say ‘yes?’ Good question! I searched for this answer for weeks. I interviewed almost two dozen individuals associated with the organization, looking for a reason to say ‘yes’ but I kept coming back with ‘no.’ Nonetheless, Irefused to listen to my ‘logical’ side screaming that this was not the right role for me.

So, how did I resolve this dilemma? I removed the emotion from the decision. I created a spreadsheet (nothing fancy, trust me) and on the vertical axis (also know as the Y axis for you engineering-types) I plotted all my 2012 projects, training initiatives and other key activities like my book tour, speaking gigs, articles, newsletter and blog. Then on the horizontal (X) axis I plotted my business goals: consulting, training, being a thought leader, helping inner city and small businesses, etc… You get the point. I also included a business goal category called college fund. Why? Because I could do what I love all day long but if I’m not getting paid, my kids will have to rely on the dogs getting great modeling jobs to support their college education (cute as the dogs are, that wasn’t happening any time soon).

Next, I decided that every project listed on the vertical axis had to fit into at least two of these goal categories (three if there was no revenue involved). For example, the training program I run in Salem, MA fit into several categories including: small business, training, coaching and college fund. Other initiatives such as blogging or writing my newsletter didn’t make the college fund but fit into small business, thought leadership and coaching categories. Simple, right?

TrainingYou’d be surprised how cathartic this was. When the chart was completed, I could see in black and white, no emotions involved, everything that I had accomplished in the past year. I could also see how some of the initiatives I had taken on were clearly not smart choices. Honestly, I already knew which initiatives I shouldn’t continue but now I had no reason to argue with myself over continuing them. Here it was, plain and simple, staring back at me from my computer screen – my smart choices and my ‘not so smart’ decisions. The visual impact was quite empowering.

 Ultimately, this chart gave me the power and internal strength to say ‘no’ to the position as president of this organization. The organization just didn’t fit into my current goals. I simply couldn’t justify saying ‘yes,’ hoping that the pleasure of working with the folks in the group would somehow payoff in the long term. It just didn’t make sense but now it was no longer based on a gut feeling or emotion. It was pure logic.

When I called the founder and politely turned down the opportunity, I knew I had made the right decision. Interestingly enough, several new opportunities opened up in the weeks that followed. Ones that I wouldn’t have been able to go after if I had agreed to serve as president of this group and ones that very clearly fit into my wheelhouse. Now I have this amazing chart to refer to each time I have to decide ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

PortfolioIf you are grappling with a logical system to streamline your goals, actions and empower your ability to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ spend an hour doing this exercise. I guarantee it’ll be the best hour you’ll spend on yourself and your business. When you’re done, email me and let me know what you are doing differently this year as you focus your efforts on growth and please share your stories of how you learned to say ‘Yes’ to ‘No.’ 

 

Your Elevator Pitch: Make It a Memorable Ride

Mark Twain said: It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech. If you’ve ever created a speech or presentation then you know that the less time you have to speak, the more time you spending preparing because you need to ensure that every word is carefully crafted and delivered during that brief opportunity.  

Well, think of your elevator pitch as a prepared, concise mini-speech that highlights your company’s benefits to somebody in the proverbial elevator. Have you ever had the experience of walking into a business luncheon or getting on that elevator and realizing that Mr. or Mrs. VIP was standing in front of you? Were you ready to seize the opportunity? Perhaps it was a potential customer or an important financial partner or investor whom you really wanted to meet but didn’t expect to encounter any time in the near future. Did you find yourself unprepared and tongue-tied?  Perhaps you were so nervous that you blathered on and on about your business, never quite finding the right words to accurately or concisely describe what you do, or to give this person any hint as to why she should be interested in you or your business. Did you send her running out the door once an escape was in view? Did you promise yourself that you wouldn’t let this happen again?

Even if this scenario hasn’t happened to you, chances are that you’ll be thrown into a similar situation at some point if you aren’t fully prepared.  Not being prepared means possibly losing out on uncovering opportunities because others don’t know what benefit you can offer them. You definitely want to avoid that mistake.

An effective, appealing introduction is the first and usually the most lasting impression that you leave with somebody. If the person or group listening to your pitch can help you succeed, you want this time in front of that audience to count.

Stimulate Interest

Elevator pitches have a few goals. The most immediate is to stimulate enough interest to give you the opportunity to explain and “sell” your business in more detail at another time. You’re looking for an invitation to follow up with this person. The long-term goal can vary from developing a partnership or getting angel funding to turning prospects into customers or hiring employees. As a result, many individuals develop several targeted pitches, one for each objective. Let’s start with one pitch for now, but as you improve, you’ll probably develop an arsenal of ways to present yourself and your business.  Keep in mind the fact that the “elevator” part of the term should not be taken literally. These opportunities occur everyplace (usually not in an elevator), from the soccer field to a networking event or even a birthday party at your best friend’s house.

The “So What” Factor

Whenever students or clients practice their first elevator pitch, I oftentimes hear myself asking them, “So what, why should I care?” Many of them are taken aback, until they see that I’m smiling and am not trying to offend them. Still, I do expect an answer. While some of them can tell me why it’s important for the prospect to know what they’re telling me, many cannot and stumble through their responses. I urge you to go through this exercise while putting together your first pitch or trying to improve an existing one. It’s harder than it might seem.  Having a fully polished pitch, one that will lead to an invitation for a longer meeting, requires you to ask yourself other questions as well. These include the following:

  • What might intrigue this person about my business?
  • What is important to him or her?
  • How does this person make decisions relevant to my company’s product or service?
  • Why would this person want to buy from my company or work with me?
  • What impression do I want to leave with this individual?
  • So what will this mean to the person I am speaking with?
  • What’s the next step?

You must excel at answering questions about individuals who affect your business’s growth or your company will not be able to grow. Begin your pitch by clearly defining who the target audience is (i.e., who’s standing in the elevator with you). Remember, you need to deliver this message in 30 – 60 seconds or less, so choose your words carefully. Once you have answered the questions described above about the person, you can begin to script your pitch. There are no perfect elevator pitches. You must deliver one that feels natural to you. It should incorporate your own expressions and word choices. Otherwise it will sound fake and rehearsed.

Most important, once you’ve developed your pitch, there are three important steps to take: (1) practice, (2) practice, and (3) practice. Some people like to practice in front of the mirror, while others prefer to rehearse in front of friends and family. Choose what works best for you but I advocate that you tape your presentation so you can critique yourself and see what others see. 

Think of your elevator pitch as a brief introduction of your company to somebody with whom you want to conduct business. It is designed to get the person to develop an interest in learning more about you and your company. Therefore, your challenge is to entice them to want to continue the dialogue. Don’t make the mistake of trying to tell them everything about your company. You need to tell them just enough to persuade them to set up a future meeting. Your pitch should last less than a minute  (approximately the time it takes to ride a typical elevator, not the Willis Tower in Chicago).

Next, it’s critical to create your own elevator pitch. Use the worksheet to develop a pitch for at least one target prospect. Remember, the key to success is to make this something that is natural for you to say. If it appears rehearsed or  “fake” in any way, then it won’t have the lucky impact that you are looking for.

 6 Steps to a Winning Pitch

Your pitch should include:

  1. Your name, company name and your role in the organization
  2. A brief but compelling statement about your product/service’s value or benefit as it relates to the other person’s company
  3. Then a concise description of your product/service
  4. A statement that reinforces your credibility or demonstrates what sets you apart
  5. Your personal energy and passion for making the business succeed
  6. A closing statement that leads to a “next step” (i.e., an in-person meeting) 

Start at the End. Before you create your pitch, consider what final impression you need to leave with this individual. Then use the six criteria above to develop your pitch. Remember, you will need a unique elevator pitch for different types of business relationships (i.e., a prospect doesn’t care about the same benefits that a potential investor does).

Biz-Edge Video Series: Episode Nine – The Importance of Understanding Your Competitors

Welcome to Biz-Edge where we answer YOUR business questions. In the ninth of the Summer 2012 Series, I address a question about understanding who your competitors are, even when they don’t look nor act exactly like you.

Competitors don’t always offer the same product as you do. Therefore, in understanding and clearly defining who your competition is, it’s critical to think of them in terms of the solution they provide because that’s what you will end up competing on. Watch how I respond to a question about defining competition to grow a business.

Have a question about business growth? Here’s your opportunity to ask questions about business challenges you face so you can gain an EDGE in business. Plus, hear advice that we’ve given other small business owners and entrepreneurs to help them make bold leaps forward. Complete the form at the Biz-Edge Website and I will try my best to answer it via video.