Today I was reading a cautionary tale about restaurant ownership, and one of the issues was the problem the owner had run into with pricey real estate and long-term leases. For sure, there are some businesses where you absolutely must “be there” – where space is important – and in these cases you should push for the best you can afford, as soon as possible. For most businesses, though, when you think about the “where” of your business, you’ll be stronger in the long run if you build flexibility into your plan.
Let me give you an example. One consultant we know (we’d say “headhunter”, but he wouldn’t) had lots of corporate clients, back in the days when businesses like his usually had large, pricey offices in the financial core of their city. Those kinds of businesses often relied on the prestige of real estate to convey a message of reliability, dependability, and success. Our friend got into the executive shared office space in its very early days. No one knew that his Bay Street address was only a mail-drop and answering service. After all, he went to the clients. But since people still wrote letters for business back then, his address looked very impressive on business cards and letterhead. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find that many businesses have no physical space at all. Consultants, coaches, advisors and more, have found that they can carry out their business very well in the virtual space, or by going to where their clients are. On the rare occasion when they need to host a meeting, they can do it in a rented-for-purpose location like a hotel meeting room or a co-working space. This doesn’t just apply to knowledge workers, though. Think about all of the direct-selling operations that don’t have storefronts, but sell through home parties. Or online businesses. And what about our restauranteur? What about catering with a rental kitchen, or food pop-ups, or other creative locations?
When you’re planning your business, ask yourself what the space signifies to the customer, and whether you can achieve that signal in another way that’s less costly, and that ties up less of your resources. We’ve spent so much time making remote work possible for employees of large organizations, there’s no reason you can’t build this into your own business, as well.
Excellent news! You’ve found the key to your customer’s “job to be done” with your product our service. You’ve focused on only the prospects who have proven they want to invest time, money, and effort in doing the job. So, what could possibly go wrong?
Although we’d all like to believe that our service, gizmo, or gadget is the only choice our customer will ever need or want, the truth is, there are very few cases where that’s true. More often, we have to compete with something, or someone. This is the tricky bit. When it comes to describing why that service, gizmo, or gadget is better, our mindset can be a real barrier. This goes double if wat we’re selling is our own talents and capabilities. Where is the line between confidence, and over-confidence? How do you know the difference between “my way of doing this is better”, or “my product/shop/invention is better”, and “I’m better”? Reconciling the tension between innovator and impostor is often what will make or break the sale.
How can you make sure that tension doesn’t “snap” the sale? First, write down the story you’re planning to tell (whether that’s your pitch to a new boss, or to a new client). What are the advantages you’re describing? Are they real? Are you confident you’re telling the truth? If not, where isn’t it working? Fix the facts, not the adjectives. If the facts are true, but your discomfort has to do with feeling boastful, or bragging, ask yourself whether it would sound true, if your biggest supporter was saying it. If it would, then you’ve got some work to do, because the problem is you.
When you feel like an impostor or a liar when you tell your story, this feeling is transmitted to the person watching or listening, even if you don’t realize that. It’s fine to be humble. It’s not fine to be modest. New business people often confuse the two, especially if they don’t have much selling experience. Humble means unassuming – not taking too much for granted. Modest can mean that, too, but it also means shy, or uncertain. And who would be confident buying something that even the salesperson isn’t not certain of? No one.
So, the next time you’re preparing to make a sale, give yourself time in advance to practice. Write the story so you’re sure it’s true. Check your facts. Read it in the voice of your biggest supporter. Use the adjectives they would use. Then say it out loud until you’re confident, and make sure your own fear of the spotlight isn’t standing in the way of your success.
We've said many times, that the best way to market is to find a customer, create a solution to a problem or a need for them, and sell it to them. We stand by that. While you're busy creating that solution or figuring out how to fill the need (the job to be done, to paraphrase Clay Christensen), someone else may show them the next best option. Also, if you want other people to sell your product or service for you, by describing it to their networks, you need to know what it is that you sell. So which comes first? Customer, or product?
The first truth is this: knowing your customer is absolutely critical. The second truth is this: you need money to have a viable, ongoing business. And the third: sooner or later, to get money, you're going to have to sell something - whether that something is a product or a service. Revenue is how you pay the bills, pay yourself, fund the work, even if you're a social enterprise or not-for-profit. Remember: not-for-profit doesn't mean, "doesn't bring in money".
So how do you figure out what it is that you sell? If it's a widget, a chicken, or an egg, you've got the beginning of a description. If it's more complicated, you need to be able to distill your product (or service) description down to something even your grandma or your five-year-old nephew could explain. Why? Simple: because the more people who know how to describe what you sell and why it's great, the more unofficial salespeople you can have out there in the world, for free, generating leads for you. So go ahead. Break all those rules we've told you about customer focus, and take some time to figure out the easiest way to describe what it is you sell. You'll be glad you did.
How do you feel when something doesn't go as planned? Disappointed? Frustrated? Annoyed?
What about energized, excited, or enthusiastic?
Over the past few weeks, I've been working with a client to get ready for an important strategy session. They know there are big shifts looming on the horizon, and they want to be ready. They've done the right thing by taking a proactive approach, and they've been looking at data, exploring potential outcomes, and discussing "how might we" scenarios. Yet suddenly, in the midst of a session with outside partners, key team members, and even an advisor from head office, they weren't making headway. Someone said, "Let's change the focus entirely!"
Now there are times when this might just be a tactic to avoid hard conversations, but in this case, it was because they realized they were looking at the problem through the wrong lens. Their problem definition was out of whack, and they got clarity on this because they had everyone in the room, and because they weren't so married to the facilitation method they had chosen, that they kept trying to force-fit solutions to the wrong problem. Once they stepped back and framed the challenge in a new way, they were able to very quickly devine the realm of possible scenarios, determine how they could respond to these in their own favour, and what proactive steps they could take right now, to get ready for the most likely eventualities.
The change in energy in the room at the end of the day was palpable. And as a facilitator, it was a pretty spectacular ending for me, as well.
One of the best gifts you can bring to your work, whether you're just starting out, or you've been working in the same field for a very long time, is curiosity. Giving yourself permission to be curious can help you solve problems more creatively, demonstrate engagement to colleagues and customers, and keep your work interesting when others feel like their occupation is nothing but a grind.
So how can you stay curious? Here are just a few ideas to keep your curiosity active all the time:
Look at those fresh new messages and materials. So exciting! New initiatives to launch. Shiny new toys to play with. But winter has dragged on, and your spring-themed campaign seems ill-timed just yet. The tools and techniques you've been using seem tired and trite. Or are they?
Marketing and sales often encounter a kind of ennui with their campaigns just before the change of season - and especially if the season doesn't seem to be changing as fast as it should. The common refrain is, "Our customers are tired of this! We've told them all about this already!" The reality is, you are not your customer's only focus. (There, we said it. Right out loud.) So while it may be true that they've heard your message, and that they're not sure you'll have anything new to say, this doldrums of delivery that you're in, is something you can change. In fact, it may not be that they are bored at all...it may be you who is just tired of sounding enthusiastic about the same old message. What are you to do?
Bear in mind that in sales, marketing, customer service...nearly anything that requires you to be customer-facing, attitude is altitude. Look for ways to recharge your batteries so you can put one last push on, before spring really does arrive. Start integrating a few new spring pieces of clothing into your wardrobe. Get a new haircut. Launch a new fitness routine. Begin a course that will make you sharper for the upcoming season. All of these will give you a feeling of accomplishment that will lift you up.
Next, check your assumptions. Visit clients and get a recap of their recall of key messages you've delivered this cycle. Make sure you correct any misperceptions so you're starting from the same page when new selling models or tools are introduced. Consider any knowledge gaps as you visualize who is ready to receive the message of your next campaign, and who can use just a bit more personal attention to get them there.
Lastly and most importantly, remind yourself and your team of your achievements. Consider a celebration and final team incentive challenge as you wind down winter and get ready for spring. Because although it might not seem like it on a stormy day, the sun really is on its way.
Does this sound familiar? For me, I’m always surprised when I hear this, although I hear it over and over again. The easiest business to start is one that solves a problem, one that people will pay to have solved. Whether that’s creating delicious homemade cakes that make the person celebrating feel extra-special, to measuring air quality and helping clients to put systems in place to improve it so they can breathe better, or even providing custom home renovation services for someone with ideas but who’s all thumbs – businesses that solve problems or challenges are simply easier to sell. That’s because you don’t need to invest as much time educating the customer as to why they would want to solve that problem in the first place. They’re already actively looking for a solution!
Of course, the next step is a bit trickier: you also need to have the wherewithal to solve the problem. If you’re not a baker, or an environmental scientist, or handy with tools and building materials, none of our examples are going to be a fit for you. So what CAN you do? This is an area where mind-mapping can come in handy. The mind-map is a great tool for capturing a lot of free-flowing, uncensored ideas. Set a timer for 15 minutes – no more. This is more work than it sounds, and by then you’ll need a break from thinking. Get yourself a large piece of paper, or a white board, or a large expanse of wall and a stack of sticky notes. Start by writing down all the things you can do, that solve problems for people. Capture everything. Don’t try and narrow it down yet. What sorts of things do people ask you to do already, because you’re good at them, or you know how to do them in a unique way, or because those same people don’t know how to do them for themselves? Keep writing. If one “job” makes you think of another, great. Write that one down too. Just keep going until the timer tells you to stop. Although it might be tough to get started, I’m pretty certain you’ll be on a roll as you move toward the end of your 15 minutes. Ideas always bring more ideas.
Now, go get a drink of water, or a cup of tea, or take a little walk. Then come back to your mind-map. It’s time to start sorting. Which ones do you really like doing? Which are you uniquely qualified to do, more than most people? And here’s the million-dollar question: which will people pay you to do? Often the things you’re best at, or that are most enjoyable, don’t obviously intersect with what customers will pay for. It’s up to you to find that intersection between work that works for you, and work that’s lucrative enough to make a living. So while I never advocate working at work you dislike every day, if something feels like a real calling, AND you feel like you’re fairly compensated for doing it, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it when your business hits its inevitable valleys.
Do you have some ideas that look like they might actually be the start of a business? Great! Next time let’s talk about ways to see whether customers really will pay what you think they’ll pay – or in more technical language, defining and validating your value proposition.
Are you planning to grow your business this year? Or do you just want to make more money from the business you're in? Those are the first two questions to explore. If you haven't already, take time today to figure out what you want, and it will help you get off on the right foot for a strong 2018. Imagine if this time next year, were busier and more successful than ever!
These are the 14 Questions that will help you get there:
If you're not into DIY, or you'd like help putting your plan together to answer one or more of these, we'd love to help. Whether you need strategic research, a facilitated strategy session, coaching, or a workshop, we're looking forward to seeing you succeed.
Have you received advice that starts like this?
“All you need to do”
“You only have to”
Me, too. I also get requests all the time for advice on how to live the life I do – unapologetically mine, in line with my values and priorities. And many of the people who ask those questions, are looking for answers that start with one of those three phrases. What’s the problem with that? Only this: having a great career is no easier than having a bad career. Both are work. Hard work. The good news, is that the work is worth it, if you get to have a rewarding, rich life along the way. And it’s important to realize that every day won’t be sunshine and lollipops.
The truth is, no life is ever easy. We will all have struggles and setbacks. Every overnight success story has many, many steps and stumbles that led to that moment of achievement that everyone gets to see. In the world of the striver, there are always many people watching every wobble along the way…some cheering, some jeering, and some just wondering when they will just give up.
“I wish I could work for myself like you do,” they say. “Then I’d be in control of everything.”
If you’re embarking on a journey with the vision of never being accountable to anyone else, let me let you in on one of life’s big secrets. It’s very likely at some point, that your vision is going come to a screeching halt. (Unless you want to live in a cave, on a mountaintop. In that case, have at it.) You can be the pilot of your own destiny, that much is absolutely certain. However even the most powerful individuals in the world have responsibilities and commitments to others. Most of us want a richer, fuller life, that lets us be more, give more, share more, and enjoy more. We want to have time with our kids, or our partners, or to serve in our communities. We want to be secure in the knowledge that there will be food on the table. And we want to know that we’re able to contribute our best work, every day.
Living the life that you choose means you must make choices about where to invest your time, talent, and resources. That part isn’t a choice. It’s an obligation. To be everything you want, you can’t always do everything you want. Sometimes things won’t go your way. Families, partners, collaborators, and customers all want different things from me, and sometimes all at once. And they will from you, as well. The one thing I’ve learned (and you can, too), is that I must choose how to handle those requests. And I can live with that. Can you?
Megann Willson is one of the Partners at PANOPTIKA, where we help you see everything, so you can make better decisions.
Never say never! Maybe you’ve tried starting a business or changing careers before, and it hasn’t worked out. Or maybe you’ve considered it, but talked yourself out of it because of your responsibilities, the risks, the time involved…who knows? One thing is for sure, unless you approach it with a plan of action, just like any other business endeavour, you’re doomed. The first part of the plan is to figure out what kind of chance you want to make. Here are five tips to get you started on the right path again:
1.Envision the future. Give yourself a long runway, maybe five years. Where would you like to be? What will you be doing? Who’s with you? What’s your message? Who’s listening? Painting a clear, detailed picture will let you get a handle on what you want and need from the change. This will help you focus on what you’ll get, and that’s important to keep yourself going when the hard parts of the change begin (because they will).
2.How did you get there? Look backward from the success you’ve achieved. What skills or talents did you use to get there? These are the tools in your toolkit that you want to use. It’s important to know whether you’ve got everything you need – or whether you’ll need to build regular learning into the picture. (Hint: if you’re not learning and stretching, you’re not thinking big enough – and it won’t feel like you’ve changed anything when you arrive).
3.Why did you want to go in the first place? Author Simon Sinek recommends that you start with “why”, and then work on what and how – but sometimes it’s difficult to get your brain around the motivation before you figure out what it is that you are motivated to do. If you’d rather start with the purpose, because you already know you want to educate kids or save kittens, go for it. Start here, then backtrack to Step One.
4.If you tried before, what didn’t work? Don’t do that. Seriously, evaluate what it was about your first effort that failed. You’ve probably done plenty of thinking about that already. Now figure out the actions and attitudes that did work – and work on those. You’ll get a much clearer picture of actions that were helpful and harmful than you had, the last time.
5.If you’ve never tried, start now. Honestly, start anywhere. Work on your business model. Interview some people in your ideal role. Profile a customer. It doesn’t matter. As soon as you break them logjam and start moving toward the change you’ve been looking for, you’ll start to pick up momentum. Make time to commit to a few steps every day, and just keep going. Eventually, it will all come together. Just dreaming about it won’t get you anywhere.
Are you experiencing a specific challenge with your new business, your dream business, or your career change? Let’s talk – or leave a comment for us, and we’ll respond.
Megann and Steve, Partners in PANOPTIKA, are working for our clients every day to help them See Everything. Here are some of the things we see.