7 Incredibly Useful™ things I’ve learned…

drinkcoffee  photo by chuckyeager

I started Aspire 4 years ago, give or take a couple of days, and it’s been a fun, exhausting and enlightening ride so far.  Not only have I had a chance to learn a ton of great things through my own business efforts, but I’ve picked up a lot of amazing things from my clients as well.

When I started Aspire, I didn’t realize I was ramping up my business a few months before the ‘Great Recession’ started, which has led to some really strong lessons as well (things like living within your means, slow and steady, bootstrap wherever possible, etc.).  It hasn’t been easy and certainly there have been plenty of stumbles and frustrations over the years but there’s also been steady growth and I’ve gained a lot of clarity with each lesson.

As they say…”If I only knew then what I know now…!”.  Which brings me to the point of this post – I wanted to take a shot at sharing the most useful things I’ve learned over the last few years – hopefully they’ll be helpful to others…and if you’ve got some useful things that I haven’t learned yet, then share them in the comments!

What do I mean by ‘Incredibly Useful™’?  I could do a full post just on the technology tools I’ve picked up – stuff like Dropbox, Xobni and Pandora that I use all the time.  But what I wanted to cover here were some of the ideas that I either didn’t know or didn’t appreciate when I started.  I’m trying to read a new business book every few weeks…and some of these ideas came out of those books, but they also came out of real world application…practical (and Incredibly Useful™) ways to grow your business now…

1. It’s all about Marketing Consistency

One of the secrets of marketing that most people don’t pay much attention to is consistency.  Way too many business owners will spend money to make a big splash, but it’s a one and done approach…and they get frustrated when that doesn’t work very well.  What does work is getting in front of your target market on a very regular basis…in fact I’ve found that consistency is even more important than having a perfect message.  It’s your consistent presence over the long run that opens the doors…without consistency, you’re just floundering.

Incredibly Useful™ Tip:  Try this – Find at least 1 (preferably 2 or 3) marketing tactics that you can apply consistently every single month.  Newsletters, blog posts, post card campaigns, ads, events, meetings…if you’re not doing anything on a regular, repeatable basis now for marketing…you have to start…this month!

2. Use a Calendar not a list

One of the biggest challenges facing business owners (or anyone else for that matter) is the ability to consistently get things done.  Where most of us fall short is having too much to do and not enough time to do it.  We start with a list of really important things to do…start working the list and life happens and more stuff gets added to the list.  We reprioritize, work on some other stuff and more life happens!  Bottom line – not much gets done, which is why putting the important stuff on the calendar will help you actually get it done.  There was a study done a couple of years ago that showed that critical things that needed to get done where 75% more likely to actually get done if they were scheduled on a calendar!

Incredibly Useful™ Tip:  Try this – take a look at your to-do list and transfer the most important items to your calendar.  This will require you to estimate how long it will take and to find an open block of time to actually do it…which is why it works so much better.  There’s only so many hours in the day and this calendar approach will force you to honor that law of nature so you don’t kid yourself into thinking you can do more than you actually can.

3. It’s all about (well placed) Confidence

Picture this – you’re having a bad day and you are totally unprepared as you go into a sales meeting with a prospective client who would be a great fit for what you do.  You approach the meeting  with a real lack of confidence…saying things like “I don’t know” or “I wish I knew the answer to that…”.  How well do you think that meeting is going to go?  It’s going to poorly – people are looking for answers they can trust and if you don’t display real confidence, you’ll get eaten alive.  That lack of confidence comes shining through and you become extremely unattractive!

Incredibly Useful™ Tip:  Try this – Focus on building confidence going into sales meetings.  Confidence is the secret to success, but it has to be confidence that’s earned.  Here are some things to keep in mind to build up your confidence:  Let yourself take pride in what you do, make sure you’re overly prepared for the meetings and spend time visualizing a successful outcome.  Finally – when you head into that meeting, pretend like you are independently wealthy and don’t need the business.

4. You’ve got to have Focus

At any given time, you and your employees should all be very clear on what’s the MOST important thing you need to get done right now.  Outside of the day to day business operations, you should all be on the same page of what needs to get accomplished next.  Without that shared focus, the odds are very high that different people are working on different things or that things will change from day to day.  Either way, you’re not getting things done that way!

Incredibly Useful™ Tip:  Try this – take an hour or two of time and write down the 5 most important things you need to do this quarter – be specific and measurable.  Now out of those 5, pick which one is the most important thing.  Write the top 5 (and top 1) down, put it on your wall and give a copy to each employee and have them post it as well.  Rinse and repeat at the end of 90 days!

5. Be Really Visible

People will buy when they’re ready to buy (sadly not when you’re ready for them to buy).  So that means if you want to sell to people you either have to get really lucky and call them on the day that they’re thinking about buying…or you have to be top of mind when they’re ready to start looking.  The way to stay top of mind is to consistently keep your visibility up, make sure people know who you are and what you do and do it in a memorable way…consistently.

Incredibly Useful™ Tip:  This is where a tool like Social Media comes in.  My preference is LinkedIn, but Facebook can be effective for the right kind of business as well.  Make sure you are continually building up your connections with people you Know, Like and Trust…and that you are updating your status wi
th useful and interesting information – if you blog (and you should consider doing that, link back to a blog update).  You could also answer questions online or reach out to people you know…bottom line, spend 30 to 60 minutes a week, be active and stay visible.

6. It’s not about you…it’s about your clients

This can be a hard lesson for some business owners.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in all of the cool things you can do and to want to share that endlessly with whoever will listen (we’ve all been trapped in that conversation at some point).  Don’t take it personally…but your prospective clients don’t care about what you do.  They ONLY care if you can solve their problems…how can you really help them?  Focus your efforts on what’s in it for them.

Incredibly Useful™ Tip:  Try thisNext time you meet a potential client, do everything in your power not to talk about yourself.  You don’t have to be weird about it, just ask a lot of questions on what they are struggling with, what the implications are and really (really) listen to what they have to say.  If you do this the right way and you can help them, then it’s no longer selling, it’s just educating them on how you can make their lives / situation better, but it starts with their problems, not your stuff!

7. Project your Profits

If your like most business owners, you probably have a good idea of how much money you’d like to make this year.  Unfortunately if you’re like most business owners, that’s about all you know…you don’t really know when that money will come in (i.e. what month), where it will come from and how all of that works with your expenses, cash flow and profitability.  In essence you are flying blind…and eventually that will get you in a LOT of trouble.

Incredibly Useful™ Tip:  Try this – create a Profit Plan for your business.  Keep it simple, but lay out a month by month projection of your planned revenues and costs for the year.  That alone is a worthwhile exercise, but where it really gets fun is when you start figuring out how you’re going to generate the planned revenue…what marketing needs to happen, when, is it reasonable?  There’s a lot you can learn from this kind of projection – if you want a template to start with Contact Me and let me know what you want.

Any of these resonate with you?  What did I miss?  What incredibly useful things have you learned in the last few years?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

7 thoughts on “7 Incredibly Useful™ things I’ve learned…”

  1. Great tips! I believe in the economical conditions we are in today you have to create that point of differentiation from your competitors. Our potential and current clients today are very smart & savy. The question is how do we create value and provide solutions to their needs.

  2. Spencer – that’s a great point (that I left out). You’ve got to stand out from your competitors. There’s a lot of ways to establish a competitive advantage, some as simple as being the provider who actually goes the extra mile…!

    Shawn

  3. Donna Gordon says:

    Shawn, Great tips, I’d just like to add to #1 and #5 that it’s a distance race not a sprint. Long term relationships take a long time to build, as frustrating as that is. I see too many people expect things to happen overnight, and being consistent means adding value. I see too many posts that are consistently veiled promotional tactics vs truly ‘questions’ or ‘discussions’. For example, if you are a web designer, don’t ask ‘what is your biggest website issue?’ and expect a lively discussion of people disclosing their pain statements that you can swoop in and solve.

  4. Jeff Henry says:

    Great list Shawn! You forgot to one item though… Have a great business coach!

    I have a short saying at the bottom of my email signature. It’s a conglomeration of a couple of ideas discussed by Dave Ramsey and Rabbi Daniel Lapin, it reads: “Only by becoming obsessed with the needs of our clients and serving those needs with unflinching resolve do we truly serve our clients and ourselves.” It’s easy to become inwardly focused on yourself and your business. Focus on what matters, the client. Serve them well and you will ultimately serve yourself well.

  5. Donna – Great clarification…I could have added another one about the importance of being genuine, adding value and being transparent. Be yourself…because everyone else is taken! It’s definitely a marathon and not a sprint.

    Jeff – Great point about focusing on the client first. If you exceed their expectations, everything else will likely work out! (Having a business coach is a great idea too…!) 😉

  6. Garet King says:

    I think these are all great tips!!! I think number one is important to understand for anyone trying to grow their business. It’s the small things done consistently that breed success; not one larger-than-life action.

  7. Garet – thanks for the comment. The whole consistency things seems too simple, but you are right on the money that it’s the little things…done consistently that win the war!

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