Apr 09 2018
In April of last year, we achieved a notable milestone. Although Divining Point had operated as a consultancy for about 3 years, in 2017 we completed our first year as an agency. Now in 2018, with one more year under our belt, I’m reminded of the blog post I shared last April about the lessons I’ve learned from being in business. In it, I discussed the emotional turmoil that occurs when breaking out of your comfort zone to start your own business.
Entrepreneurs experience challenges, self-doubt, and fear (yes, fear) that is unique to being an independent business owner. There is no glamor in sleepless nights. The stress ruins your health – and sometimes your relationships. In many cases, entrepreneurs are cloistered alone without a support group to calm their nerves or offer guidance. When doubts arise we turn to Google and YouTube rather than ask a real person for help.
Despite our loner behaviors, entrepreneurs need peers, and we need to share wisdom – if for no other reason than to validate our own thoughts. Although sequels rarely achieve the same level of success as the original, in the spirit of sharing it seems fitting for me to offer more insights on what I’ve learned from my journey so far.
Stay Focused On Your Vision
Your business is your baby. It grows. It stumbles. It comes down with the flu. At the end of the day, you are responsible for what happens to your company. There are external factors that inhibit your success, and there are forces outside of your control that threatens to take the whole thing down. However, ultimately as a business owner you are responsible for guiding the company through these challenges. In order to be successful, you must stay focused on your vision.
Your company will have bad days, bad weeks, and even bad months. Don’t let it become a bad year. You started your business for a reason. If you haven’t mapped out what the next year, three years, or even five years looks like, do it now. That vision of company growth will keep your head on straight when things turn upside down. With a plan mapped out you will have the motivation to succeed even when you feel like a failure.
Define Your Market
One of the oddest things I’ve witnessed are companies that try to be everything to everybody all of the time. It’s a practice that appears to be driven by A) a fear of missing revenue opportunities and/or B) a lack of confidence that your expertise will generate enough revenue opportunities. In reality, companies probably think they can do anything, so why not do everything?
I won’t question another company’s talents, because, hey, we think we’re pretty good, too. But I’m reminded of the Law of Contraction: A company becomes stronger as it narrows its focus. This is especially true for services companies that are scaling or who seek to define themselves as a leader in the field. Concentrate your efforts on those things you do best, or those companies you serve the greatest and watch how your business will grow.
Last year our company made a conscious decision to work with companies who deal in the intangible business of service. Regardless of whether they sell a product or not, we work with companies who offer a high level of service, have an expensive product or solution, have a long sales cycle, or all of the above. In this model, the multiple layers of brand building, demand generation, lead gen, and digital marketing are an ideal fit for our marketing agency. This wasn’t an easy decision, and we didn’t discover this overnight. But we’re a much better company now that we’ve identified this strength.
Build A Core Team
A business owner may be the face (or beard) of the company, but your team is the arms, legs and body that move the business forward. Without a team you are either a consultant or you are fully dependent on contractors.
Consultants and contractors do amazing work, so there is no criticism there. In fact, contractors are vital for filling in the capability gaps of every business. Yet, in my opinion, a core team provides immeasurable benefits to both the company and your clients.
If a company provides a unique service that requires a cohesive process to deliver value, you must have core team members who are happily in alignment and solely dedicated to getting the job done. This means choosing the right employees who are a cultural fit for your business and who believe in both your mission and your process. When your team is working in unison towards serving your clients, your company is able to deliver on the promises you make to your customers.
I can’t say enough good things about the value of your team. In most cases, the success of your business and the great work it does are all the products of the people you hire. Carefully select your core team members, empower them to do their jobs, lift them up when they do well, and then get out of the way. You’ll be surprised at the results. In the words of Steve Jobs:
It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.
Build An Ecosystem
Similar to building a team, your ecosystem is all the partners and vendors within your network that support your company’s activities. They are the lifeblood of referrals and the safety net that can stabilize your company during tough times. These partners can bring you into co-promotional and subcontracting opportunities that can turn into some of your best engagements. In general, your ecosystem can feed you big breaks that you wouldn’t have discovered on your own.
Every good partnership is built on positive reciprocity. Just as these partners help you, you must help them – and for good reason.
Your best partnerships may be with companies who sell a product or service that is distinctly different than yours. In this case, you can refer your clients to them if/when a customer needs their help.
Other times, your best partnerships may be with companies who do the same work you do, but perhaps on a different level or with a different specialization. In this case, you may be over capacity or you may not specialize in a certain capability. When this happens, you can refer a prospect or client to a partner who can ensure they get the help they need.
In both cases, it’s a win-win-win: your client gets help, your partner delivers value to your client, and you’ve done a good job bringing the two together. These kinds of acts almost always pay for themselves. Consider it good business karma.
Explore Your Options
This seems fairly obvious, right? As they say, you should always have a Plan B. But exploring your options means more than just having a failsafe should your business go south. It’s my advice that all business owners should reverse engineer the desirable outcomes that are a part of their business vision.
If you have a clear vision for your company, and if you understand the series of “if this then that” steps needed to achieve your vision, you’ll be able to respond quicker and more confidently to the inevitable obstacles that appear along the way.
Tying all of the above topics together, here’s an example of exploring your options:
You have a key client that requires a highly specialized service as a part of their overall strategy with you.
Your only technician to provide this service is a contractor who isn’t in alignment with your company’s vision and has a spotty record of working well with you.
In order to secure your relationship with your key client and ensure they get the full value of their engagement with you, you part ways with your contractor and call in a trusted partner to temporarily fill in the gaps while you hire a core team member to take over servicing the client.
Are there risks with the above scenario? Definitely. But having a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, and so on, can mitigate the dangers associated with sudden instability. You can apply this methodology all across your business to help stabilize it in times of crisis.
Apr 06 2017
The Internet is full of articles from seemingly successful entrepreneurs dispensing valuable lessons from their first year in business. I recommend that you read them. Leaving the security of a job to start your own business requires confidence, determination, and all the free advice you can get. Hopefully what follows here are more useful kernels of wisdom to get you past the hard times as an entrepreneur.
A little backstory is in order. Divining Point is not my first rodeo. My first business was an unfocused mess of a company that helped me pay my way through college, taught me invaluable life lessons, and pushed me into a career path that inevitably brought me here today. In that regard, the first business was a success. But truthfully it resulted in me having to get a job and reconsidering whether I had the mettle to be an independent business owner.
Fast-forward to four years ago, Divining Point started off as a consultancy, like so many other companies do. I juggled roles. I took full time contracts and after hours freelance projects in order to keep pushing forward with the vision of doing my own thing. I delivered as much value as possible within each 24-hour day, and I did my best to do right by my clients. In April of 2016 I decided to refocus 100% of my efforts on the company and formally give it a name. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way that might be useful to you.
Nearly four years ago I left the stability of a good-paying job working with a team of professionals who challenged me, made me laugh, and treated me as an integral part of the organization. To complicate matters, just months before I left my job, I learned that my wife and I were expecting a child. Two weeks later my wife was laid off from a position as a chemical engineer that she’d held for 16 years. I had very little capital and almost no financial safety net. Most people in my shoes would have immediately postponed their plans. And yet, I still left.
Having been in sales and marketing for over 20 years, I knew I could hustle. I also knew I could help clients get on track with their companies and provide them with valuable strategies for sales and marketing. All I needed to do was push forward and get over the fear of failure. Really, the worst thing that could happen would be having to get another job.
Embrace the possibility of failure. Accept the risk of financial setbacks. Stay organized and don’t get distracted by the worries in your stomach. Running your own business is an exercise in taming your fear while continuing to work nonstop at peak performance. If you’re not brave and if you’re not focused you’ll get off course and your business will die.
Redefine Yourself… Often
If you’re like most people your business will change frequently over many years. The opportunities to service clients and deliver useful products will inevitably evolve. Your company will pivot. Your focus will shift. Technology will change. You will suddenly find yourself making money in ways that didn’t seem possible before. That’s a good thing. In fact, we believe transformation and growth are critical components of success.
While this change is healthy, what is absolutely disastrous is the failure to redefine your company IN CONJUNCTION with the shifts in your operations. You may identify new opportunities and develop a plan to capitalize on new revenue, but your long-term success will be capped without a roadmap that guides your decision-making.
To use a more personal analogy, the person you are today is uniquely different than who you were ten years ago. Your core values may be constant, but the way you manifest and embody those values isn’t. What you do, who you speak to, who you service, these are all fluid. As your company grows you should redefine your brand strategy, identity, messaging, and positioning… even your website. Do it often and stay ahead of the changes in the market.
Be Passionate About Your Business
Love what you do and whom you do it for. It seems simple enough, but it’s much harder in practice. New entrepreneurs do things they really don’t want to do in order to make money in the early stages of their company. These mistakes are easy to shrug off if you see them for what they are: short term sacrifices.
The trap comes from repeating these “mistakes” over and over in the pursuit of consistent revenue. You take on too many projects that don’t fall in line with your core competencies. You work with difficult clients in segments outside of your area of expertise. You work long hours in pursuit of poorly fitted “money makers”, and before long the once bright vision of your company is now cloudy and grim. You may as well be working for someone else.
Don’t take the bait. At some point you need to say No. Do it as a commitment to your company. Be crazy in love with your business in ways that prevent you from cheating on yourself. Find those things you enjoy doing the most that bring the greatest value to your ideal clients – and then stick with it. Be faithful to this vision.
Don’t Pretend To Have All The Answers
One of the best lessons I ever learned happened on accident. About 12 years ago I met with a GM of a local auto dealership, and he stumped me with a question I couldn’t answer. I froze for a moment and then gave him the truth: “I don’t know”.
He nodded and said, “I respect a man who isn’t afraid to say he doesn’t have all the answers.”
Truth of the matter is no one has all the answers. Having the humility to accept this fact can actually lead a person to greater success. In most cases it’s better to ask questions in pursuit of the truth[nbsp_tc]instead of coming to the table with a ton of preconceived ideas or solutions.
To extend this even further, not having all the answers can lead to greater collaboration within your organization, better connections with your clients, and more meaningful discoveries. Surround yourself with smart employees, contractors, partners, and clients. Be the conduit that guides all of these energies towards great things instead of being a controller that eventually burns out and turns everyone off.
A very wise friend by the name of Steve Reilly once told me, “Every new opportunity is a bridge to the next stage in your business. Early in your business the bridges will be small, but they’ll become bigger and bigger over time.”
As I mentioned above, short-term sacrifices make sense early in your company’s genesis. They are bridges to take you to your next destination, but eventually you’ll need to build bigger bridges in order to go further and reach the places you want to take your company. That means saying No to bad deals and saying Yes to deals that challenge you to stretch outside of your comfort zone – but still within the industries, services, and client types you’ve identified as ideal fits for your company.
Building bridges also means partnering and networking with people and companies who share your ideals and visions for success. These personal bridges become channel partnerships, referral sources, and cool collaborations that bring about wonderful case studies. Be generous in sharing opportunities with these key allies… and pretty much with everyone you meet. Life rewards people who operate from a position of abundance.
Building bridges includes managing client engagements with the intention of establishing long-term relationships instead of short transactions. No matter if you sell a commodity or a complex solution, the customer experience should always increase brand loyalty. The client’s needs should always be in mind as you conduct with your daily business.
If you think you have what it takes to start your own business, do it. Get out, get hustling, and start building those bridges that will take you to where you want to go. The upside is huge. You work for yourself. You work with great employees and contractors. You establish good relationships with clients, and you make money. The worst thing that can happen is you have to go get a job. As a person on his second go round as an entrepreneur I can tell you that’s a perfectly okay outcome, too.
Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.
Sep 21 2016
You’ve heard it said before, often with a smug tone and a noticeable air of relief:
COLD CALLING IS DEAD!
All you need is research, a handful of online marketing tools, and a strategy to attract leads to you. Inbound marketing killed the cold call.
But did it really?
Let’s say you’ve identified a company who fits the criteria of your ideal client. We’ll call them “Company A”.
What happens when “Company A” doesn’t respond to your marketing? They don’t see your social media. They don’t open your emails. They don’t click on your ads. They don’t respond to your well-placed content and blogs. They’ve effectively tuned you out. What happens then?
Some marketing gurus would tell you that “Company A” isn’t qualified. They aren’t a warm lead. They haven’t opted in for messaging about your product or service, so they’re most likely not ready to buy. You are wasting time pursuing “Company A” when there are other qualified leads to push into the funnel.
They might even tell you to rethink your strategy and invest in better marketing.
COLD CALLING WORKS BEST WHEN YOU KNOW HOW, WHEN & WHY TO DO IT
Let’s acknowledge something here:
Marketing and advertising DO produce results.
They work especially well when you know how, when and why to use them. The same holds true for cold calling.
Marketing and advertising bring interested leads into the funnel and enable your sales team to gracefully convert warm opportunities. Who doesn’t love that? But this model takes time, and it’s still not 100% effective at capturing all of your ideal clients. There is no silver bullet.
With marketing, your sales success relies on one critical prerequisite:
“Company A” knows they need something, they want to buy, and they know you have it.
Cold calling quickly solves a tougher problem:
“Company A” doesn’t know they need something, they don’t want to buy, and they don’t know you have it.
Some people call this an unqualified lead. The truth is, it’s an uninformed and misunderstood lead.
Good salespeople assess the market and understand their offering well enough to know which kinds of clients derive the most value from what they sell. They can quickly qualify a prospect during a brief conversation.
Good salespeople also know that the time will come when inbound leads dry up and their network will fail to deliver referrals. That’s when they pick up the phone.
BUT COLD CALLING IS BAD
Think about the last time you received a call from a telemarketer.
It interrupted your day. You could hear the sounds of a call center on the other line. The sales rep hastily stuttered through a script, and – CLICK – you hung up on them.
If you were kind enough to stay on the phone, you were treated to a pitch designed to get you to buy something. They may have even told you there was no obligation to buy, but you’d never be able to tell. They goaded you and used pushy techniques to “overcome objections”. Then they tried to “close” you long before you were ready to buy.
At no point was the call focused around your needs. At no point were you given control of the conversation. In the end, you felt annoyed and manipulated.
This approach to cold calling has created an environment so toxic that people today are averse to any kind of direct, unsolicited sales outreach that actually involves talking to a stranger. You can call it social awkwardness or a reluctance to interrupt a person’s day, but more likely, it’s the result of head trash that says, “Cold calling is a nuisance” and “Cold calling is bad”.
Walk into a room of sales people and ask for a show of hands: “How many people like making cold calls?” 99% of the time, no one does.
It’s no wonder why people celebrate the death of cold calling.
Weak salespeople always take comfort in the news that cold calling is dead. They eagerly stick their hands out ready to catch warm leads they can easily convert. These people deserve some credit for doing their jobs, but many companies will struggle without a quicker outreach strategy – especially during hard times.
Anyone with experience closing millions of dollars in new business will know that one of the greatest strengths of an outside salesperson is their ability to pick up the phone and go directly to the Ultimate Decision Maker. It takes very little research, very little time, and it cuts to the chase.
STOP SUCKING AND MAKE THE CALL
We’ve heard companies say, “We’ve tried cold calling. It doesn’t work for our business.”
Okay. Does your business involve decision makers? Do the decision makers have phones? The answer to both is almost always, Yes.
Most likely, the reason why cold calling doesn’t work for your business is because you don’t know how, when, or why to do it. And when you try it, you’re just not very good.
How do you measure success on a cold call?
What is your success rate on the phone?
Are you calling the right person?
Do gatekeepers constantly shoot you down?
Are you asking the right questions?
Do you have an outreach strategy?
Have you turned over control of the call to the prospect?
Have you ever recorded yourself on the phone?
If you’re confused about any of the questions above, you should call someone to help. There is a time and a place for cold calling, and when executed properly it will create the immediate results you need to see real growth and transformation for your company.
Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.
Aug 26 2016
You know the feeling. It’s Monday morning, and you look at your schedule. There are no breaks. The days look long. You already start thinking about which nights you’ll work after hours just to catch up. Being underwater is an understatement.
Companies in constant motion find themselves cruising so far below the surface; they can’t see where they’re going. When do you think about strategy? How do you make time for marketing? Do you have a vision for your company?
Here are 3 ways you can think above your work and keep yourself on track:
There are countless articles about goals, their importance, and criticism of the various methods of goal setting. When setting a course for success, your big vision goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
The process of achieving revenue goals falls into this category.
Company A has a revenue goal of $1M for 2017. If their average deal size is $50,000, they’ll need to close 20 deals a year– or one deal every 2.5 weeks.
You can reverse engineer the necessary tasks to achieve this:
If it takes 20 calls to get 1 qualified new business appointment, and it takes 5 qualified new business appointments to get one close, you’ll need to make 100 calls. To stay on pace, you’ll want to close a deal approximately every 13 business days. Thus your goal should be:
“Make 8 calls a day”
Your model will be different, no doubt. Make your goals to fit your company’s needs and shape them into realistic and achievable tasks.
Make A List
Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard this one before. Make a list and cross off items as you achieve them. But what happens when your list becomes as much a cause for concern as your normal daily tasks? If you are like most business owners, your list doesn’t fit on one page. Even worse, your list becomes a confusing mess once you’ve scratched through a handful of items.
Here’s a tip: your daily list should be no more than 5 Most Important Tasks that need to be achieved before close of business.
We recommend less – like 1 or 2 items, if you can swing it.
“Make 8 calls today”
“Prepare and deliver SOW for ABC Widget Company”
Your day will be filled with the standard distractions and mandatory daily activities. If you have an orderly list of clear, achievable priorities for the day, you will be able to make sense of your schedule and your business.
Prioritize Your Most Important Tasks
That thing you absolutely have to complete today? Do it first when your mind is fresh and you’re most likely to solve problems better. [nbsp_tc]All the minor irritants of the day can wait (like those emails piling up in your inbox). By placing your most important tasks first, you allow yourself the opportunity to focus on the activities that will lead to greater success and mentally pause all the other tasks of the day that will drag you underwater.
But what if your most important task of the day truly needs to come later in the day? Or what if you feel the most refreshed after your lunchtime walk? Then schedule that time in your calendar and stick to it. Do not make excuses or reschedule this task. It is the priority of your day around which all other tasks can occur.
Here’s a bonus tip:
Call For Help.
Don’t be afraid to delegate your low priority tasks. Don’t hesitate to bring in your assistants. Open yourself to the idea of hiring a coach or leaning on a mentor to keep you accountable to your goals. When you are underwater, your support team will keep you afloat and give you the extra insight to keep moving forward.
Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.
Jun 01 2016
You’ve seen it before. Grand Opening! Grand Closing… Sometimes within a year.
Right as a company is soaring to its greatest heights, in comes an unexpected storm, and down it goes. In many cases, the demise of a company is predictable and preventable. Danger is apparent long before the drop in altitude occurs, but the pilots of the plane (the CEO and/or management team) ignore the signs until it is too late.
The Internet is chock full of articles listing how and why companies fail. Here is another one. This list is by no means comprehensive or the final say on the matter. In fact, there are a wide variety of reasons why companies fail. Listed here are the common challenges we’ve witnessed first-hand – and done our damnedest to prevent – for small to mid-size companies.
Not Being Prepared
“Success is when opportunity meets preparation”. Remember that old trope? Well, it’s true.
Businesses that plan and prepare are better suited to capitalize on favorable circumstances when they arise. Those that don’t prepare – or stay prepared – are certain to die. But what does “preparation” mean?
Preparation can be something incredibly basic, like commercial insurance or cash reserves. Are you prepared for a lawsuit? A major liability claim? An unexpected expense? Are your books in order? Have you prepared for a slowdown that is beyond your control? All too often companies slide by and take risks that would sink the business if their gamble doesn’t play out positively.
Preparation also means seeing the changes in the industry before they happen. Is there a lean and hungry competitor quietly eating up market share? Is your product or service about to be disrupted by technology to the point of irrelevance? Or is your line of work suddenly cheaper to fulfill with an overseas firm?
We empathize with busy business owners who are so far in the weeds they can’t see the horizon. A second set of eyes and an impartial opinion are invaluable for the future of a company.
Not Listening To Customers
This is as critical as having a plan – maybe even more. To put it plainly, you attain a dangerously high level of tone deafness if you don’t listen to your buyers. They know your brand from the perspective of a “user”, and they’re ordinarily frank with their feedback. They can tell you all the strengths and weaknesses of your product or service, and (most useful) they can also alert you to opportunities and threats.
Every engagement with a client should be followed with some feedback process that informs and educates you on ways to improve. This could be as simple as an email campaign or a built-in functionality that solicits ranking and reviews. For a more personal approach, a post-contract interview will help you discover invaluable criticism.
Ignoring the needs and concerns of your customers is a sure way to see your company decline precipitously. Just as the needs of your business have to be met, the needs of your customers go way beyond the benefits of the tangible product or service. They want to be appreciated, understood, and treated as an important part of the entire business model.
Getting Price All Wrong
Are you priced correctly? Is your rate too high or too low? Does your model appropriately cover all of your fixed costs, variable costs, and surprises? How are you priced relative to your competitors? What is the perceived value of your product to the buyer? These are critical questions that must be regularly explored.
There are obvious traps with getting this wrong. Pricing too low leaves money on the table and creates supply challenges – not to mention potentially damages your brand. Pricing too high could kill demand and drive away strategic opportunities at a critical time.
Companies need to carefully collect sales data to discover a greater understanding of how their pricing strategy affects their success. All too frequently we see established companies (who should know better) pushing forward blindly with a pricing structure that does not account for costs, historical demand, competitive data, or a reasonable amount of profit to support future business initiatives.
The three traps above eventually affect sales, the lifeblood of any company. If you’re not running a sales organization your company is either dependent on charitable contributions or destined for doom. Even fundraising (of the non-profit variety) is a type of sales process – with a prospect, a pitch, a pipeline, and a close.
All too often companies focus on private capital to keep their plan in motion without ever determining if the market will even buy their product. A well-written market analysis and carefully selected focus groups can tell you there is opportunity in the market, but at the end of the day, you still have to sell.
Let’s hit pause for second.
Sales is both a science and an art.
For many people, sales is the absolute least enjoyable part of running a business. Some CEOs do a great job promoting their own company and autonomously closing deals. And yet they don’t appreciate or fully understand the effort a salesperson puts forth to sell something they neither control nor own. Conversely, some small business owners would rather do anything besides sell their own service, which ends up forcing them to make deals that jeopardize the company.
Whether you’re a CEO of a growing company or a single-member business owner, you could probably benefit from sales training. We’re big fans of the Sandler selling system and SPIN selling, but there are plenty of great methods to explore. Just remember to stay curious, fully explore your customer’s needs, present compelling value to the buyer, and ask for the business.
Failing to Evolve
We’ve saved the best for last.
If you’re reading this you’re most likely over the age of 25… and if you’re not, congratulations! You have way more sense than we did at your age. Think about how many companies, products, services, and solutions have disappeared over the last 5 years. 10 years. 20 years. 30.
We don’t want to call out names, but you’ve seen more than your share of outdated models that keep hanging on for far too long.
The most sustainable and successful companies learn ways to evolve over the years. Whether it’s an important pivot to meet client demands or a massive marketing investment to position a product to new buyers, evolution is a healthy process that opens up more opportunities in the long run of a successful company.
Being prepared and listening to your clients will help you establish an effective price that drives sales and supports all the necessary transformation your company needs for long-term success.
Now go out and do good things!