Leveraging Google Maps Marketing for Your Local Business

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Google Maps marketing is most commonly viewed from the perspective of the 3-pack listings shown near the top of the search results for localized keywords. For example, see the figure below for the Google search “yoga Seattle.”

yoga-seattle-search

While the 3-pack is one of the most valued forms of marketing real estate for local businesses, it’s not the complete picture of Google Maps marketing. There are other ways in which local businesses can leverage Google Maps marketing to increase their search engine visibility.

Ranked Google Maps Results

Not every user has location information enabled on their device, and Google Maps listings are active worldwide with no geographic boundaries (regardless of a user’s search vicinity.) This is when ranked Google Maps results are typically displayed.

These search engine results appear on Google Maps for various types of businesses in certain locations. The figure below is an example of the ranked Google Maps results for “yoga” in New York City.

yoga-search

In the The Ultimate Guide to Google Maps Marketing, Dan Shewan of WordStream provides a deep analysis of the ranking factors associated with ranked Google Maps results.

He mentioned two specific variables (location of the business and reviews/ratings) that are NOT ranking factors in the Google Maps results (unlike the Google search 3-pack results which do take into account these factors.)

Rather, “Google My Business listing is, along with some other factors” Shewan notes as primary Google Maps ranking factors.

Google Maps Ads

Among the latest advertising models from Google are a series of new ad features in Google Maps. There are four specific ad features, including:

  • Promoted Pins
  • Customizable business pages
  • In-store promotions
  • Local inventory search function

Google Maps ads can appear in the search results on the Google Maps app, the mobile and desktop versions of the Google Maps, and on Google.com’s Expanded Map results.

Of the most commonly used features are a single promoted ad at the top of Google Maps search results, as shown in the figure below for “rhinoplasty” in Los Angeles.

rhinoplasty-search

Based on the figure above, Dr. David E. Kim’s ad is indicated with a purple “Ad” flag in the listings as well as purple pin on the map. In Google search, “rhinoplasty in Los Angeles” is a highly-competitive keyword phrase, both in organic listings and the Pay Per Click (PPC) ads. However, Google Maps ads provide prime marketing real estate with less plastic surgeons competing for precious advertising space.

Google Maps Marketing Moving Forward

As you can see, there’s more to Google Maps marketing than the local 3-pack. To get on Google Maps, you’ll first want to establish a Google My Business page. In this article about Google Maps Marketing, I outline some tips and strategies on how to optimize your Google My Business page for the best results in both the local 3-pack and ranked Google Maps results

For more information on how to advertise your business in the ranked Google Maps results, visit this guide from Google on how to get set-up. Leveraging Google Maps marketing from all angles can dramatically help increase your business’s local search visibility.

A Simple Guide to Setting Up and Marketing Your Business on a Shoestring Budget

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Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make

~Bill Bernbach

Every business, at some point or other, has operated on a shoe string or non-existent budget. But of all the activities you do, marketing your business is simply essential.

Marketing your business is what water is to a young plant; it is the thing that nourishes it and enables it to grow. Too much too quickly, and it will wither away, just like if your small business grows too fast it will be swamped.

But not enough water, and the conditions are not right for the young plant to grow at all. In fact, starve it of water and it will die, and pretty quickly too. If you don’t market your business—and do it well—then your business will fail. Lack of effective marketing is the main reason why businesses fail within the first year.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Thus, as you stand on the precipice and wonder what it is you need to do, this simple and quick guide will be helpful. Before, you spend your shoe string budget on anything, even if you do intend to use high quality roller banners, leaflets and business cards, stop and think what it is your business actually needs to connect with the right audience.

Elevator Pitch

When people ask ‘what do you do?’ what do you say? Do you have a fabulous answer ready for them that trips off the tongue, or do you bluff and bluster?

If you bluster, you need to stop it. You need to be able to tell people, succinctly and with sparkling clarity what it is your business does.

This is a script that you rattle off, taking no more than six to eight seconds to do so and frankly, its invaluable. Frankly, those few seconds are all you have to grab someone’s attention. Create it, practice it, hone it—and have it ready for use.

Local before global

We live in a world that is connected digitally and this is wonderful. You can talk to and see people in the four corners of the globe via a live link, you can send an instantaneous email to far flung places and receive a response within seconds.

But we often think of a global audience at the expense of a local community.

Raise awareness locally; don’t think that your local audience and customer base doesn’t matter. Sponsor the local under 12s football team, or sponsor the kit of the local rugby team etc., support community groups and you may find that some of these people need your business…

Collaborate

We often assume it is a cut throat world, where everyone is looking to undercut the next business but in some ways, this is a fallacy. Collaborating with non-competitive local businesses is one solution.

Why not get a group together, put in a small amount each and create a handy ‘go to guide’ to be distributed to homes and business across your area? Customers want to shop local, especially if they could be on to a good deal.

Network

(Groan) (Sigh) It is a tough thing, and not something that everyone enjoys.

A bit like speed-dating, turning up at a breakfast meeting and starting conversations with complete strangers is not everyone’s idea of a great time.

However, take a look at the well-planned networking events—usually introductions are made, mentors assigned—and you could make one or two connections that could invaluable.

Ask for referrals

Sticking with the networking and collaborating for a minute, asking for referrals is something not many new businesses do which is to essentially miss a golden and free marketing opportunity.

So, someone knows someone who may be looking for something, similar to what you offer. Leap on in there! Give the contact your business card, ask them for contact details for ‘someone’ and strike while the iron is hot.

Offer a free trial (if needed)

This is really tough to reconcile when your shoe string budget is about to snap. But sometimes, a little loss-leader can open up a market that could be a golden ticket, leading on to bigger and better things.

Someone not sure whether your product or service is right? Offer them a short, free trial so that then get a better chance to examine its amazing qualities. This could be anything from giving away sample jars of your delicious jam made from local strawberries, or it could be a day using the software in their offices.

Some marketing and promotional activities are either low cost or free but can still produce the same results. Why not give them a try?

Author: Colour Graphics is a successful online print and design agency. With over 20 years of experience, they have seen markets change, as well as new technologies that make high quality printed promotional material far more accessible and affordable. But sometimes, the tried and tested deliver the best results.

What is Your Business Really Worth?

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For many owners, the answer to one question determines their ability to leave their companies: “How much money will I get when I sell?” This question is indeed critical. Realistically, you can’t exit your business unless you achieve financial independence, and the primary source of that independence is likely to be the funds you receive for your business when you leave.

Let’s look at fictional owner Ron Nee, the owner of Landscaping Supply Company, to see why a valuation—well before your exit date—is so important.

For years Ron figured he could sell his business for more than enough money to retire comfortably. He based that belief on his understanding of his industry’s valuation rule of thumb–a percentage of gross revenue. Using that rule, Ron calculated his company was worth about $2 million—more than enough to finance his post-exit life.

When Ron decided that it was time to sell and met with a transaction intermediary, he learned that the rule-of-thumb approach didn’t apply. Ron discovered that buyers for the company would base their offers on cash flow rather than on revenues (the basis for Ron’s estimate).

Because Ron relied on an incorrect assumption about the value of his business, he had wasted valuable time coasting along to his exit date. Had he retained a professional to estimate value or provide a range of likely sales prices before he was ready to exit, he could have spent his time focused on increasing the value of his business.

How Can You Avoid Ron’s Predicament?

Ron Nee failed in a critical aspect of ownership: knowing the worth of his business. By not getting a professional valuation or estimate of value, he never knew how far away he was from exiting. He had no accurate information on which to base a plan to grow value.

Benefits

An accurate valuation of your current business resources:

  • Tells you—objectively—how much value you need to add to the business.
  • Provides you the ability to monitor your progress toward your ultimate financial objective. For example, if Ron had discovered that his business was worth $1.5 million (pre-tax) instead of $2 million, he could have created and implemented a plan to increase value to $2 million by the time he wanted to exit. His plan could have included interim goals and laid out strategies to achieve each interim goal.
  • Determines whether and when you can reach your Exit Objectives.
  • Provides a basis for estimating, and minimizing, tax consequences of exit path alternatives.

If you are ready to exit your business today, tomorrow or in ten years, you need more than a thumbnail sketch of (or “rule of thumb” approach to) value. An experienced appraiser should be able to answer the question, “Can your company be sold today for enough money, after-tax, to allow you to reach all of your exit objectives?” If the answer is no, you can use that knowledge as the basis for a plan to build business value.

Cost

The cost of hiring an appraiser or business intermediary varies substantially. For example, if you and your business are several years away from a transfer of ownership, a full-blown valuation may well be unnecessary. Instead, you need a value approximation (or range of likely sales prices).

If you are ready to exit and plan to sell to a third party, a transaction intermediary can prepare a range of likely sale price. If you plan instead to transfer your company to employees or family members, a certified business appraiser can prepare a “calculation of value.”

Estimates of value, thorough valuations, and marketability appraisals all have their places. Don’t skimp on obtaining the valuation you need, but don’t secure a more precise valuation before you need it.

What If?

Finally, let’s return to Ron’s situation: what might have happened had Ron obtained a business appraisal and learned—well before his target exit date—that his company would likely sell for a price that would meet his financial objective? Should he have taken immediate action to sell? What would you do if today you learned that you could exit for an amount of after-tax cash that would meet all of your financial objectives?

How would the knowledge that your business is 60%, 75% or 110% of what it needs to be worth affect your actions? Life offers no guarantees regarding your health or longevity and today’s volatile economy provides an excellent reminder that there are plenty of circumstances beyond an owner’s control. For all these reasons, knowing the value of your company is a fundamental, indispensable element of sound decision making.

Author: Ronald Oddo is a Certified Exit Planner with more than 28 years of experience preparing business owners for the day they will exit from their business. I am qualified to provide this needed service to business owners based on my education, experience, knowledge and skills. I have earned and maintain nine business related certifications and six security licenses. In addition, I am a Federally Licensed Tax Practitioner with the privilege of representing troubled taxpayers before the IRS. To stay as current as possible I enjoy membership in 17 professional associations. On a day-to-day basis I manage a fully staffed tax, accounting and financial planning practice which provides all of the resources for our Exit Planning Clients.

How to Communicate Your Company’s Vision to Your Employees

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Your vision is exactly that: yours. Not everyone has the luxury of immediately understanding the strategy behind your decisions, but it’s important that your team grasps the deeper meaning behind their work. After all, how is your team supposed to think critically and be innovative if their perception of the work is misaligned?

If you’re part of the 33 percent of executives who aren’t confident that their employees could accurately communicate the company’s business strategy, then listen up! I’ll let you in on what’s holding you back, as well as some of my newfound secrets to help your team understand your vision.

First, here’s why your team may be misinterpreting your strategy:

You’re Not Communicating Clearly

This one seems like a given, but you’d be surprised if you took another look at past communication involving projects. Go ahead and think back to the last time you stayed up past midnight redoing an employee’s work. If possible, re-think the conversations surrounding the project and see if there were important things you missed. Sometimes fixing miscommunications isn’t enough. A study of high-performing companies with “clearly articulated public strategies” found that only 29 percent of their employees could correctly identify the company’s strategy out of six choices. If this isn’t an issue, and you can point to where you gave clear direction, then speak to the employee about comprehensive reading of certain messages or teach them to return to something specific, like a project brief before working on a project.

An Employee Lacks Experience or Necessary Skills

Depending on your industry, some employees just may not be capable of understanding the mechanisms of your business. After all, we’re sometimes limited to hiring for skills (not experience). So while someone may be an exceptional writer, designer or web developer, they might not have the experience to grasp how your business works. Even those who are skilled and understand your business may simply lack the drive to get behind your company flag. When that happens, it may be time to change something.

So what are business owners and CEOs to do? Here are four best practices you can follow to turn the ship around and lead your team in the right direction:

  1. Don’t give up on them. It may feel like you’re standing alone in a crowded room, but every employee deserves the chance to prove they’re capable of getting it right. With your newfound approach to spearheading strategy, give each employee a clean slate, and remind them of this status every week. Mistakes are okay, but poor patterns of behavior are not.
  2. Occasionally push deadlines back or get started on projects sooner. Give employees enough time to repeat the work as many times as it takes to get it right. Resist the temptation to do the work for them, but still offer feedback and input to further drive them. However, don’t do this too frequently or your employees may begin thinking of deadlines as suggestions. Don’t set the deadline for a new task based on how long it would take you; instead ask the employee how long it will takethem to complete each tactical piece. Record your planning sessions, and note the time so you can add this into future deadline calculations.
  3. Explain the meaning of the work. Your time is best spent communicating and spreading the knowledge of your brand, strategy and goals. Use this time to invite employees to an intimate conversation instead of a boardroom meeting, or ask them what kind of communication typically works best for them. It could be a campaign brief, or they may need to write it down to remember. It could be a conversation, or a video screencast they can refer back to on their own.
  4. Reward those who understand and contribute to your strategy. Employees who are getting it and helping the company achieve the strategy should be commended. Analyze which employees are succeeding and what went right. While much of this can be chalked up to individual intelligence and ambition, there are still lessons to learn from your communication with them, and rewarding or recognizing them publicly allows others to see what you’re looking for. As Jimmy Leppert, an engagement expert at Kotter Internationalsays, “This sets the example, shows the connection between effort and outcome, and inspires others to make a contribution as well.”

In time, you can better align organizational goals and strategies if you analyze your team, adjust communication strategies, eliminate underperforming team members and build up those who are nailing it every time.

Author: Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketer and community builder in the HR and Recruiting industry. She leads Red Branch Media, an agency offering marketing strategy and content development. A consistent advocate of next generation marketing techniques, Hogan has built successful online communities, deployed brand strategies in both the B2B and B2C sectors, and been a prolific contributor of thought leadership in the global recruitment and talent space.

If You Can’t Write, You Can’t Sell

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In the past few days, I’ve been embroiled in conversations about grammar and spelling. I read a discussion about “Should I hire a sales person with poor writing skills.” I was astounded by the majority of responses.

Many people had the view, “If they can sell, who cares!” The conversations about grammar ran along similar lines, “It’s all about ideas and closing business, who cares about grammar and spelling?”

Some of you, will think this post is about writing, grammar, and spelling—it isn’t.

But writing skills, grammar, spelling are critical skills for sales people–if you can’t write clearly, if you can’t use reasonably good grammar and spelling, you will never be successful in selling.

The reason isn’t really about the writing and grammar, but it’s about the clarity and quality of your thinking. Writing, grammar, spelling are important windows into understanding the quality of a person’s ability to think critically, analyze, question, develop and execute strategies to win. If you can’t think critically, if your ability to understand and help solve customer problems isn’t strong, your success in selling will be limited.

Selling is really about thinking. It’s about being able to question, probe, listen, and understand. It’s about being able to analyze the customer, the situation, your own company and solutions, you will never be successful in selling.

If you can’t clearly connect your value with what the customer is trying to achieve, you can’t sell. Making these connections requires strong cognitive and thinking skills.

If you can’t articulate how you can help the customer in terms and language that are compelling and meaningful to the customer, you can’t sell.

If all you can do is read a script, pitch a product and do that at high volume and velocity, you can’t sell and your job will disappear, being replaced by technology.

Our customers need people with strong thinking, problem solving, collaboration. They need people who can give them new ideas, challenge their thinking, help the learn/improve/grow.

Our companies need strong sales people with problem solving/critical thinking/analytic capabilities. They need sales people who can influence and change the points of view of customers, partners, and people within their own companies.

If you can’t think you can’t sell.

Your ability to write is directly connected with your ability to think critically. There are huge amounts of research connecting writing ability with thinking/problem solving capabilities. Even something as simple as note-taking, is important. Research shows huge differences in comprehension and retention between people who take notes and don’t. They’ve shown even more differences in people who hand write notes, rather than typing them.

Your ability to write is directly connected to your ability to clearly articulate and communicate ideas in compelling fashion. The ability to shape arguments, to influence people, to help them learn and understand is directly connected to your ability to write—even if you are communicating orally.

Reasonably good grammar and spelling is part of good writing because it’s part of driving clarity in your communication.

If you can’t communicate clearly, succinctly, in a compelling manner, you can’t sell!

This post is not about writing or grammar or spelling. It’s about thinking, problem solving, communicating, influencing. Because one’s writing abilities are so closely tied to the quality and clarity of their thinking, if a person has weak writing skills, they may not have the critical thinking and problem solving skills to be successful. If they can’t express their ideas well they will struggle to shift customer points of view.

Strong communication skills have always been critical to our effectiveness as sales professionals. Not just strong verbal/speaking skills, but strong communication skills. If we can’t write an effective email, text, Slack message; if we can’t communicate our ideas in our proposals and presentations, we will not be effective.

This is not about writing. We don’t need people who can create prose like Ernest Hemingway. But we need people who can think and communicate with precision and clarity.

When I was a very young sales person, I had a manager who used to charge me $5 for every spelling error she found. She’d put the money into a jar for charity. I used to get very frustrated, saying, “Isn’t it the ideas that really count?” Her response, “If you are so careless with your spelling, how do I know you aren’t as careless with your thinking and ideas?” After some time of very expensive lessons, I suddenly realized it wasn’t about my spelling, she was trying to sharpen my thinking, she was trying to eliminate sloppiness and carelessness. It took me some time to realize my spelling, my grammar, my writing were all just windows into understanding the quality of my thinking.

We aren’t hiring you because of your writing skills, we are hiring you because of your thinking, problem solving and your ability to communicate. It just happens writing is a part of that and your writing abilities are great indicators of those skills.

Writing is important to selling because thinking is critical to selling.

If you can’t write, you can’t sell.

How to Make Content Marketing Work for Your Small Business

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Small business owners know they should be doing something to promote their business online, but what exactly that thing is sometimes seems vague and unclear. Or worse: arbitrary, a waste of time, lame. And it’s true, when you take a cursory look at the online marketing efforts of most small businesses, it’s not hard to find examples of the toothless, the boring, the uninspiring.

Content marketing is the practice of creating ‘content’ that will appeal to your audience or customers, while also supporting your business—sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. So what does that mean? Well, for starters, if you’re anything like me, the word ‘content’ has a slightly dry, even pejorative feel, like the thing it’s describing is just taking up space, filler, inessential. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And the reason for that has something to do with the second half of what we’re talking about—the part about your audience or customers.

Most small businesses simply do not exist in a really thrilling lane that lends itself to obvious opportunities for telling exciting stories. However, it’s highly likely that a decent number of your customers choose to support your business over other similar local businesses because in some way, you and they are on the same team. You are joined by an invisible thread that binds their loyalty to businesses that understand their needs, affirm their values, or in some way add fulfillment to their lifestyle. Because you are bonded to your customers that way, they are predisposed to be interested in the stories you can tell about your business. On the internet, your customers can become your audience.

So, content marketing is really about telling your audience things that will capture their attention and give you a bigger share of their mind. There’s a term for it, it’s mindshare. For businesses, mindshare is like loyalty on steroids. It’s loyalty, but also trust, engagement, and all of the other things that fuel meaningful connections between a business and its customers.

Small businesses have lots of opportunities to create really great content marketing, but it can be difficult to get started.

What is it?

Broadly speaking, it could be anything: videos, blog posts, podcasts, micro-sites, e-zines, newsletters, music, workshops… anything goes. The way to think about this is to choose the best format to fit the story you’re telling. Content marketing can be simple and easy and direct and virtually painless to create, or it can be part of a bigger vision of how you want your business to live in the world — how you want people to find you, what you want them to know about you, what story you want to tell.

What is it about?

It can be about you—how did you get started? What is the thing about your business that matters to you most? What do you know that no one else knows? What were your formative influences? What advice do you have to offer to your peers? What are the most interesting things you’ve experienced as a business owner?

It can be about the people who work for you—who are they? What are they good at? What is their role in the team? How’d they wind up working for you? What separates them from the other people who have sought to work for your business? What are they interested in outside of work?

It can be about your ‘thing’—where does your thing come from in the world? How do you get it? How did you find it? Why is it better than other things? What are your earliest memories related to it? How does it make people’s lives better? What does this thing look like in the world with actual people using it?

It can be about your customers—who are they? Like, actually who are they as individual people? Where do they come from? What do you learn from them? What are they interested in outside of your thing?  What are their values? What matters most to them? How did they find you? Why do they need what you have? Why do they choose you over other options?

The answers to these questions will form the basis for the stories you can tell through content marketing. Starting out in content marketing will require a little bit of experimentation. You’ll need to understand what platforms your audience is using. What social networks, apps and websites do they visit? You’ll need to define what success looks like. A good goal to start with is to begin amassing an audience. You can measure this by analyzing hits to your website, new followers across social media, video views or content impressions, as well as brand mentions across social media and the web.

There are tools to help you optimize your approach, and we’ve written about some of them before (19  Essential Social Media Tools for SMB’s). Focusing on reach may seem tangential to your current business priorities, but building trust and gaining mindshare with an audience who is interested in the stories you’re telling will allow you to be more persuasive and more effective when you begin to integrate more focused content marketing campaigns.

Starting out in content marketing can seem overwhelming to small business owners, but it shouldn’t be. You don’t have to do everything and you don’t have to be super active everywhere. Pick one thing, and put in the work to become really good at that one thing. This focus comes naturally to entrepreneurs—it’s related to the skills that keeps your business growing.

Imagine that your online presence is T-shaped. At the top of the ‘T’ are all of the areas where you have a presence. All of the social platforms, your website, and all of the places that your audience resides. But in the stem of the ‘T’ is where you’re focusing your most intense energy. Be pretty good at a lot of things, but be really great at one thing, and you can generate a huge amount of interest from your audience.

How to Write a Growth-Centric Business Plan for Your Small Business

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With the growing acceptance of “lean startups,” the “done is better than perfect” mentality, and accelerated launch approaches like those proposed by Startup Weekend, it’s safe to say that the traditional business plan has become something of an historical artifact.

Rather than creating generic business plans that paint pretty pictures of where they want to be, entrepreneurs are shifting to creating growth-centric business plans that define how they’re going to get there.

For a startup that wants to climb into the ring with big brand incumbents, that focus on growth is critical.

That’s not to say that traditional business plans were ever completely useless. They allowed us to visualize and consider the critical elements of launch, which created a kind of foundation to build from. While the resulting businesses may not have looked like what was painted, the plans were enough to provide a glimpse to investors.

The process had its uses, but that’s changing now. The modern business plan is one that is focused on growth and scaling a business. While it’s a pivot from traditional business plans, it’s still very much vital to success.

Why Develop a Business Plan?

For every entrepreneur who grew after creating a solid business plan, you can likely find a half dozen tales of startups that launched with notes on a napkin. But notes on a napkin are still a plan of sorts.

And having a forward-thinking plan contributes to success.

One study shared by Small Business Trends found that, of 2,877 SMB respondents, 1,556 respondents had not yet completed a plan. Among them, only 43% were experiencing growth, and only 36% had secured funding.

Aside from fueling your growth potential, there are a number of reasons to create a more contemporary business plan:

  1. You’re forced to look at the whole of your business and clarify your objectives.
  2. Your plans lead to roadmaps, which increase the speed at which you accomplish tasks that are critical to your growth.
  3. You develop a solid framework for decision making, even if that decision is to pivot.
  4. Your idea is subjected to harsh truths that will root you in reality and objectively analyze the viability of your business.

While plans don’t necessarily need to be complicated, including certain elements and taking a structured approach, provides the greatest chance of growing a small business exponentially.

“Many startup businesses fail to realize the importance of a good business plan coupled with a realistic financial forecast and cash flow,” says Matt Connolly, founder of myLovelyParent. “Referring to the business plan regularly and comparing projected figures with actuals can help the owner take steps to amend the plan and targets for the business.”

The 4 Pillars of a Modern, Growth-Centric Business Plan

While a traditional business plan puts a great deal of emphasis on executive summaries, with a foundation in market research and financial forecasting, a growth-focused business plan is based on four key principles:

1. Agility

Agility is one of the most critical attributes for accelerating the growth of a small business. A business plan needs to be developed around rapid ideation, deployment, and your ability to pivot. Because every business plan is a framework, you must take a nimble approach. This lets you embrace what’s new, try what has not been tested, and throw out what’s broken well before you waste a tremendous amount of time sticking to a set of guidelines.

2. Efficiency

Part of your plan will involve detailing your processes, workflows, and the people involved. Building a business plan with efficiency in mind ensures that you and your team won’t stall coming out of the gate. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting bottlenecked by the very processes you created. Choosing the right tools, and defining those tools, is critical.

3. Focus

Focus is part and parcel of efficiency. You’ll have overarching goals to reach, and getting there requires focus. When processes and plans change, you have to maintain focus on the primary goals. Adjust your path, and get back on course.

If you’re not focused on forward growth, you won’t know what to do or which direction to travel to reach your goals.

4. Insight

“In God we trust; all others bring the data.”

That’s a quote from William Edwards Deming, an American engineer, statistician, and management consultant who was largely responsible for advancements in both Japan’s and the United States’ industrial and commercial production processes.

He is regarded as having had the most significant impact on Japanese manufacturing of any individual not of Japanese descent.

His statement underlines the importance data plays in making decisions and planning for growth. Data, reporting, and insights are how you measure the success of your business plan. Unless a burning bush tells you it’s time to shut it down, you use the data to find out what’s working and what isn’t—and you make changes based specifically on that data.

Creating a Growth-Centric Business Plan

With these principles in hand, you can begin drafting your business plan. Before you start piecing information together from research and data, keep in mind that your business plan should be treated as a guide. It’s not a doctrine chiseled in stone.

You also shouldn’t feel pressed to include more information than is necessary. A business plan, even one built around growth strategies, doesn’t need to rival War and Peace in scale. What’s important is injecting value in what you include.

Consider the following elements when putting your plan together and building that sustainable growth strategy.

1. Define Your Solution

Every customer that approaches you is doing so because they have one or more problems. They’ll have questions that need answers in order to help them zero in on the main issue. Your customers are following a path that eventually leads to a solution.

Your plan should clearly lay out what the primary problem is for customers, and what solution you’re providing that will help them. Understanding the solution you provide (your products or services), and how your customers benefit, is a major component that will shape a majority of your marketing going forward.

2. Pinpoint Your Market(s) and Customer(s)

“You need to establish that there is a market for your product and work out how you’re going to access it,” says Geraldine Abrahams, director of TWM Productions. “Identify who your typical customer is and how you’re going to connect with them. A good start to a plan is to include a personal statement to establish your motives, objectives, and vision.”

At this stage, you need to be able to clearly define your ideal customer(s). Key demographics and behavior information should be noted, such as their age, education, job title or occupation, and income range. You can delve deeper, and any data you uncover can be used to drive your strategy.

The most successful brands have been able to thrive and grow because of their ability to understand and define their customers. This can be difficult for a startup with no customers, and may require a little research.

Combine what you know along with assumptions about your audience, and support those assumptions with research. The most direct way to research the market and your audience is to find your competitors. Examine how they talk to their audience(s), their online habits, interests, demographics, etc.

It’s okay to start with a high-level buyer personas, as you’ll refine and reexamine them and your audience segments for specific campaigns in the future.

“In the body of the business plan you will detail what market research you have undertaken and summarize the findings,” writes Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation. “These findings will have helped you create sales forecasts which will then translate into turnover in the financial plan. It sounds obvious, but I have seen many plans that don’t provide the correlation between the two and where it is obvious that the financial plan has been written ‘bottom up’ so the sales figure becomes the balancing entry.”

3. Determine Your Value Proposition

Your value proposition answers the question “Why would customers buy from us instead of our competitors?” Your value proposition is not your solution; instead, it’s a statement of differentiation that makes you unique from others in your market.

The value proposition is part operations, part marketing, and part strategy. Once you have it defined, it becomes the foundation of your competitive advantage because it’s something that your competitors cannot replicate.

Your value proposition may change over time, but it needs to be defined early on. Your customers will subconsciously weigh your company against others, leaning on your unique value to determine who they will do business with.

In order to define this element, you’ll need to spend some time performing a competitive analysis of your market. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your solution is so unique that you have no competition.

Competitors aren’t just other brands offering the same product. Your competition includes substitute products and alternative options – which includes the customer performing the work on their own or creating their own solution(s).

“Don’t become blindsided by your excellence,” says Anna Morrish, former marketing executive at DMC Software Solutions. “You may believe you’re the best in the business with no threat of competition, and maybe that is the case, but if you’re creating a plan for investors, they want to see that there is a market for your business. If there is no competition, where is the market? Make it clear in your business plan how you’re going to compete. The use of charts, graphs, and images will provide factual and visual evidence which can help to back up your potential ideas.”

4. Establish Your Goals and Objectives

Launching a business without goals and objectives is something that derails growth the most often. With no goals to focus on, it’s easy to get distracted. Rather than sailing to your destination by a predetermined route, you’ll be spinning the wheel of the ship in zig-zag motions every time something twinkles on the horizon.

“You must identify and commit to no more than three priorities and then go to work on creating the projects and tasks needed to pull these off,” writes John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing. “And, you must say no to the idea of the week that shows up to knock you off course.”

Once you’ve established your primary goals, break those down into smaller and more achievable milestones. This process creates a roadmap you can follow to reach the end goal. When things inevitably change and you have to pivot, you can refer back to your milestones and roadmap to course-correct and get back on track.

5. Map Your Operations

Traditional business plans usually want your organizational hierarchy to be defined. This is essentially a “who does what” list of staff. That’s an important element to include, but a business plan aimed at accelerated growth needs more meat around the team.

When you map out your operations, you shouldn’t start with the hierarchy to determine what needs to be done, and who does it. Start at the end of the funnel with your customer as they stand there with the solution in their hand and work backwards. For your ideal customer who just converted, ask yourself:

  1. What are each customer’s minimum expectations for the product or service, and how it’s delivered to them?
  2. What processes are necessary to make that final conversion?
  3. What resources, tools, and equipment need to be in place for those processes to work?
  4. Which departments are involved, directly and indirectly, with the conversion and delivery to the customer?
  5. Who are the people in those departments? What are their roles, who holds them accountable, how do they communicate with one another, and what is their role in communicating with the customer?
  6. How many of those people are needed, in individual departments, for processes to work flawlessly, and to meet the minimum expectations of the customer?

6. Create a Clear Marketing Strategy

You can’t grow your business without a marketing strategy. You may not have the seven-figure marketing budgets of larger incumbent brands, but that’s fine. The right strategy could create tremendous growth right out of the gate for your business.

Ideally, you want to show why you feel your target audience will embrace you, and how you plan to get your brand in front of them. Your strategy will be driven by market analysis and other research you’ve done up to this point and will be one of the more detailed segments of your growth strategy.

Or it may be the slimmest. It boils down to your audience, the competition in your market, and how you’ll leverage your value proposition.

Some companies spend hundreds of thousands on complex campaigns that include social ad costs, media buying, explainer videos and commercials, web design, direct mail, and more.

Others see success with far less of an investment by following a direct strategy. Grasshopper, a VoIP service for entrepreneurs, sent out chocolate-covered grasshoppers to influencers before launch. That simple launch strategy netted them a quarter of a million YouTube views, 170 earned media mentions, and approximately 30,000 referrals over a 90-day period.

wagepoint-article-marketing-campaign

Key areas of focus for your marketing strategy include:

  1. What channels you’ll use reach your audience – where are they most accessible?
  2. Who are your primary audience segments and refined buyer personas – who will your campaigns be targeting?
  3. What formats you’ll use – video, digital written content, audio, images, print?
  4. Will you produce the content in-house or with an outside advertising agency?
  5. What are the goals of these individual campaigns – what do you expect from each effort?

Your marketing strategy is likely to draw the most scrutiny if you’re seeking funding. Investors want to see deadlines and expected data. They want to know what kind of web traffic and social engagement to expect, and they’ll want to know how you intend to track it all.

For every campaign you lay out in your business plan, you need to know what metrics you’ll be monitoring, and the key performance indicators of this success. You should also include forecasts for conversions and the customer acquisition costs (CAC) for your strategy and engagement.

7. Outline Your Financials and Forecasting

Financials and forecasting are important parts of both traditional and growth-centric business plans. Investors want to see numbers to measure expected returns, margins, and profits. You also want to set a financial goal so you have something to drive yourself towards.

Your financial projections are going to be the last inclusion in your business plan because they need to include data from a lot of the other components. Everything has a budget and expected cost that should be included.

This is not a section for accounting – accounting consists of records from today working backwards. This section should be for projections from today onward.

When laying out your projections, don’t just estimate a single budgetary, expense, and P&L plan. Instead, include three financial plans:

  1. A conservative plan
  2. A moderate plan
  3. An optimistic plan

Each of these plans should be broken into monthly/quarterly statements with realistic and achievable revenue goals.

“When a new or young company presents financial projections, lenders and investors will want to have data which supports the company’s financial assumptions,” says Marc Prosser, co-founder of Fit Small Business. “Where did the company get its numbers for gross profit and amount of inventory it will need to purchase? If the company is using industry benchmarks, it will gain more credibility in the eyes of investors than saying the company made reasonable estimates. How can you get this data in your business plan?”

If you have existing sales records to substantiate your projections, you can include those, but it doesn’t need to be in line-item detail. You can always pull more detailed reports if asked.

Likewise, if you’re already operating and you’re refining your business plan to improve growth, use your financial data to help with your growth plan. Revenue growth only happens one of three ways:

  1. Increasing the average order value or size of the transaction.
  2. Increasing the number of purchases or lifetime value of the customer (reducing churn).
  3. Acquiring more customers.

Use existing merchandising, customer, and financial reports to forecast change can help determine opportunities for improvements, such as better marketing for more acquisition, new products, or focusing on customer delight.

Putting the Pieces Together

While a contemporary business plan has a number of components, it’s only as complex as you need it to be in order to create a strategy that will accelerate the growth of your small business. Don’t let the scale of putting the information together prevent you from making progress.

The biggest obstacle is just getting it started, and getting it done when you’re trying to run a business or gear up for launch. Instead of treating it like an interruption, or some ugly task you need to do, view it as a constructive means of defining what you want to achieve and how you’ll get there.

That’s the “how we get results” approach that successful brands use every day to define their campaigns and refine growth strategies.

“If it really is a working document then it should be changed and altered as often as the business and routes to market dictate,” says Rosie Wolfenden, co-founder of Tatty Devine. “I think it is quite a cathartic exercise in that updating the plan helps reinforce the commitment to the next part of the journey.”

There’s No Better Time Than Now

You won’t find a single template that is the ideal layout for business plans, and there’s no shortage of choices. For those who prefer to study in order to handle things on their own, Entrepreneur has a library of business plan guides to help you develop the business plan that best fits you.

If you would rather start with a pre-assembled template that contains many of the elements we discussed in this article, both Entrepreneur and Enloop have template libraries to give you a head start.

A happy medium between the two options is business planning software, with detailed tutorials and wizards to help you create the perfect custom business plan to grow your business. StratpadPalo Alto, and LivePlan are three good options to get started.

“Wherever you are in your journey, you have a need to develop the knowledge and plans to guide you to a successful business operation,” says Hal Shelton, author of The Secrets to Writing a Successful Business Plan: A Pro Shares a Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Plan That Gets Results. “While this learning and planning process takes many forms, shapes, and levels of intensity, it is all considered part of the business planning process. Learn how a well-thought-out business plan can dramatically turn the odds in your favor.”

Have you developed a growth-centric business plan for your brand? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Shrad RaoAuthor: Shrad Rao is our Go-to-Market maverick. His passion and commitment to our company is evident during many sleepless nights as he ponders our next move. Some say he might be Batman – well, it’s really only him saying that so we don’t actually believe him – or do we?

4 Ways Your Business is Wasting Money

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To err is human. Many entrepreneurs make mistakes when starting a new company, and that can often result in the downfall of a company. It’s not because they pigheadedly or recklessly jump on a new business idea. Enthusiasm and passion are requirements to succeed. However, small business owners make errors without actually understanding or even realizing it until it’s too late.

These may be sparked by idealism or even eagerness to get ahead. There is one truth, though, that often gets ignored: there is no secret elevator to success. You have to take the stairs. It’s commonly in our habit to believe we can find shortcuts and make mistakes that drain the budget. Heading into business thinking we are always the exception and the one in a million that can find success without hard work leads to subtle errors.

Your Marketing Gets Too Complex, Too Fast

Many entrepreneurs know the real power of excellent marketing. However, it can go from your strongest asset to your biggest liability. Ineffective marketing that you cannot measure is a potential money drain on your company that you should remove. It’s paramount to pay attention if you are using services of other PR firms. It’s often that they cannot be held accountable for the results. And if you can’t feel or measure the success rate, it’s a drain on your funds.

For a small business, you first need to focus on generating revenue and understanding how you can improve. It’s not a time for extravagant marketing efforts. Start small. If there is a part of your marketing that leaves you with more questions than answers, it’s a drain. Glossy branded materials are part of it. You might get pleasure from investing in business cards, mugs, t-shirts, or other things that have your company’s name on it. These are part of the money leaks that need fixing and can cut your budget dramatically. Focus on your customer first, and then on yourself.

You’re Trying to Find the Shortcut to A Vast Customer Database

You can’t buy customer engagement and loyalty. It’s as simple as that, no matter the guarantees of other parties who promise a large user base of followers and likes on social media. In this day and age, it’s almost shocking how many businesses believe this is a good investment. It rarely works, and it’s, unfortunately, difficult to measure. Even if it looks good for your page to have thousands of followers and even more people to email, “bought people” will only hurt your image and waste your money.

It will harm your outreach efforts. And that’s because these bots are obviously fake, and people will realize it. You will gain accounts that follow hundreds of other people, but nobody will follow them. That means that they will not be using their “influence” to draw people to your business. These “fans” and “customers” have no interest in your services or products, and they are not your target audience. They are a waste of money that could be better spent finding clients the authentic way.

You’re Investing in Technology You Don’t Need

While purchasing expensive office equipment is a clear waste, the subtlest culprit is an investment in expensive subscription-based software. More often than not, this refers to marketing automation programs, custom services (such as a tailored design for your website), or even cloud storage software that you do not truly need. It’s natural to want the best and pay for the best. You may afford it, but it becomes a waste of your money when you do not use it to a full extent.

Stick to your budget. Many SaaS solutions have big corporations in mind. Thus, their services might not be of use to you or, at the very least, not at full price. It’s one of the reasons why most startups fail and it’s certainly applicable to established small businesses. It’s a small leak. However, “Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.” (Benjamin Franklin)

You’re Focusing On Hiring More, Instead of Better

Even though you shouldn’t neglect your employees, there is such a thing as over-investment in your staff. This ranges from expensive office equipment to certain commodities that are not truly needed. However, the true waste of money is hiring errors. Whether it’s an unbalance between departments or simply inexperienced people that need to training and reach no results, it can place a severe strain on the budget.

Business owners often neglect the time and money spent on each new trainee. It can become an unknown way to waste money, and you would be better off opting for freelancers. While it’s certainly exciting to see your small business grow, it can become a drain really fast.

Due to some major mistakes, studies have estimated that 3 out of 10 new businesses fail in less than two years. As time goes on, this number increases to 5 out of 10 within the first five years. While the numbers are not encouraging, they can be avoided.

The most important aspect to remember is that you need to assess and reassess constantly. Don’t focus solely on success stories. Those may reach your ears easier, but they’re in the minority. The rest are not an overnight success and instead have been carefully avoiding mistakes.

Author: Ioana Sima: Writer. Gamer. Architecture student. Coffee Addict. CMO at DigitalWebProperties. Follow Ioana on Twitter for random musings & online marketing news. 

Turning Support into a Strategic Resource for Your Business

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In traditional business, customer support teams focus solely on satisfying the customer. They enable a pain-free, enjoyable customer experience while sales and marketing teams drive home revenue and create new customers. Right? Not so fast.

Modern businesses are starting to understand that support teams can be an incredibly powerful (and reliable) revenue channel, too. Happy customers means more than increased customer satisfaction (though that’s still imperative). Happy customers also mean a reduction in churn, stabilized retention, customer referrals, and an opportunity to improve the bottom line.

Despite the critical role of support in every company, support teams are often overlooked as strategic contributors to long-term revenue goals. This is an oversight; when positioned correctly, customer support teams have the power to contribute a unique angle to your value proposition.

So, what is your true value proposition?

Your value proposition relies on the business elements that set you apart from the competition. Most commonly that’s defined by the quality and personality of a product or service. Your support team can hugely contribute to this, too.

As a quick exercise, consider your business’s unique value proposition. Within your organization, what team resources contribute to its differentiating value? Which teams enable value, versus drive it? If you can’t answer these questions quickly, fear not—you are not alone. Many businesses have a difficult time identifying the value-adding resources within their organization, or even worse, fail to recognize those that do at all.

One study from I See Systems affirms that this recognition gap originates with a lack of understanding of how resources “act together to create value.” They suggest that resolution lies in understanding how resources “in their fundamental area relate to those of other areas when we divide the organization’s resources into two types, enabling and value-driving.”

With this in mind, we’ve come up with three effective ways your business can better identify resources, and better position your customer support team towards the value-driving category.

1. Incorporate multi-team collaboration into internal process

It’s time to get involved. To ensure your customer service team is driving value to the bottom line, immerse them in the resources that more commonly identify as value-drivers, such as teams on the hook for revenue and finance-related deliverables.

When these teams become inter-dependent allies, a new level of efficiency, productivity, and potential innovation to problem solving opens up. Indeed, a study published in Harvard Business Review states that as software tools mature, collaborative decision-making contributes “not only to reducing costs and increasing efficiency, but also improving business strategy.”

Carve out 30-minute standing meetings for open communication and opportunities to collaborate. Sometimes the best projects happen when two unlikely forces team up to focus dual effort on one challenging task!

Ask for invites. Invite yourself to marketing campaign retrospectives and roadmap briefs. Crash a daily standup for other teams once a week. Be proactively curious about what other teams are working on. In turn, incorporating other teams into approval process for projects, such as technical content or webinars, will smooth out customer-facing wrinkles before they happen, and build trust within your resources.

2. Cross-functional training

Often, the most exemplary employees are those with a working knowledge of the business from diverse perspectives. How do we enable that type of worker? How do we ensure that most, if not all, employees are considering the bigger picture in their day-to-day problem solving?  How do we set our teams up to drive value, not just for themselves, but also for the teams around them?

A great way to accomplish this is cross-functional training. It doesn’t need to be complex, fancy, or even entirely formalized. This type of training could be accomplished from listening to recorded support or sales calls to better understand their pain points and strengths.

Some companies prioritize cross-functional training to the point where, say, a new marketing hire may be required to conduct a support call or answer inbound tickets as part of their onboarding flow. As a result, a bond of trust and connection is made internally, and the new hire acquires a broader understanding of the business.

3. Leverage customer service metrics & SLA compliance to drive data-driven value

One of the most influential ways to position your customer support team as a strategic resource is through measuring the right metrics. When it’s time to discuss next year’s budgets, new hire allotment, or other growth opportunities, what information do you bring to the table? In order to be easily recognized as a value-adding resource, it becomes increasingly critical to deliver the most important and relevant metrics.

Recently, Kayako put together the Ultimate Guide to Customer Support Metrics that can help you craft that metrics suite and drive home your team’s value. Key support metrics, coupled with the establishment and enforcement of SLA compliance, are sure-fire ways of better positioning customer support teams as a strategic resource.

Okay, but is this really worth all the extra work?

Now, you might be left thinking, “this sounds like a lot of extra and unnecessary work. There’s just not enough time in my day.” We know the workload of a customer service team, especially in a managerial role, is unyielding and never-ending. We truly get it. But remember, the original reasons we explored these solutions in the first place–to reduce churn, improve retention, amplify referrals, and drive value to the bottom line—have resounding personal benefits for you and your team as well. Short term benefits may include a more balanced workload, increased delegation efforts, and cross-functional support from colleagues in new ways. Long term benefits may include bolstered hiring capacity, bigger budgets, and a newfound mutual sense of trust in your organization.

With every day, more businesses understand that customer service teams can, and should, deliver tangible business value. They understand that happy teams create happy customers, and happy customers correlate high levels of retention, customer referral, and returning business.

So the question isn’t whether or not you can afford the time or energy to prioritize customer service as a value-adding resource; the question is whether you can afford not to.

Author: Alicia Carney is a Product Marketing Manager at Kayako. Originally from San Francisco, Alicia is passionate about creating awesome customer service experiences for people all over the world. Outside of Kayako, she loves exploring Europe with nothing but a backpack, a bottle of wine, and ample amounts of cheese.

A Simple Test: Are We Managing Like Jerks?

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Are we who issue orders to associates or employees ever acting as jerks? We’d never like to think so, or we wouldn’t do it in the first place.

If someone is saying “This is confusing to me,” when you’ve given an instruction or order, there are a number of ways to respond. Of course it may be appropriate to explain your reasoning, or ask what part of the instruction is confusing.

But, as one CEO pointed out to me recently, it may be more appropriate to ask yourself if the instruction was necessary or worth the effort in the first place. He worded it a bit differently, as in the headline to this insight. Sure gets your attention.

Managers can be jerks as easily as anyone with a bit of power misused or misdirected. So here is the simple test. Before issuing any kind of order to perform a task, think of how this might be interpreted by the person receiving the order. Take the cynical view—the worst case possibility. Because it’s a guarantee that many of those on the receiving end will do just that.

Did your proposed order pass the jerk test? Will the requested outcome advance any of your goals—or just provide an increment of satisfaction? Will the output be used in a meaningful way? Or will this just be another reason for that cynical associate or employee to label you with that term?

Now raise the stakes of that order to the corporate level. Will a whole department or all those under the level of the issuer feel a bit of the jerk syndrome?

Well, then. You have a tool for the question. And you know how to use it. Think back to your past. Ever think that of an action by a leader in your past life?

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