The Business You Build

November 21, 2009

BlogTalkRadio featuring Steve Smith of OneCoach and Cash Miller from SmallBusinessDelivered.com

November 8, 2009

Combine Networking, Planning and Etiquette to Create a Superior Referral Building Strategy

Face to face marketing traditionally known as networking has always been an integral part of a successful small business marketing strategy.  But, with the increase of people starting businesses as an alternative to going back into the job market, networking events have taken on more of a ‘swap meet’ atmosphere as business owners and entrepreneurs attempt to find buyers and collect business cards to use for future email campaigns.

If networking is done right, it can fuel a continuous stream of quality referrals.  If it’s carried out with an ‘I’m going to make a sale today’ mindset, it can lead to disappointment and be the source of a huge missed opportunity.

Good, productive networking is as much an art and it is science.  And while your results will improve the more you practice it, you can achieve great results very quickly if you develop the right strategy and incorporate a few relationship building techniques along the way.

The main concept to embrace is the primary reason for networking in the first place.  Networking is about developing relationships as a means of building a solid referral network.  It’s like getting other business people with similar goals to spread the word about you and help connect you with potential customers you don’t know yet.  Before people will be willing to do this, they have to know who you are, what you do, why you do it and why their contacts would want to speak with you.  Only then, will other business owners feel comfortable that referring you to their colleagues and clients will   not turn into their worst PR nightmare!  As a small business advisor, I work with many business owners who haven’t taken the time to ask and answer these questions.

Unfortunately, many new owners or owners new to networking are tempted to put on their ‘selling’ hat too early in the game and instead of creating quality relationships, they end up in any number of very short conversations with people who need to apologize for having to take an important phone call.  No one likes to be sold something before they’ve even had a chance to exchange pleasantries!  Having a business growth mindset means setting the stage for maximum results.  Why try to sell this one person when you could cultivate a relationship that could connect you to every one they know!

If you want to get a fast start on building a network of people who will help you market your business, you need to create a strategy that enables you to accomplish specific goals for each networking event you attend.  Here are a several strategies to increase your success rate:

1. Know exactly who your ideal customers are.  If someone wants to know more about how they can help and you tell them, ‘anyone’ or ‘everyone’ could be customer of yours, you will not  get the help you want.  First, it’s rarely true that everyone can be a customer of any business and second, people can and will remember specifics where they will forget about  generalities.  The more specific you are about who you want to connect with, the easier you make it for someone else to help you.

2. Figure out who would be a good referral business for you.  If you have a catering business, what other businesses are trying to target the same customers with different products or  services.  As a caterer; wedding planners or event facility managers would be excellent contacts to have.  Focus your networking efforts on finding these types of people at networking  events instead of embarking on a quest to meet as many random people as possible.

3. Don’t confuse your elevator pitch with your sales pitch.  People don’t want to be sold right off the bat.  They want to get to know you.  Your goal is to be as interesting as possible to  encourage them to ask for more information about you.  Of course, one of the best techniques for ‘being interesting’ is to ‘be interested’ in the other person.  This is why it’s really  important to know who you want to engage first.

4. Instill confidence in the people you meet.  Everyone wants to be connected with a winner.  So, look the part and dress appropriately for your business.  It doesn’t mean you have to be  dressed to the ‘9s’ but being well groomed, having well matched, pressed clothes on and having shoes that are shined or free of scuff marks tells a great deal about whom you are.   For many, this translates into how well you run your business.

5. Bring your contact file (business card portfolio) or PDA and be willing to help connect others to people you know.  The best way to cement a good relationship is to offer assistant to  someone before you ask for help in return.  This creates an atmosphere of goodwill and a feeling of reciprocity for the other individual.  Either way, what you want is for that person to be  impressed enough to be thinking about you when they run into your ideal client at a later date.

6. Keep your attitude in check.  Nothing drives away a potential business contact more than for you to ‘unload’ when they ask about you or your business.  These ‘head purges’ oftentimes  get delivered with heightened emotions which means you’re talking load enough for people 10 feet away to hear you.  Once others realize what they are in for when you approach them,  you’ll think you’ve become Moses parting the red sea.  No one wants to hear about your problems.  Don’t try to give them to someone else.

7. Less is more.  Even if you have a positive attitude, conversations can get carried away very easily for some folks.  Remember that you are there to make contacts with people who can  become great referral partners for you.  If you find you have a lot in common with an individual, arrange to get together at a later date.  If you initiate this, you’ll be showing a great deal of  interest in the other person and respect for their time.  A good way to break off a conversation that’s going too long is to ask the person if they ran into someone in one of your target  business categories.  If they have, they can point them out and you can move on.  If they haven’t, you can excuse yourself because you need to find the wedding planner you’ve been  looking for.

Effective networking is all about having a specific game plan for the event you are thinking of and making the people you come in contact with, glad to have met you.  If you want to build a strong referral base and a personal brand that people will be all too happy to assist you with; follow these suggestions and practice, practice, practice.  Of course, if you are having trouble developing any of the elements of this plan and you want to move that learning curve quickly, find a small business marketing consultant or professional business coach to help you.

You can also join BNI, one of the best networking organizations in the marketplace today.

November 3, 2009

Peter Drucker: His Leadership Message is Alive and Needed!

Filed under: business issues,taking action — stevesmith56 @ 11:37 pm
Tags: , ,

This week, many in business throughout the United States and around the world will be celebrating the 100th birthday of history’s most influential business thinker- Peter F. Drucker.  Drucker, now deceased, was lauded as the father of modern management and published 39 books on a whole range of topics and principles that he saw as essential to the greater role of business in society.  His first rule of thumb was his version of medicine’s Hippocratic Oath:  Do no harm.  Leave the marketplace, the workforce, the community you do business in, better than you found it.

One of Mr. Drucker’s most compelling quotes was, “What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it is another matter”.  This quote and the implication behind it is at the core of what causes some small businesses to succeed while many others fail.  As a small business advisor, I frequently chat with business owners who have followed the teachings of any number of business gurus without any real thought of implementing what they’ve learned.  As coveted as information and knowledge is today, without taking action, it’s useless for the purpose of building a business.

Business owners who realize that there’s no silver bullet for achieving success in the marketplace frequently get help with the things they know they should do but can’t do by themselves.  This is the essence of professional business coaching and can be very effective at speeding up your learning curve while helping you develop the ‘take action’ behaviors that have previously limited your forward progress.

We’ve all been dealing with an unforgiving economy for quite a while and the latest predictions from credible economists tell us that this could be the norm for the near future.  If the business you have now is the business you want years from now, follow Peter Drucker’s philosophy and decide what you will do to grow it.  And, if you need help getting there, make that decision too. 

More millionaires have been made during times such as these than at any other economic cycle.  With the right mindset and the support to make your dream a reality, there’s no reason why it can’t happen to you!

Does Size Matter?

What determines how big things should be? As Americans, we tend to think that bigger is better in most cases. Until recently, the SUV market was based on this principle. In contact sports, bigger certainly has its advantages. And don’t forget about all the restaurants who serve more food that most people can eat in one sitting.

On the other end of the size continuum is the idea that smaller is where it’s at. This has certainly been the case for cell phones, computers and cameras. In fact, technology seeks to shrink just about everything soon after it’s developed to enhance portability and create a sense of obsolescence.

Many products available to us have a ‘size’ benefit attached to them. But, what about a small business? How big should a business be to do the best job for the owner who conceived it? As a small business advisor, I frequently hear from business owners who want results from their businesses without regard to whether the size of the business is capable of delivering it.

Businesses, like other living entities, have a way of letting you know when their size is inadequate for your performance expectations. If you believe that the business has the potential to generate $1 million annually, but you do not develop the facilities and personnel to handle this level of volume, you could be looking at around the clock demands and the possibility of turning away business you can’t handle. Likewise, a business that is highly developed with staff, inventory and logistical support but lacks the sales volume to keep it running efficiently may end up squeezing cash flow and gobbling up profits.

Sizing a business starts with fully understanding the potential of the market to be served and clearly defining what the owners expect from the business. During my professional business coaching sessions, I frequently encounter entrepreneurs that have not completely evaluated the market potential nor established definable goals such as revenue goals, client profiles, lifestyle considerations or an exist plan when its time to get out. All of these considerations can weigh heavily on the size and scope needed to deliver the desired results.

Before you spend time investing in your business or become enslaved to its demands, you need to plan with the end result in mind. If you want to build a business that supports your ultimate revenue, profit, philanthropic and lifestyle goals, here are some things to consider:

• Is your growth being hampered by the number of hours in your day? If you have a growing business but can’t attend to all of it by yourself, get help hiring the right people to work for you. Expanding your business means finding people who can take on work that allows you to increase your revenue without working around the clock. Expanding your business by hiring help requires the blending of increased employee costs with anticipated revenue gains from more efforts applied to marketing your business.

• Is your infrastructure the right size for your current business and any potential growth over the next 18 months? If you’ve suffered declines over the last several years, you maybe paying for things you don’t need; i.e. warehouse space, office space, equipment, employee count, excess inventory, etc. Re-evaluate your needs to bring your costs in line with the business you have. The money you save can be used to market your business more effectively.

• What is your time worth? Are you spending enough time working on your business? Marketing and sales is the oxygen of all small businesses yet most owners spend less than 15% of their time actively marketing their business. How much time are you spending in these revenue producing activities?

• If you are trying to grow but are unable to expand or reduce operating costs, consider a joint venture. Partnering up with other businesses that provide ancillary services to your clients can allow you to improve the efficiency of what you do.

• You can also contract out excess work to reliable businesses that need the work. If your marketing engine is running at peek productivity, consider bringing in a few competitors that match your work standards for a percentage of the revenues collected.

All of the above solutions have advantages and drawbacks. The important thing to remember is, you must determine what size your business needs to be to produce the revenue and profit to support the lifestyle that you and your family want. It makes no sense to work endlessly on a business that is not big enough to provide the level of income you need to make the time worth it.

Sometimes, objectively evaluating your alternatives can be difficult. Lack of knowledge about how your options might play out or any built-in bias about what’s possible can skew the evaluation. If you want to grow and are open to various ways of getting there, ask for help from someone who specializes in business growth strategies that can help you make the right decisions and guide you through the building process.

Remember, building any business requires an investment in time, money or a combination of both. Don’t short-circuit your hard work by incorrectly sizing the business you need to support the outcome you want.

July 11, 2009

The Big Yellow Banner

As I was returning to my office from one of my regular networking events, I passed a shopping center that caught my eye. I had passed this center many times without ever noticing anything or going into it but this morning it was screaming with activity. So, I pulled in and drove to the source of the activity where I found people waiting in a line outside a novelty store.

Fascinated by the amount of people inside the store and waiting outside, I parked and walked over. Now, this was not a store I would ever think to visit. Most of the merchandise was curios, candles, seasonal decorations, cards and other nik-naks that people give as gifts to relatives they really don’t know that well. But today, this place could have been selling limited addition copies of Michael Jackson’s music! On a huge yellow vinyl banner across the store over head was the words’ Going Out Of Business- Everything Must Go’.

As the line moved inside the store I slipped in and asked the woman at the desk if the owner was around. She pointed to an elderly man standing to the side watching the madness unfold. By the time I arrived, there had been considerable damage done to the shelves throughout the store (most were empty). I went over and asked the owner why he was going out of business and he said, sales were down and they couldn’t keep the store open any longer. I asked him how long this problem had existed and he said with a sigh, “we’ve been having trouble for years and with the economy, it was time to quit”.

I asked the owner what he thought of the activity in his store and he shook his head and said, “I can’t believe we’ve sold this much. We did not reduce anything higher than 40% and people are buying everything”. I asked him what kind of advertising he had done previously and he said, “nothing- we figured that people knew where we were so they’d come visit us. I’ve been doing business this way for 22 years!”

Why is it that some business owners wait until they’re going out of business before getting serious about marketing what they have to sell. The marketplace and the consumer act very different today. Things that worked last year aren’t working now much less 20 years ago. Small business growth is not something that happens. It’s something you have to work at.

If you’re facing closure or are thinking about this because everything you’ve tried isn’t working, get help from a small business advisor or business coach specializing in growth. Sales and marketing is the life’s blood of your business and having a strategy that focuses on your ideal client is the only way to grow, regardless of the economy we’re in.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to hang that big yellow banner!

July 1, 2009

What Makes Business Owners Abandon Their Dreams?

For those of us who have chosen to have our own businesses, the reasons for doing so are probably varied. The decision could have been initiated by the desire to call your own shots, have control over your own destiny or simply have time to do the things that a conventional job would not allow. Regardless of the reason, it was clear that owning your own business was preferable to working for someone else.

Today, more than any time in recent history, thousands of people are starting their own businesses. It’s no coincidence that corporate American is laying off or eliminating positions in record numbers as well. So the need (desired or by necessity) to venture out and do your own thing is on an upswing right now.

What’s also on an upswing is the number of existing small business owners that would trade their businesses for a job that pays better. A recent study released by Discover Small Business Watch (as published in the Orange County Register- June 29, 2009) sites a disturbing trend. Some 36% of small business owners would close their companies if they could find a better paying job working for someone else. This percentage is up from 30% last year. Clearly, the challenge of growing a business today is taking its toll on the minds and bank accounts of small business owners everywhere.

How could an entrepreneur, filled with a passion for making it on his/her own terms and a vision of doing something meaningful, come to the point of scrapping their dream in favor of a regular job? The answer may lie in the mindset of the owner and their feeling of not being able to achieve what they thought was possible so many years ago.

The economic environment is making it tough on all small businesses to grow or even just stay afloat. Still, there are businesses in every category that are doing well. Why do some small business owners do well in turbulent times while others seem to falter or close all together? The economy is not responsible for any single business succeeding or failing. It simply writes the rules for how we all must operate to achieve a successful outcome.

Having a successful business mindset requires being very clear about your vision. What exactly are you in business for. ‘Making money’ is too general to enable you to stay focused on the particular path you took. Why did you decide on (this) business and what do you expect from it once success is achieved.

From there, understanding what makes you unique and why your customers decided to do business with you is the next area of examination. Without a completely clear understanding of these areas, any marketing strategy will produce random results at best. And if you think repeating last year’s program will suffice, forget it! The market has changed way too much for that.

The biggest single threat to a successful business mindset is ‘not knowing’ what to do or how to implement it. Thoughts of uncertainty about your plan or your ability to execute will only increase feelings of frustration, overwhelm and eventually the desire to give up.

The best way to combat this cycle of self-limiting thought is to get help. Whether you decide to elicit the input of a trusted small business advisor or a professional small business coach, having an objective viewpoint to keep you on the right track will do wonders for your focus and your commitment to building the business you want.

Deciding to get help is a personal choice and should be considered carefully. The type of business you have as well as the severity of your situation will determine what type of help you need. Here are a few things to consider before hiring a small business coach or advisor:

1. What is their area of expertise? Are they geared towards organizational, financial, marketing or HR improvements? It makes no sense having someone who specializes in employee training if the problem is revenue and customer growth.

2. Do they provide a tested system that will introduce new learning and tactics to resolve the problems you face? Are you getting help that will translate in to a predictable outcome or are you testing someone else’s theory.

3. Do they have resources beyond their own experience that can add addition support to your efforts? Knowing that your coach or advisor has resources that he/she can draw on (and you as well) when needed, allows you to have access to many experts as opposed to just one individual.

4. Is their involvement (coaching or advising) designed to get maximum results for you and your particular business? Can their approach be customized or scheduled in such a fashion that works for you or are you stepping into a ‘machine’ that only works one way regardless of who it’s working on?

5. Are you comfortable with the relationship you’re about to step into? Regardless of the expertise or industry discipline, it all comes down to the relationship. Trust and integrity must exist before you put your business’s future in the hands of someone in this role.

Running a business is not for the faint of heart and takes real commitment to reach short and long term success. If your dream business was good enough for you to put your money, time and emotional energy into, it should be good enough to save when the water gets rough. Before you decide to ‘bag it’ for a paycheck with someone else, invest in yourself- get help to learn what you don’t know and implement what you’ve not done. You might be surprised at how fast the results come and the vision returns.

April 11, 2009

Ships and Businesses Have A Lot in Common: Is It The Captain or The Vessel That Insures A Successful Voyage?

Ships and businesses are a lot alike. Both reflect the dream and inspiration of the owner. Both start with desire and get launched with excitement by all connected. Both tend to come in various styles and sizes and can be manned by 1 person or a whole crew. They also fall pray to the occasional disgruntle deckhand!

Ships (boats if you like) and businesses also require constant maintenance. The owners may not be involved with them daily but they’re usually top of mind around the clock. Depending on the level of participation, owners can spend a lot of time just floating in place or navigating the chosen waters of their voyage.

Businesses, like boats, need direction. It’s best if you know where you’re going before you begin your journey. Is your business ‘seaworthy’? Does your business have what it needs to make the journey? Can you make course corrections or do maintenance if the waters get rough? Do you have the know-how if the engine stalls or the weather clouds your vision?

Yes, there are many parallels between boats and businesses. One of the biggest similarities is the owner’s desire and commitment to stay the course. Many boat owners celebrate the day they buy their boat and the day they sell it. For most, the jubilation of owning one’s own watercraft is quickly replaced by the desire to unload a depreciating asset that knows no boundaries when it comes to sucking up all your money. As a business owner, are you sinking money into your vessel without any idea of the expected return on your investment? If so, how long are you will to keep going in this direction/?

So, is your business turning into a boat? Do you find yourself going around in circles or just tied up to the dock when it comes to pursuing the voyage to greater revenues and profitability? If so, you’re not alone. Many businesses that head for the open seas end up taking on water and finding themselves being towed to the nearest marina. Then, they sit indefinitely while the captain tries to determine what happened and what it will take to get back on course.

As a business owner (and a former boat owner), there are things you can do to get yourself out of ‘dry-dock’. Here are a few tips from my check-list on becoming seaworthy again:

1.

    Reassess your reason for ownership-

Years of toiling away in a business or maintaining a boat can sap your spirit and drain your checkbook. Take some time to rekindle the dreams that encouraged you to start your business. If you’re clear about why you chose your venture, this alone can have a tremendous impact on igniting the passion to continue. Often times, owners feel overwhelmed with the demands of running their businesses and can grow distant for no other reason than the need to survive mentally and physically. Rekindling the passion that got you started does wonders for your desire to chart a new course.

2.

    Recalibrate your position-

Sometimes the desire to hold on to a boat or a business without making the necessary course corrections can deplete you of all your resources. For boat owners, it’s putting their ‘pride and joy’ on a storage lot whole they contemplate selling. Business owners don’t have that same remedy. Your business is your life, the future to your financial freedom, the totality of your existence. In most cases, you are the business! Your current latitude and longitude are the direct result of what you know and what you’ve chosen to do. If you’re off course (regardless of the weather) it’s a result of what you don’t know and haven’t done that’s got your business in uncharted water. Take a critical, unbiased look at what you have done so far to determine what was missed and what didn’t go as expected. The answers to your future are in the decisions you made in the past.

3.

    Evaluate what makes your business different from others-

Everyone has choices including the customers you serve. Since boats are an emotional purchase, the prospective owner usually decides to purchase based on something that touched them emotionally. Consumers make their decision to purchase based on something unique about the business, the way the service is provided, the particular array of products offered or the way the business owner treats them. Whatever the reason, determine what makes you different from your competition. Nothing brings a greater sense of pride than having a unique position that your customers’ value and your competition envies.

4.

    Is your business structure right for today’s market?-

When diesel fuel crested $5.00, many boat owners decided to seek other recreation. What about your business’ exposure to economic influences? Is the business model you built still viable for today’s marketplace? Are you making productive use of today’s marketing tools; think website? It’s very common to find matured businesses run just like they were when they opened, some 20 years ago. A business that’s positioned for growth needs to be nimble, flexible and adaptable in order to weather the severity and frequency of change in today’s marketplace.

5.

    Thoroughly evaluate who your customers’ are-

Consumers are faced with ever increasing choices. It’s not just a matter of who offers what you offer but what else a customer can chose as an alternative to what you offer. People want value which does not mean lower prices. If you offer value and promote price, you attract customers who value price. As a small business, the product or service you provide contributes a small percentage of your overall success. Figure out what drives your success and it will be smooth sailing.

In reality, running a business is much more difficult and demanding than owning a boat. And while captaining a boat has its own special challenges, the similarities with running a business are noteworthy. In the end, you must insure your business is seaworthy, you have your direction well planned and you keep a sharp eye on the horizon. It also helps to remember to have fun. After all, that’s the main reason we boaters decide to take the plunge!

March 26, 2009

Growth Requires Focus. Taking Action Now Can Insure a Brighter Future

Where your focus goes, your energy flows. That’s why small business owners who focus too much on the current economic condition, sacrifice the very real opportunity to grow and achieve market dominance down the road.

In the midst of the stock market’s recent downturn Warren Buffet was quoted as saying, “when the market gets greedy, I become fearful. But when the market becomes fearful, I get greedy”. In other words, finding opportunities to grow may mean doing things that the majority of people are not doing. Many times, going in a different direction can yield significantly better returns. This principle holds true for small businesses trying to survive during an economic downturn.

Recently, Houston-based Administaff (NYSE: ASF), a human resource services provider published the results of their latest business confidence survey. Of 6,200 small and medium-sized businesses surveyed across the U.S., 37% of owners expected higher rates of growth in 2009. A similar percentage of owners (38%) felt that 2009 would be no better than 2008. What causes some owners to be optimistic when others feel that the future is bleak? It’s what the business owner is focused on and competition is neglecting, that creates the confidence and certainty about the ability to grow.

At a time when other businesses are cutting back, down-sizing, reducing staff or eliminating marketing budgets, business owners who want to seize the opportunity for growth and future market dominance, need to do the following:

• Avoid ‘The Vanilla Syndrome’. Evaluate your product or service position to separate and distinguish yourself from your competition. If you look and feel like everyone else who provides a similar offering, that’s how you’ll be viewed by your customers. Determine whether you are faster, environmentally safer, more knowledgeable, etc. until you figure out what makes you different. Having a unique point of difference will convey value in the consumer’s mind and make you less reliant on discount pricing schemes to compete for sales.

• Determine who your ideal customer is. Not everyone wants what you have to sell and the ones who are lukewarm will put price at the top of their decision-making list. Know exactly who your ideal customer is and what they want. Your unique offering and the marketing message that conveys it will resonate with these customers who in turn will pay your price, stay with you and refer others to you.

• Increase your personal market exposure. Do more networking in your local community. Find events to attend that will expose you and your business to potential customers and others who may refer friends to you. People do business with people they know and like. Delivering your marketing message during these events will enable you to explain why you do what you do so uniquely.

• Tune-up your website. Make sure the message and content of your website reflects the uniqueness of your business and the ‘wants’ of your ideal clients. People visit websites today as much for validation as they do for information. A poorly designed or dysfunctional website will throw up red flags in the minds of customers who don’t have any experience doing business with you.

• Spend you time on your highest revenue producing activity. When business is slow, it’s natural to want to stay busy by doing routine chores or mundane activities. Delegate these tasks to others who find them rewarding and spend your time marketing your business.

• If you are unsure, get help. Don’t continue doing the same things and expecting the results to be different. Seek out help from trusted colleagues or business services that can assist you in executing an effective business strategy. The economy will recover and being ill-prepared for the upswing is an opportunity truly lost.

John Assaraf, the CEO and co-founder of OneCoach, a leading small business coaching company based in San Diego offers this perspective; “Knowledge without action is useless. Until you decide to take action on the things you know you should be doing to grow your business, your results will be no different from the businesses who decide to hunker down until the economic storm passes”.

Taking action on the above points is the best strategy for pursuing growth in your business. Best of all, your financial investment is minimal. Conversely, taking no action will only create a sense of dependence on the economy and continued focus on what the rest of the market is doing.

March 14, 2009

What Should You Do With All Those Great Ideas?

Filed under: taking action,Uncategorized — stevesmith56 @ 3:38 am
Tags: , ,

Great ideas are a dime a dozen. However, one good idea that gets acted on can be worth millions! The origin of this quote was difficult to track but its still incredible relevant today. We’ve all had that bout with fleeting genius, like the brainstorm that hits you while you’re in the shower or taking a long trip on an empty highway. What causes this phenomenon? And why can’t we conjure it up when we really need a great idea for the boss or the business?

Rarely is an idea new. In fact, the vast majority of ‘new’ ideas have already been thought of by someone else. Ideas are simply thoughts stored in your subconscious mind that under the right circumstances, get mixed with personal experiences and come to the surface of your brain during certain dormant periods. Oftentimes, it’s impossible to figure out how you even came up with them. And sometimes, the fact that you did can be down-right scary!

Ok, so you weren’t the first to think up this money-maker. But wait, how many times do these ideas get action? For that matter, how many truly great ideas are remembered long enough to convey to someone else? Random thoughts and ideas happen so frequently in the course of a day that most of us never consider doing anything about them. Sure, its fun to chat with a co-worker and ruminate about making millions but once the coffee is gone, it’s back to work.

Most great ideas are not new and an extremely small portion ever gets serious attention. It only takes one really creative idea to completely change your life or your business. The key is ‘Action’. That’s why there are companies that do nothing but solicit individuals for ideas and inventions hoping to snag a winner and take it to market.

So what should you do if you get a thunderbolt to the back of the head? Whether you’re searching for a new business opportunity or you’re looking for that perfect idea to expand your current operation, here are few tips to separate the truly innovative ideas from the ones of ‘bad-dream’ origin.

1. Write it down- Get as much of the details on paper as possible. Later when the inspirational fog clears, you’ll need those details to piece together the concept. This action also serves to qualify the idea in case a second review confirms the idea was not true genius.

2. Is it being done by someone else? – While the majority of good ideas never see the light of day, some do get put into practice. Do some investigation to find out who may already be doing it. The internet and local periodicals are good references for this.

3. If your idea is already taken, innovate- In the world of consumer products, most new products are not new but twists on an existing idea. Focusing on improving what’s already in play is not only a smart business move, but you can gauge its viability from the existing market.

4. Get the advice of a subject matter expert- If the idea you have is out of your experience league, find someone who specializes in that area and get their input.

5. Test your idea thoroughly- Find a way to measure the results in a small, controlled market. You can assemble a customer focus group or run it by a trustworthy networking group. Depending on the idea, sampling at an appropriate venue could provide useful information. Any feedback you get before investing large sums of money will be well worth it.

6. If everything checks out, run with it- while nothing in life is guaranteed, success isn’t realized unless you’re willing to take some risk. Depending on your entrepreneurial spirit, it maybe wise to develop a partnership or alliance to share the risk and ultimately any reward. Depending on the size and scope of your plan, seeking out legal advice is highly recommended.

Everyone has the ability to generate great ideas. Just be aware of when your flood typically shows up. Remember to keep a pen and paper or your PDA handy to capture the details when they arrive. Only the folks with the passion and desire for success will take them forward and make them a reality. So what will you do with your next great idea?

March 13, 2009

Activity vs. Accomplishment: 6 Steps to Keep the Confusion to a Minimum

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. It’s a well-worn phase that applies to everything from sports to growing a business. I’ll bet you’ve even said this to a friend, a child or a co-worker. It’s natural to want to do something in the face of adversity. This concept is used to develop the plot in many best selling books and movies. You know the kind; main character is down and out and is brought back to hero status to overcome some incredible odds and save the day. Well, it works for Hollywood and Harlequin books but what about real life?

In real life, people tend to be reactive rather than proactive. Depending on the severity of the threat, people can marshal incredible efforts to slay their dragon. Unfortunately, the problem all too often gets overblown which means the dragon is a lizard and the solution is an ax!

When your business has slowed or dried up as is the case for many businesses today, what’s the appropriate course of action to take to insure action produces accomplishment? Here’s a reality check list to insure your actions meet the challenge.

1.

    Get a handle on the true nature of the problem

– Keep your emotions in check long enough to critically survey the situation. Sometimes, it’s as simple as counting to 10. Other times, you may have to engage a close friend or colleague to help you see things clearly. However you do it, do it! Not clearing your head at the start can get you off course immediately. Maintaining decision paralysis won’t make the problem go away. Neglecting weeds in your garden usually producing more of the same.

2.

    Create a list of all the possible suspects

– It’s not necessary to have the answer at this point; you’re still searching for the right issues. Don’t discount anything. In the heat of battle, it’s the small things that can derail your efforts. If the dragon is causing you to back track and you don’t see the edge of the cliff, it won’t matter how big your sword is. If you have employees and your customer service is the problem, invite them to participate in the process.

3.

    Determine the most critical challenges to work on

– From your list, rank the challenges and select the ones that when addressed, will bring the most benefit or resolve the greatest problems. It’s a fact that 90% of all the things people worry about never actually happen. You’ll be much more effective if you identify and focus on the 10% that’s really at issue. Wasting time and money solving things that aren’t broken, will throw you off track and bleed your bank account making it demoralizing when you figure out you’ve miss-diagnosed the problem.

4.

    Create a plan that organizing your actions in the appropriate order

– When people feel threatened or overwhelmed by threats to their business, this step gets entirely overlooked. The usual tact is frantically and hastily making decisions to put solutions in motion. The result reminds me of another one of my favorite sayings from corporate- USA; ‘If you don’t take the time to do it right, you’ll have to find the time to do it again’. It would be like a dentist deciding to remove a tooth before reading the x-ray.

5.

    Find people who play at the things you have to work at

– In short, don’t waste time trying to resolve things that you aren’t equipped to handle. Spend you time on your area of specialty and get help with the rest. One of the most common examples of this is the business owner who wants to save money by doing his own books. If he’s not an accountant, he’s wasting time better spent on other things and possibly creating significant tax problems for himself at the end of the year. This reminds me of; ‘walking past a dollar to pick up a penny’.

6.

    Have specific goals in mind to measure your results

– Here’s where activity can miss the mark on accomplishment. Stirring up the dust doesn’t mean the floors are clean. All it does is cloud your vision and prevent you from focusing on a successful outcome. This is where a cool head counts. If you can ‘see’ the solution, your odds of achieving it are dramatically improved.

Our current economic environment is making it tough on all small businesses. It’s hard to see the dragon on the horizon when you spend all your time deep in the woods. Take the time to survey your landscape so problems in the making can be dealt with while their on the low end of the list. And if that’s not your area of expertise, get help from someone who plays at it!

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