Are you brave enough to have a powerful brand? Find out here…

brandingAs anyone who has worked with me will tell you, I’m an avid fan of branding.  I look at a client’s brand and ask myself, does it tell me something exciting, original and impactful about their business?  Does it set the foundation for everything the business stands for?  Does it place them instantly a head and shoulders above the competition?

Often times the answer is no and I recommend that they engage a brand specialist to help them.  One of these specialists, Steve Bailey features in my latest book The Liber8 Disciplines.  Here’s an excerpt from the book about a conversation Steve and I had about branding and bravery:

“Over lunch recently, Steve asked me if I thought the readers of this book would have the courage to create a powerful brand.  I stopped and peered at him over the bowl of hot soup I was enjoying.  “Why do they need to be brave?”  I asked.  To which he replied, “Because if we succeed with creating the right brand for someone, they will get noticed… a great brand doesn’t let you hide away and be safe”.

Steve gave me an example of a small business client he had worked with recently.  They came to him wanting a new brand, something that would build on their existing business but take it to a whole new level of excitement and attraction.  He and his team came up with a new name and brand approach that was so perfect for them, when he told me I laughed out loud. “That’s great!” I cried.  From the name alone I knew exactly what this business did and I could see their growth plan ahead of them in an instant.  I could see a chain of stores nationally or globally; or a franchise model.  The name was so catchy I already knew what the brand would look for and what they stood for.  “But they weren’t willing to change their name,” Steve told me, “which I understand – it can be too big a step for some, especially when they’ve been around for a while. So we did a new brand strategy working with their existing name.  We came up with a positioning platform and graphic device that shifted them into the next league almost as well”.  Steve described this new idea to me and once again I laughed out loud.  “But that’s great too!”  I cried.  “That really works. I can already see all the marketing ideas that go with that idea”.   Steve shook his head, “They were too scared to do this too” he said. “They’ve gone back to their original logo”.  I knew the company he was talking about and I knew that they really needed to change their image in order to become more relevant in the marketplace.  I felt sad for them. They had missed an opportunity to evolve and they didn’t even know it.  Now I understood what Steve meant about being brave.  Being willing to have a powerful brand might mean you have to let go of what you already have to a certain degree.  Or you might even have to change it completely.

I realised from listening to Steve that it is almost as important to understand what a brand isn’t as it is to know what a brand is.  Why would someone go to a brand strategy agency if they were not willing to change their brand?  I wondered if perhaps they just hadn’t really understood what there were really asking for”.

Do you know what it really means to have a great brand?  Do you have any idea how powerful it can really be for you?  Would you like to know more about branding?  I’ve dedicated an entire section of The Liber8 Disciplines to this topic – it’s that important. If you’d like a sneak preview of this chapter, before the book is published – just email me (laura@liber8me.com).

From the desk of Liber8me.  Business mentors and publisher of Liber8 your Business:  The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every small business owner free.

What’s the number one thing to consider if you ever want to sell your business?

soldIf you are serious about selling your business one day, it’s important to have a good idea who might want to buy it. Imagine spending 10 years building a business you intend to sell only to realise you have created something nobody wants to buy. If you build a business with a buyer in mind, you have a much better chance of building something they really want.

A potential buyer could be a larger player in your industry looking to grow through acquisition. This growth might be regional – they want a presence in your city or town and it’s easier to buy you than start from scratch. It might be strategic – you have a smart product or service they could add to their existing infrastructure – for example, a large accounting firm buying a small book-keeping firm to add value to their client base. Your service or product could become a ‘nuisance’ to a competitor and they buy your company to prevent it competing or to regain lost revenues. It could be a management buy-out, when senior employees raise the funds to buy you out. It could be a competitor of a similar size wanting to grow and willing to invest to gain rapid growth through acquisition. Another type of buyer could be a private equity group or even an individual who sees great potential in what you’ve built.

I’ve sold businesses to two types of buyer. A multinational bought my advertising agency and a local competitor bought my pet care company. My father’s photocopier business sold to his senior management team.

So who might want to buy your business? What are you building that could add huge value to someone’s offering? Now is the time to start thinking about these things.

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From the desk of Liber8me.  Business mentors and publisher of Liber8 your Business:  The revolutionary planning technique that will set every business owner free

There are only two reasons to be in business. Do you know what they are?

world arrowAccording to Dun & Bradstreet* reports, “Businesses with fewer than 20 employees have a 37% chance of surviving four years and only a 9% chance of surviving 10 years.” 

I believe that the primary cause of these staggering statistics is that too many people go into business for the wrong reasons.

For me, there are only two reasons why you would start a business: firstly to make money and secondly to make a difference.

Making Money

Business is a financial game.  People who are very good at business understand that business is all about delivering returns to the shareholders.  As the Director and CEO of your own business you have a fiduciary duty to yourself as a shareholder to build a business that delivers maximum returns to you.  To look at it any other way is letting emotions get ahead of business.

Making a difference

And yet a business that cares only about money is a business without a soul. Your business is also there to fulfil a purpose, to add value and make a difference to the lives it touches, whether those people are customers, employees or beneficiaries of the higher purpose your business serves.

There is a fun irony to this concept if you can really grasp it.  If your business is truly focused on making a real difference to as many people as possible, you will attract more people to you.  The more people you attract, the more successful you become and the more people you make a difference to.  It’s a wonderful win/win concept.

Combine the concepts of making money and making a difference and you will build a business that will not only make you rich, but make you feel like a million dollars too!

Are you in business for the right reasons?

I hope so!

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*Dun & Bradstreet is a public company that licenses information on businesses and corporations for use in credit decisions, business-to-business marketing and supply chain management. D & B maintains information on more than 205 million companies worldwide. 

From the desk of Liber8me.  Small business mentors and publisher of Liber8 your Business: The revolutionary planning technique that will set every small business owner free

The 9 big DON’TS if you want to successfully grow your business

no entryEveryone is always telling you what you should do to be successful in business.  I thought for a change, I’d tell you (based on my own bitter/sweet experiences) some of the things you really shouldn’t do.  Here are my top nine DON’TS when it comes to being successful in business:

1. DON’T start or continue a business with no idea of why what you offer is needed and wanted.  Find your niche, be sure people want what you have and have a plan for how you will grow this business into the future.

2. DON’T believe you are the only one who can do what you do as well as you do. No matter what you do, no matter how specialized it is… there will be others out there who can be trained to do it just as well as you… if not better.  Get your ego out of the way.  Or you will become your business’s biggest liability when it comes to growth.

3. DON’T be afraid to hire people.  You cannot do it alone.  No one will ever buy a business that is dependent on its owner.  You must build a team around you.  This is, however, one of the most challenging aspects of business and most small business owner often make a complete mess of it to start with.  Which leads us to DON’T number 4…

4. DON’T do your own HR.  Most business owners are better leaders than they are managers.  You can probably inspire people to want to work for you with your vision, your passion and great ideas.  But an employee will never share the same level of passion as you, no matter how good they are at their job.  Get an expert (HR consultant) to get the right tools and processes in place to motivate your team and manage their performance effectively.

5.  DON’T try to grow too fast.  You need people – but you need to know you can afford them first.  Make sure there is enough forward cash flow in the business first – don’t hire them hoping the business will miraculously appear out of nowhere to pay for them.

6. DON’T ever believe that doing the work is more important than selling the work.  Learn to do the IN/OUT dance – make the out there selling part of your job as important as the in there doing.  You must have a sales pipeline in place at all times, always thinking about where your income is coming from next.

7. DON’T try to run a business without a budget.  Business is a financial game, and you must lead with the numbers.  Project your sales, set your expenses – have a plan to achieve these and then make the plan happen.  Lead with the numbers.  Create strategies to achieve financial targets and take action.

8. DON’T try to do it on your own.  Business can be a very lonely game.  Especially in the early days when you are doing everything.  Even if you have a business partner or management team, it’s too easy to be introspective and talk yourselves into believing what you are doing is right.  Get an external perspective on your business right from the start – a mentor, advisor, Board, Advisory Board… someone who will challenge your strategies and hold you accountable to your goals.

9.  DON’T let the bastards grind you down!  There is an extremely high probability that at some stage during the life cycle of your business you will want to quit.  You will hate your clients, hate your staff, hate your suppliers and maybe even hate yourself for putting up with all their crap.  You will have days like these.  I call them duvet days.  Go home, pull the blankets over your head and hide.  But come out fighting again the next day, because as I saw on a billboard once:  “I’m not saying it will be easy, I’m saying it will be worth it”.

Hope you liked this blog post.  Now DON’T be shy… share your comments below, let’s get talking about the DO’s and DON’Ts of business success!

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Brought to you by Liber8me.  Business Mentors and publisher of Liber8 your Business:  The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every business owner free.

What 10 questions should every great sales person ask?

soldIn sales you should be listening for 80% of the time and talking for 20%.  If you ask the right questions, you will find out your prospect’s real needs and find a way to sell your product/service as the solution.   When selling, follow the steps below with every question:

  1. Ask
  2. Listen
  3. Re-affirm (show that you’ve heard what they say… sometimes as simple as just repeating back to them what they’ve told you).
  4. Provide solution

The following exercise helps you prepare your check list of 10 questions to take to your sales meeting/call with you.  Promise yourself to ask ALL of the questions.

Questions 1 – 6:  Uncover needs

Ask open questions (note: open questions typically begin with a ‘w’ – what, who, when, why?) to discover how your prospect feels about their current situation.  Find out who your competition is and what they are doing right/wrong.  Find out the frustrations your prospect has.

Write down 6 ‘needs based’ questions relevant to your product or service.  Here are some samples:

Would you mind telling me about your current situation?

Who do you currently use for this service?

What’s working for you?

What’s not working?

What are your main frustrations?

What would you like to change about things?

 Question 7: Invitation question

 This is where you ask your prospect if they’d like to know more about how you could answer their needs.

Here’s the example invitation question:

“From what you’ve told me, it sounds like (your offer) could really make a difference to you.  Would you like me to give you a brief description of how it works?

Have your description ‘sales pitch’ ready.  As soon as you get the go ahead, give a brief, concise and enthusiastic description of your product/service (trying to steer it towards the needs you have just uncovered).

Question 8:  Leading question

 Here you are leading your prospect to an affirmative response to your final offer.  It goes like this:

“Does this sound like something that can solve your problems/make you feel better/address your issues?”

Questions 9 and 10:  The most important questions of all  … asking for the sale

 The last questions you should ask should be the ‘close’ or ‘asking for the order’ questions.  You start with a positive clarification statement then quickly follow with a way the client can buy from you. These are the questions you must make yourself ask.  You are not allowed to leave a sales meeting or call without asking for the order!

Make sure you have a way of taking their order/letting them pay with you.  It’s often a good idea to offer them a choice…

“I feel really good about this, I know this is going to work well for us.  What’s the best way to get things underway?  I could email you an order when I get back to the office… or I could just get it from you now.  What works best for you?”

 Notice there are two questions in one.  The first implies you are going to make the sale now.  And the second gives the client choice on how to do it.

If it isn’t appropriate or possible to ask for a sale there and then, be ready with to make an agreement with them of another sort.  Offer to send them something – to do something helpful for them, and make sure you follow up with it the minute you get back to your desk.

And finally…

 Asking these questions doesn’t mean you have to come across as pushy – no one wants to be that.  So have fun, be friendly, get to know the person and walk away feeling that you’ve had a really good chat.  If you’ve asked all the questions on your list, you will know so much about them and even if you can’t get the sale immediately, you will be able to build a good plan to win them over time.

Happy selling!

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PS. The above is an excerpt from my new book “The Liber8 Disciplines: A hands on guide to mastering the eight most important skills in business” To be released soon.

 From the desk of Liber8me.  Business mentors and publisher of Liber8 your Business:  The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every small business owner free

Your business is like a shed! A lesson in successful business planning …

shed picHere’s something I tell business owners all the time… “your business is like a shed”.

Whaaaat??!!

Read on for the explanation…

If I asked you to build a shed, what would you do?  You would do what you do with any project, right?  You’d get a picture of what the shed is supposed to look like. You’d look at the plans and follow the instructions.  You’d get the right tools ready and you might even find someone else to help you build it, someone with better expertise in this type of construction.

The key distinction here is when you’re building a shed you know what it looks like, it’s a project.  And a business is a project too, albeit a fairly long one. It’s not something that’s going to go on forever. It’s going to have an end.  Just like any project, if you know what the end looks like you can devise the plan to get there.  It’s a simple concept really but so many people don’t start a business that way.  The majority start a business with no idea where it’s going.   As a result a lot of valuable time is lost following strategies and tactics that are not leading to the ultimate goal… to build a business that works without YOU.

So get your picture clear.  What does your shed look like?  When your business fulfils all of your dreams for it, what makes it so amazing?  Who are your customers?  What is your team like?  What does your office look like?  What’s so special about it?  Why do people love working there?  What makes it irresistible to clients and team members alike?  What makes your business a head and shoulders above the rest?

The clearer the picture of your future business you have, the better your chance of building it just like that.  

Liber8ing Exercise for today:  Spend 15 minutes with a blank sheet of paper and draw a picture (with words or diagrams) of what your business might look like in 5 or 1o years time.  Then think about the tools you might need to get on board today to help get there.

Have fun!

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PS.  For more guidance on creating a clear end picture for your business, my book Liber8 your Business offers a step by step guide

From the desk of Liber8me.  Business mentors and publisher of the book Liber8 your Business: The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every small business owner free

Do you have the right mindset to be successful, rich and free? Rate your freedom mindset here…

welcome to financial freedomAs part of my Liber8me business mentoring programmes, I spend time interviewing successful business people. My key criteria for selecting an interview subject is that the person must have built and sold at least one successful business, which has created wealth and freedom of choice for them. I ask what they believe are the key traits that have made them successful. A pattern has emerged as all interviewees mention similar traits. Ten traits stood out and I believe form the foundation of the Freedom Mindset.

Each of the ten traits is list below with a score against them.  It’s time to take the test. Grade yourself on a score of 1 to 5, where 1 means ‘not at all’ and 5 means ‘totally got it nailed’, against each of the traits. Don’t feel you have to be close to a 5 score to be successful. This is a reality check to identify the areas you will need to work on as you build your business and your path to financial freedom.

1. Vision. Rate the clarity of the vision you have for your business when it is complete and you’ve created financial freedom from it.

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

2. Self-belief. Rate your confidence in your ability to build a business that will generate great wealth and freedom for you.

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

3. Passion. Rate your passion for your business

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

 4. Being goal-orientated. Rate the clarity of the goals you have set for your business

1                      2                      3                      4                     5

5. Planning. Rate your current plan for a business that will feed you wealth

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

6. Being action-focussed. Rate your ability to take action as needed.

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

7. Determination. How do you rate your determination to succeed?

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

8. Willingness to fail. How would you rate your willingness to learn from failures?

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

9.Being wealth positive. How would you rate your willingness to be very wealthy?

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

10. Giving back. Rate your desire to make a difference through your business

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

Review your scores for each of the 10 traits. In which areas do you already feel strong? Which areas do you need to work on? Keep these in mind as you continue to work on your building your business and your success.

Good luck!

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The above is an excerpt from my book Liber8 your Business: The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every small business owner free. Available now on Amazon.

Why are customer surveys so important? And how do you do them properly?

survey workI’ve recommended to three different clients in the past week that they undertake a client and prospect survey to find out what’s really going on with their business.  Each of these clients has different challenges but each will be able to make better decisions by asking the people they are trying to reach.

I was in the advertising industry for over 20 years and the most effective work we ever did for clients came out of insights we had gained from understanding their customers and potential customers.  When I ran my own agency, we would always start a new campaign by talking to both existing customers and potential customers.  We would base our advertising messages on what they told us…. more so than on what the client told us about their business.

Today I am still a huge believer in the power of talking to your customers on a regular basis.

Why and when should you do a customer survey

  • To learn more about customer purchasing and spending habits, and how they are utilizing competitor products – so you can be sure you are positioning your product and marketing in the most appealing way
  • To build a more detailed customer profile for future marketing campaigns – who are your hot clients, what do they want and where can you find more of them?
  • To further define a clear point of difference – what is that you do that your customers love, and why do they choose you over the competition?
  • To learn what frustrates your customers about your industry and how can you package your offering to provide the best solution to this
  • To assist with brand development – if you are undergoing branding work, you can build better strategies with customer insights
  • For new product development – before you spend money building something, make sure it is needed and wanted by matching it against client/prospect needs
  • To find out why clients are not referring others, even with very good incentives to do so

How do you go about it?

I’ve just published a report called ‘Customer Insights: Developing valuable insights for marketing and product development’, which outlines the steps to take and the types of questions you should ask.

You can download it at www.liber8yourbusiness.com/tools

Research is a really important part of product development and positioning so do check it out, and let me know if you have any questions at laura@liber8me.com

Good luck

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From the desk of Liber8me.  Small business mentors and publisher of Liber8 your Business, the revolutionary planning technique that will set every small business owner free.

Which is more important… delivery or sales? Should you be in doing or out selling? Learn the 5 steps to the ‘The In-Out Dance” here…

sync swimmingAs a small business owner you’ll be familiar with ‘The In-out Dance’ I’m sure.  It goes like this.  You are busy in the business, delivering your service or product, working hard, working hard.  There’s too much to do and you need help.  So you hire some people and now you have to spend more time training them and managing them as well as doing all the work you already have on your plate.  There’s no time to think about getting out there and selling your wares.   Busy in, bum down, doing it, doing it, doing it.  You’re working hard, putting in the hours, no time to sleep, worrying about dropping balls and hoping your delivery meets client expectations.

Then suddenly the work dries up.

You’ve got the team, but no income on the horizon.  So you have to get OUT there and sell you butt off.  Out, out, out, sell, sell, sell.  The pressure is on, there are mouths to feed and everyone is relying on you to bring home the bacon.  It’s a frightening and stressful time and the buck stops with you.  Now you’ve got time to sleep but you can’t because you’re worried about money. So out you go.  Pick up the phone, network like crazy, press the flesh and try to keep the desperation out of your voice when you talk to people.

Hopefully your efforts pay off.  The orders pour in and back you go to the coalface.  Doing it, doing it, doing it.  Work, work, work.  Late nights, no time to sleep, on and on until…

Suddenly the work dries up.

And out you go again.

You get the picture.  It’s ‘The In-out Dance’ and very exhausting it is too.  It can be really, really stressful – especially when you have to lay people off because you can’t afford to pay them in the quiet periods.

So what do you do to change this pattern?

You need to learn to dance better.  You’ve got the steps all wrong.   Instead of in, in, in then out, out, out, the dance needs to be more like in, out, in, out, in, out.  A gentle rhythm set to an even beat.  You must be out as much as you are in, or at least have a marketing system that allows for constant out focused activity.

 Here are 5 pointers to Strictly Come Dancing In-Out Style:

  1. Understand the in/out balance.  Business is a balance of sales and delivery – you cannot have one without the other.  If you put all your focus on sales but not delivery you will disappoint customers, damage reputation and lose business.  If you put all your focus on delivery and not sales, you will run out of business and the best delivery in the world won’t matter.  So you must ensure you dedicate time to both no matter how busy you are.
  2. NEVER take your eye off sales.  When you are too busy to think about sales, this is the time to think about sales.  Ensure sales and marketing activities are in your weekly work in progress and given equal priority. Try not to bump the sales activity off the to do list because you and your team are too busy.
  3. Keep the pipeline full.  You should always have a number of hot prospects waiting for conversion, a number of proposals in progress, a number of leads to follow up, a database to make irresistible offers to.  This can only happen if you keep the pressure on your sales and marketing at all times.
  4. Have a marketing system.  Create a marketing process that happens every week.  Make sure you have a hot list of potential clients you are targeting and a regular campaign underway.  With a system in place you can get other team members to help with the logistics.
  5. Hire people out of cash flow. Don’t hire new people on the basis of today’s busy period alone.  This can lead to disaster down track if the work dries up.  Try to use contractors to start with if you can until the workflow is more certain.  Ideally you’d be hiring people you know the business can afford, or at least ensure you have money in the bank to cover salaries should there be a quiet period on the horizon.

There is a reason that marketing and sales make up the important pillars to business growth.  You can’t grow without them.  Life for a small business owner is a constant juggling act in the early years.  Your job is to remember to keep both sales and delivery balls firmly in the air.  And learn to be a champion ‘in-out dancer’!

Dance on!

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From the desk of liber8yourbusiness.  Business mentors and publisher of Liber8 your Business:  The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every business owner free

Tired of being tired? Here are 3 steps to overcome business fatigue.

tiredI talk with small business owners every day and there are two words I hear all the time:  “busy” and “exhausted”.   It’s a common ailment of the business owner operator.  I’m sure you know how it feels.

So how can you look after yourself and try to minimize that feeling of overwhelm that sometimes feels like it will consume you?  Here are three strategies I’ve found useful…

  1. Schedule ‘time out days’ in advance. Make sure you keep a calendar that shows a month at a glance.  Look at your calendar for the next 6 months and see where you can find two whole days that you could take off each month.  They don’t have to be consecutive.  If you can’t see two days, then juggle things around.  Shift appointments onto other days.  This is a discipline and a habit.  I schedule the first week of every month ‘off’. I have no appointments during this week and I won’t allow any to be scheduled for me.  If this means I have some pretty crazy days during the rest of the month, so be it.   Once you have these days scheduled let your team, clients and suppliers (or anyone else who might want a piece of you) that you will not be available on these days.
  2. Plan how you will use your time out days.  Remember the purpose of these days is to help you with those feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion.  However, if you are anything like me then you won’t be able to just lie down for the day.  Your brain will be too busy thinking and worrying and going over every little thing that you should be doing.  The guilt will get the better of you and you will be on the phone or answering emails before you know it! So rather than take the time ‘off’, take the time ‘out’ and use it to work on your long term planning and strategies.  Or to write that blog you’ve been meaning to write.  Or to catch up on some important reading that you never have time for.  Use the time constructively but with relish and gusto.  Enjoy being productive rather than busy.  Believe me, it will re-energize you as much as a day at the beach!
  3. Plan your to do’s a week in advance.  A business owner’s to do list is a scary thing and more likely to keep you awake at night than any monster under the bed.  The overwhelm you often feel comes from a sense of being out of control. This happens when the to do list gets longer than the hours in the day and starts to encroach into your personal space in an unhealthy way (you know what I mean don’t you?).   My personal discipline to help combat this involves getting up extra early on a Monday morning (I can’t bring myself to sacrifice my Sunday evening) to map out my to do’s across the week.  I use a paper diary (shock horror!) to do this.  Once I’ve put my appointments in for the week (taken from my online diary) I then spread my to dos across each day, taking into account what else I have on that day.  On days that are quite full I give myself less other items to do and on quiet days I make the to do list longer.  Of course I prioritize them by importance and urgency as I go too.  If my to do list is looking particularly ominous for the week then I won’t allow any other appointments to be booked in.  I make a conscious decision to put my health and well being first at this point.  And note:  my running and yoga times are already scheduled in the diary for the week and are not to be moved.

It does help to know that you are not alone in the feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion.   Many before you have trodden that lonely and sometimes depressing path.  Most survive and as your business grows and  you build a good team around you, it improves I promise.

In the meantime, try my three steps and let me know how it goes.  I’d love to hear of any suggestions you have for managing the busy side of business too.  Share them here and I’ll pass them on to other business owners out there.

Be kind to yourself

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From the desk of liber8yourbusiness.  Business mentors and publisher of Liber8 your Business:  The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every business owner free