Entries from April 2011 ↓

Social Media – Why Bother

My marketing advisor is pushing me to do more with social media, as a tool to market my company. I just don’t know how effective it would be, and I’m concerned about the amount of time I’d have to put in. What do you see as the best ways to go about this, and is it worth it?

Marketing in general can be frustrating, especially when you’re getting started, because there’s usually no direct link between do this, get that out of it. It takes time and effort to build up presence and awareness. And it’s important to be in many places, rather than becoming an expert at just one route.

There are lots of ways to get noticed on the internet. Think through what you’re trying to accomplish and set some goals. Don’t go for the end goal of get more sales – that’s too remote and difficult to measure, especially early on. Think more about general visibility on the internet, visits to your website and connections with potential buyers and referral sources.

A website is essential. If you don’t have one, make that a priority. Hire 4 sets of skills: design, writing, programming and SEO (search engine optimization). These may not all be available in one marketing firm, unless that firm is larger, or has a team of outsiders they work with. Beware if one person says they do it all – the skills are all very different, and require specific expertise.

Think of the website as a destination, and social media as a way to point people towards that destination. Playing on the internet is both a competition for grabbing attention, and a community of influence. You want to get known for having expertise on a particular topic related to what you do. Then attract followers who are interested in what you have to say. And finally have people pay more attention to what you have to say than anyone else.

Your best bet it to set aside time every day to work on your social media program. Spending an hour a day on social media will result in fresh content for all your updates.

Start by looking at others who are influential in your field. See what they’re doing that you like, or don’t like. Look around for blogs that relate to what your company does. Check out key words on the internet to see who comes up first. Note the different ways of getting noticed – from having a website at the top of the search to seeing press release notices, published articles and other information sources referencing the topic you’re looking up.

Think about the voice of your company. What’s the best way to get the word out about your company’s beliefs. What’s educational or of interest to people? Do you write clients stories and case studies, or do you publish research? How are you most comfortable sharing information in written format? As fact based articles, or anecdotes and stories.

Try to find several ways to get the word out about your company. Join Linked-In if you are selling Business-to-Business, and then join groups within Linked-In. If you’re selling Business-to-Consumer, Facebook may be a better environment. YouTube is something worth considering for either B-to-B or B-to-C, as a picture is still worth a thousand words, but that means you’ll need video that looks professional.

Consider connecting what your company does for marketing outside of the internet, with your eMarketing. For example, if your company is doing seminars, or promoting charities, or participating in events that are noteworthy, get the word out on the internet through your LinkedIn and Facebook connections, as well as by blogging about what you’re doing.

Given everyone’s increasing reliance on the internet for information, I’d say you have no choice but to climb on the bandwagon and start to develop your own social media program. Give it time to develop. Think about it as a fun activity, rather than a chore. After all, you’re probably passionate about what your company does, here’s your opportunity to share that passion with everyone else.

Looking for a good book? The Social Media Bible by Lon Safko.

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Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., www.StrategyLeaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi?  Please send it to her, via e-mail at AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com or by mail to Andi Gray, Strategy Leaders Inc., 5 Crossways, Chappaqua, NY 10514. Visit www.AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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A Plan to Replace a Lost Contract

We just got in some bad news. A major contract has been cancelled. The first 5 minutes, all I could think about was that we’d just lost 25% of our revenue for the year – through no fault of our own, it’s a government program that’s going away because of all of the cost cutting. Then I took a step back and started breathing again, and decided I need to figure out how to turn this lemon into lemonade.

Here’s one more sign of the continuing uncertainty in our economy, and the challenges many businesses are going through. This company was looking forward to a great year, that now might be mediocre at best. This owner is also smart to quickly re-focus on how to move past the loss. In times like these, flexibility, speed of response and attention to detail will all contribute to success.

Start by pulling out the contract. What fees are at risk. Establish an invoice for all efforts expended to date. Check on outstanding amounts due and put lots of effort into collecting outstanding monies now. If additional work is due, use that as leverage to collect what’s owed.

Identify cost cuts that will have to be made if the revenue cannot be replaced. Check if vendor cancellation penalties come into play. Send out cancellation notices immediately.

Stack rank staff, based on skill, essential fit to the company, fit to projects other than this contract. Notify staff immediately of what’s happened, and that everything possible is being done to find alternate work, but that at the moment, it looks as if certain jobs will be terminated by a specific date.

Then focus on sales. The private sector is picking up. This may be a bad news / good news opportunity to pick up other work. Often government contracts come in big lumps, but with much lower profit margins, so it may be possible to go out and sell smaller private sector contracts and make up the margin with less volume.

Decide if there are enough sales resources on board to sell what is needed to close the gap. If not, immediately start a sales personnel search. Consider hiring a search firm to quickly cover more ground.

In the meantime bring existing sales and marketing people together. Brainstorm what to do to bring on more business. Look for opportunities within existing clients. Reach out to new client sectors as well.

Consider the possibility of acquisition to make up the volume. After the couple years we’ve all been through, more than one business owner is ready to throw in the towel. Put together a list of what you’d like to acquire: types of business, personnel, sales volume, types of contracts, additional clients to sell your products or services to, other products or services to sell to your current clients, etc.

It may be possible to pick up one or more companies that have been operating at or below breakeven for too long – the smaller the company the more likely it has struggled to make money. Consider purchasing their customer list, acquiring contracts, picking up sales and service related personnel. Be careful about assuming liability for their losses and outstanding obligations.

Reach out everywhere. Make sure everyone knows that you’re looking to buy another company, or two. Use the yellow pages, or trade association membership rosters to build target acquisition lists. Send out confidential introduction letters to the owners. Follow letters up with a phone call. This is just like any other type of sales: you’ll probably get a lot of rejection, and some interest that needs to be developed.

Whatever else happens, use this wake up call as an opportunity to move your company forward. Accept the challenge for what it is: time to get moving on expanding your customer list and reducing reliance on a big volume client. Create a picture of what your business will look like when it gets over this hump, and then work like the dickens to get there.

Looking for a good book? Fast Growth: How to Attain it, How to Sustain It, by Laurence G. Weinzimmer.

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Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., www.StrategyLeaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi?  Please send it to her, via e-mail at AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com or by mail to Andi Gray, Strategy Leaders Inc., 5 Crossways, Chappaqua, NY 10514. Visit www.AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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Setting the Foundation for Smooth Transitions

We’re expecting staff turnover this spring, for a variety of reasons, including sickness, maternity leave and people moving on to other jobs. We want to be sure the transitions are as smooth as possible. You’ve written before about the importance of writing out processes for how work is done. Can you go into a little more detail on how to get processes in writing so the next group of people can follow them and minimize their mistakes.

It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re in – service, wholesale, retail, manufacturing, distribution, etc. – written processes can increase accuracy and minimize wasted effort. Building systems can translate into real money savings for any organization.

Agreeing on steps to do work makes it easier for everyone in the company. There is less discussion about what is the “right way”. When a new person comes on board they have something to refer to. People looking to train their replacements have a tool to make sure that steps aren’t overlooked.

Assemble a team of people. Include do-ers and managers. Pick a function to process map, for example: how services are delivered to customers and invoiced. Ask questions that lead to a list of the big steps that happen. For example:

  • Is there a written schedule, detailing what happens when?
  • What kind of meetings are held to review the schedule?
  • What steps happen in order to perform the work?

Draw lines, linking one action to the next. Debate what’s the most efficient and effective way to get through the entire process.

Include feedback loops – where to go if there’s an error, how people are informed when actions are completed. Define the acceptable timeframe and error ratio of each activity. For example, it might be okay to be a day late in sending out an invoice. It would never be acceptable to skip sending out an invoice.

Ask people who currently perform the work to write out what they do, step by step. Once the first person has written out the steps of an action, hand it to someone else to perform the steps. Wherever questions come up, make notes to clarify the written procedure. Edit the written document and hand it to a third person to go through the steps. Once someone can perform all of the steps without asking questions, file it on the computer as well as in a procedure binder. It’s now ready to be used to train the next new person.

Once all of the individual procedures are written out, it’s time to link them together. As the final step of one procedure, define the next person pick ups the ball and runs with it. Here are some questions to ask:

  • how does the next person in line get notified it’s time for them to step in?
  • who checks to be sure no balls get dropped?
  • who checks for errors?
  • what happens if there’s a problem?

Link all of the procedures into an overall flow of activities, with check points and hands offs. This is your process map.

Once systems are developed, it’s worth it to set a review schedule. Meet monthly to review how things are going. Discuss where errors happen. Decide if things are moving along fast enough and accurately enough. Discuss actions to take to make improvements. Incorporate those notes into the procedures and process map.

Looking critically at the work of the organization can contribute to improved performance. Taking out errors is one way to minimize waste and increase profits. Figuring out the shortest path to take, to complete tasks, can lead to greater efficiency, which is one way to put more money on the bottom line.  Finally, having a process map rich with procedures, to use in training, helps to insure that lessons learned in the past are passed along.

Looking for a good book? Improving Business Processes by Harvard Business School Press.

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Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., www.StrategyLeaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi?  Please send it to her, via e-mail at AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com or by mail to Andi Gray, Strategy Leaders Inc., 5 Crossways, Chappaqua, NY 10514. Visit www.AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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Shifting Personnel to Grow the Business

One of my guys from the field is now helping me with sales. He’s pretty good at it and wants to do more. My concern is that as the season builds, I’ll need him back in the field. I fear that he’ll lose sales momentum, and might get discouraged about working in sales. Any advice?

Moving people around the organization is a smart idea. Don’t overlook the challenges. Do keep building the organization from the bottom up by giving other people opportunity to fill in open slots. Find replacements now, before you need them. Learn how to let the people in operations solve the problem, without relying on you. Building up sales by taking people from operations who want to make the move, can lead to long term growth of both revenue and profits.

Peter Drucker cited Frances Hesselbein’s experience moving personnel around the organization, when she was with the Girl Scouts as a model of organizations to consider. He called it Frances’ Wheel of Fortune. This development model let to higher levels of cooperation, less insularity in silos of the organization, and better communication throughout the organization. Moving an operations person into a sales position can be just plain smart.

One way to ensure a smooth transition is to encourage operations people to spend time, pre-transition, building their skills talking with customers and prospects. Ask people in the field to report back on conversations. Meet to discuss what’s going well and where they need help. Consider customer service training for your field people in order to increase their ability to listen to, report on and react to customer needs.

Realize that it may be challenging for people to make the transition from operations to sales. Focus on the advantages that operations personnel have: a network of client relationships and experiences they can draw upon. Operations personnel also have an intimate understanding on how the company performs it’s work, how to make things come out right and what  problems to avoid. These skills will help them when they talk to prospects about potential future contracts.

Plan out the needs of operations, as it learns to cope with the loss of the person who moved over to sales. Look for people in operations who have the desire and potential to learn and grow. Ask who wants to move up to fill the shoes of the person who just moved on. Make a list of skills that a replacement would have to have, and ask internal candidates for the job what they need to do to get ready.

It’s easier to think of the organization as always planning to move up. Keep people energized and focused by having each person in operations build a personal development plan. Ask people who want to move on to other departments to identify their replacements and get them trained. Once people learn to bring forward their replacement candidate, at the same time they ask for a chance to move up, your job gets much easier.

Ask operations supervisors to meet regularly to discuss their organization. Who’s ready to move up. Who needs more training. How well people are doing at training their replacements.

Give them information to work with. How many additional sales will they have to deal with this year. What other parts of the organization might need to draw on their people. How many people will they likely be able to hire this year.

Keep in mind that your most experienced sales people are likely to come from operations. If they understand how the company works, and how to avoid problems in operations, they’re less likely to sell problem projects or underestimate the scope of work. Of course operations skills are often very different from sales skills.

Communication, working independently, knocking on doors, using a database to keep track of prospects are all essential sales skills. People will need to demonstrate some degree of skill before they transfer over. If they can make the transition, look for them to turn their operations background into fewer mistakes in the sales process and better transition of new work into operations.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION:

Looking for a good book? Essentials of Capacity Management by Reginald Thomas Yu-Lee.

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Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., www.StrategyLeaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi?  Please send it to her, via e-mail at AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com or by mail to Andi Gray, Strategy Leaders Inc., 5 Crossways, Chappaqua, NY 10514. Visit www.AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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