Written by Jay Turo on Monday, May 20, 2013
I had the great good fortune this past weekend to co-host Growthink's Business Blueprint Live event at the LAX Sheraton Hotel, next door to our Company’s Los Angeles offices.
At it, 53 entrepreneurs and business owners gathered for two days and nights with the Growthink team to dream, plan, and network as to how to best grow the revenues, increase the profits and better fulfill the missions of their businesses.
What is really neat is that because of its longer group and in-person format, there is time and space to really listen and, correspondingly, to share best business practices, ideas, and inspirations.
Golly - what a weekend!
The attendees that ventured from near and far and from the comforts of their homes and regular routines took a chance.
The chance that by "mixing it up a bit," that breakthroughs would follow.
And they did.
From the aerospace engineer developing new quality assurance processes that make the engines that fly our planes safer and more efficient, to the software entrepreneur helping community banks better manage their loan portfolios (and by so doing freeing up more capital to lend to entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow their companies and create jobs), to the doctor re-designing the nature of care to focus more on prevention than cure, new and powerful business ideas and tactics were hatched and committed to.
And I was reminded of an old wisdom that I forget way too often.
It goes like this: when there is something “nutritious” in my life and business that I am resisting, it is that thing that above all else I need and should be doing.
It could be getting up early and doing that workout.
Or not having that second glass of wine.
Or taking that vacation.
Or, in business, making that call, writing that plan.
Going to that meeting, that conference.
And when you do, hold nothing back.
Don’t let any nagging doubts about whether this strategy, this decision, this job is the right one.
Just dive in.
What is brought to mind is Joseph Campbell, author of a “Hero of a Thousand Faces,” and the world’s great scholar on mythology and the foundational stories of humanity.
He famously said that what we all seek is not “so much meaning in life, as we do the experience of being alive.”
Well, this weekend what I and very many of the attendees that participated and shared with that full-on entrepreneurial commitment experienced this weekend was very much that of being fully “business alive.”
And from it and because of it, new business and conceptual breakthroughs and lovely relationships naturally flowed.
And when I reflect on these amazing outcomes, and then when I think back to the resistance I felt of not wanting to organize, not wanting to go to the event…
Well, it hits home that so important wisdom that when I really don't want to do something that I know in my heart that I should…
…well that is the exact thing that I must do.
And then let the magic happen.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Business systems, business systems, business systems....why is everyone always going on and on about systems in your business?
Well, it's simple really. If you don't have a business system, and your entire operation relies on you personally performing certain actions, then you really don't have a business. You may be a really busy and even profitable self-employed, independent contractor, but you do not have a business.
A true business may require your leadership, strategy, vision, and even daily performance of work. But importantly, it will also continue to operate and make money even if you take a day off, go on vacation for a month, and be prepared for this, even if you die.
What is a Business System?
In its simplest form, a business system is a process or collection or processes that dictate the way your business operates. You may have a system for client acquisition, product delivery, customer loyalty, invoicing, supply chain, etc.
The more automated and error-proof your system, the more you are able to dedicate your time and energy to growing your business rather than simply running the day-to-day operations.
If more time and greater revenue is not reason enough to have solid systems in place, let's consider these other factors that influence why you can't live, or die, without a business system.
Try walking into a bank or a venture capital firm and telling them what a talented widget maker you are and that they should give you money to build your company.
When they ask for your business plan (a first step in building a business system), tell them you don't need any of that mumbo jumbo, you are Joe Blow, Great Widget Maker EVER! What do you think is most likely? That they will hand you a check or that they will laugh you out of the building? 99.99% will laugh hysterically (the other 0.01% are your parents and they are biased).
They will laugh because they recognize that a person is not a business. Yes, one person can create a business, and one person can be the vision and soul behind a company, but no one person is the company.
Apple is moving on without their visionary Steve Jobs, KFC is still selling chicken just fine without the Colonel, and Microsoft is still a giant while Bill Gates focuses on philanthropy. You may be central to your business, but to have real value, the business needs to be sustainable without you.
You Can't Sell Yourself Into Slavery
Let's say you have worked for your business for a few years, developed a good customer following, revenues are high, but you do everything yourself and nothing is documented.
If so, think about your exit plan. Will you someday just close up shop and let all those clients just melt away? Will you pass the business onto your children or chosen successor? Will you sell the business?
If you have a thriving business, selling may be an excellent idea and may significantly contribute to the funds you have to support your twilight years. But how will you sell a business that doesn't have clearly defined systems? How do you sell the business if you are the business?
Ok, so maybe the sale's agreement stipulates you will stay on as a consultant for a few months or years to show the new owners "the ropes" and transition the client base. Guess what you will be doing in those months? That's right, creating systems!
The fact is that you will sell your business for a lot more money and to a wider base of potential buyers if you have clearly defined systems in place. When you are the business, new owners have to hope they can either replicate your actions or have a plan to do it better. When you can show them proven business systems they can easily adapt, they will clamor to buy you.
What Will You Bestow?
Perhaps your dream is not to sell your business, but instead to pass it on as a legacy to your children or a chosen successor. There are many strong family businesses in the United States that have been passed on through generations. Is it your goal to be one of them?
The argument here is the same as in the previous section. How do you bestow a business if you are the business? How will you enjoy your retirement in Tahiti if Johnny Grandson is calling every two hours because he needs to know how you did this and that?
You Can't Die in Peace
Is the income from your business a necessary part of your household income? If you die, and that income stops, how does your family survive?
If you need a solid reason for building business systems, perhaps this is it. A business that can continue running without you, even if not running 100%, but can survive even without you, has value to your family. It can be operated by relatives, it can be passed on to heirs, and it can even be sold.
But if your business evaporates into thin air then minute you stop breathing said air, you are doing your family a disservice.
A business with a solid foundation of systems will survive you. It may even become your legacy. Your brand, when attached to proven processes and workflows, can endure.
Have you felt the tingle of cold sweat as you read this article? Are you wondering how you will ever sell your business when it primarily exists in your head? In many ways, a business is collection of abstract concepts. It's your reputation, your relationships with clients and suppliers, it's the quality of your product and service, and it's the word of mouth on the street.
To solidify your business, you need to give it form by building systems that can be documented, followed, and replicated by others.
Depending on the nature of your business these systems may require a strong team, wise delegation, trustworthy partners, and reliable vendors. Maybe all you need is clever automation that can be passed on to others.
If this article made you feel at risk, then take the time to carefully analyze your business. What can you automate? What can you document? What can you delegate? What can you reliably outsource?
Find ways to truly evolve from a self-employed worker to a smart owner of successful business systems. Build it right and you can live (and die) in peace.
Suggested Resource: Would you like to know how to build business systems that dramatically improve your business, and turn it into one worth $10 million or more? If so, check out Growthink's 8 Figure Formula. This video explains more.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Are you an Empire Builder?
How do you gauge yourself and your business? Do have the potential to turn your business into an empire? You may not know it yet, but you may just be the person to create the next business empire.
Empire builders are ordinary people who perform extraordinary tasks. There are certain traits and actions that distinguish these outstanding individuals from others. By learning certain skills and adopting successful actions you can set your business growth to super-size.
10 Characteristics of Empire Builders
If you have painstakingly built your business from scratch to where it is now, assuming it is growing steadily, you should not be surprised that you possess some characteristics in common with empire builders. Here are the 10 common characteristics.
1. Sacrifice & Hard Work. Empire builders are willing and ready to make sacrifices to be successful. Running a business is quite different from simply joining your workmates at a desk job; it involves hard work.
2. Passion. Empire builders are passionate about what they do. They put in extra effort to achieve their goals. Being passionate about what you do usually means that you are having fun doing it. The journey should be just as rewarding as the destination.
3. See Opportunities. Do you see opportunities where others see obstacles? Another trait of empire builders is that they see an opportunity where others see barriers. Many people think that to be successful you need to come up with an idea that nobody has thought of before. Many successful empires have been built without innovative ideas, just the will to do the same thing others are doing but in different way. Or they dare to tackle a problem others are afraid to tackle.
4. Highly Motivated. Empire builders are highly motivated people. They don't let their determination cool off due to defeats. If they don't succeed at first, they simply try again and again. They use failure as a motivation rather than an obstacle.
5. Disciplined. Another important characteristic of empire builders is discipline. Empire builders are focused on their goals. They do not let distractions derail them from achieving their objectives. They have clear steps that they take every day to bring them closer to their goals.
6. Open Mindedness. Open mindedness is a vital characteristic of empire builders. These are individuals that are ever open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. They get inspiration from different sources and focus it on achieving their goals.
7. Team Builders. They are skilled networkers who build strong contacts needed for success. Nobody ever succeeds alone; rather, success requires team building. Empire builders have persuasion skills that enable them to convince people to work for them even when their ideas may seem crazy.
8. Decision-Makers. Empire builders have good decision-making abilities. Sometimes people may wait for the right time to do something but empire builders launch their projects and then make the necessary corrections later. Decision-making is vital and in many cases, not making a decision is as bad as making a wrong decision.
9. Can Create Or Expand a Market. Empire builders expand the market. Contrary to what many believe, you don't have to launch something completely new to be successful. You can simply get into a business that many have thought of and get your share of the market and grow it.
10. Understand Their Markets. In business, timing can mean the difference between success and failure. Empire builders are capable of predicting the precise time a product will be successful in the market. When Sony launched the walkman, skeptics said people would not be interested in listening to music as they walked. Know the wants and needs of you market.
What Lessons From Empire Builders Can Help You Grow Your Business?
I want you to take a challenge. Pick three characteristics from above and start applying them this week. Keep practicing until they become second nature; aim for 3 to 4 weeks. Then pick three more. Do that until you cultivate all these characteristics of empire builders.
Here's your checklist:
- Don't hesitate to make sacrifices and work hard
- Follow your passion/enjoy the journey
- Be open to new opportunities
- Stay motivated
- Be disciplined
- Keep an open mind
- Build a team that can deliver results
- Be decisive
- Realize you don't need to create something completely new
- Understand/research your market
Let us know how this challenge changes you and your business!
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, May 6, 2013
One of the great joys of my work is the unique opportunity it affords to meet and to learn from talented, committed, and effective executives - working hard and long on their entrepreneurial journeys
Men and women like Mike Kovaleski and Carrie Kessel of Mahar Tool Supply, a Michigan-based, mid-sized automotive technology distributor that is reinventing how vendor partnerships are structured and maintained in the global, high-tech, and oh-so competitive modern car business.
And as they do, they are creating both good jobs and an inspiring culture that's reflected in both the great longevity of their company (66 years young and counting!) and in the average tenure of their executive team (10+ years and increasing daily!).
Leaders like Dr. Ezat Parnia - President of Pacific Oaks - a small and fast growing Pasadena-based college that under his leadership is merging traditional offline educational values with the promise and power of online learning.
And as he does so, everyday demonstrating his fierce commitment to his students, mostly adults going back to school mid-life to earn training and degrees in early childhood education…
…who armed with their Pacific Oaks’ educations go out into the world and effect the school’s mission of seeing every child - no matter race, gender, or economic circumstance - be treated as a unique, special, and able learner.
And men like Good Samaritan Hospital’s CEO Andy Leeka, with his so articulate commitment to seeing his 1,400 employee strong, inner city Los Angeles Hospital become both a leader in care giving and…
…be a beacon of hope that says YES even budget and regulatory-strained hospitals can be places of high staff camaraderie, great patient care, and dare we say, even a little fun, too.
What do these brave and inspiring executives all have in common?
Well, first of all, in spite of them all leading very different organizations, with different reasons for being, competing in very different marketplaces, with very different sets of challenges and opportunities, they all think and act fundamentally the same.
Recognizing that even though they lead organizations that are on average more than 80 years old on average…
…that their fundamental business reality today is constant, unrelenting, everlasting, and fundamental change.
And that their job as leaders is to respond, pivot, profit, and win in the midst of all of it.
Second, they all "get" strategy.
Not as some academic or consultant’s exercise, but strategy as at the core of why they're organizations exist and what their mandates are to lead them.
Strategies that are big, as in where do they want their organizations to be 5, 10, 20 years hence?
And strategies that are “small,” as in what CRM, what eCommerce platform, what project management software to use?
And yes, they are all definitely contenders.
They just don't talk about reaching for the brass ring, they sacrifice every day to actually do so.
They plan their work.
And then they work their plans.
They (and everyone around them) know that it is not about them. Their glory, their rewards.
They’re in it for the mission.
Because they are blessed to be given the opportunity, and now by golly they are going to strive and strain with every fiber of their being to make the most of it.
For contenders like them, I have only one thing to say.
For making all of our lives healthier, smarter, richer, and all in all just better.
Oh, and maybe a quick word of advice.
Every now and again do come up for air and give yourself a pat on the back.
Because you've earned it and more.
P.S. Think you’re a contender? That you have the right stuff?
Are you committed to taking your career and business to the next level?
Then join Growthink President Dave Lavinsky and me in-person next weekend at our Business Blueprint Live event.
Click here to learn more and to apply to attend.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Your brand is the unique design, sign, symbol, and/or words that create an image or impression of your product(s), service(s) and/or company.
A strong brand differentiates your product or service from your competitors, and is easily recognized by customers in your market.
Think about Starbucks...Their coffee is not the most affordable in the market, but their brand recognition and loyalty is off the charts. They have a wide-spread reputation for delicious, strong coffee that many people refuse to do without.
Disney is global mega brand. Show a child a black round circle with two round black ears and the screams of "Mickey, Mickey!" will leave you temporarily deaf. Not only is the image recognizable, but it's is associated with fun and happiness.
Developing a strong brand is important and can dramatically impact your success. Below are three surefire strategies you can use.
1. Create a New Product and Constantly Innovate it
Apple's introduction of the iPhone is a classic example of this strategy. While cell phones had been in the market for years, Apple introduced a new sleek design and took the cell phone into the realm of smart phones. Instead of just phone and camera, Apple popularized having music on your phone and later led in the development and release of mobile applications This strategy caused Nokia's market share to drop precipitously.
Not only did Apple innovate with the initial introduction of the iPhone, but the company keeps the product fresh by releasing updated models every 2 years or so.
Puma is also adapting this method by constantly introducing new sports products to the market. The company does this to continue building its reputation as the most desirable sport lifestyle brand.
By creating a new, unique product and constantly updating it, you will build a strong brand. And you will stay top-of-mind for customers since they will always be curious as to what they can expect from you next.
2. Using a New Campaign To Change a Brand's Image
As second branding strategy is to use a new marketing campaign to change your brand image. One example of this is the Dove soap campaign introducing "Real Beauty" in 2011. The concept is that women have real beauty and Dove can help them realize it.
This type of campaign can also be called "rebranding." You use an old product, repackage it, and possibly change its logo too. Your purpose is to change the product's identity and reputation in the view of consumers.
You can also use rebranding to overcome a period of poor publicity. For instance, if your company has been involved in public malpractice litigation, rebranding can help you get rid of negative connotations that may be hurting your sales.
Rebranding can be a powerful tool in helping you differentiate your product from competitors. Think of special stitching and serial numbers high-end purse manufacturers use to differentiate their products from cheaper knock-offs. When you make your product distinguishable, you can gain more customers.
Lastly, when your product has been in the market for a long time, curiosity and interest from customers may lessen. Rebranding can help you regain excitement in the market place and recapture market share. Intrigued customers want to try whatever is new in your product.
3. Advertise While Keeping Up with the Brand Value and Promise
Being seen on television and other advertising channels can do wonders for most products and services. Sometimes, despite being more expensive than other brands, consumers still buy products with which they are more familiar. This is true of the brand Tide. There are laundry detergents that are less expensive, but many customers still buy Tide. Because they hear about Tide frequently, it is top of mind when consumers are shopping.
Still, Tide has to keep up with its promise of being a great laundry detergent. If consumers experienced poor results, they wouldn't buy Tide again despite millions of dollars of advertising. The product must do what your advertising said it would.
It is also important to make sure your advertising, whether local or national, is reaching your target audience. Remember the Chrysler Pacifica? Its okay if you don't; they don't even make the Pacifica minivan anymore.
In 2004, despite warnings from their advertising consultants, Chrysler contracted Celine Dion for $10 million to promote the new Pacifica. The campaign was a disaster. The Pacifica appealed to young professionals, yet Celine Dion resonated with an older age group. The result? Nothing. Flat sales with millions of dollars out the driver's window. Know your target market!
Applying the Strategies
While many of the examples I used are from well known large companies, any business owner, even a one person operation can use the strategies listed above.
And importantly, you don't have to spend a fortune on this. With social media tools like YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, you can create videos and photos that can spread your brand message quickly, inexpensively and with amazing effectiveness.
So focus on building your brand, because the right brand will bring in tons of new customers and dramatically increase the value of your company.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, April 25, 2013
It's a given these days that your business needs a website. And, if your website ranks at the top of the search engines for the right keywords, it could mean a ton of new customers and revenue for your business.
SEO or Search Engine Optimizing is the process of getting your website to rank as high as possible on your most important keywords. And when focusing on SEO, you should pay most attention to Google (rather than Yahoo or Bing, etc.) as Google currently has a 68% market share of all searches done in the United States.
And when optimizing, keep the following ten SEO tips in mind.
1. Social Media Optimization Helps SEO
Social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) can provide you with website traffic. It also impacts your rank in Google. Specifically, Google's ranking algorithm decides on your brand's social media value through the number of likes in Facebook, the comments and shares it gets, the number of Twitter followers, the number of tweets that states your brand or has your web link, and the number of people you have in your Google circles. So don't ignore social media.
2. Content Is Still King
The key here is for you to establish yourself as an expert in your niche by providing relevant and fresh information to your readers. You can also invite guest bloggers or hire content writers that can give your site vital information about your industry. The search engines are keen on whether your site provides quality information.
3. Do Guest Posting Properly
While guest posting (i.e., getting other experts to post their articles on your website) can be a great source information, be careful with backlinks. Backlinks are links from one site to another. Make sure you only link to high-integrity websites and blogs. So, if your guest poster wants to link to a "sketchy" website in their article, don't let them.
4. Diversifying Can Protect You
With Google Panda and Penguin penalizing websites for shady SEO techniques, one of the best things you can do is to diversify your SEO techniques. Consistently update your site with fresh and winning content while using diversified anchor texts and links. "Real" is the word here, real content and real links are rewarded by search engines.
5. Location-Based Searched Results Can Take You Higher
Search activities based on location boost your ranking as well. Location-based meta tags and descriptions can do wonders to your page rankings. How you are positioned in Google places can also help drive traffic to your website. This can be critical to your business if your sales depend on local customers.
6. On-Page Optimization Never Gets Out Of Style
Proper keyword selection, research, and testing are crucial in doing your on-page SEO. Tags and internal links should be done appropriately. As mentioned earlier, your content is the most determining factors in improving your rank. They key is to produce high quality content that appeals to your customer.
7. Videos And Infographics Are Cool Ways To Do SEO
Videos and infographics engage customers. So they stay longer and consume your content. As mentioned before, this is what the search engines want.
Also, videos, when posted on other sites (like YouTube) can drive traffic to your website (e.g., in the description under your video).
Finally, if your videos and infographics are good enough, other sites will link to them on your site, which will drive traffic and boost your rankings.
8. Press Releases Make The Town Talks About You
Well written press releases can build your brand and generate a lot of new links to your website and thus boost your rankings. There are many online sites that allow you to publish your press releases (the better ones do charge fees).
9. Usability And Significance Add Power
Ask yourself whether your site is providing your audience answers to their needs. Is your site offering quality information to web searchers and clients? Like any brand, establishing your brand's quality is recognized by search engines. Solving customers' problems makes your website more relevant.
10. Build And Maintain Strong Relationships
Your clients are your most important concern. Be creative and sincere in dealing with your clients and you will start building your brand empire. Have them experience your product and services in a personal way and you will find that making sales is easier and simpler with a strong following.
While search engine optimization is very important to driving traffic, always prioritize your brand. And create high-quality content. Old-school SEO experts may want to convince you to have hundreds of low quality articles proliferated around the web to boost your rankings. The new Google algorithms and market attitudes will punish this behavior.
In short, keep the quality of your content high and always pay attention to the needs of your customers, and your search engine rankings should continue to rise.
Suggested Resource: Want to learn my complete strategy for methodically maximizing your online traffic, leads, sales and profits? Then check out my Ultimate Internet Marketing System.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Crowdfunding is getting a group of regular individuals to collectively fund your venture. And when I say "regular individuals" I am contrasting them to professional investors and lenders like banks, venture capitalists and angel investors.
Clearly, Crowdfunding gives the key benefit of providing funding to your business. But, I have found other key benefits. Below I list those benefits as well as 5 keys to successfully raising Crowdfunding.
5 Benefits of Crowdfunding
1. Market Research
Pre-selling your product is incredible market research. If people buy it, then your marketing message is on target and there is a real need for your product or service.
If people don't buy it, then maybe a market doesn't exist, or you need to adjust your marketing message or target market.
In either case, getting this market research BEFORE raising or trying to raise a ton of money is invaluable. It allows you to test whether you have a winner before going through this process.
2. Built-in Customer Base
When you get others to fund you via Crowdfunding, you build a customer base. If you provide a good product or service, these customers will be prone to buy more products and services from you (the same products, upgrades and/or new products you develop) in the future.
3. Case Studies/Testimonials
Showing case studies and testimonials from customers is a great way to convince new customers to buy from you. And you can get these case studies and testimonials from those customers you gain from Crowdfunding (assuming you delivered them the product/service and they liked it).
4. Word of Mouth Marketing
People who fund your company will tell their friends about it. Particularly if you make them feel like founders/initial investors (which you can easily do via email and on your website).
Done correctly, Crowdfunding can result in thousands of customers, most of whom can tell numerous friends and colleagues about your products and services. This word of mouth marketing can be worth millions of dollars.
Local media sources are enamored with Crowdfunding as it's new and unique. As a result, countless entrepreneurs who have raised Crowdfunding have been profiled in local newspapers, radio shows and TV broadcasts.
So, with some legwork, raising Crowdfunding can get you lots of PR.
So, now that you understand the benefits of Crowdfunding, how do you raise it? Below are five keys.
5 Keys to Raising Crowdfunding
1. Inspire People
When you tell your "story" to potential crowdfunders, inspire them. Yes, they are investing in your product or service, but they are also investing in you. Give them an inspiring story about yourself and why you are building your company. Inspire them to want to help you.
2. Provide Value
When people crowdfund you, they need to get something in return, such as equity in your business or your promise to give them a certain quantity of the product or service you create. Make sure potential crowdfunders feel they are getting value for their investment. If not, they won't fund you.
3. Create Social Proof
Social proof is the psychological concept that if someone sees someone else doing something, they are more prone to do, or want to do, that same thing. For example, a line outside a bar shows social proof that the bar is hip/cool/the place to be, and inspires others to want to go inside.
Social proof can be created in Crowdfunding. Here's how. As soon as you launch your Crowdfunding project, get as many of your friends and family as possible to fund it. Then, when others that don't know you go to your Crowdfunding page, they will see that lots of other people have already funded you. This will make them much more likely to fund you too.
4. Market and Build Buzz
Even if you have the coolest company, product or service in the world, chances are that crowdfunders won't automatically beat a path to your door. Rather, you need to market your Crowdfunding raise. Email all your friends about it and tell them to do the same. Tell everyone on Facebook and Twitter about it. And so on. Even if your company is buzzworthy, you need to first create the critical mass of people who know about it and can spread the word. So make sure you do just that.
5. Don't Slow Down
Once you start getting more and more backers to your Crowdfunding campaign, don't just sit back and let the money roll in. Crowdfunding is a fixed-term capital raise. For example, on Kickstarter, your Crowdfunding campaign can only last 90 days. So, once those 90 days is up, you can't raise more money (you'd have to start and market a separate campaign later). So, during the campaign, try to raise as much money as possible. Communicate with those who have backed you. Thank them and tell them to tell their friends to back you too. And make sure they don't have "buyer's remorse" - assure them that you remain steadfast in achieving the vision you laid out when you convinced them to back you.
Crowdfunding is an exciting new source of funding with many benefits. To get it, prepare yourself and follow these steps.
Want Crowdfunding for your business? Check out Crowdfunding Formula. The program is a series of videos I recorded that walk you through each of the 14 steps to raising rewards-based Crowdfunding. Many of you have already joined the program and raised money. If you haven't, click here to get Crowdfunding for your business now!
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, April 21, 2013
On April 4th of last year, the JOBS Act was signed into law. As part of the JOBS Act, equity-based crowdfunding was made legal in the US.
However, before entrepreneurs could start using equity-based crowdfunding, the SEC had to write the specific rules governing it. The SEC was given 9 months to write those rules; they were due on December 31, 2012. However, the SEC failed to meet that deadline.
And, even a year later, on the anniversary of the JOBS act earlier this month, the SEC still hadn't finalized the rules. The good news is that any day, they will. The bad news is that "any day" could mean tomorrow, or possibly 3 to 5 months from now.
Below I'll give you the run-down on Crowdfunding, and also the types of Crowdfunding you CAN raise today.
What is Crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is getting a group of regular individuals (versus banks, venture capitalists or angel investors) to collectively fund your venture.
What are the 3 Core Types of Crowdfunding?
There are three core types of Crowdfunding.
The first is debt-based Crowdfunding also known as peer-to-peer lending. This is offered by sites like LendingClub.com and Prosper.com. On these sites, entrepreneurs (and individuals) can solicit loans from other individuals. Because they are loans, they must be paid back. Generally these loans are capped at $50,000 per year.
The second type is equity-based Crowdfunding. In this type of Crowdfunding individuals who give you money become investors and own equity in your company. Equity-based Crowdfunding IS legal today, but only when the funders are accredited investors (which entail them meeting certain criteria such as having annual incomes exceeding $250,000).
The final type of Crowdfunding is donation-based Crowdfunding. This type of Crowdfunding is the most popular and is offered by sites including Kickstarter.com, RocketHub.com, IndieGoGo.com and several others.
Donation-based Crowdfunding is my favorite since you neither give up equity nor have to repay the debt you receive. And it's MUCH easier to raise since there are tons more potential funders than funders of debt-based or equity-based Crowdfunding. For example, there are over 3 million registered users on Kickstarter.com.
However, there is an important caveat with donation-based Crowdfunding. Which is this: generally people don't donate money to your cause simply out of altruism. Rather, the companies who have successfully raised donation-based Crowdfunding offer rewards in return for donations.
Specifically, these rewards typically include the product or service the company intends to produce and/or offer. For example, San Francisco's Peter Dering wanted to raise money for a new product he conceived called the Capture Camera Clip System (an accessory for photographers that secures their cameras to their other gear).
So, as a reward to those who donated $50 or more, he promised to ship them the Capture Camera Clip System product when it was developed.
So, as you can see, this type of Crowdfunding is essentially pre-selling your products or services to your customers. Which is really the same as customer financing, which has been around for a while. But, with the internet, it's so much easier to reach tons of prospective customers.
What I also love about donation or rewards-based Crowdfunding is that it is amazing market research. I mean, if customers are willing to buy your product or service before it's even available, you clearly have a winner on your hands.
Which form should you choose?
In choosing the right type of Crowdfunding, here are my guidelines:
Debt-based Crowdfunding: You can raise up to $50,000 on both LendingClub.com and Prosper.com via this type of Crowdfunding. To do so, you will need a good credit score. So, if you have a good credit score, need less than $100K, and you will be able to generate profits pretty quickly that allow you to make the interest payments, then consider this funding source.
Equity-based Crowdfunding: If you require over $250,000 to launch or grow your venture, and the market for your venture is B2B customers (not consumers) and/or you can't immediately provide rewards for funders (e.g., you need $500K to further develop your new technology that might take another 2 years to fully develop), then I like equity-based Crowdfunding. You can either wait for the SEC to finalize its rules, or consider a site like Crowdfunder.com which allows you to raise it from accredited investors.
Donation-based Crowdfunding: If you have a consumer based product or service (or store), then I love donation-based Crowdfunding, because your investors are also your customers. Since this form is legal, you can go out there today and attract hundreds or thousands of investors. And when you do, you also have a built in customer base to buy from you long-term.
In summary, even though equity-based Crowdfunding to non-accredited investors is still not legal, there are other Crowdfunding options you can use today. So, if you need funding now, there's no need to wait.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, April 14, 2013
Whether you are trying to sell a prospective customer on buying your product, a prospective investor in funding you, or a prospective partner in doing business together, you will encounter and will have to overcome objections.
Importantly, you should plan for these objections beforehand. How? By expecting them, and trying to preempt them.
Here are the five universal objections for which you should be prepared.
Objection #1: I'm too busy
This makes it hard to even get your foot in the door in the first place. At the advertisement level, people will skim over your ad and never commit to focusing on and reading it. You've got to show prospects fast that what you're offering is worth their time.
The solution is to get their attention. Tease them with something, promise something, use memorable messages, and/or give prospects value up front.
Importantly, the better you understand who your customer is and can speak to their specific needs, the better you will do in getting their attention and getting them to spend time considering your offer.
Objection #2: Why do I need you?
Particularly if prospects are not actively seeking the product or service you offer, you must show them why they need it. Show them what life can be like with your solution - how it solves a key need or pain.
Sometimes you even need to put them in pain, if they don't know or think they are in pain. For example, while your prospects may be happy with their CPA firm, a message that stated "learn the 3 ways your CPA firm is probably costing you thousands of dollars each year" will make them think they do have a pain/problem and get their attention.
Objection #3: I don't have the money/the price is too high
This objection comes up earlier than you'd think. It's partly because people and companies are both more cost-conscious these days, and partly from people's aversion to spending more money on something at all. So "I don't have the money" is their excuse to bail before getting too invested in the decision-making process.
The solution here is to show prospects the value of what they are getting. Will your product or service enhance their lives, save them money in the future, position them to be more successful, etc.? Let them know the answer to this question!
Likewise, if the prospect is considering an alternative solution to your company which is less expensive, you need to show why the best decision is to go with you.
Objection #4: I'm not sure I believe you
People are skeptical, and don't believe everything you advertise or say. They want to know you're for real and they want to see proof that your product or service does what you say.
Show them you're legitimate by letting them know your credentials, seeing your work, knowing your clientele or how long you've been in business, and also that you're honest, have integrity, and really care.
One of the best ways to prove you can get results is showing testimonials from other customers. This is why "before and after" pictures are used in most weight loss commercials. This can be done with many products.
Other things you can do to overcome skepticism include offering money back guarantees and simple return policies.
Objection #5: Let me think about it/I need to speak with my partner/manager/etc.
Sometimes prospects legitimately need to think about a decision. Or they need to discuss it with someone else. With regards to the latter, ask questions from the beginning to determine if there's another decision-maker. And if so, bring that other decision-maker into the conversation earlier so you can "sell" both decision-makers at once (rather than having to do it twice).
With regards to the prospect requiring time to consider the decision, make sure to follow-up with them while their making that decision. That doesn't mean calling or emailing every hour. But rather periodically checking in on them. Importantly, find reasons to check in. For example, maybe you read about something in the news that you think they'd find interesting. If so, call or email them with the piece of news. When you do, there's no need to even bring up the sale you want to close. Rather, focus on helping them and staying in touch, and each time you do, you'll move closer to securing the sale.
Getting new customers is one of the hardest things a business must do. By considering the objections prospective customer have, and preparing for them (via adjusting your marketing materials and training your sales team), you will more successfully attract new customers. This can and will give you a competitive advantage, and allow you to grow a successful company.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Most businesses fail. I hate to be so blunt, but this is the truth. The only thing that varies is just how many businesses fail.
According to research from the University of Tennessee, 44% of businesses fail within the first three years. And within certain sectors, like information (which includes most technology companies), 63% fail within 3 years, or in Retail, 53% fail within 36 months.
On the other hand, according to research from Bradley University, 70% to 80% of new businesses fail within their first year. Bradley University also found that half of those who survive the first year will fail within the next four years.
And the number one cause of this failure? According to Dun & Bradstreet, the primary cause is lack of business planning.
Yes, entrepreneurs and business owners don't plan to fail. Rather, they fail to plan (which causes them to fail).
In my view, there are two types of business plans; (1) the one you develop when you start your business, and (2) the one you develop to grow your business.
When you start your company, the purpose of your business plan is to ensure you have fully thought through your venture.
Among other things, this plan includes significant market research. It assesses your market size to ensure the opportunity is big enough. It analyzes customer segments to confirm that customer needs match your company's proposed product and/or service offerings. And it analyzes the competition to determine how your company will position itself and how you will most effectively compete.
From a strategic standpoint, the business plan must document your marketing plan (how you will secure customers), your human resources plan (who you will hire) and your operations plan (what key milestones you will accomplish and when).
When you're done, your business plan will confirm your market opportunity and give you a roadmap to follow. It will also be required should you wish to gain funding from investors and lenders.
Now, once your business is up-and-running, you still need a business plan in order to succeed. This is the second type of business plan, and I refer to this type of plan as a "strategic plan." I term it as such because this type of plan requires much less research (since you already know who your customers are, the market fundamentals, and lots of information about your competitors). Rather, the focus of this plan is strategy.
Specifically, this plan needs to identify precisely:
1. Where you want your company to be in five years
2. What you need to accomplish within the next year to progress you to that point, and
3. What your strategy is to complete your key milestones in the next 12 months
In determining the optimal strategies, you need to consider your company's strengths, and opportunities that can best leverage them. If you don't take time to do this, you become too tactical. That is, you continue to use the same tactics that have gotten you to the point you are at. And oftentimes, the strategy and tactics that got you where you are today are NOT the strategy and tactics that will get you to the next level.
So, spend time figuring out the best strategies to follow. The good news is that you've already proven you can execute on strategies (which is what got you to where you are now).
After you figure out the big picture opportunities to go after (which often fall into the categories of further penetrating your existing market, going after a new market, or creating new products/services for existing and/or new markets), you need to revisit the three core strategies you developed in your initial business plan.
To start, you need to modify your marketing plan. Importantly, your marketing plan should always be adding new marketing venues or channels (e.g., direct mail, print, radio, search engine optimization, etc.) as the more channels you have, the more customers you will get and the less risk you have of one channel losing effectiveness. For example, think about businesses who used to get all or the majority of their customers from the yellow pages; many of these companies have perished.
Next, consider your human resources strategy. What new people will you need to hire to accomplish your key goals in the coming years? In what areas will you need people, and what skill sets must they have?
And finally, you need to develop your operations strategy. Figure out what key tasks and milestones you need to accomplish over the next year and break them down into smaller projects that you and your team must accomplish. And then create a master schedule showing who, how and when these projects will be completed (I like using a Gantt chart to do this).
Creating a business plan when you start your company, and annually creating strategic plans to grow your company is absolutely essential to your success. Research proves it. So, if you want to avoid failure, and achieve maximum success, make sure you are continuously creating, updating and following your business and strategic plans.
Suggested Resource: You just learned the importance of choosing the right strategies to build your company. Including this information in your strategic plan is critical to growing an ultra-successful business. What else should you include in your current growth or strategic plan? Click here to find out.
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