The right story can grow your business into an amazing success. That being said, consider this great story:
The above story/sales letter, written by Martin Conroy, was used by the Wall Street Journal for 25 years starting in 1974. Doing the math regarding how many people this letter was sent to, the percentage of orders that came from it, and the subscription prices, it is estimated that this story resulted in $1 billion in sales for the paper.
So, what’s the point?
The point is that stories are an extremely effective, but often overlooked, sales tool that can allow emerging ventures to compete with large established companies. Stories allow companies to get their prospects involved in their message. It gets them excited. And then they want to learn more.
Here's an example of another startup who crafted a great story...
The story goes on to discuss all the benefits of Joe Sugarman’s BluBocker sunglasses… over 20 million pairs of which have now been sold!
Does your company have a great story? If you do, great. If not, create one.
And once you have a story, where should it go? To start, it should go in your business plan. Use your story to excite investors, and others like potential partners and employees. And use your story in your marketing like the Wall Street Journal and BluBocker sunglasses did.
Success can be a simple as crafting a great story (and then delivering on the story’s promise of course). So start crafting today!
On March 3rd, Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter announced that is surpassed $1 BILLION in funding pledges. That’s $1,000,000,000 in funding for entrepreneurs.
Very interestingly, Kickstarter included lots of interesting statistics on these crowdfundings as follows:
Those are some very impressive numbers. And they ONLY represent one Crowdfunding platform. If we start adding other platforms, like IndieGogo, RocketHub, etc., the amount of Crowdfunding dollars raised and the number of backers skyrockets further.
And, perhaps most importantly, the trend for entrepreneurs is extremely positive as Crowdfunding is growing rapidly. Recall what I wrote above -- “more than half of the $1 billion was pledged in the last 12 months alone.” Now consider that Kickstarter launched on April 28, 2009.
That means that from April 28, 2009 to March 2, 2013, a nearly 4 year period, a half-billion dollars was raised on Kickstarter. They then raised the same amount in just the last year.
The fact remains that Crowdfunding is here, is here to stay, and is only growing. This is truly a blessing for entrepreneurs and is probably making right now the best time in history to raise money for any company. So, if you need funding, what are you waiting for?
The confluence of Big Data and high quality, low cost software-as- service (SaaS) programs and applications for virtually every business purpose has made the path clearer than ever as to what entrepreneurs and executives must do to build real equity value in their companies.
It looks like this:
First, utilizing great tools like John Warrilow’s Sellability Score or Dave Lavinsky's Start at the End we define exactly what we seek for our key stakeholders: Customers, Employees, Partners, Vendors, and Shareholders.
For customers, it might be the efficacy / benefits of our products and services.
For Employees, it might be their opportunities for contribution, professional growth, enjoyment and income.
For Partners and Vendors, it might be what we wish our reputation to be, our brand to represent.
And for our Shareholders, it is the equity value we seek to attain, through our stock price, our sale price (to a strategic or financial acquirer), and / or the future value of our cash flows.
With these end points clearly defined, we then score ourselves - i.e. measure the size and nature of the “gaps” between where we are and where we want to be.
Now, for almost all businesses, completing this scorecard requires accessing various SaaS programs, both paid and free, to “get the data.”
We then turn to “the Micro SaaS” – the various “Cloud” programs and applications on which our business partially, mostly, or completely runs.
Programs and applications like Google Analytics, PIWIK, Clicky, and KISSmetrics for our web marketing performance, Salesforce, SugarCRM, Infusionsoft, and Marketo for lead conversion and sales teams, ECI, Sage, Intacct, and Basecamp for operations and project management, and QuickBooks, NetSuite, and Xero for accounting and finance.
Now, here is where, in the last 18 months, the game has really changed.
For the first time ever, we can now automate both the measurement of where we stand against our goals and the Gap Analysis of what we need to do improve results.
This is because the long hoped for promise of business intelligence dashboards, tools and services has reached a tipping point, as best evidenced by the massive financing attained by companies like Cloudera and Domo, and by the incredible traction that smaller company-focused business intelligence dashboard tools like Geckoboard, Leftronic, and my company's product Guiding Metrics have gained.
Combining Exit Planning, SaaS, and Dashboards allows us to automate our strategy, defining what we want to achieve and understanding the industry, market, and competitive landscape we must prevail in…
…and our tactics, the day-to-day marketing, sales, operations, and financial nitty-gritty needing to be done to get there.
And as we attain this seamless integration and automation, we in turn get closer to realizing the ultimate business dream...
…sitting back and watching the dollars and the victories roll in while enjoying and not killing ourselves in the process!
Pretty cool, eh?
Even billionaires need to raise money. Take Donald Trump. Each time he launches a new real estate project, he raises outside money for it. Why? Because why should he only invest his own money? Rather, Trump and other billionaires understand the importance of leveraging other people’s money.
So, what do billionaires like Donald Trump do to raise money? Below are five key tactics billionaires use, and perhaps more importantly, that you can too.
1. Leverage Relationships
Billionaires have lots of relationships that they leverage when seeking capital. They access their networks by telling them about their latest project and their funding needs.
You too have relationships. You have current and/or former bosses, co-workers, counsel (e.g., accountants, lawyers, etc.), family friends and so on. Leverage these relationships when seeking funding. Even if none of your current relationships can invest directly, some certainly know and can introduce you to others who can.
2. Get Creative on Deal Terms
A great investment makes sense for both the investor/lender and the entrepreneur. Oftentimes, in ensuring the investment works, you need to get creative on the deal terms.
For example, maybe you give the investor a small equity percentage in your business, monthly repayment of some of their investment, AND a small percentage of your venture’s future sales. While most investments only include one of these funding options (e.g., debt/loan, equity, or royalty payments), there’s no rule that you can’t get creative and combine deal terms. And when you do, you often make your deal/company more appealing to investors.
3. Sell Investors on the Opportunity
Regardless of how good your company or investment opportunity is, you need to “sell” it to investors and lenders. Billionaires like Donald Trump must also do this. For instance, Trump constantly convinces investors why his newest venture will be a huge success.
Marketing yourself and your company to investors is a crucial part of raising capital. You must prove to investors why your company will be successful and that they will get a solid return on their investment. Importantly, when “selling” investors, get specific. For example, don’t just say you will succeed because you have the best management team. Rather, explain the precise credentials of your team that make you the best.
4. Don’t Take Rejection Personally
Billionaires like Donald Trump have been rejected hundreds of times in their money-raising careers. The fact is that your investment is never right for everyone.
You must accept that you will get more “no’s” than “yes's” when raising money. Importantly, don’t let the “no’s” get to you. Remember that you only need one “yes.” So, even after 10 “no’s” or 25 “no’s” or even 50 or 100 “no’s” you need to keep going and persevere.
If you truly believe you have a great company or opportunity, and that it can provide a solid return to your investors/lenders, then never back down.
5. Strategically Incorporate Investor Feedback
When investors say “no,” use the opportunity to gain feedback. Specifically, ask them why they didn’t want to invest. Sometimes it has to do with your deal terms. Other times it has to do with concerns about your business or business model.
It is important for you to strategically assess this feedback. Don’t blindly follow the feedback or advice, as it may or may not be correct. But particularly if you hear the same feedback from multiple investors, you must strongly consider what they are saying. If multiple investors, for example, say your management team isn’t strong enough, then it’s generally time to agree with them and immediately start to bolster your team.
Similarly, when billionaires like Donald Trump have trouble raising funding, they modify their project and/or deal terms to better adhere to the needs of investors and/or lenders.
In summary, raising capital is essentially a partnership between you the entrepreneur and the sources of funding you seek.
The larger your network, the more potential funders or referrals to funders you have. After that, it’s about creating and selling an opportunity that funders can’t resist. Never give up, but also, don’t be stubborn -- realize that feedback from those who say “no” can often be invaluable to your ultimate success!
Yesterday, TechCrunch posted a neat slideshow on the nine largest venture capital and private equity financing rounds of the past 24 months.
It is an extremely cool piece - profiling seven (two companies on the list had multiple rounds) of the highest flying technology companies in the world.
Let's start with Uber, both because it tops the list, with over $4.6 billion in capital raised, and because most of us can easily understand and relate to the Simplicity, Power, and Promise of its business model.
First, the Simplicity. At its core, Uber utilizes pretty basic technology to better deliver a basic service - a hired ride from point A to point B - that has been in existence since the beginning of time.
It is simple in such an eye opening way that for many folks the first time they download the app, press “Request Uber X,” and magically then a few minutes later a ride appears they are taken with a giddy excitement.
This simplicity masks the Power unleashed by Uber's technology: the initiative of the now over 162,000 and growing Uber Drivers.
There are various reasons (many controversial) why these drivers see Uber as a good and worthwhile use of their time and work energy, and whether or not it is good for our economy and society as a whole.
However, what is clearly not in doubt, is how Uber is massively profiting by harnessing and channeling the entrepreneurial, Sharing Economy Power of these tens of thousands.
That Power in turn leads to the Promise of Uber: To transform our notion of what transportation is, including whether or not it even makes economic and quality of life sense to own an automobile anymore...
…and in an even grander vision how Uber could up-end the shipping industry (and even the mail, too!).
Simplicity, Power, Promise - better and more cinematically embodied in Uber than perhaps in the other six companies profiled, but as you dig into those you will find similar themes.
Didi Dache, which just raised $700 million, is the Uber of China. The core business of SpaceX, which just raised $1 billion from Google, is as Simple and Powerful as they get: shooting rockets into space.
Xiaomi, to bring the promise of high-end “Apple-like” smartphones, to China’s 1.2 billion mobile customers.
The vision of Cloudera, which has raised over $1 billion from investors (and is contemplating an IPO in the near future) is nothing less than to give “all businesses a…360-degree view of their customers, their products, and their business.”
The obvious suggestion is to work to bake these qualities into our business models and entrepreneurial endeavors.
Perhaps less obviously, in my experience these qualities do exist in most businesses, but to find them requires a boiling away of the Complex Excess to get to the essential core.
When you do, while you might not raise $4.6 billion at a $40 billion+ valuation like Uber, my gut is that you will find the path to meaningful growth and a High Value Exit more clearly and easily defined.
Every year I make predictions. I predict who will win the Super Bowl. I predict who will win this election or that. And so on. Like most people, sometimes I’m right. And often I’m wrong.
However, I rarely if ever make predictions publicly. Unless, that is, I am extremely confident my prediction will come true. Maybe this is a psychological flaw; that I don’t want to feel publicly humiliated by making a wrong prediction. If it is, so be it; the fact is that I only make public predictions when I’m close to certain they’re right.
In fact, my last public predictions came nearly 4 years ago today. On that day, in an email to over 80,000 entrepreneurs, I predicted that Crowdfunding (which had just begun) was going to be huge. It turns out, I was right.
1) The Growth of Crowdfunding
When I predicted the success of Crowdfunding in 2010, it wasn’t even an industry yet, so there are no formal statistics on it. But as you can see in the chart above, $1.5 Billion was raised with Crowdfunding in 2011. This amount increased by 80% in 2012 to $2.7 billion. And then from 2012 to 2013, Crowdfunding increased by 89% to $5.1 billion.
2) Why Crowdfunding Has Taken Off
There are several reasons why Crowdfunding has succeeded.
One reason might be that we are becoming more and more of a consumer society; which is defined as a society in which the buying and selling of goods and services is the most important social and economic activity. People simply like to buy things, and investing in a company is a type of buying.
Another reason is probably that people want to belong and be part of something. By investing in a nascent company, you essentially become part of it. If it succeeds, you were there from the beginning. That’s exciting!
Another reason is that we more and more live in an entrepreneurial culture. Entrepreneur success stories, like Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, are now mainstream media. Top entrepreneurs have gained the public status formerly only occupied by actors, musicians and athletes. Likewise, television shows like Shark Tank have positively shined light on entrepreneurship.
3. Will the Growth of Crowdfunding Continue?
Yes, I am 100% confident that Crowdfunding will continue to rapidly grow. Here’s why. While the JOBS was signed in April 2012, it did not allow for equity-based Crowdfunding until the SEC approved certain regulations. Some of those regulations have since been approved. For example, "accredited investors" can now make equity-based Crowdfunding investments. But non-accredited investors still cannot. When this changes (which is expected later this year), and the general public can invest, the Crowdfunding market should grow like wildfire.
4) How Can You Take Advantage of the Rapid Rise of Crowdfunding?
To raise Crowdfunding, do the following:
1. Follow the 14 Step Formula
Below are the 14 steps I teach in my Crowdfunding Formula course that are critical to successfully raising donation or rewards-based Crowdfunding.
1. Choose your Crowdfunding platform
2. Create an account
3. Create your funding project
4. Categorize your project
5. Create your project tagline
6. Create your project teaser text
7. Create your full text project summary
8. Determine the right fundraising amount
9. Determine the right donation time
10. Develop your list of rewards
11. Create your project visuals
12. Create your project video
13. Promote your project to your network
14. Maintain and update your project
2) Become a Great Marketer
No matter how good your idea is, you will need to market it to others to get them to invest in it. A good analogy is this: every day thousands of people release videos hoping and thinking they will go viral, but they don’t. Even if their video is great, they need to get it in front of a bunch of people who watch it, like it, then spread the word.
In 2010 I called Crowdfunding the most exciting thing that’s happened in the entrepreneurial space since the first venture capital investment was made in the 1950s. Crowdfunding is helping entrepreneurs raise money and gain customers, and more and more Crowdfunding success stories will be featured in the media in the coming days. Hopefully it’s you they’ll feature!
If you want to generate new leads and sales, consider public speaking. Assuming you’re not deathly afraid of speaking in public, below are answers to the five most common questions about using public speaking to grow your business.
1. Where should I speak?
In determining where to speak, the goal is to speak in whatever venues will get you in front of the most target customers.
This could range from local organizations such as your local Chamber of Commerce to national trade associations. Simply brainstorm events in which your target customers attend.
Then, contact the event organizers and ask them to consider you as a speaker. For annual events, there is often a place on their website where you can apply to speak.
2. What should I talk about?
Figuring out what to talk about is fairly easy. Figure out the questions and problems your customers are having, and speak directly to that.
For example, let's assume your company provides outsourced customer service. To begin, you'd want an audience primarily comprised of business owners. Since you know they probably have questions about how to provide better customer service, a great topic would be “5 tips to improve customer service.” For each tip, you would include good and bad examples.
Importantly, in giving such a presentation, you will naturally promote your company's service (as the "good" examples will be ones that your organization has done) without directly pitching the audience.
As you can imagine, such a presentation would generate new leads and sales without you having to be "salesy."
3. Where do I get material for my presentation?
This part is easier than you think. Once you determine your topic, brainstorm everything you can think of that it entails. With the customer service example, you can discuss costs, delivery & fulfillment, billing, refunds, returns & exchanges, technical support, customer phone support, etc.
Since you are already an expert in your business, the information is probably already in your head.
4. How do I overcome my fears of public speaking?
Don’t create your presentation all at once. Rather, keep a journal for a couple of weeks in which you collect ideas and tips you’ll want to share. Then, assemble this information into an outline for your presentation. You don't have to write it out word for word. Rather, develop a slide presentation that guides you through your talk.
Of critical importance is to never add more than 30 or so words per slide. You want attendees focusing on you, not reading your text.
Practice giving your presentation by yourself so you can pause and think about how it sounded along the way. Then have someone else listen to you in order to give feedback.
When the day comes, relax and remember to talk as if you're on the phone with a friend. You don't have to hold eye contact with anyone in the audience, and they'll forgive you for any blunders as long as you're sincere and interesting. Remember that your audience is there to learn from you, not to critique you as a public speaker.
5. How do I get the most value from public speaking?
To get the most value from public speaking, do the following:
a) Get contact information from your prospects. The easiest way to do this is to tell the audience to email you if they want a copy of your slide presentation. This will result in a large email list of qualified prospects.
b) Invite prospective customers to hear you speak. Having them attend will give you great credibility (you actually gain great credibility even if they don’t attend) which will help close more sales.
c) Have someone record a video of you speaking at the event. As appropriate post all or part of the video on your website and/or on social media sites. The video will give you more credibility and position you as an industry expert.
d) Make sure you bring lots of business cards to hand out and budget time after your presentation to speak with attendees. Typically, after you present, several attendees will come up to you with questions and you want to be prepared.
Public speaking is an excellent way to find and secure new customers, employees, partners, investors and so on. Follow the advice in the five answers above so you can reap these key benefits for your business.
Suggested Resource: Public speaking is a great way to increase your company's credibility and get new clients. For even more "publicity" methods to grow your business, check out Growthink's Publicity Playbook.
Publicity is an extremely powerful form of marketing. If customers say positive things about you, particularly online, many new customers will learn about you and possibly buy your product or service.
Likewise, if the media covers your company, not only will more customers hear about you and possibly purchase your offerings, but it gives your company an implied endorsement and additional credibility.
However, the opposite can be true. That is, having customers and/or the media say negative things about you and your company could lead to its downfall. Below are 3 strategies to protect yourself from such negative publicity.
1. Take care of your customers
This first strategy is pretty obvious, but often overlooked. The challenge is that sometimes entrepreneurs get too focused on maximizing profits that they forget about the needs of their customers.
Customers are the lifeblood of any business, so take care of them. The more satisfied your customers are, the more likely they will be to spread positive messages about your company.
2. Respond to customer complaints
No matter how customer-centric you are and no matter how great your product or service, some customers won’t love it. Sometimes these customers are negative by nature or maybe they simply had a bad experience. For example, I’ve often looked at reviews for restaurants I love and have seen at least some negative reviews.
As an entrepreneur or business owner, you need to respond to customer complaints wherever they appear, from in your inbox to social media sites, etc. Doing so allows you to solve the issue and satisfy the customer, and/or at least let other customers know that you stand by your offering and support your customers.
In many cases, for example, I’ve seen customers complain online with regards to products they wrongfully bought (they purchased the wrong item to suit their needs). By posting that information, in a nice way of course, online, your company explains the negative remark and gains credibility with prospective customers.
3. Create your own media
A final way to protect yourself from bad press, and in fact ensure positive press, is to write articles yourself.
Clearly, if you are the author of articles appearing in the media, they’re not going to say negative things about you. On the contrary, any articles you write give you and your company great credibility.
I’ve been using this strategy for years. Many years ago I started publishing articles on article submission sites like Ezine Articles. As I gained more expertise and a track record, I started contacting editors at bigger news sources requesting they publish my articles. Today, I regularly contribute to Forbes, Entrepreneur and AllBusiness. I also frequently contribute articles to smaller magazines and blogs.
Don’t like to write? Well, these days, that’s not really important. You can simply come up with a topic that customers want to know about, and dictate your expertise on the topic into a microphone or your mobile phone. You can then email your recording to a dictating service or to a freelancer who will transcribe and edit it into a great article.
Once you have the article (and/or beforehand), contact websites, blogs, newspapers, magazines, trade journals, etc. who might be interested in your article to convince them to publish it.
You might have heard the expression that there’s no such thing as bad press. This is true to the extent that it’s always great to have media spread the word about your company so new potential customers hear about you. But clearly, positive press is far superior to negative press, so start using these 3 strategies today to get positive press that yields new customers, more sales and improved profits. For further strategies and step-by-step guidance to getting tons of great publicity for your business, check out my Publicity Playbook course.
This weekend, I read The 80% Solution – a great e-book by famed business coach Dan Sullivan in which he makes the case that “perfectionism” is a misunderstood and under-reported “enemy” of successful entrepreneurship.
Per the title of his book, Sullivan's suggestion to combat this is simple yet profound - just work to get a task / a project / an idea to “80% done and out” and far more often than not that will be more than good enough.
Now, of course, the author makes the necessary disclaimers.
Like an “80% done right” heart surgery or an “80% safe” airplane, or products with 20% defect rates are obviously recipes for disaster.
But for the vast majority of us, cultivating this 80% mindset will do us a world of entrepreneurial good.
1. Most Stuff Doesn't Work. The sad reality is that most business initiatives - no matter how good our intentions or how brilliant we might think they are, and whether they be new products, new marketing strategies, new hires, process improvements - don't work.
The market greets new products with apathy (big yawns).
Process improvements don’t move the bottom line. The most likely return on a new hire…is exactly what you pay him or her.
For sure, some ideas are revolutionary and transformative, but everyone has to cycle through a lot of duds.
So the more we are able to increase our throughput - to throw spaghetti against the wall as fast and furiously as possible - far more often than not, we are the better for it.
2. Energy. Modern knowledge work, with its infinite distractions and always-on nature, is exhausting.
Maybe not so obviously as exhausting as hard physical labor, but exhausting nonetheless.
And, given that so much of it involves a series of virtual interactions with other knowledge workers facing similarly exhausting electronic loads, accelerating our “personal supply chain” via an “80% and out” mindset reduces insidious energy drains like long e-mail back-and-forths, projects extending beyond timelines and conference calls that just drone on and on.
Taking the “80% is Enough” mindset to all of it can free our energy and re-create a lightness and fluidity to our work like when it was fresh and new.
3. 80% is Fun. A great read in this same vein is Happy Brain Chemicals by Lorreta Breuning. Among its eye-opening findings as to the nature of our “mammalian brains,” Breuning talks about the power of the neurochemical dopamine and its influence on our wants and decision-making.
Dopamine can best be described as the neurochemical of anticipation and excitement.
It is that feeling one has right before one takes a bite of a chocolate cake, or the moment right before the kickoff of the Super Bowl (or for those Patriots fans of ours, the moment right when Malcolm Butler makes that interception!).
We all crave dopamine, and as such, we all crave excitement.
And excitement, because of dopamine, is dependent on “new stuff” - new projects, tasks, relationships, and the like.
“80% is Good Enough” frees up bandwidth for more new stuff to be anticipated and experienced.
And thus more fun.
So think “80% is Good Enough” and be more productive, and have more energy and more fun each and every day.
What beats that?
This week, Axial came out with a great report on the challenges and opportunities facing small and middle market businesses in 2015.
Compiled from interviews with over 100 CEOs, it is chalk full of great nuggets like:
The #1 Thing keeping CEOs up at night is "finding capital to grow their businesses." This challenge has many dimensions - from receivables and cash flow, to commercial banks (in spite of the strong economy) still mostly on the sidelines, to the availability of private equity and other forms of risk capital to fund growth initiatives.
Also ranked high on the list was properly "training, educating, and rewarding" employees.
A great white paper by AGC Partners sheds modern light on this challenge, specifically how technology innovations are “incentivizing and enabling individuals to monetize their skills, time, and possessions like never before.”
Companies like Odesk, 99Designs, and Guru are empowering skilled designers, coders, consultants, and marketers to offer their services to buyers directly, on an as needed, per project basis.
How does this relate to the talent challenges of small businesses?
First, by the simple fact that a lot of talented people - who 10 to 15 years ago would have been available for / interested in traditional W-2 employment - are now effectively out of the traditional work force.
Second, the ease with which buyers (business & consumer) can contract for services with providers and cut out “middlemen” companies that "hire and mark up" creates a whole other level of pricing and other competitive pressures.
Luckily, far outweighing these two challenges is the massive opportunity created by this “collaborative economy” for smaller businesses to access types and qualities of talent like never before.
As I have talked about previously, entrepreneurs and executives that master the art of finding and utilizing outsourced, "shared talent" from around the world - and that let go of fixed ideas of what a company is / should be - will have business model and market opportunities open to them like never before.
Finally, the Axial report shares the startling fact, even though the overall economic prognosis for 2015 is about as good as it can get, that 66% of the CEO’s surveyed rank "market forces” and the overall buoyancies of the US and abroad economies as a top worry.
To this, I would suggest a reading of Nobel Laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s seminal work on negativity bias, where he found “that people regret mistakes twice as keenly as they relish successes.”
When it comes to growth planning, Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, summed it up best when he noted that "When you point out what can go wrong, you sound smart and sophisticated, and when you emphasize what might go right, you sound naive."
It all kind of fits together: exude and embody optimism (and fight the natural propensity we all have to the opposite), conceptualize and take chances on new business models, and the money will follow.
And this is what CEOs really want, isn't it?