Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, July 7, 2013
What Is Crowdlending?
In brief, Crowdlending is when individuals lend you money.
This is important because oftentimes banks don't want to lend money to entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Crowdlending eliminates the banks as an intermediary and allows individuals to lend money to other individuals. Another name for Crowdlending is "peer to peer" lending.
A Brief History of Crowdlending
Crowdlending has been around for several years. The biggest two Crowdlending companies/websites are Prosper and Lending Club.
While the crowd-loans on these sites are structured as personal loans to the business owner, they can be used for business use. For example, small business owner and clothing designer Lara Miller has received three loans via Prosper which she used to launch her new website and clothing lines.
Clearly, you could consider taking a loan for your business from a friend or family member. However, with Crowdlending, you have a much larger number of potential lenders. Also, while not being able to repay your loan is always a terrible situation, it's clearly worse when you know and see the lender often.
Additionally, many individual lenders on Crowdlending websites take a portfolio approach. That is, they lend to several people. So one of their loans defaulting may not be devastating to them as it might to a friend or family member making just one loan.
Debt Versus Equity
In brief, raising equity is selling shares of your company. You are not required to pay interest on the funding or the principal back. However, the investor owns a piece of your company and if/when you exit, they will take their share.
Conversely, with debt, you have to pay both interest and the principle back.
It is important to note that equity is oftentimes MUCH more expensive than debt in the long-run. Let me give you a simple example.
Let's say you sell 40% of the equity in your business for $1 million. A year later, you are able to sell your company for $10 million. The investor would get $4 million of the sales price (40%). So, the cost to you of the $1 million investment was $4 million.
Conversely, let's say the investor lent you the $1 million at 10% interest. In that case, the cost of the funding would have been $1.1 million - which is the principle and interest you would have to pay back.
In this scenario, debt funding would have cost you ONLY $1.1 million, nearly 75% less than the $4 million cost of equity funding.
Crowdlending Versus Debt
Crowdlending, gives you several benefits over traditional debt or bank loans:
1) Your chances of raising Crowdlending are much higher since banks reject many more loan applications
2) Crowdlending gets you lower interest rates than banks because you are eliminating the bank as a "middle man"
3) Crowdlending has much fewer requirements with regards to the application and documents you need to submit
4) Crowdlending dollars are generally raised much faster than bank loans
Crowdlending For Businesses
I have been telling entrepreneurs about Prosper and Lending Club for years. Because they are relatively easy and low-cost forms of funding. However, they both have a big negative, in that you can generally only raise loans less than $35,000.
That's why I will thrilled when I recently spoke with Endurance Lending Network.
Endurance has amassed a bunch of non-bank lenders including successful entrepreneurs, wealthy individuals, family offices and institutional investors. And, these individuals lend between $25,000 and $500,000 to businesses - the amounts entrepreneurs and business owners actually need.
Crowdlending is a great new way to raise money to start or grow your business. It's much easier, faster and less expensive than both bank loans and equity funding, making it a perfect choice for most entrepreneurs and business owners.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, June 30, 2013
July 1 is a critical day in your business. Because it's the day that officially starts the second half of 2013. That's right, the year is already half-way over.
So right now is the PERFECT time to take an honest look at your business, see how much progress you've made so far this year, and develop your plan for the rest of 2013.
There are three things I strongly suggest you do on July 1 as follows:
1. Give Thanks
I hate to sound too righteous, but I recently watched 'Girl Rising' on CNN. The show "documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world." While this description seems and is uplifting, some of the struggles of the girls profiled seemed unbearable.
In particular, the segment detailing the lives of most girls in Afghanistan left me crying.
So, please take a moment to understand how lucky you are. Lucky that you are even able to run a company and control your destiny.
2. Assess Your Results from the First Half of the Year
You must assess your results from the first half of 2013. Start by looking at your goals and plans for the first half of the year. And then look at your results.
- Were your revenues as high as you had planned?
- Did your profits exceed expectations?
- Did you build as many new products/services as you had planned for the first half of the year?
In assessing your performance, the key question to answer is "why?" For instance, if you didn't achieve your revenues goals, what obstacles prevented your success? And, how can you overcome those obstacles going forward.
3. Create Your Goals & Plans for the Second Half of the Year
Now it's time to detail your goals and plans for the second half of 2013. Hopefully if you over-estimated your goals for the first half of the year, you can now do a better job of understanding what is more realistic to achieve in a 6-month period.
Think about this question: what must I accomplish in the next 6 months to make 2013 a great year?
Use this question as a guide in documenting your goals for the next 6 months and detailing your plans for how you will achieve them.
Remember, you still have half the year left. So even if you didn't achieve enough in the first six months, there's plenty of time left to make 2013 a banner year.
But importantly, make sure you set goals for the rest of the year, and have a way to measure your progress on them. If you don't, as some of you unfortunately just learned over the last six months, you won't achieve the success you desire.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, June 25, 2013
If you don't know Peter Drucker, you should: he's known as the man who invented modern business management. He wrote 39 books on the subject and is widely regarded as the greatest management thinker of all time.
And Peter Drucker is credited with two of the most important quotes in business management.
Here's the first: "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it."
When you think about this quote, it should immediately become apparent how true it is. Because, if you can't measure something, and know the results, you can't possibly get better at it. For example, it's nearly impossible to lose weight without stepping on a scale once in a while to measure your results - if you don't, you have no idea if you are succeeding or not.
Or it's like trying to improve your golf game, but never keeping score, so you don't know if you're actually getting better or not. Makes sense, right?
Now, in business, Drucker's quote is particularly true. If you can't measure every part of your business, you can't manage or grow it.
- Do you know the number of new website visitors you received in the last 30 days?
- And do you know what percentage of them turned into new paying customers?
- And do you know how the level of satisfaction among your customers has fluctuated over time?
- And do you know the precise average lifetime value of your customers?
There are nearly 50 questions such as these that measure each aspect of your business.
And if you don't know the answers, if you can't measure them, then you can't possibly manage or improve them.
And that's why your sales are too low, profits are too low, employee performance isn't high enough, and you need to work too hard and can't take enough time off.
Now, let's move on to Peter Drucker's second famous quote: "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things."
Let's start with the first piece of this critical quote. "Management is doing things right." Well, as we learned from Drucker's first quote, you can't manage and you can't do things right in your business if you're not measuring it. So that's not happening and it's hurting your business.
And now the second piece: "leadership is doing the right things." So, my question for you is this: are you doing the right things in your business? Now before you answer this, let me ask you this: do you know exactly what you should be doing, every single day, to generate the most value from your time?
- Do you know when you should focus on improving your website?
- Do you know when you need to spend time on improving customer satisfaction?
- Do you know how much attention you need to give to securing new clients?
- And do you know when you should focus your time on better training your team?
Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs and business owners don't. Or their businesses would be much more successful than they currently are.
I give you these two Peter Drucker quotes along with their interpretation to help you figure out the answer to the question, what is the #1 Business Mistake you are making.
Which for most entrepreneurs and business owners is this: Your #1 business mistake is that you're running your business blind!
You're not measuring your performance throughout your business, so you can't improve. And worse yet, you don't really know what you should even be focusing on
It's like running around in a maze, and you haven't kept track of where you've been, and you're not sure what to do to get out.
But don't take it personally, virtually all entrepreneurs and business owners operate like this. And that's why business failure statistics are so terrible. As you might know, according to Dun & Bradstreet, 91% of businesses fail within 10 years. And according to United States Census, only 3.9% of businesses make it to $1 million in sales. And only 0.6% of businesses make it to $5 million. And less than 0.1% make it to $10 million and above.
The reason for this lack of success is that these entrepreneurs and business owners are running their businesses blindly. They are not measuring performance, so they can't improve. And they are focusing their time on the wrong areas of their business.
Now the good news is that there is a solution to this common problem of running blind. And it's called BI or Business Intelligence. Business intelligence or BI refers to computer-based techniques used to spot, dig-out, and analyze business data, such as sales, marketing and production in order to make significant improvements.
Importantly Business Intelligence uses the data you already collect in your business. For example, if you have a website, you probably have Google Analytics or another program installed that captures key information like the number of visitors you have to your website each day, where they are coming from, and what pages of your website they are visiting.
And you're probably using an accounting software like Quickbooks that includes information about your revenues, expenses and cash balances. And you might be using a customer relationship management or CRM system like Salesforce.com that identifies the number of leads and sales you generate.
And you might be using an email management system like Constant Contact or MailChimp that shows how many email subscribers you have and how often they open or click on your emails.
With the right Business Intelligence system, all the information from these applications and programs you already use automatically and in real-time is entered and analyzed. So you can quickly see, manage and improve your performance.
Importantly, you not only measure performance so you can improve it, but you instantly spot weaknesses in your company. And those are the areas you should focus your attention on. Remember, "leadership is doing the right things" - now you'll know exactly what you should be doing.
Ready to stop operating blindly? If so, check out Growthink's Business Intelligence solution, The Growthink Dashboard, by clicking here and start expertly managing and growing your business.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, June 20, 2013
Lead generation is critical for all entrepreneurs. And once you master it, your business will thrive.
To help you with lead generation, below I have answered the most common questions entrepreneurs. However, let me start with some definitions.
Your "leads" are simply your pool of prospective buyers who might be interested in your product or service.
For physical stores, your lead list can be residents in a certain zip code or a list of shoppers with certain demographic characteristics. For online or virtual businesses, your lead list is often defined as the list of prospects that subscribe or "opt-in" to your email list or otherwise contact you so you have their contact information.
Whether online or in a physical store, communicating with your lead list is a primary marketing strategy for generating new and repeat customers. A general rule in marketing is: the bigger your list of leads, the more opportunities you have to generate new clients and sales. This is why lead generation is so important. Sound lead generation tactics grow your lead list. Great lead generation strategies grow your list with prospects that are most likely to buy.
Below are answers to the most common lead generation questions I get:
1. How Do I Create a Lead List?
There are many ways to start building your lead list. The easiest is to put an opt-in box on pages of your website where visitors can register their email addresses - typically in exchange for content or freebies. Most websites offer free guides, e-books, tools or a newsletter.
You can also offer free samples of a one-time discount coupon. Make sure the freebies are enticing. Once the website visitor opts-in to receive the freebie, he or she now becomes part of your email list.
2. Does My Target Audience Matter?
Yes. Know your niche and determine the people you want to target. This important element should be clear to you from the beginning. You will likely fail if you do not understand what type of customer best appreciates your product or service.
Once you truly know your target audience, you can do a better job of "talking" to them on your website. For example, you will use different verbiage to convince a 20 year old, single, suburban woman to buy your product than you would to convince a 60 year old, married, rural man to buy it, since each has different wants and needs.
3. How Will My Audience Find Me?
In order for your prospective customers to find you, you should be promoting your website in places where your targeted audience already frequents. For example. Let's say your business sells electronic gadgets. If so, make sure customers find you on other websites that discuss electronic gadgets. You can advertise on these sites or submit guest blog posts and articles to them. You can do the same with social networking groups that discuss this topic. In many cases you can also pay the other websites to send an email promoting your company to all their subscribers.
Likewise there are other tactics to reach these customers such a direct mail, door hangers, radio spots of TV ads. Naturally, you must align your strategy to your specific product or service, and to your budget.
4. What Should I Put On My Site To Attract Visitors To Opt-In Or Buy From Me?
Content is key. When your visitors find your site helpful and informative, it will be easier for you to get them to opt-in or buy. They will see you as the expert and be hungry for more information from you. The key is to provide quality content that gives solutions to your audience's problems.
Also, the more quality content you have on your website, the more other websites will link to you and thus drive new visitors. Likewise, these links will boost your search engine rankings, so you'll get more organic search traffic.
5. How Do I Maximize Social Media In Getting More Opt-Ins?
Most of your customers are using social networking sites (event if you're in the B2B space). Build your reputation as an expert in your niche when you are creating your social media presence. Become the "guru" of your circle of influence and continuously expand that sphere of influence.
Even brick and mortar businesses have a huge opportunity to build genuine, trustworthy relationships with clients and prospects on social networking sites. Offer tips, publish sales offers, share today's menu, teach a skill, publish testimonials and so forth. These steps create opportunities to get followers and convert sales.
It's All About The Relationship
A growing email and/or lead list is crucial for business growth, especially for businesses that operate online. You can publish a website or open an online store and HOPE that customers come. Or you can build top-notch content and opt-in system that allow you to communicate and build relationships with your prospective customers.
It's a common phrase that "people do business with people they know, like, and trust." Using social networks and content generation strategies (like newsletters and quality emails) you can develop strong bonds with people who you will never meet in person.
The strategies detailed herein will deliver prospects to your business that are interested, ready, and able to buy your products and services. It will take some time to implement these strategies, so get started now!
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, June 17, 2013
Holding constant for socioeconomic factors, the typical entrepreneur makes less money, works more hours and suffers more work-related stress than their employed counterparts.
And when we combine these statistics with those that show a very low percentage of businesses ever attaining meaningful profitability, it is remarkable that people ever even dream to be entrepreneurs and start businesses at all.
But start them they do!
Quite possibly the most amazing and inspiring number in all of American business is 550,000.
That is the approximate number of new businesses that are started in American each and every year.
Now these opposing statistics beg the question, “Why?”
Why would 550,000 people - who statistically are far better educated and wealthier than the population as a whole - engage in behavior that on the surface clearly seems contrary to their self-interest and dare I say, delusional?
Well, on the cynical side, many of these brave folks probably think the odds of economic success are greater than they really are.
And even if they know the odds, they think that they don’t apply to them.
On the slightly less cynical but still not totally inspiring side, one could argue that businesses are started out of boredom - out of the need for that “action rush” that in the realm of business often only an entrepreneurial endeavor can truly provide.
Inspirationally, many believe like I do that entrepreneurship is the greatest force for positive change in the world today, and they start and grow businesses to be positive change agents, on levels big and small.
They start restaurants to create and share beautiful food, service, and atmosphere.
They open day care facilities to provide quality, spirited child care for working families.
They start creative agencies - graphic design, publish relation, web development firms, and the like to leverage their business and creative talent to its most effective end.
And they start drug development and medical device companies to help people live longer, healthier lives.
And thousands of types and forms and sizes of business in between, led by entrepreneurs with aspirations big and small, driven by motivations both pedestrian and soaring.
But at the heart of all of their reasons for starting businesses, at least of the ones that survive, is that often begrudged but really most inspiring motivation of them all.
They start businesses to make a lot of money.
Now the key word in that sentence is make - as in bringing into existence through creativity, effort, and as often as not more than a little serendipity and luck, something that did not exist beforehand.
Now often, for the entrepreneur and those that back them, the touching of this money often takes many years, even decades, of under-paid, hard, and often thankless work, before a cash windfall in the form of a business sale or a public offering.
But that is a story for another day.
For now, find those entrepreneurs and businesses that can truly make money, encourage and back them, and you and the world will get to a better place.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, June 16, 2013
Astute entrepreneurs and marketers understand that as much as 80% of their revenues come from repeat customers. Because once you transform a prospective customer into an actual customer and then give them a great experience, getting that customer to buy again is much easier. In fact, many times the next sale will be initiated by the customer; you won't have to do anything.
So the best way to get more sales from repeat customers is to get more first-time customers (and then really satisfy them of course).
For instance, if your initial sale to a customer is $40, but the average customer will purchase four more times within the first year, then a new customer is actually worth $200 in the first year. Much more than the initial $40! So, clearly, you want to attract as many new customers as possible (and take care of them so they keep purchasing from you).
To help you achieve this I have detailed below three key tips for attracting new customers.
New Customer Strategy #1: Give Them a Deal
Some companies go as far as to lose money on their first sale (known as a loss-leader), knowing they'll make it back with an immediate upsell, monthly service plan, or future sales. Your goal is NOT to make as much money as you can on the first sale. It's to make a first sale!
But of course, it's better if the first sale naturally leads to selling your next item or service. For example, I know a pressure washing company who will clean your house's exterior at cost the first time. But then it upsells 80% of these customers to their "twice yearly" plan -- this is where it derives massive profits.
Restaurants offer specials, phone companies offer you deals if you switch providers, etc. - I'm sure you've seen this. You need to give customers a powerful offer either in the form of a low price or incredible value for their money. When you do, they'll be much more likely to buy from you.
You've also probably seen coupon offers and deal-of-the-day sites like Groupon offering $20 massages and other great deals all the time. This works in getting tons of new customers. However, be careful. A lot of businesses have reported "The Groupon Effect," in which they will post a special, get a herd of penny-pinchers in the door that take advantage of the offer and then disappear to find the next deal at whoever's cheapest tomorrow. In other words, it can attract the wrong crowd and may not produce repeat business-which is the whole point of making a first sale.
So use these special offers carefully. One idea is to use direct mail. Doing so allows you to target the specific customers you want with your special offer; the ones who are most likely to keep buying from you.
New Customer Strategy #2: Incentivize Your Sales Force
If you have a sales force, give them great incentives to close new sales. Particularly in the case where you know you have significant lifetime customer value (i.e., customers will purchase from you many more times in the future), be more generous with your commissions.
In fact, I've heard of companies giving 100% commissions to salespeople who secure new customers. While the company clearly loses money in the short term, such a strategy really motivates the sales team to get new customers. And over time, the company's revenues and profits grow much faster since they have so many new customers that keep buying from it.
New Customer Strategy #3: Give Them an Experience
Think about how much money people spend on vacations, sports, dining, and entertainment. What do these all have in common? They're experiences that people want and for which they are willing to pay.
Try positioning your service as a personal experience. It's one thing to offer a massage, it's another to offer a "spa experience" with music, lights, nails, and a free facial.
You can also plan and offer group experiences like luncheons, parties, open houses, or tours. Or find a way to piggyback on existing events going on in your community, like parades, festivals, expos, etc.
These will take a little creativity, but remember that people are naturally drawn to fun times. Make it memorable and do it a few times per year.
Look to Zappos.com for inspiration. Even though it sells a commodity (shoes), the company provides a great experience through exceptional customer service. For many other businesses, providing a great experience is much easier than this.
New Customer Strategy #4: Give Them Information
Every business needs to educate its customers, whether you charge for that education or not. I love it when my mechanic, Vinny, explains to me my car's problem, what caused it, how to fix it, and what it will cost. Sometimes we even go through options together, and I couldn't make a decision on the right one without getting the facts first.
Providing education demonstrates that you're an expert, increases your trust, and gives you higher credibility in the customers' mind. It also gives you an easy segue into showing the benefits of what you're offering and how it will help.
Some lead generation methods tie in very well with education. For example, if you're trying to get blog posts ranked in the search engines, you'll need to write articles on topics of interest to your readers; like how to do something, the pros and cons of different products or services, etc. These posts will show your expertise and educate the reader.
You can do the same with videos. Simple, informative videos can get the attention and interest of prospective customers. End each video with a special offer or a "call to action" that encourages the prospect to contact you.
To summarize, figure out how you can give new customers a great deal, an experience, and the information they need. And consider giving better incentives to your sales team. Use these 4 tips to get new customers. And then once you secure them, deliver high quality products and/or services. When you do, you'll start building a strong book of repeat business that helps your sales and profits soar!
Suggested Resource: Download Growthink's Ultimate Marketing Plan Template today in order to quickly and expertly complete your marketing plan. Among other things, your marketing plan will give you multiple strategies for gaining new customers.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, June 13, 2013
In the United States, there are many laws that protect investors. One of them prohibits entrepreneurs from mass-marketing investments in their businesses. For example, you can't solicit investors on your website nor via social media sites like Facebook.
However, if you set up a crowdfunding campaign, you can (and should) market that campaign and drive traffic to it using social media.
This article will help you do just that.
A Little Knowledge Will Strengthen Your Efforts
You can't use social media websites without understanding how the different ones work. Here are four of the biggest:
- Twitter. This platform offers short broadcasts or tweets, and members actively seek the latest news in real-time. The network has more than 500 million users.
- Facebook. This forum reaches 995 million active users, making it the largest social network. Members have vested interests in making connections with family members, people with similar interests, high school or college classmates, or people committed to certain social or environmental issues.
- Pinterest. This rapidly growing network features pinboards where members can organize recipes, tips, photographs and other materials such as blogs and how-to videos.
- LinkedIn. This network concentrates on business and professional people, and businesses need to maintain active profiles on this network to demonstrate to investors and donors that you're legitimate.
Benefits of Building Network Connections
You should try to build a group of supporters before starting your crowdfunding campaign. Support need not always be financial because favorably disposed members could recommend your project to their friends and associates. Fans love to take part, so you should listen to what they say and adopt suggestions to foster loyalty. Basically, you're looking for your advocates and cheerleaders. Find them and connect with them on the social networks.
Set up Your Crowdfunding Project
There are many crowdfunding platforms (e.g., Kickstarter, IndieGogo, etc.) where you can set up your crowdfunding project.
Importantly, when you do, make your project pitch clear and concise, so people "get" it right away. Also, in the ideal case, you pull on people emotionally, so they really want to see you succeed. The key is to try to bond with people, which you can effectively do via a video you create showing why people should fund you and your venture.
But also keep it real. Show funders how you will spend the money and over what period of time.
Start the Conversation About Your Project
Once your crowdfunding project is set up, use your social media presence to promote it. Post out to your network to tell them to visit your crowdfunding page and to tell others about it.
Also, feel free to go beyond social media. You can use email, creative Youtube videos, a blog, and/or discussion forums to boost your efforts.
Crowdfunding is a great new way to raise funding for your business. However, once you set up your crowdfunding page, don't expect people to just show up and fund you. Rather, you need to market your crowdfunding project. And social media is a great way to do just that!
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, June 10, 2013
GREAT businesses find the balance between:
a) Making the right changes at the right time and
b) Having the discipline to “keep on keeping on” and just doing more of what is working.
Note well that b) is particularly hard to maintain when the tasks and activities that ARE working become repetitive and lack in excitement and drama.
So how do executives find this balance - between being creative and just keeping their heads down and plowing forward?
Well, luckily in the past few years a large and impressive business literature has sprung up that codifies best practices of how to find this all-important balance.
It can best be summarized by the phrase “immersion plus spaced repetition” and goes like this:
1. Everything, of course, begins with ideas, with the best ones arising from a series of introspective strategic planning and goal-setting sessions that clarify objectives and the obstacles standing in the way of their accomplishment.
This immersive process - done at least annually but at the best companies quarterly - both defines what needs to be done and inspires all to take on the hard work of getting it done.
The value of inspiration cannot be underestimated – Thomas Edison famously said that “genius was 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” but that 1% “spark” is uber-critical in propelling an organization through the first threshold of change.
2. But, as anyone that attended an exciting or invigorating conference or strategic planning session can attest (and as I am sure Mr. Edison reflected on often during long nights at the lab), inspiration fades over time.
Even worse, when the inspiration is not followed through on, cynicism can set in and actually leave an organization worse off than if the planning sessions were never done in the first place!
So how to avoid this distressing fate?
3. Well, by keeping the ideas, goals, and objectives of the planning session alive through their regular review and adjustment.
Think of it this way - if a well-run strategic planning session is the essence of good leadership, then repetitive goal reviews are the essence of good management.
Great managers check in with their teams as often as daily - if only for 5 or 10 minutes - to review the day’s objectives and to keep the shorter term work flow aligned with the longer term planning and mission objectives.
The old adage that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time is never more true than when is comes to these spaced and repetitive management check-ins.
When done right, they measure, acknowledge, and reward incremental progress and prevent the desire for the perfect from getting in the way of the doable and the done.
Then, the organization reconvenes and reviews progress against stated goals, assesses what worked and what didn’t, and then refines and updates the key goals and objectives.
And after this next round of strategic planning, what is done?
Well, the spaced and repetitive management check-ins begin anew.
Wood is chopped, water is carried.
Following this simple but disciplined formula, over time great ideas become great realities, businesses are built, and legacies and fortunes are made.
And for investors, far more than technology these “above the line” leadership, management, and company culture disciplines separate the well-run companies to back from the disorganized ones to avoid.
So what are you waiting for?
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, June 9, 2013
I periodically read research reports about business failures. I always find them interesting, although often they are depressing.
Such as what I recently read. Which was research from Bradley University in Peoria, IL. This research found that 70% to 80% of new businesses fail within their first year.
And while this was frustrating enough to read, the research further stated that half of those companies which do survive the first year will fail within the next four years.
Now, let's turn to the cause of this failure. According to Dun & Bradstreet, the number one cause of this failure is lack of business planning.
What this essentially means is this: 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. The first is the business plan you must create when you start your company. The purpose of this 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. I refer to this type of business 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 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 (think about businesses who used to get all their customers from the yellow pages).
Next, consider your human resources strategy. What new people will you need to hire to accomplish your key goals in the coming years? 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).
To achieve maximum success in your business, create a business plan when you start your company, and annually create a strategic plan to grow your company.
The planning process will force you to focus on accomplishing the right things in your business. Since even if you execute flawlessly, if you are executing on the wrong strategies and opportunities, success will elude you.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Regardless of how good your current website it, I'm confident it can be better. In fact, on my website, I'm constantly testing new ideas to improve it. I test different colors, different headlines, different pictures, and so on. And each time, I learn ways to improve.
Below I summarize the 10 key aspects of your website that you should review and improve over time.
1. Look and Feel
The look and feel of your website is much more important than you might realize. Because when visitors go to your site, it's critical that their first impression is positive.
Think for a minute about who your customers are and what they are seeking. Then cater to them. For example, the look and feel of Porsche's website is extremely cool and elegant. Conversely, the look and feel of the Ben & Jerry's website is much more animated and fun (right now it's showing cows drinking on the beach).
Both websites do a great job of conveying the image in which they want customers to view them. Make sure that the look and feel of your website does the same.
I'm sure following situation happens to you (since it happens to me all the time): I go to a company's website, I read the homepage, and I still don't know what the company does.
So, I end up going to the "About Us" page to read more and to try to decipher what it is that the company does.
Importantly, I'm the exception. Few other visitors will invest the time to figure out what your company does. Rather, if they don't immediately "get it" and you don't immediately show them how you will benefit them, they'll leave and be gone forever.
A quick tip here is to use compelling headlines. For example, if your website sold tires, a great headline would be: "See Our Selection Of Over 500 Brands of Tires at the Guaranteed Lowest Prices." This is pretty much what all customers are looking for (selection and best price), so this headline lets visitors quickly know what the company does and that they are in the right place.
I'm sure your website has many pages, and it's your job to make it as simple as possible for your visitors to find the pages they want.
Navigation should be done on a top and/or left navigation bar, using links at the bottom of your website AND within the body text of all pages of your site.
More and more people are using devices other than computers (particularly mobile phones and tablets) to access websites. Make sure your website is accessible from all of these devices or you will unwittingly be turning away new customers.
5. Quality Content
Website visitors have come to expect that your website will include quality content or information. For example, if your website has articles, they shouldn't be "fluff" - they need to include actionable advice that shows visitors that you know more than they do.
And clearly, having typos and grammatical errors will also turn off site visitors and prospective customers.
Think about the information you need to convey to customers to better solve their needs and differentiate from the competition. While some of this information is compelling verbiage about your company, more of it should be information that's truly helpful to customers and makes them feel they made the right choice by visiting your website.
6. Amount of Content
The amount of content you include on your website is important for two reasons.
The first is that the more content you have on your website, the more preference search engines like Google will give your site when ranking it for desired keywords.
The second is that if customers are considering doing business with your company, they will want to learn more and more about it. Having a 5 or 10 page website clearly won't allow you to do this (you can start with a small website, but you need to add to it over time).
Having a blog on your website helps solve both your website's need for amounts of content (#6) and interactivity (#7).
With regards to amount of content, adding a daily or weekly blog post entry will allow your website to constantly grow in size. This will boost your website's search rankings and give you more keyword opportunities to rank on (since each blog post might rank for certain keyword search terms).
With regards to interactivity, having a blog allows customers and prospective customers to interact with you. It gives you the opportunity to solicit feedback, which provides quick and easy market research.
Your blog also gives you a voice. Here's why this is important. People prefer to buy from people and not faceless companies. While your main website can have a professional, corporate look and feel, your blog gives your customers a look into your personality, and can encourage rapport and sales.
8. Prove that You are Worthy
Your website must prove that you are a worthy company, since many of your visitors may have never heard about you or your company, and there is a natural skepticism consumers have against companies they find online.
Unfortunately, overcoming this skepticism is not as easy as simply stating "we are great." Rather, you need to prove that you are worthy.
You can accomplish this by including any or all of the following on your website:
- Media mentions (in which media your company has been featured)
- Credibility logos (e.g., a logo of the Better Business Bureau with a link to your BBB rating)
- Client logos, names, testimonials and/or case studies showing you have performed quality work
- Industry associations and groups to which you belong
- Certifications you and/or members of your team hold
9. Have Multiple Calls to Action
Even though all of us have grown accustomed to going online to find new products and services to buy, the way each of us likes to buy is different.
Some of us like to buy online. Others like to fill out an online contact form. Others like to call a toll free number. And so on.
It is your job to ensure you have multiple ways in which visitors can contact you to learn more about buying your products or services.
Also, if customers may not be ready to buy now, include calls to action to download free reports or other items to satisfy their initial needs; these items should require them to give you their contact information for further marketing.
10. Effective Page Layout
The final key attribute of your website is the layout of your pages.
The key here is to ensure visitors have to think as little as possible. The idea layout influences visitors to take the desired actions. For example, if the goal of one of your web pages is to get the visitor to give you their email address, having the email box near the top of the page, with a clear headline above it in a big font, will yield much better results than the same email box on the bottom left corner of the page with a small headline.
Consider using a heat map program that can show you exactly how visitors are interacting with your website; what they are looking at, what they are clicking on, etc. As you can imagine, this information enables you to make significant improvements to your site.
From reading these 10 key website elements, ideally you will have identified at least a few improvements you can make right away. Also, please realize that improving your website is an ongoing process. You should always be trying and testing new ideas, so your website keeps getting better and better.
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