Growthink Blog

Doing Financial Projections Right (A Five Step Process)


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Especially this time of year - when so many of us are assembling and committing to our professional resolutions and goals, questions arise as how to best develop financial (growth, revenues, and profits) projections for our businesses.

Questions including:

Should projections be “realistic” – i.e. feel “doable” and in line with past results or…

…should they be “aspirational,” not hot air by any means but also representative of goals that make us feel more than a little anxious as to our ability to attain them?

What is the actual “projections-making” process? Is Microsoft Excel my only “tool” option? How much research into customers and competitors should I do?

And perhaps most poignantly, if there is not a regulatory or shareholder requirement, why even put them together in the first place?

A great way to think about the process and purpose of financial projections is via what I call the “HMCBW” approach, i.e. examining the Historical data, then the Market conditions, then the Competition, then the “Bottoms-Up” assumptions, and finally and most importantly what management Wants.

It looks like this:

5. Let History Be Our Guide. The first thing to do in assembling projections is to evaluate what was, and was not, financially accomplished by the business in the past.

While the previous period (most usually the previous year) is usually most indicative, there is also great wisdom to be had in looking back to more chronologically distant periods as well.

This is especially important in good economic conditions like we have currently (see here and here), where the more relevant historical period might be say - the 2006/2007 period – i.e. one of similarly “frothy” macro-economic conditions.

4. How Big is My Market? Undertaking a formal and comprehensive study of a business’ industry, market, and competition usually leads to one of two results - either the target market is much smaller and less lucrative than surmised or…

…it is defined so imprecisely and broadly as to uncover faulty strategic thinking / an unsound business model.

Either outcome, both painful, naturally lead to the kind of hard introspection and business model re-positioning upon which solid financial projections (and yes ultimate business success!) depend.

3. How is the Competition Doing? We live in this most amazing time where our competitors - as part and parcel of their sales and marketing strategies - just post to the Net their business models for all to see.

Additionally, amazing tools like CapIQ, Hoovers, IBIS World, LexusNexis, Statista, and Follow.net give us inexpensive access to often shockingly accurate financial data (even profits!) on even the smallest and most secretive of private companies.

Utilizing this data as benchmarks for our projections is incredibly powerful. We do not need to be wed to how our competitors do it, but we would be foolhardy to not study and learn from them.

2. Bottoms-up! The business analytics revolution - as represented by the dozens of SaaS business process applications and productivity tools (with their incredible reporting functionality) - allows for the assembly of Bottoms-Up financial projections with an “actual data” specificity like never before.

This might look like building revenue projections based on the conversion ratios of web traffic to inquiries (phone, e-mail, text, etc.) to proposals, to sales, to retention, to ongoing revenue.

These bottoms-up models, in addition to being powerfully predictive, are also highly insightful as to the performance of various aspects of an enterprise - its marketing, its salespeople, the quality and efficacy of its products and services, etc.

1. What Does Management Want? The fuzziest - but also by far the most important factor when developing projections is just asking what management and ownership want to see happen.

What kind of revenue and profit projections will inspire and embolden? Will force to the forefront the need for breakthrough business model thinking and doing?

Answering these “inspirational” questions is massively important in assembling projections that serve the objectives of managers and owners, and not the other way around.

Historicals. Market size. Comparables. Bottoms Up. Want.

Follow this five step model in building your growth, revenue, and profit projections and watch the Manna from Heaven flow!


Who’s Your Daddy? 5 Lessons from GoDaddy


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The technology age has brought with it a long list of business related success stories.  There are plenty of cases where a small startup has managed to grow into a billion-dollar company.
 
While most people will think of companies such as Facebook and Amazon, GoDaddy.com is actually one of the greatest successes in recent history.  What started as a small company has since grown into an easily recognizable brand which owns a significant portion of its own market.
 
GoDaddy was created in 1997 as Jomax Technologies by Bob Parsons who had recently sold his other company, Parsons Technology Inc., to Intuit.
 
At the time, a company called Network Solutions was essentially the only place from which people could register domain names.  That changed in 2001, however, and GoDaddy.com quickly grew.
 
In 2005, GoDaddy.com became the world’s largest ICANN-accredited registrar on the internet.  In addition to being one of the most popular domain registrars in the world, it also offers website hosting and a whole range of business related technology solutions.
 
In 2011, 65% of the company was sold to a group of private equity firms for approximately $2.25 billion.  GoDaddy’s rapid rise to prominence and continued success are due to a few key factors.  Studying what they did right can help business owners of any type discover new ways to grow their own companies.
 
Lesson #1: User Friendly Innovation

 
Innovation has been at the heart of everything GoDaddy has done since its creation.  What it has managed to do is take something which is ordinarily very technical, in this case domain registrations, and make it appeal to a wide range of customers.
 
It was not very long ago that most people were unfamiliar with the Internet.  The idea of marketing domain registration and web hosting to everyday people was unheard of at the time.  This is part of what has made them so successful.  Their effort to bring these services to the average person effectively opened up a vast new market.
 
Lesson #2: Cutting Edge Branding

 
Part of what has made GoDaddy so successful is its ability to create a readily identifiable brand.  Nearly every person on the Internet has heard of GoDaddy and a majority of sites are registered with the company.
 
The power of this brand has come from its extensive advertising.  Buying up expensive advertising space during events like The Super Bowl, GoDaddy made a name for itself with racy and often controversial marketing efforts.  Its commercials, utilizing seductive women and star athletes, brought a sexy and exciting feeling to what could otherwise be a dry and technical company.
 
Lesson #3: Soups-to-Nuts Offering
 

GoDaddy is far from just a domain registrar.  It offers a number of services including website hosting and ecommerce solutions.  This has helped make it successful because it essentially offers everything someone might need when starting a website.
 
The domain can be registered, the site hosted, the platform installed, and upgrades can be added as needed.  When a customer comes to GoDaddy for domain registration they immediately have access to everything else.  This allows the company to offer upsells and products with recurring payment options that are relevant to what customers have already purchased.
 
Lesson #4: Customer Service in Layman’s Terms

 
GoDaddy’s customers may not always be experts at information technology.  There are a number of different problems that a customer might run into.  GoDaddy has made a point of offering outstanding customer service that explains complex technology solutions in layman’s terms.
 
Due to its high level of customer service, in a way customers understand, GoDaddy.com has become one of the most trusted hosts and registrars around.
 
Lesson #5: Upfront, Competitive Pricing

 
Unlike make technology service providers who bury prices in obscure parts of their website or require a call for a quote, GoDaddy publishes its prices very visibly.
 
Furthermore, its pricing is competitive, and it has prepared numerous product bundles to make it easy for customers to find what they need.
 
Rather than demanding money for a number of different services, almost everything is optional and customers can spend as little or as much as they want.  This competitive pricing, coupled with constant discounts and coupons, has made it difficult for other companies to compete.
 
What to Take from This

 
Owners of businesses of any type can learn a lot from the GoDaddy.  Its rapid rise to the top is something which is enviable in any industry and implementing a few of its key strategies can help any business.  While not every company will have a budget as large as GoDaddy, there are still several concepts, discussed below, which can be useful.
 
A. Challenge Accepted Notions
 

At a time when many people were still unfamiliar with the Internet, GoDaddy targeted their advertising towards regular, every day people.  This was a risky move, at the time, but actually showed incredible foresight.
 
Look at your business model – where have you been playing safe?  Are there bolder strategies you can test?
 
B. Invest in Marketing

 
Many of GoDaddy’s biggest critics claim they bought their market dominance through expensive advertising.  While this is not entirely true, marketing has been a major source of success for it.  GoDaddy advertised mainly through inexpensive online banners for years before it was big enough to implement sexy and eye-catching ads during The Super Bowl.
 
Dust off your branding and marketing plan and review it.  Is it relevant in today’s market?  Are you getting the results you want? If not, it may time to go back to the drawing board and perhaps invest in expert guidance.
 
C. Offer Everything You Can Do Well

 
Specialization can often be a good thing in business, but the possibility of branching out into related products and services should never be ignored.  GoDaddy started as a domain registrar but soon included a variety of other services as well.
 
Offering related services can boost profits and avoid losing customers to competitors with a full-service solution.  For example, a car repair shop that doesn’t replace tires can lose their regular oil change customers when those customers need new tires and find a full-service provider.  
 
The caution is to only branch out if you can provide excellent service in all categories.  Adding more services, but doing it poorly, will hurt rather than help you grow.
 
Father Knows Best

 
GoDaddy is a familiar name on the Internet and with good reason.  Growing from a small start up to a multi-billion dollar company, it has proven it is expert at predicting future trends, understanding its intended audience, and delivering on what it promises.
 
Your job is to learn from GoDaddy.  Take the time to review your business model using the concepts in this article.  Outline steps you can take to promote your own growth, then take actions.  Carefully track your results to learn what works best in your market.
 
Over time, you will have a proven recipe for strategies that generate growth for your business.  How long before I write an article about you and your stellar success?


How Increased Teen Drug Use Can Help Your Business


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“Social proof” is a critical psychological principle that savvy business owners can use to dramatically increase sales and grow their businesses. The principle simply states that people are more likely to do something when they see others doing it. For example, after entering a new restaurant, customers are more prone to sit down and eat if they see others in the restaurant versus if it was completely empty.
 
Interestingly, there’s one famous example when the power of social proof caused unintended and negative results. The example was Nancy Reagan’s ‘Say No to Drugs’ campaign in the 1980s. While the campaign hoped to decrease drug use, the opposite actually happened. Yes, teen drug use actually increased in the 1980s as the campaign implied that many teens were using drugs. This social proof made other teens think it was ok if they tried drugs too.
 
On the other hand, there are countless examples of using social proof for benefit, such as the following:
 
1.  Social Proof from Other Users/Customers
 

Showing other users and customers is the most common form of social proof. Here are some examples:

  • Showing the number of Facebook Likes you have
  • A bartender placing a few bills in their tip jar at the start of their shift
  • A bouncer at a bar not letting everyone inside (even when there’s room) so a line forms outside
  • Taping pictures of customers on your store’s walls

 Even more powerful is when you get your customers to invite their friends to become customers. Hotmail did this extremely effectively by putting “join Hotmail” advertisements in the footer of all email messages. This prompted Hotmail to grow from 500,000 users at the start of 2007 to over 12 million users by year’s end. Likewise, allowing friends to invite friends to play through Facebook helped Zynga grow over 10 times, from 3 million to 41 million average daily users, in just one year.
 

2. Social Proof from Experts

This form of social proof is when you show approval of your product or service from credible experts.
 
I used this form of social proof when marketing my book, Start at the End. Specifically, I received, and subsequently promoted, reviews from several experts such as: Marshall Goldsmith, Kevin Harrington, John Jantsch and Brad Feld among others.
 
A similar example is Sensodyne toothpaste promoting that “9 out of 10 Dentists Recommend Sensodyne” for sensitive teeth.
 

3.  Social Proof from Celebrities
 

An estimated 25% of television commercials in the US now use celebrities. For example, you’ve probably seen Catherine Zeta-Jones promote T-Mobile over the years. You may have also seen Beyonce promoting milk and William Shatner promoting PriceLine.com.
 
Even if you don’t have the funds to afford to big celebrity, you can use this form of social proof to your advantage. For example, when luxury pillow manufacturer Pillo1 received positive publicity from Oprah on Oprah.com, Pillo1 effectively showed this on their website.
 

4. Social Proof from Research and Past Results

Showing research and past results gives positive social proof to spur new customers to buy your offerings. Here are some examples:

  • Showing customer reviews and testimonials (in print and/or preferably video format)
  • Offering star ratings on your product or service (ideally your ratings are good)
  • Before and after photos from past clients (we see this all the time in weight loss advertisements)
  • Internal research: the following message in a hotel, “Almost 75% of other guests help by using their towels more than once,” had 25% better results than any other message tested.
  • Industry research: for example, promoting “a study by the American Institutes for Cancer Research that eating whole grains can reduce your risk of cancer,” gives positive social proof to customers.

 
5. Social Proof from “Borrowed Trust”

 
A final form of social proof is when you “borrow” trust from other brands. Examples of this include:

  • Using a “buy button” that looks similar to Amazon.com’s famous buy button
  • Being a member of a popular association (e.g., a gun manufacturer promoting that they’re a member of the NRA)
  • Having a seal such as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval or Cheerios cereal stating “Certified by the American Heart Association” on its boxes

 As you can see, there are numerous ways to use social proof to influence others to take the actions you want. Use these examples as a starting point in brainstorming ideas to leverage social proof in your business. And then use the other proven marketing tactics to take your business to the next level.


Devising Bold Plans…and Doing Them! (2015 Version)


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Last week, I wrote about how some very positive economic factors - ranging from low oil prices to low interest rates to US technological leadership to just good old-fashioned confidence are coalescing to set up 2015 as one of the best years ever for US business.

Now, positive “macro” conditions are nice, but all they really do is create the opportunity - but by no means the promise - for entrepreneurs and executives to prosper and profit.

Now, paraphrasing the famous Bard of old, our business fates lie in ourselves and in the “micro” of our day-to-day mindsets, projects, and to dos.

What should those mindsets, projects, and to dos be?

While of course they are different for every business, here are five universal ones, applicable for almost all companies looking to break out in 2015.

5. Push the Risk Envelope. As so eloquently proved in Michael Raynor's masterpiece, "The Strategy Paradox," the vast majority of executives take too little short term risk, and by so doing subject themselves to far greater longer-term dangers.

As I described in my "Breaking Free of No Man’s Land” post, this is because most usually the real danger for a business is not its sudden or dramatic failure, but rather slowly sliding into technological obsolescence, commoditization, and a low to no profit economic model.

While this conservatism is more pronounced in times of recession, in good times it is doubly insidious because both the opportunity costs of overly conservative and the likelihood of risky initiatives being successful are so much greater

A great shortcut question to ask yourself is: If I had no considerations of time and money, what would I do?

The answer will usually point you to the riskier, and more often than not, the more strategically correct business decision.

4. Embrace New Technologies. In the past two to three years, we've reached a tipping point as to the ability of companies of all types and sizes to earn quick ROI via implementing and utilizing business process technologies that allow for the completion of work more quickly and cost-effectively, and at a higher level of quality and consistency.

Cloud-based, on demand, proven and inexpensive technologies are available now for almost all business processes - from sales CRMs, to marketing analytics, to project management software to HR, accounting, and finance.

And because of an almost overwhelming number of great software companies building new business process services (and because of SaaS, improving the ones they have almost daily), the cost of these tools continues to drop while their quality and efficacy rises. Truly a golden age.

3. Pursue Global Markets. As I described last week, the volume of US exports is hitting new records year-after-year, and is projected to easily cross the $2.5 trillion mark in 2015.

Never before has it been a) easier to sell products and services globally b) have there been so many customers with money to spend the world over and c) has the reputation of US companies for technological leadership, quality products and ethical dealings been greater than it is right now.

So if you have a global growth strategy, build on it. And if you don't, get one.

2. Be Organizationally Creative. The maturation of business process technologies combined with the “flattening” and full-on “virtualization” of most modern work has created extraordinary opportunities for every company - no matter how small - to profit via organizational evolution, outsourcing, and fractionalization of work.

Things like organizing one’s enterprise via a mix of W-2 employees, 1099 contractors and outsourced technology, project administrative work flow partners from around the globe.

My experience is that most of us intuitively get how this stuff works (as evidenced by how much of work we all now do on our mobile devices), but are still held back by a sense of how a “real” company should be organized.

The heck with that! All that should matter in decisions like this is whether it works - i.e. does it deliver higher quality at a lower cost? Everything else is just noise.

1. Have a Plan. Conditions are good. The world is our oyster. Let's commit, in writing, that we're going to make the most of it.

In the immortal words of Goethe, once a commitment is made, Providence moves too.

The spoils and thrills of victory in our so competitive but so opportunity-laden world go to those who devise bold plans of action and then go out and do them.

So let’s make great plans - organizationally creative ones that leverage technology, take intelligent risks and pursue and win opportunities around the world.

That sounds like a great 2015!


’15 is Gonna Be a Good One


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With a little luck, 2015 could go down as one of the best years ever for American business.

Here are seven reasons why:

7. Low Oil Prices. For both businesses and consumers, $50 per barrel oil and $3 per gallon gas have both strong real and psychological benefits.

Real, as in lower input costs for businesses and more disposable income for consumers, and psychological in removing that sense of scarcity and dread that high prices at the pump bring.

6. And It’s U.S. Oil. And, oh yes, as opposed to that oil coming mostly from a collection of unsavory, overseas actors (see Putin, Vladimir), now for the first time in decades the U.S. is poised to be a net oil exporter. These dollars staying home naturally multiply themselves - perking up manufacturing, construction, real estate, travel, tourism, etc.

5. Low Interest Rates. Predicting the direction of interest rates is one of the great fool’s errands, but it does certainly feel like we have made a long-term transition to permanently low rates.

A key factor driving this is Federal Reserve's Chair Janet Yellen’s political philosophy - well-documented over decades - that employment is the most important matter of monetary policy and any “tightening” that might lead to rising unemployment is to be avoided at all costs.

And then there is simple supply and demand -- all the “safe” world currencies (Euro, Yen, Pound) sport extraordinarily low rates too so there is no “currency flight” pressure to drive tightening.

4. U.S. Technology Leads the World. In so many of the growth industries of the 21st century - Mobile, BioTech, HealthcareIT, Robotics, Social Media, Internet of Things - U.S. companies continue to lead the way.

In addition to the massive flows of capital and wealth created and distributed by the top tech. companies (to employees, vendors, shareholders et al.), this leadership also attracts the best and the brightest scientists, engineers, and developers from around to the world to our shores.

And from this human capital new technologies and new companies are born. And new wealth created.

3. Record Exports. U.S. Exports reached $2.3 trillion in 2013, both a new record and up more than $700 billion since 2009. And the soon to be in 2014 numbers will show another record year.

Why? Well for one, U.S. companies, aided greatly by an English language and America-dominated Internet, every year become more and more effective in marketing and selling to global customers (while global customers in turn become far more comfortable in purchasing across the wires).

This powerful trend will only continue to accelerate in the years to come – opening new markets and profit opportunities for U.S companies big and small.

2. Cash Piles on Sidelines. With $1 trillion in cash sitting in the coffers of U.S. private equity firms and $515 billion on the balance sheets of leading tech. companies (try Microsoft with $88 billion, Google with $60 billion, and Cisco with $52 billion), and with this cash in our low interest rate environment earning only fractions of pennies of return, there is a high probability we will see a lot of it pour into growth opportunities this year.

And there are no better growth investments than U.S. entrepreneurial companies, especially the smaller, private ones, that over decades have consistently yielded double digit returns for those brave and foresighted enough to invest in them.

1. Momentum. Good times beget more good times. The solid, economic, political, and social news and results we have had for a few years running now are building themselves into a powerful crescendo for the new year.

Yes, more than a little luck is always needed - mostly in the form of no large, negative political or environmental shocks.

Barring that, on balance for entrepreneurs and executives out there seeking to make their mark, 2015 is looking nice and juicy.

Here's hoping we all make the most of it!


3 Surprising Facts You Didn’t Know About FedEx


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It was not very long ago that the United States Postal Service was the only means by which to ship physical packages in the US. While this service had been invaluable, its quality had progressively declined over the years. Letters were lost, packages were damaged and customer service was nearly non-existent. This opened the door for private corporations to pick up the slack.
 
FedEx was hardly the first private parcel delivery service but it quickly became the market leader. With regional, national and international services, FedEx has been filling the need for a reliable way to send packages. Over the years it has expanded its reach through acquisition of similar companies as well as adding retail locations.
 
FedEx’s success has been due to the satisfaction of both its customers and employees. When a customer hires FedEx, they know their package will be delivered on time. And the company’s competitive employee benefits and professional work environment have created an army of loyal employees that are fully dedicated to the company’s mission.
 
Combined with an intense focus on the quality of their work and a close relationship with customers, FedEx has become synonymous with quality and dependability.
 
The Big Screen

 
FedEx’s commitment to quality and excellence is typified by the movie Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks. This movie, released in 2000, tells the story of Chuck Nolan, a systems analyst for FedEx. His job of resolving problems and improving service sends him on a trip to Malaysia. During the flight, a storm hits and the plane goes down. Chuck finds himself washed up on the shore of a deserted island with nothing but a few damaged packages.
 
After four years on the island, Chuck resolves to make an escape. Building a raft from material he scavenged from the area, he is rescued by a passing cargo vessel. The only possession he manages to save is an unopened and, as yet, undelivered FedEx package. The final scene of the movie shows Chuck delivering that package, late but still intact.
 
The most surprising aspect of this movie is that FedEx paid absolutely nothing for the product placement. In fact, upon hearing of the plot of the movie, FedEx was reluctant to give its approval. After reading the script, however, the company realized what a great marketing opportunity this movie really was. FedEx had become so well known for its dedication to service and reliability that an entire movie was built around it.
 
Lesson #1: A Culture of Excellence

 
FedEx gained its reputation through a culture of excellence, from top to bottom. While there are multiple aspects to this company, they are all overseen by a main office that focuses on keeping the machine running smoothly.
 
Even the character portrayed by Tom Hanks had the responsibility of analyzing the entire system and improving its functionality. This dedication to excellence is part of why FedEx is as powerful as it is today.
 
FedEx strives to offer the best possible experience to all its constituents. From corporate employees to delivery personnel and even retail location customers, FedEx has become known as a corporation which never settles for mediocrity. This commitment to quality is so pervasive that it has become a part of the entire brand itself.
 
When a customer sees the FedEx logo, they know they are dealing with a company that will do what it promises, no matter what challenges it faces.
 
Lesson #2: Driven to Improvement

 
Here is another little known fact about FedEx: when the fax machine became a standard, FedEx’s business declined by 50%. FedEx had a choice: fold or evolve. It studied the market and made a simple realization – not everything can be faxed.
 
FedEx redesigned its model to focus on documents that required a live signature and packages. Then it catapulted itself to the top of the food chain by making deliveries fast and reliable.
 
FedEx has never stopped trying to improve what it does. Every step of the process is constantly analyzed and there are employees who exist only to refine and improve the way in which people send and receive packages.
 
One reason why FedEx has been so effective in accomplishing this is because it really listens to it customers. The company understands how important customer satisfaction is and strives to give customers exactly what they want. From its inception, FedEx saw a need and filled it, and then it kept working hard to fill that need in a better way.
 
Lesson 3: Checks and Balances
 
All of FedEx’s improvements, however, would do little good if they were not constantly monitored. Before it was rebranded as FedEx, the logistics of the company was overseen by FDX. Over time, it acquired a few more logistics companies and formed FedEx Global Logistics.
 
This portion of the company was created to oversee the vast operations of all the subsidiary organizations. Creating this allowed the company to consolidate the entire command infrastructure to better ensure that constant improvements were implemented correctly.
 
There are redundant processes in place to track even the smallest package. If a package is at risk of being misdirected, alarms go off. Think of your own business. If you were about to miss an appointment, what systems are in place to let you know and allow you to correct the problem?
 
The FedEx Test
 
Every business can learn a lot from FedEx. Nearly every business can be improved in many ways and there are a few simple questions that can help get a smart business owner on the path to FedEx’s level of success.
 
1.  Is work delivered on time? Delivering packages on time is one of the most important elements in the success FedEx has enjoyed. When work is promised on a given deadline, customers and clients are relying on that promise.
 
No matter what it may be, all deadlines need to be followed as strictly as possible. This will help build a reputation for dependability and will create a group of loyal customers.
 
2.  Is the quality consistent? Customers need to know that a company will always produce the same quality of work. It is imperative that quality be a main focus of any business.
 
Fluctuations in quality are the surest way to lose any loyal customers. If clients and customers cannot rely on consistent quality they will turn to a competitor who is more reliable.
 
3.  Is improvement ongoing?
Every business can be improved. Redundancies can be consolidated, procedures can be simplified and processes can be refined.
 
Constantly improving a business is an important aspect of long-term success. Markets will always change and customers will always want more. Improvement is something that should be a part of your daily operations and every employee needs to be engaged.
 
4.  What do the customers think? The best barometer of success and satisfaction is your customers. If a business is not listening to its customers then all improvements are simply theoretical.
 
Offering incentives to encourage customers and clients to fill out surveys and questionnaires is one of the easiest ways to find out how they feel about your business and what they would like to see in the future.
 
Not up to writing a survey? Then pick up the phone and call your last 5 customers. Be friendly and ask them what they thought of your service. Avoid interrupting them. Listen, take notes, and do not argue. If you get a poor review, apologize and make it right.
 
Putting your business to the FedEx test is a great way to find out how to turn a good business into a great one. These simple questions will often reveal weaknesses in your company while offering suggestions for improvement.
 
By following the lessons of FedEx, smart business owners can set themselves up for long-term success based on a reputation for excellence and a solid base of loyal customers.


2015 Words To Live By


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The ending of one year and the beginning of another is a natural time to take stock of all that was accomplished in the past 12 months, and more excitedly, to dream and plan on the great promise of the New Year.

In this spirit, below are a few of my favorite quotes regarding dreaming, planning, goal-setting, and "Going for It!”

"You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'"

- George Bernard Shaw

(My comment: reflects the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit)

"What is not started today is never finished tomorrow."

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(My comment: the "fierce urgency of now" must always inform and drive us. We live in too fast-moving a world, too merciless a marketplace, to in any way dawdle or delay.)

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

- Winston Churchill

(My comment: The most accomplished executives and entrepreneurs that I have worked with have impressed me as much with their fortitude and resiliency as they have with their “glamorous” attributes - brilliance, connections, salesmanship, etc.

"Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great."

- Mark Twain

(My comment: This is the essence of leadership in modern, collaboration-driven organizations. The best managers build alignment and focused energy around shared goals and objectives.

"Goals are dreams with deadlines."

- Diana Scharf Hunt

(Our comment: The great ones dream it and do it NOW!)

Happy New Year, and may 2015 be the best year of all of our lives!


My End of December Strategy


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Today I thought it would be helpful if I detailed what I do at the end of December each year. This works very well for me, and I hope it will for you too.

1. Look back at the past year


The first thing I do is look back at the past year. I start with the annual goals that I set at the beginning of last year. Which goals did I accomplish? Which didn't I?

Next I go through each of my monthly goal documents. Fortunately my team and I create monthly goals each month. Seeing what our goals were in March 2013, for example, is very interesting. Perhaps more importantly, when I go through the monthly goal documents, I see just how much we accomplished this past year.

2. Be grateful

In viewing last year's annual and monthly goals, I'm never fully satisfied. That's just my personality, since I set aggressive goals that are hard to attain. So, chances are (and it's true again this year) that I didn't accomplish everything I had hoped for during the year.

But rather than focus on that, I always take a moment to be grateful for that which we DID accomplish. I think about all the hard work and all the great things we did do in 2013. I also like to think about how much better the company is now than it was 12 months ago.

3. Look ahead


Next I like to revisit my long-term goals. That is, where do I want my company to be in 5 years? Importantly, since I do this exercise annually, I simply pull up my answer to this question from last year. I decide whether my long-term goals have changed, and why. I then document my new 5-year goals.

I then work backwards to figure out what I must accomplish next year. I start by asking what I need to accomplish in 2014 to make it a great year and to put me on the path to achieving my long-term goals.

I think about financial metric goals such as the revenue and profits I'd like to generate in 2014. And I look at the business assets I must create in 2014. I think about what new products I must create in the coming year. I assess how many new clients I'd like to bring on. I document how many new employees I should recruit hire, and train in the next twelve months. And so on.

4. Plan out the year


I then start mapping my 2014 goals in a Gantt chart so I know exactly what has to be done and when. I document what I must accomplish in January, in February, and so on. Sure, I'll never get this exactly right, and during each month next year, I'll adjust my precise monthly goals. But this exercise gives me a great handle on what's possible to achieve in 2014.

Conclusion


A lot of what I've described herein is goal planning; setting goals, trying to achieve them, and then assessing your results. Importantly, goal planning takes practice. That is, the more often you set goals, try to achieve them, and then assess results, the better you get at setting goals that you actually can achieve.

As a result, every year I set and assess goals, I get better at planning out the next year, understanding what I can and cannot accomplish in 12 months, and maximizing my productivity so I build a great company. I hope you are able to do the same for your company. So plan out your long-term goals and 2014 goals now, and I wish you the best of success in achieving them!


Is Crowdfunding Better than Peer-to-Peer Lending?


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Both Crowdfunding and Peer-to-Peer Lending are great new ways to raise money for your business. Below I explain the differences, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each. I end by determining which is better.

Peer-to-Peer Lending

Peer-to-Peer (or P2P) Lending is one person lending money to another person at a pre-defined interest rate. It's basically debt capital without the bank or traditional "middle man."

The benefit of P2P Lending is that 1) the interest rates are typically lower, and 2) the likelihood of getting the loan is greater than the likelihood of getting a traditional bank loan.

There are several popular websites that connect borrowers and lenders directly. The biggest two are:

  • Prosper.com
  • LendingClub.com


The downside of P2P lending is that you need to repay the loan and that there are limits to how much you can raise (generally only $25K at a time).
 
Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is raising money from the "crowd" or general population. In Crowdfunding, you don't need to repay the amount raised. Rather, you give rewards (usually the product you want to develop) or equity to those who fund you.

The most established rewards-based Crowdfunding websites are:

  • Kickstarter is the largest Crowdfunding site. The downside of Kickstarter is that not every project is accepted and they charge a success fee of 8% in the event you get funding.

  • Rockethub is primarily for funding creative projects. Their network is not as large as Kickstarter's, but is still pretty big. They accept more projects, and also have a success fee of 8%.

  • GoFundMe is a large and growing Crowdfunding site. It is unique in that it doesn't charge a success fee if you get funded. GoFundMe does charge a $9 fixed monthly fee.

  • IndieGoGo is another very large Crowdfunding platform. It has more creative (e.g., film, music) projects than some of the other sites.


On the equity side, Crowdfunding if still extremely new and still only limited to accredited investors (expect this to change shortly). Crowdfunder is one of the leaders in the equity based Crowdfunding market now. We will see how it grows and other sites pop-up as non-accredited investors enter the market in 2014.

So, Which is Better?

I prefer Crowdfunding over Peer to Peer Lending because of the potential to raise more money through a larger group of people, and not having to pay the money back. I also like that all the people who crowdfund you 1) are potential future customers, and 2) can spread the word about your business.

However, the two funding sources are NOT mutually exclusive, so definitely consider using BOTH Crowdfunding and Peer to Peer Lending, since both are great forms of funding.

 

Suggested Resource: Do you want Crowdfunding? If so, don't try to raise it from scratch -- the 14-step blueprint already exists. Get the Crowdfunding blueprint here.


5 Quick & Easy Ways to Improve Your Website


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Your website is a critical component of your marketing strategy. If set up properly, your website can be the source of tons of new customer leads. And even if they hear of you elsewhere, in many cases, customers will still visit your website to learn more about you.

So here are 5 quick and easy ways to make your website more effective.

#1: Establish a blog


Setting up a blog is the easiest way for you to continually add new content to your website.

And each piece of content you add is another opportunity for someone to do a search (on Google.com, etc.) and find your company.

Also, your blog posts can be used to show your subject matter credibility, and further prove to prospective customers that you are the best provider in the market.

#2: Promote your blog posts


In addition to adding new blog posts (ideally once per week, and at a minimum twice per month), make sure to promote your posts.

You can promote your posts by posting them on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.

Your goal is to drive more traffic to your blog posts. Also, try to get visitors to comment and/or ask questions about your posts. And then, respond to their questions and comments.

Finally, remember that each question posed by your visitors may be a great topic for a future blog post.

#3: Create videos

Particularly if you don't like to write, create videos.

Videos that teach prospective customers how to do something are extremely valuable. And they can be used to "soft-sell" your product and/or services.

For example, let's say you offer carpet cleaning services. A short video teaching people how to tell if their carpet is in need of cleaning would be extremely valuable. And, people who watched it would be prone to purchase your service.

#4: Add sharing buttons


Particularly if the content on your blog is good, make sure it's easy for visitors to share it.

You can quickly and easily accomplish this by adding buttons that allow people to share your posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, and other social media networks.

This is how blog posts go viral; by making it easy for others to share them.

#5: Make your website mobile and tablet friendly

More and more people are visiting websites from their mobile devices and tablets. But not all website look good on these sources.

Make sure your website does. If it doesn't, there are some inexpensive services that manage this for you. Such services can tell when a visitor is not coming from a desktop, and will automatically push them to a version of your website (which they create and host) that is more mobile/tablet friendly.

Each of these five tips can be implemented very quickly and easily. And they will result in more customers and sales. So make completing this a priority.

 

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.


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