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Written by Dave Lavinsky on Saturday, April 10, 2010
On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded $2.38 million to 34 small businesses to develop innovative, sustainable technologies to protect human health and the environment.
And the EPA is not alone. There are 25 other federal grant-making agencies that are funding new and existing businesses. These include the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, and the Department of Energy among others.
And, on top of this, there are tons of state and local grants available to businesses.
The key negative with grant funding is that grants typically fund "projects" and not "companies." For example, a grant is often used to fund the project of developing a specific product or service. However, oftentimes that product can become the basis for a great company.
The key positive with grant funding is that you don't need to repay it, nor do you need to give up equity in your company for it. That's pretty cool.
I think that too few entrepreneurs know enough about grant funding and don't go after it.
To access grant funding for your business, download Growthink's Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital for Your Business from Grants.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Thursday, April 8, 2010
I recently read about a smart tactic a Fortune 500 marketing manager used to increase sales by 10%.
I think you'll find it useful. And I think it's something you can implement right away to improve your sales. But what I'm even more excited to tell you about is what the manager did wrong. Which, when done right, should increase sales by even more, perhaps by 27%.
So, what did marketing manager, Brian J. Maynard, do when marketing his company's Jenn-Air and KitchenAid appliances?
He communicated, using statistics, how his products were superior. And his actions lifted sales and website traffic more than 10%.
"Consumers tell us that what they care about are the results -- ultimately how well the product cleans," Maynard says.
So, Maynard executed on the following plan:
Step 1: Conduct market research
First, his team conducted research to prove that its dishwashers outperformed the competition; it did so by 25%.
And to avoid criticism, they tested according to industry standards established by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.
Step #2. Communicate results in consumer-friendly way
Rather than use jargon, or promote multiple findings from the research, he sited one statistic that was 1) easy to understand, and 2) most important to customers in their decision making process. This statistic was the fact that their appliances yielded 25% better results than the competition.
Step #3. Include the results within all the company's marketing messages
The "improved results by 25%" message was included in all Jenn-Air and KitchenAid marketing efforts including:
- Television advertising
- Search PPC and online display ads
- Website landing pages
- Print advertising
- Point-of-sale displays (e.g., stickers on machines in stores, in-store flyers & in-store banners)
The resulting 10% increase in sales makes sense, doesn't it?
By PROVING, using statistics, that their products were better, and by marketing this improvement in multiple venues, sales increased. All very logical.
So, clearly, if you can conduct research to prove that your products or services are superior, do so. And then tell the world about it.
But, I want you to correct what Maynard did wrong.
He failed to leverage the Law of Specificity which states that specificity encourages believability and credibility.
Specifically, Maynard stated that his products were "25%" better. If he would have said "24.7%" better, the results would have seemed more credible and believable to his target customers. As a result, I expect that sales would have jumped significantly more.
One great example of specificity is Ivory soap, which claims itself to be "99 44/100% pure." Not 99%. Not 100%. By being extremely specific, Ivory's claims are more believable.
So get specific.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, April 7, 2010
FreshPlanet just announced that it raised $1.5 million in Series A funding.
The company creates "Fun games for smart people."
I'm not wowed by any stretch by FreshPlanet. Just another video game company in my book.
But I included it here for just that reason. FreshPlanet is not some ultra-unique product or company. It's just two successful entrepreneurs trying to improve on products in an established industry.
And by putting together the right strategy and plan, and knocking on the right doors, they raised $1.5 million from three individual angel investors and one early-stage venture capital fund.
For those of you who don't understand the term "Series A," the Series A round is the name given to your first significant round of venture financing. The name "Series A" refers to the class of preferred stock that you sell to investors in return for their cash. Your Series A round is typically the first series of stock issued after common stock (which is typically issued and/or sold to company founders, employees, friends and family, and initial angel investors).
If seeking angel funding: Download Growthink's Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capital from Angel Investors.
If seeking venture capital: Download Growthink's Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Venture Capital.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, April 7, 2010
A while back I started reading a lot of articles on resume writing.
No, I'm not looking for a new job.
But, I realized the similarities between resumes and business plans.
A resume is used to convince a prospective employer that you might be the right job candidate, and that they should invest the time to meet with you to learn more.
Similarly, a business plan is used to convince an investor or lender that you might be the right funding candidate, and that they should invest the time to meet with you to learn more.
(Note that there is a key difference between resumes and business plans. Mainly your business plan also has critical value in terms of plotting your strategy. But when used to convince outsiders (investors, advisors, partners, employees, etc.) to join or fund the company, plans and resumes serve a similar marketing function.)
Interestingly, HotJobs recently developed an article revealing the "10 Boilerplate Phrases that Kill Your Resume." They are as follows:
• Results-oriented professional
• Cross-functional teams
• More than [x] years of progressively responsible experience
• Superior (or excellent) communication skills
• Strong work ethic
• Met or exceeded expectations
• Proven track record of success
• Works well with all levels of staff
• Team player
• Bottom-line orientation
Moving back to business plans, I have often heard investors and lenders complaining about similar phrases in plans such as "proven management team," "first mover advantage," and "dominate competition."
The problem with these generic phrases in both resumes and business plans is that, by themselves, these phrases don't show whether the person or venture is really unique (which is what both employers and investors/lenders want).
Now I'm not saying that you need to avoid these phrases.
Rather, you need to clarify these phrases.
If you have a "proven management team," then you need to state why. For example, maybe one management team member formerly ran a successful company, or another formerly increased sales by 3 times at their last company, etc.
When presented to people outside yourself or your company, your resume or business plans are marketing documents. They are used to convince others to invest time towards hopefully hiring you or investing in your company. In order to be successful, be sure to show how you and/or your venture is unique, and whenever possible, provide specific proof behind your arguments.
If you have not completed your business plan, or are dissatisfied with the results, download Growthink's Ultimate Business Plan Template. Our Template will help you quickly, easily and expertly complete your business plan: http://www.growthink.com/products/business-plan-template
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Friday, April 2, 2010
VC-backed exits had a great quarter in Q1 of 2010. (For those who don't understand "VC-backed exits" it means companies funded by venture capital firms which cashed out, which typically happens through being acquired or by going public.)
According to The National Venture Capital Association and Thomson Reuters, VC-backed M&A exits were the highest ever in a single quarter. 111 venture backed companies were sold for $5.86 billion in disclosed value. And nine venture backed companies went public, raising more than $930 million.
Another note to folks seeking VC; in the first quarter M&A (exit by acquisition) was 12.3 times more likely than going public. This ratio is fairly typical.
Another piece of good news is that 79 private equity firms, including VC firms, raised $50.4 billion in Q1 to invest in companies.
So, VCs are generally in a good mood since they've just made big money on their exits, and they now have more money to invest. So start sending out your teaser emails and raising venture capital!
(If you don't know what a "teaser email" is, or you haven't raised venture capital before, it is a very tricky path with lots of landmines. So download our Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Venture Capital so you can successfully raise venture capital.)
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Friday, April 2, 2010
Like many of you, my first full-time job wasn't as an entrepreneur. I too "worked for the man" and earned my steady paycheck. And each month, I advanced a little. But never as quickly as I wanted.
And what did this cause?
It caused me a lot of stress, discomfort and anxiety.
I was in a position that I wasn't comfortable with. I wanted something better.
The other day I realized what I really had been feeling was a lack of control, which in turn caused my stress and discomfort.
In fact, according to the new book, The Art of Choosing, by Sheena Iyengar, the ability to make our own decisions is critical to our sense of well being.
For example, studies show that it isn't the company's CEO who's most likely to have a stress-related illness or heart attack. No. It's actually the CEO's assistant! Research shows that the less control we have, or that we think we have, the higher the likelihood of stress, back pain, mental illness, high blood pressure, getting sick, and so on.
So what does this mean for you?
1. If you're still working for someone else, and are feeling the stress of not controlling your destiny, then now's the time to launch your own business. I'm not necessarily saying to quit your job until your business is generating income. But I'm saying to at least take pen to paper and write down your business plan and strategy so you can start planning out your venture. (As you know, I designed my business plan template specifically to help with this).
2. If you are running your own company, make sure that you give enough authority to your employees. You don't want your employees to feel a lack of control. This will lead to stress and they will get sick more often, won't be as productive, and so on.
Note that I will be releasing a new Leadership course later this month that reveals lots of leadership tips, but to start, make sure your employees have some decision-making authority and a feeling of being in control within their areas of responsibility.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Friday, April 2, 2010
I recently interviewed sales expert Marvin Montgomery.
And I don't use the word "expert" lightly....Marvin has 30 years of sales training experience, served as director of sales for one of the country's largest jewelry store chains (where he trained over 1,200 associates in 95 stores) and is the author of the book "Practice Makes Perfect: The Professional's Guide to Sales Success."
Marvin gave me tons of great sales tips during the interview, but one thing really stood out to me.
He told me he'd been invited to the weddings of people to which he has sold products and services. Now, these were NOT people he knew beforehand. But people that he met when trying to sell them something.
Imagine that for a moment. Inviting your salesman to your wedding. You get a phone call from a salesperson. Or you're at the department store and a salesperson is trying to sell you a vacuum. And, then, a few short months later, you're inviting them to your wedding!
Marvin and I both agreed that this is the ultimate sales test - if your prospects and/or customer invite you to their wedding, you are truly a great salesperson!
Now, to accomplish such a feat, Marvin explained that you need to start by having a "servant mentality" and really listening to and serving the needs of your prospects. By doing so, you create real, lasting human-to-human bonds, which will massively increase your chances of making the sale.
Remember, people (not companies if you are selling to businesses) make buying decisions. And a key part of a person's buying decision is how they feel about the salesperson. Your job is to make the prospect feel good about themselves, which will make them like you more!
In the interview, Marvin focused on the "3 R's" of selling: Repeat business, Referrals, and Requests.
You can listen to the full interview here, but here's a key point that he mentioned for each.
Repeat business: repeat business starts by satisfying the customer the first time. And a key to satisfaction is to eliminate buyer's remorse. Marvin explained that re-affirming the person's buying decision helps here. A simple phone call or letter starting with "you made the right decision and here's why...." can eliminate buyer's remorse, increase satisfaction, and set the customer up to buy from you again.
Referrals: Once you know your customers are happy, you need to ASK for the referral. Marvin differentiates between "planting a seed" and actually asking; and explains that specifically asking is key. A great idea that he mentioned was getting the customer to visualize who they can refer. For example, he gave this example: "I know that you're in the local rotary club - are there any other members of the club that you think could also benefit from this service?"
Requests: Requests are when a prospect specifically requests to work with you, rather than anyone else at your company. When someone specifically requests you, clearly you have a much greater chance of making the sale. One of his keys here was "lagniappe" which is defined as a small, unexpected extra.
Does this work? Well, I'll give you a personal example here. Every Monday I bring bagels into the office. There are two stores from which I can buy bagels. A while back, one of the workers at one of the stores gave me 2 extra bagels at no charge. Since then, I only go to that one bagel store and I always wait for that worker to serve me. Yes, it works.
In the interview, Marvin gave a ton more insight into the 3 R's and also talked about keys to sales team management, how to hire sales staff, and how to get more customer leads and prospects.
You can download or listen to the interview here: http://www.growthinkuniversity.com/members/427.cfm
Or listen to a short clip in the player below:
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Is it possible to double, triple, or even quadruple your sales conversion rates?
It sure is.
And to explain how, you simply have to spend an hour with the world's best salesperson - my daughter.
You see, kids are pretty amazing sales people. They ask for something. And when they don't get it, they ask again, and again, and again.
So, my 7-year old daughter wanted a horse figurine. So she asked me to buy it for her. I said I'd think about it. So the next day she asked me again. And again I replied "Let me think about it."
This routine continued day after day after day. Until finally, I broke down and bought it.
Now the lesson here is simply -- persistence is absolutely critical to sales success.
Consider these statistics from the National Sales Association:
* 2% of sales are made on the 1st contact
* 3% of sales are made on the 2nd contact
* 5% of sales are made on the 3rd contact
* 10% of sales are made on the 4th contact
* 80% of sales are made on the 5th-12th contact
This is truly amazing -- your chances of closing the sale go up 40 TIMES when you try 5-12 times.
Likewise, a recent report from The Bridge Group found that it takes an AVERAGE of seven touches to "convert a suspect to a prospect." These touches may include phone calls, direct mail, email, webinars, or face-to-face encounters among others.
Once again, the key is persistent follow-up. You cannot afford to give up on prospects after the first, second, or even third or fourth contacts. By continuing to follow-up with them, you will skyrocket your sales conversion rates and profits.
The EASIEST way to ensure consistent, high quality persistent follow-up is using Autoresponders. Autoresponders are automatic emails that you send at defined intervals. So, for example, you can automatically send high quality emails to your prospects every 3 days for a month in order to increase your conversion rates. In the Ultimate Internet Marketing System, we dedicate two modules to Email Marketing where we cover how to expertly use emails and autoresponders to increase your conversion rates. Learn more here: http://www.growthink.com/products/internetmarketingsystem
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, March 29, 2010
In 2002, the CEO of Integreon, Liam Brown, sat in Growthink's offices in Los Angeles.
Integreon was just getting started and had 4 employees.
In the subsequent months, we worked with Integreon on its strategy and to developed its business plan.
The rest, as they say is history.
After raising rounds of capital and growing like gangbusters, Integreon is now a global provider of outsourced research, legal and business Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) services. It currently has 2,000 employees and offices throughout the world.
And just today, the company announced that it raised another $50 million in expansion capital.
But the big amount is not what excited me most when I heard about the raise. It was the one tiny phrase in the press release that most others probably missed: "a substantial minority stake."
I like when the $50 million investment only accounted for a "minority stake" in the company. It means the company is worth over $100 million, and probably much more than that.
Yes, the right strategy and business plan can produce amazing results!
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Wednesday, March 17, 2010
There’s one role in an organization that most entrepreneurs and business owners’ don’t really understand.
It’s not the Marketing Manager. That’s pretty easy. The Marketing Manager is in charge of marketing the company’s products. It’s not the Sales Manager. Or the Operations manager either. These roles are also quite evident.
But the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) role confuses most entrepreneurs.
In fact, most don’t really understand what a CFO does, or think that the CFO role doesn’t apply to their business until they’re much bigger.
Well, recently I had the opportunity to learn more about the CFO role when I interviewed Jonathan Weiss.
Unlike many of the interviews I’ve done, Jonathan is not a famous author, investor or renowned entrepreneur.
No, Jonathan was simply a classmate of mine when I went to business school at UCLA (The Anderson School). But when I started speaking with him at our 10-year class reunion a few months back, I realized he had some special expertise.
You see, Jonathan had recently been the CFO of a small company, LA Rose, which manufactures fashionable uniforms for healthcare workers.
The company had been around for a few years and was generating $3 million in annual revenues when he joined it.
But in short order, Jonathan helped grow revenues from $3 million to $10 million, and then he helped sell the company for a nice multiple.
I listened to Jonathan’s story in amazement, and the questions started flowing. What did he do as the CFO of that company? Do all businesses need a CFO? What should my clients be doing to replicate his success?
But rather than monopolize Jonathan’s time at the reunion, I requested a telephone interview to ask these questions, and he was kind enough to oblige.
Here's an excerpt of my interview with Jonathan:
Click here to listen to and/or download the full interview and/or transcript.
Now, before I brief you on some of the interview’s highlights, let me explain the core role of the CFO.
As the title implies, a CFO or Chief Financial Officer is responsible for helping the company achieve it’s financial objectives.
Specifically, the CFO:
Ensures that key financial metrics (e.g., last month’s sales, current inventory levels, etc.) are reported in a timely manner.
Ensures that the company has enough cash to fund its growth
Helps improve the profitability and efficiency of the company
Figures out where assets should be invested
So, for example, some specific things that Jonathan did at LA Rose were as follows:
1. He created a financial dashboard. This dashboard showed the business owners exactly how the company was fairing on key metrics such as month-over-month sales, inventory levels, etc. This helped the company set and accomplish goals. Importantly, he also put key financial figures in terms that the business owners could understand so that they were able to make better decisions.
2. He improved the profitability of the business by better focusing the owners’ time. For example, one owner was amazing at designing new uniforms. But, she was only spending 10% of her time doing that (and spent her other time managing customers, employees, etc.). When those other roles were delegated and she focused more of her time on design, sales and profits skyrocketed.
3. Product sourcing. Jonathan boosted profits by finding new suppliers to manufacture the same quality uniforms at a lower cost.
4. New financing. Jonathan identified that much of the company’s capital was tied up in receivables (e.g., money owed to it by customers). He used a unique combination of factoring and receivables insurance to get this money from third parties at a low cost. The money was then reinvested in the company, and sales went up dramatically.
5. Investments. Jonathan made investments in IT that helped streamline operations and cut costs, boosting long-term profitability.
Whether your company needs to hire a CFO right now is up to you. But clearly someone needs to be performing the CFO role if you hope to really grow your revenues and profits.
To hear Jonathan tell his story and reveal his best CFO tactics, click here to listen to and/or download the full interview and/or transcript.