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Confusion, Women, Gesturing.

Get The Most From Business Consultants

Hiring an outside consultant can cost a lot, but when looking for good advice, it’s never about the capital outlay. It is about finding the right consultants to juice your business’ performance.

 

So, here’s what you need to know to derive more benefits, enhance operations, and develop a growth strategy that actually delivers measureable, quantifiable results.

 

  1. Start your query within your business network. Other business owners – vendors, sub-contractors, outsources, clients – in a short time a small business owner can develop a healthy contacts file.

 

To find a consultant to best suit your needs, look for referrals from trusted sources – the business owners who provide materials, services, and outlets – to recommend a consultant who’s delivered a clear, quantifiable return on investment.

 

If your raw materials vendor recommends a business consultant, you know that name should be on your short list. So…

 

  1. Develop a short list. That’s right, start developing a list of consultants based on referrals and your online research.

 

  1. Develop a detailed statement of work. A statement of work (SOW) gets you and your consultant on the same page quickly. Here’s what we do, here’s our short- and long-term growth strategies, here’s the challenge, here are our expected outcomes.

 

A prospective consultant is likely to have questions about your SOW. Listen carefully to those questions to better determine just how clear your company objectives are.

 

I need to know where you want to take your business before I can lay out a strategy to get you there, and that’s true of any consultant. Consultants need to know where you are now, where you want to be, and in what time frame. Fill these blanks in detail so your consultant gets traction on Day 1.

 

  1. Look for industry-specific certifications, licenses, or other credentials that define a reputable and engaged business consultancy. Often, a certification is earned through additional education and training. It also indicates a professional consultant who understands your industry and the challenges your company faces daily.

 

  1. Ask about relevant experience within your business sphere. If marketing is the concern, look for a consultant with solid marketing and promotional credits – activities that you can see and study.

 

For example, if you’re looking for a commercial web designer, don’t call a security consultant. Call a company that builds websites, or improves the performance of websites.

 

  1. Therefore, consider hiring more than one consultant. Even if the bank is tapped out, bring in professionals who’ve worked in a broad range of market environments, addressed a roster of business challenges, and know your niche.

 

If your objective is to improve corporate security, bring in a security consultant to design and implement improved security procedures. If the objective is to grow the customer base, bring in a promotional specialist.

 

Look for experts who work in your company’s business arena. They deliver more for less, and they don’t have to go through an extensive learning curve. They’ve done “it” successfully before.

 

  1. Ask for references. A good consultant collects good references, but remember, NO consultant will use an unhappy past client as a reference. Client testimonials and references are hand picked by the consultant or consulting firm, so, of course, the references are all accolades.

 

  1. That’s why you conduct Internet research. A consulting firm has an expansive, mature website that’s helpful, engaging, and provides information on services, past clients, informative blog posts, and other background on the individual or company.

 

Be sure to check out the consultant’s LinkedIn profile, as well. A detailed profile, with numerous references at least indicates that company or individual is well networked.

 

  1. Hire a consultant who maintains a broad network of business resources. This is a time-saver. If you need to bring in another specialist, and you trust your consultant, that’s a good reference.

 

  1. Finally, provide any consultant you hire with relevant operational details. It can be a flow chart, a 100-page business plan, a PowerPoint deck, marketing metrics, or a week of job shadowing to gather the details of how business is currently conducted throughout the sales arc.

I’m always glad to meet an SBO who knows how to find the right consultant. It greatly enhances the likelihood of desired outcomes at the lowest cost across the board.

Give your consultants what they need to meet your objectives. Then, let them get to work.

 

Measuring results

Does Your Marketing Get Results?

Marketing can be fun. Creating ads, attending events, giving talks at industry events and local venues can all be all fun. However, sometimes we get so involved in the fun of marketing that we don’t take the time to measure the effectiveness of our marketing.

It’s important to understand where your marketing is being successful and where it is not, so those resources may be reallocated. Instead of just hoping that someone will walk in the door, consider using one of these methods to better understand your results.
Analysts – There are plenty of analyst groups who will be happy to work with you to test the market, compare you to your competition and report the results.
These can be expensive. However, they have access to a variety of sources that may be inaccessible for someone outside of the field and they have the staff to do it. This is their business and they are good at it, and they will provide professional reports that can be shared with your management team.
Focus Groups – Although they might seem old-fashioned, focus groups are still successfully utilised by many companies. You can hire a research company with a database of people who are interested in attending a focus group (for a fee) or invite your own customers. Based on the information you give them, the a research company will send a survey to those on their database to qualify them and determine their availability.

You then work with the research company to develop a list of questions and they will help compile and analyse the results. This is also an expensive, but effective option.

Surveys – Surveys are still effective, but with the popularity of the Internet it’s getting harder to get people to respond. You might need to offer an incentive and the best surveys are short and can be sent, given and returned online.

Consider using a service such as Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com) to reach out to the marketplace to determine the effectiveness of your marketing. Understand that only a small percentage of surveys may be returned, so it is important to send out a large enough sample to be able to make some clear decisions based on the results.

Blogging – There is nothing like reaching out to your market and asking them directly about the effectiveness of your tactics. Before starting the blog, be prepared with questions and response. People are always ready to offer an opinion. However, be prepared for the truth as they see it.

Keep Track and Pay Attention! – You may be the most effective person to measure the success of your marketing tactics. Ask people how they heard about you, and keep track of the answers. Find out how many people are viewing your website. Note how many people attend your presentations, teleconferences and blogs. At the end of each event, give a short survey to determine the effectiveness of the event. Of course, the bottom line of the results of marketing is an increase in sales, but which tactic made those sales increase? That is the question.

Too often, when asked, how effective is your marketing, the answer is, “um…good, I guess. I’m not really sure.”

Marketing is too expensive and too critical to your business to not understand its effectiveness.

Print

Could your data be stolen?

A recent story in IT News (http://www.itnews.com.au) stated that the US Office of Personnel Management had revealed that more than 21 million US citizens who had undergone background checks for security clearances since 2000 had their personal data stolen by hackers.

These attacks are becoming increasingly frequent.

What would happen if your data were stolen? Who might be affected? Who might sue you? How much would it cost to recover?

These are all questions that every business owner should be asking themselves.

In this attack the data exposed included 19.7 million people who applied for the clearances, plus 1.8 million non-applicants, mostly spouses or partners of applicants, OPM said. The personal data stolen included social security numbers, details that could be abused for identity theft.

At Insurance House we assess your risks and recommend solutions to fit your individual requirements. Check out our cyber video.

The negotiation was bearing fruit

Negotiation: Patience Is A Virtue. Silence Is Golden

by Guest Blogger Michael Harrison

Studies show that the order in which we absorb information often determines the value assigned to that information. When conducting business, people tend to assign more weight, more value, to the first information they hear, and give subsequent information less attention.

The bar is set. That initial price, “put out there” during negotiations, is now the bar – the point from which both sides now negotiate better terms and conditions. Negotiations are always anchored to the numbers and contractual terms set out during the initial stages of negotiation. Otherwise, the negotiations would stop, right?

In small business development, it’s common to negotiate everything from terms of the office lease to price points to improve margins on raw materials.

You can save your business money during negotiations. How? Never set the initial terms upon which negotiations take place. If you deliver a project estimate first, the prospective client works with those numbers, and is now controlling the negotiations – obviously something to avoid.

You want to control the flow of negotiations, and in many cases, the way to do that is to say nothing.

Don’t blink. Once negotiations have begun, listen. Don’t offer more information than asked to provide. Of course, be gracious and cordial – a true professional – but a poker face at the negotiating table is an invaluable asset.

When the people on the other side of the table provide numbers, terms, conditions, and other points of negotiation, you now have a tremendous advantage. You know what the other side wants, what it needs (more or less), and you have a list of priorities set by the other team.

Score!

Don’t counter. In fact, if you look a little disappointed at the proposal, and stay silent, something remarkable often happens. The other side sweetens the pot by offering better terms. In fact, during negotiations, the side that speaks first is usually the side most willing to negotiate, so don’t counter. Let the other side sweeten the deal without saying a word. Now you know they’re eager to reach negotiated terms, providing leverage when you finally respond to the initial terms.

Don’t anchor yourself to a single position. You’ve done your research, examined quarterly returns, performed due diligence, and you know what will work for your company, and what won’t work.

This is the last information you want to provide the other side. It provides them with the same advantages you enjoy when they put a proposal on the table first.

Let your negotiating “partners” set the bar – the dollar figure, delivery dates, project milestones – he who speaks first sets the bar for all future negotiations. Your company is in a much stronger negotiating position if the other people don’t know where you want to set the bar.

If you stay silent on your best price, or your best terms, you’re less likely to provide those with whom you negotiate your bottom, best price, and your most beneficial terms.

Stay quiet to stay nimble.

Determine your disappointment level before undertaking negotiations. During negotiations, both parties usually walk away from the table a bit disappointed. Why? If the negotiations are successful, neither side gets everything it wants, and that means you wish you could have gotten more.

So do they.

Before undertaking negotiations, know just how disappointed you can afford to be. Create a list of absolute “must-haves” and don’t deviate from the list. Include in your list bargaining chips that you can trade for terms you actually want or need.

How low will you go? When is it time to walk away from the “deal?” Who decides where to start negotiations? Going in to the conference room, know what you can live with, and what simply won’t work. And of course, always be cordial throughout the negotiations phase of business activity.

What’s key? With any successful negotiation, preparation is essential (never enter negotiations cold), determining your business needs, and setting limits on terms – “eyes-only” information your negotiating associates never see.

When negotiating, patience is a virtue. Silence is golden.

 

Background with globe

You can run but you can’t hide

A old post on News Limited’s website should still act as a wake-up call to any business concerned about their reputation. To (partially) quote from the entry: “A two-line Twitter post pushed my mortgage application from the Commonwealth Bank’s “to do” list to an urgent priority.

The post said simply: “CBA f#$&ked up our loan approval so we’re still waiting to exchange contracts”. The post went on to say:

”One hour and 17 minutes after it went live I was contacted by someone offering help to solve my problem. That person was the head of Commonwealth Bank’s customer service team.

“He told me the message made him “feel like crap” and the bank was only just beginning to understand how crucial social media sites were in maintaining the corporate giant’s image. By 3pm the next day, my loan was formally approved.”

The writer said they had turned to Twitter after more than a month of delays. What this demonstrates is that corporate Australia is logging on and taking notice. Indeed this episode is perhaps the lead indicator of a seminal trend and the harbinger of e-word of mouth; a.k.a. social networking.

Failure to pay attention to this modern media phenomenon can hit your business hard and forever tarnish your reputation. Poor service in today’s world of e-word-of-mouth is not an option.

The shift 

It may not be of Star Treck impact but there’s been a shift occurring in consumer behaviour that has been driven by the massive adoption of broadband which has turned us into an “always on” consumer society. This has, in turn, dramatically increased the presence and use of social networks.

This “always on” capacity means that existing and prospective clients are using the Internet as their preferred research and information sourcing tool as well as for social networking.

Check your own behaviour: what is the first thing you do when someone tells you about a new movie that’s coming to town? You Google it. It’s that simple and it’s that obvious. And if you went to the movie and enjoyed it, you’re going to tell your social networks about it.

If you are not moving toward a more transparent relationship with clients, and a more outward marketing focus then you are not changing with the times and will be left behind.

More and more businesses today are making at least token efforts, adopting the latest in Social Networks in order to be seen to be a contemporary, relevant and a vital resource. And if you have an HR manager they’ll already be using Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and other social networking accounts to scan for talent.

Stretching your marketing budget

In the current economy there are restraints on marketing budgets, so free social marketing is a great alternative. Business owners should be involved in social sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.

But, this should not be a knee-jerk reaction. Rather, the business owner must have specific goals in mind in order to strategize about what he or she wants to get out of these efforts. Is it to increase business by a specific number of clients? Increase visibility? Sell more products or services?

 

  1. A business should at least be involved in the largest social networks, belong to forums and have a blog. Each of these Internet strategies is a way of positioning yourself and your business. For the innovative marketer there is the opportunity to create video or other interactive media that is subject matter driven. Your social network site should also respond to questions or problems or start a discussion.

 

  1. You also need a profile page on Facebook. It will tell readers about your business, the people and its product and services. If people join your Facebook group, there should be an expectation that they will spread the word.

Your website is a brochure to the world; this is an expansion of it. The principles are the same: people Google for information or people log on to your website. Facebook is another network, more social in origin but, increasingly an important business communications medium.

The time challenge

For business owners it can be another item on the ‘to do’ list. You put all those (social network) icons on your email, your website, displaying; advertising the fact that you’re a member and inviting a click or two. But here’s the challenge: readers have a high expectation that sites will be refreshed and updated often and on a regular basis.

Some business owners simply will not have time for this, yet the responsibility is overwhelming, so someone needs to do this. Answer? Delegate.

Statistics

  • FaceBook has over 1.4 billion monthly users.
  • LinkedIn has over 350 million users
  • Twitter has 302 million monthly users.
Idea concept with row of light bulbs and glowing bulb

Building a Business Image unequivocally

Building a Business Image or “Branding” as the marketing gurus call it is part art, part science, although there is more art than science involved. The art of branding requires you to create something that infects people with enthusiasm, makes it easy for them to try it and enlists their help in spreading the word, and building a following.

To get this happening requires some essential elements.

Cool is the definitive quality amongst fashion-conscious consumers, especially GenY. Cool is also definitely contagious and works equally well for fashion, new technology and services.

At this point it is worth considering some theory – not academic theory from Universities or Business Schools, rather some theory from one of marketing’s Guru’s – Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell notes that while advertising will always remain an important part of branding, he asserts that the idea that a tiny cadre of connected people can trigger a trend. It is an enormously seductive concept– especially to cash-strapped entrepreneurs.

It is, in essence the premise of word-of-mouth campaigns: Reach those rare, all-powerful people, and you’ll reach everyone else through them, basically for free. Yet building a buzz for a brand-new business takes real smarts, creativity and persistence.

Gladwell identifies a number of key factors that have the power to influence social epidemics.

  1. Three types of people have disproportionate influence over the spread of social phenomenon, and without their aid, such dissemination is unlikely to ever occur. These three influencers are: “Connectors” (people with wide social circles who embody the maxim “it’s not what you know but who you know?”), “Mavens” (knowledgeable people who have information on a lot of different products or prices or places and whose opinions are trusted) and “Salesman” (charismatic people with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing).
  2. Ideas (if they are to spread) must have “Stickiness”, meaning that a message makes an impact and doesn’t go in one ear and out the other; where the potential is for exponential growth over time.
  3. Research suggests an individual can only have genuine special relationships with 150 people. Likewise groups larger than 150 are prone to fragmentation. Most hunter-gather villages, as well as military-style companies intuitively stay just shy of this number.

Apart from finding the right influencers, ‘positioning’ matters. Theorists like Gladwell say that when positioning a product, be highly focused and specific. Good positioning states its case unequivocally. It embodies such qualities as saving money, as well as loftier concepts such as luxury, indulgence.

Consider two kitchen designers each of whom could have totally different ‘positions’ – one could be “the most innovative designer of contemporary kitchen environment.” While the other could be “the most cost effective designer of traditional kitchens.” Which kitchen do you think you’d see in Vogue? Which would create a conversation?

A product that has a buzz has something distinctive about it. It leaves no doubt that it is different to the competitors’.

Buzz products have a disruptive aspect. They tend to be different form the status quo – cheaper, faster, better.

Buzz products make their owners feel good. Consider Prada and the impact on its owners. But even a modern-day vacuum cleaner can do this

businessman signing a contract

Even lawyers can make mistakes

A client of a law firm had a specific provision in her will for certain assets to go to a son from her first marriage. Her current husband had no knowledge of the child and she instructed her lawyer to keep her will confidential until she died.

Her husband requested copies of documents held by the firm and a junior lawyer sent him a copy of his wife’s will in error.

The lady’s secret was out and it eventually led to a breakdown of the marriage and considerable distress. As a result she started an action against the law firm seeking compensation for emotional harm.

This is an example of the types of claims we see on a regular basis at Insurance House. That’s why professional indemnity insurance (PI) is essential if you give advice, training, information or provide consultancy services.

Many professionals struggle to imagine a claim being made against them but Insurance House experience confirms that mistakes frequently occur litigation occurs on a regular basis.

Here’s a video that explains PI insurance in more detail.

 

 

 

Piggy bank drowning in debt - savings to risk

Why Businesses Fail

by Guest Blogger Michael Harrison

Small and medium business owners not only support the Australian economy, they grow it, improving all our lives. A new business in Sydney creates jobs, pays taxes, improves the local economy and adds to the country’s GDP (where do you think those employees spend?).

Small and medium business is the future here today. It’s where innovation leads to wealth creation, and an improved standard of living for millions of employees. When a small business starts showing a profit we all benefit.

Conversely, when a business tanks and displays the OUT OF BUSINESS sign on the front door, investors lose, employees lose, the visionaries with the next great idea lose – we all lose the benefits of a robust economy when a growing company goes down for the third time.

It was there on Tuesday. What happened?

The company was under-capitalised.

Of all the business challenges I encounter, under-capitalisation is, perhaps, the most common. It’s certainly a challenge that can bring down a company – even a well-established business that’s been around for generations.

Under-capitalisation is a challenge that must be addressed before you throw the switch to open the business’ doors. You can fill in some of the costs, i.e. the cost of leases for your projected company’s needs, or number of employees with salary and benefit costs nailed down.

You can fill in the cost of power, raw materials, shipping, work space, fixtures, equipment – you can fill in a lot of blanks to arrive at the number you need to start the business, or expand the company to improve the bottom line quarter after quarter.

However, you can’t always control the business environment. You can add a second office (and associated expenses) in another city just before a “deep pockets” competitor opens an outlet right down the road. Didn’t see it coming, didn’t plan for it, because you can’t predict the unpredictable.

You open a new business, a restaurant, just as the national economy takes a downturn and people cut back on personal expenses – like dinner in your restaurant.

You can’t predict all contingencies. That’s why you not only need enough capital to take the next business step; you need a contingency fund to keep open the doors if Plan A doesn’t fly.

Run your numbers under a variety of scenarios. Then, choose the worst scenario as your map to business success. Prepare for the worst and then some! It keeps you running and growing smartly.

Company management didn’t have a plan.

This is a very common challenge many small businesses face. Some grow. Some don’t.

Before you undertake a business expansion strategy, create a business plan with detailed descriptions of the business’ goals and objectives, the need for capital, how capital will be used. Creating a business plan forces company managers to assign costs to each new innovation.

Company management failed to identify the risks in change.

In this inter-connected, global economy, companies must be nimble to adapt to new industry best practices, new technology, new outsourcing companies that can do it for less, new economic trends, perhaps (nationally and globally for companies conducting business across 24 time zones). Business owners who fail to accurately identify and quantify the risk inherent in change often find themselves with fewer options for expansion.

Change within a business always involves risk because you can’t predict the future with any real certainty. Is the new corporate structure the best? What metrics will be used to measure “success?” How’s the labour market within your service area?

Business changes are opportunities. They’re also minefields if changes hurt business. Analyse the risks inherent in planned changes. What’s the worst that can happen?

You want to know. Then, you want to know how to mitigate risk through strategic business planning that drives the company to meet your business goals – faster, and more productively.

The company managers didn’t have a Plan B.

Very common, even in the largest companies. Management develops a plan. When the plan is implemented it fails to deliver desired outcomes.

At this point, time and money have been invested in this plan without delivering the projected results. Okay, as I mentioned, plan for the worst case when developing a business strategy.

Then, develop Plan B – the steps the company will take if the initial strategy fails to deliver.

So, whether you’re writing the company business plan at the kitchen table, or meeting with the company’s Board of Directors to discuss a major acquisition, the same principles apply.

Do you have the capital, a well-conceived business model, a considered risk assessment, a long-term plan to grow the business, and a back up in case your rose-coloured vision turns out to be a mirage?

Why do businesses fail? If you don’t know where your business is going, any road will take you there.

And that’s a dangerous way to grow a business.

 

Couple with shopping bags

Customers are your biggest asset

Charles Dickens led his character Ebenezer Scrooge through an uncomfortable re-evaluation of his life by reviewing his past, present and future.  Business owners should do the same.

Instead of coasting through the first month of the new financial year and congratulating yourself on surviving it’s time to re-evaluate your business by reviewing your plans for your customers – current customers, those you have lost, and those who are still to come.

Customer Plan – Present

Take a look at your current list of customers.  Often these clients are ignored.

Everyone is happy, right?  There is nothing to do for them, right?  Wrong! Develop a plan on how to keep these customers.  Review their current situation and determine if you can help them further. Talk to them about becoming a reference.  Set up a communication and education plan that will keep your name ‘top of mind’.

Include writing of personal letters and sending small gifts.  Continue to develop and nurture the trust they have given to you and your relationship.

Customer Plan – Past

Review your customer lists of five or so years ago.  Whatever happened to those customers?  Where did they go and how can you get them back?

Develop a plan to re-engage them.  Start with a phone call.  Even if they aren’t interested in your product or service today, they may be in the future.

Ensure they are on your email distribution lists.  A customer is only lost when you let go of the relationship.  Don’t.

Customer Plan – Future

Take a step back and think about why a customer might call you.  What do they want from you and how can you help them?  Just as importantly – how can you reach them?

Utilise social media whether it be LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs or any other communication vehicle over the Internet. Create videos. Record podcasts.

Speak at local events or service clubs.  All of these will position you as an expert.

Publish articles in trade magazines and local papers on every aspect of your business that might resonate with a potential customer.

Reviewing your plans for customers past, present and future is not going to be a comfortable process.  It will result in a great deal of work.  However, hopefully, it will also result in increased business.

Outsource In-House Signboards

Is Outsourcing Right for You?

Outsourcing is about being able to accept more work and make more money without putting in much more effort.

What is outsourcing?

Put simply, outsourcing is the process of sending work to individuals or companies external to your own business so that you don’t have to complete them yourself. It can involve outsourcing an entire project, or parts of it when you don’t have the time or perhaps lack the skills to tackle it yourself.

In simple terms, it is employing another person, often on a casual basis, to do a job or part of a job that you need to have completed. It differs from the usual way a company distributes work to its employees because those employees are just that – employed.

Work that is outsourced might go to teams of outsourcees or even a permanent outsourced employee.

If you choose a casual arrangement they are not on a regular wage so they are effectively a self-employed sub-contractor who is able to find work wherever they like.

Why outsource?

For the business owner, there are several benefits.

Firstly, they can take on extra work they would not be able to handle on their own due to time constraints and usually you can outsource to suitably qualified individuals for a lower price.

When a reliable team of outsourcees has been established and work is regularly farmed out to them, a healthy income stream can be produced for the outsourcer with minimal work beyond securing the job, checking the finished product, and finally delivering it to the client.

Secondly, you can take on extra work that you would not be able to handle due to a skills deficit. This may mean outsourcing a technical aspect of a project that is beyond your expertise. (As an example, web design involves several diverse skills, and they may not all be present in a single web designer. The actual programming skills may be lacking or they may not be confident with content writing).

Thirdly, you are able to build a business that brings in far higher profits than could be achieved by operating on your own. The business may even be able to scale back his or her personal workload and spend more quality time with family or pursuing more enjoyable non-paying activities.

Finding the right outsources

Anyone who has been in business for some time should already know of the key industry websites where potential outsourcees offer their services. If not a Google search will find at least a few starting points.

The other option is to tap the contacts you already have and ask for word-of-mouth recommendations. Chances are you will already know of people who might be able to do the work, but you may not know if they are willing to accept outsourced work. There is no harm and certainly no insult in asking the question. They may be grateful to be offered the opportunity and it could be the start of a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

What kind of work lends itself to outsourcing?

The easiest types of work to outsource are those that can be accomplished over the Internet, and passed from outsourcer to outsourcee and back again that way. This opens up the chance of outsourcing to virtually anywhere in the world where a reliable Internet connection exists and a reliable and skilled individual can be found.

Common areas where this takes place are in web design, graphic design, book design, proofreading, copy editing, Internet marketing, and writing projects such as search engine optimisation and content writing for websites. It is also perfectly workable to outsource certain jobs to a remote personal assistant (sometimes called a virtual assistant), who is tasked with taking care of various aspects of your business that you do not have the time to deal with. In effect, they are an ‘on-call’ secretary who doesn’t need a desk in your office.

Overall, outsourcing is one of the best ways to work smart. It earns you money and saves you time. Building a reliable team can take a while, but the rewards are well worth the effort.