This Week In Business

You Have To Build Rapport Before You Sell Someone Something

I have two friends, we’ll call them Ben and Sven.

Ben sells insurance. I got a heart felt “I’ll give you money if you send me paying clients” email. And while I appreciate a good affiliate program, honestly, I’d be happy to send Ben business anyway. Ben has a product everyone HAS to buy, plus he’s a smart guy.

Sven is manufacturing a new product and emailed me about potential retailers for it. I’d be happy to send Sven business too because, while he has a product no one needs to buy, it’s a cool idea and he’s clearly working hard to do it well.

I get emails like this weekly but these two basically just coming out and asking for the thing we all dance around made me think.

How is what Ben and Sven doing not resonating with their customers? 

First off, we know what Ben and Sven want is very basic, even though their products, markets, and compensation related to it are totally different. They want money, sales, referrals, the good stuff.

But what do their customers want?

When in our lives do we get what we want right away?

We live in a give give give and you may eventually receive society.
And we have to be prepared for having a pay day a little later than we’d like to do this well.

Here are some things most customers want:
To understand what they are buying.
To have a personal interaction with the person selling it.
Know they are getting a great product for a great price.

But above all, to feel any of this, they need some kind of relationship with Ben or Sven to buy their stuff. And whether that relationship begins online or not, it needs to begin and build before people start throwing money at you.

I get what all of us business owners want: money.

But what do we need? Before we get the money, we need to build rapport.

What does this look like? Depending on what you do and what kind of person you are, building rapport can mean:

  • Going to trade shows
  • Going to networking events
  • Giving presentations
  • Making how-to videos
  • Doing in home demos
  • Donating toward a cause
  • Partnering with a non-profit or complimentary business on something
  • Holding an event
  • Writing a blog
  • Giving an online course
  • Hanging on for a certain amount of time in an industry
  • Aligning yourself with a business/organization with a lot of credibility
  • Writing a book
  • Being a part of a news story or other ‘earned media’
  • Making friends
  • Taking a class
  • Doing interviews
  • Letting people try your product
  • Asking for reviews/feedback and acting on it
  • Making phone calls

Notice how some of the stuff on this list doesn’t cost much money.
Notice equally how most of the stuff in this list does take time.
And a certain amount of building rapport is letting time pass as you do these things (not just one, several… maybe even a little bit of everything).

So we want money, but we need to build rapport. I know, it’s annoying but we have to!

How are you currently building rapport with your business?

Why the Time to Innovate is Always Now

Let’s pretend you are standing in the middle of the train tracks… and you see a very slow moving train that is going to hit you… in ten years.

What do you do?

From what I can tell in some companies, the answer is to sit and complain about how no one stops trains anymore.

Not exactly proactive.

I’m looking at some of you, publications.
Some of you, malls.
Some of you, chambers of commerce.
I’m also looking at you grocery stores, electronics stores, and basically anyone affected by Amazon, which is pretty much anyone that does retail (and increasingly services).

So the train is coming at all of us in some way… and we can just stand there and watch it, try to stop the train (good luck with that), or get ourselves out of the way.

The last choice is clearly the most logical. It is also the one we literally have the most control over.

And the great news? We have a lot more lead time about the train these days. The beauty is with the internet, because we are getting instant feedback, we can also see subtle shifts a lot sooner (and a lot less expensively) than we could otherwise. 

So not only can you know sooner but we also have more tools than ever to get out of the train’s way.

I’ve seen people get really creative in a few ways:

  • Using space in different ways, whether it is letting people sleep there or changing the rent model to something like shared revenue or making pop up stores or workspace. I recently ran into a movie theater that is also a coworking space in a town I recently visited. A bit odd? Yes. But does it keep the theater economically viable while also filling a community need? Definitely.
  • Shifting away from memberships/subscriptions to other (and complimentary) revenue streams like events, conferences, and information, “vaults”of valuable niche information that can be searched/accessed anytime. Talking to the Bucksport Bay Chamber of Commerce, who operate in the black, I learned they saw the train coming and decided they would start hosting events to compliment their work with members about four years ago. They even operate their own small business as part of their revenue streams.
  • Offering different versions of products, like web ads that go with print ads or dividing large spaces into smaller ones for lower rent. So if no one is buying your thing, you gotta give them a different thing. At Anchorspace when we noticed our $350 membership was not working our first six months of operation (nothing like making $1000 a month when your rent is double that), we created a $100 membership where people could come in during regular office hours. This kept us from having to increase staff demands and kept desks open while meeting a need. We now have as many people at the $100 level as we do at the $350 level.
  • Changing business models from a business one to a non-profit or community owned model. I’ve seen this more with newspapers but there would be nothing wrong with looking at changing out your model if it fills a need in your community, region, or cause… which I think most businesses do. By being shareholder, government, or non-profit run, this could allow for additional funding sources, volunteer support, and other ways to sustain.
  • Offering value added services, whether it’s a personal shopping service with curbside pickup or even selling gift certificates on behalf of businesses. Our local grocery store chain is pioneering a shopping service where you can give people your list and pick up your groceries for a $25 fee. Amazon isn’t picking out your avocados yet so our local grocery store is filling the need.

This may sound harsh, but consider it a bit of tough love. But in a world of:

  • endless possibilities/ideas you can try for cheap or on a small scale
  • people that can get behind what you are trying to do if a) they know what it is and b) how they can help.
  • ways to take the pressure off having to earn income from your business like side hustles (for a moment or two anyway) while you solve the problems

…we have SO MANY WAYS to get out of the way of the oncoming train. 

And while I am compassionate about people in the middle of the tracks at any given moment, I feel excitement seeing people getting out of the way and coming up with an even better scenario than previously imagined. I am the kind of person who needs a problem in my face to innovate and I don’t think I am an exception in that.

So if you see a train coming at you, very slowly, what are you going to do in 2018 to get out of the way?

Eleven Things To Do While Windows Updates

“Do you want your computer to update now?” the little notification says on the bottom of your computer screen and you think “Sure, I was just going to go make coffee anyway” and press the update button.

Then you regret your whole life.

Windows updates have turned into unexpectedly long processes; I just did one this morning and it took my computer two hours to update. I am usually good at remembering not to do this during the workday, but what’s a productive person to do while your computer is rendered useless for some indefinite period of time?

  1. Scan checks. Most banks have mobile apps where you can deposit your checks while you sit, wherever you are. Remember to hold onto them for 15 days until they clear and not to shred them right away!
  2. Open mail/pay bills. Whether you do mobile bill pay, pay by check, or some combination, get those business bills up to date.
  3. Go buy stamps… or whatever it is you’re out of. We all run out of stuff and wait a bit to replace it. Get a good list going and head out of the office for a bit to get those “odds and ends” you’ve been meaning to replace for awhile.
  4. Sharpen your pencils and dump your bad pens. Clean out your jar of writing utensils and throw out dead pens, put anything you don’t use anymore aside (in my case it was a bunch of colored pencils from when I was a camp counselor 20+ years ago) and donate it to your favorite kiddo, a day care, and/or a local arts organization. You can do the same for any desk drawer, too.
  5. Scan/deal with business cards. Whether you are an old school Rolodexer or use Evernote, get those cards from pile on your desk/in your bag to someplace useful.
  6. Catch up on your shredding. Maybe you have some checks that have cleared or old bank statements. I always have a pile going on my desk and when it reaches critical mass (or my computer is updating), I go shred.
  7. Scan receipts. However you track expenses, keeping a pile of receipts on your desk or in your wallet can feel chaotic. Scan them and get them into your accounting software (or wherever you keep them) for tax time- you’ll thank yourself later.
  8. Call that person. If you hate phone calls as much as I do, go through your voicemail and delete what is no longer relevant and follow up with people you need to follow up with.
  9. Go for a walk. Sometimes you have to embrace that the universe has given you this unexpected break. Go grab a coffee, check your mail, or get bagels for the office.
  10. Clean out the office fridge (or some other communal area). Get some coworker good karma and tackle something everyone would appreciate, whether it’s the supply closet, the fridge, or other communal area. If you work from home, you’ve got even more stuff you could tackle that everyone should appreciate.
  11. Catch up on offline reading. That trade publication or book your coworker lent you has been sitting there for awhile. Consider this a chance to hit the books and give your eyes a break from screen-reading.

Computers have to be updated every once in awhile, and even our best attempts to coordinate this with non-working hours can go awry. As you can see, this doesn’t mean you have to resort to twiddling your thumbs or stressing out about how much you aren’t accomplishing. There’s always plenty of offline things to catch up on around the office that you’ll thank yourself for later!

“Go for No,” Boundaries and Putting Your Work Out There

I recently realized how lucky I am. Although my baby is 100% dependent on me for all things, she can’t do crazy things like move or talk back to me. But there will come a day when I have to tell her “No.” It’s not because she’s bad or prone to getting into trouble- she just doesn’t understand that the world has boundaries.

As an adult, that’s a blessing and a curse.

There’s an obvious argument for boundaries, like personal space and not taking things that don’t belong to you. But when it comes to being innovative and entrepreneurial, there are some boundaries that inhibit rather than protect.

Last winter as an interesting personal/professional development exercise, I read “Go for No” by Richard Fenton. I don’t wantd to “spoil” it, but the basic premise is that successful sales-people are the ones who keep going beyond where they’re comfortable or successful. Say for instance your goal was to sell 5 books in a month. Once you hit that goal, do you stop or keep going? Well, according to Fenton, you keep going (until you hit “no”).

The idea is that most people set goals that are squarely within their comfort zones. I’m no exception- for two years my “goal time” for a marathon was to finish- even though I’d done them before. Instead, as the book explains, we should be pushing for “failure,” or what we’ve been taught to perceive as failure, and that’s what will help us grow. Staying stagnant doesn’t cut it. (Sidenote: I saw something on Instagram the other day that said “FAIL = First Attempt In Learning”).

But I don’t think my mind was the only one that was boggled by the whole “No is good” concept, because 10 years after the book was written, people are still using it as a reference for sales, and they have a new book called “Go for No Network Marketing” which is a little longer than its prequel. The “Go for No” website and social media channels are also continuously updated still, promoting the work (and you can book the authors to come speak at your next professional development/teambuilding event).

With catchphrases like “eat NO for breakfast” and “stop striving, start arriving,” I am starting to understand the buy-in a little more. Most of all, the book really got me to question something- have I been adverse to sales/self-promotion because it’s actually part of my personality (shyness/introversion) OR because I’ve been taught to stay within a comfort zone?

I guess that’s an answer only I can provide, but if you’re interested in exploring/expanding your potential, whether in a “sales” sense or other professional development sense, “Go for No” is an interesting read that will make you ask some questions only you can answer.

Get a copy of “Go For No” on Amazon (Note: this is an affiliate link)

Networking for Small Businesses

Our theme for July is “Independence Doesn’t Have to Mean Alone,” and in our last post, we shared a few ways business owners can delegate their work rather than spread themselves too thin. This post is about making connections as a small business owner, or, as some like to call it, networking.

For introverts like myself, networking can be a bit of a challenge. But I know the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Networking has a few different purposes. First, it’s a tool for expanding your business and gaining potential customers. Second, it’s a way to meet and share experiences with other entrepreneurs. When networking, I find it helpful to think, “I’m about to meet some people who are in a similar boat as me. I bet some of them have cool stories and I could come away from this with interesting, new connections.”

Here are four helpful guidelines for successful networking:

Set a Goal. Plan to attend a certain number of events per month and talk to X number of people at each event. Or, reach out to a specific number of new people every week via email. These goals can make the whole networking experience a bit more fun, too. Remember to follow up with your connections — that’s just as important as meeting them in the first place.

Remember to follow up with your connections — that’s just as important as meeting them in the first place.

Have Something Ready. One of my greatest weaknesses in networking — and meeting people in general — is that I can become easily flustered. Something as simple as “So what do you do?” will result in me doing a lot of mumbling and rambling — “ramumbling,” if you will.

Know that at any networking event, at least one person is going to ask you what you do. Be prepared with an answer. This may also be a good reason to work on your elevator speech. You don’t need to sound like a robot, but you should sound prepared.

Also, keep your business cards at the ready for anyone who may ask for one.

Participate in Groups. Online groups can be found via social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or even Twitter. Participation can occur in a few different ways. You can create your own post within a group in which you share a cool resource, ask a question about something you need help with, or seek opinions on a challenge you face. Also, read posts made by others and respond with comments that are helpful and/or pertinent.

Stepping away from the internet, you can join the local chamber of commerce, Rotary, or any other business-oriented or volunteer organization. It’s a great way to meet local people who do business within your community.

A warning: Don’t approach these groups with a sales pitch. Growing your business is a good goal, but networking is more about fostering relationships.

Stay in Touch. Congrats, you’ve met a ton of new people through your networking! But, how are you staying in touch with them?

Nicole has a favorite app for staying in touch, which lets her know when it’s been a while since she has reached out to someone. Or, you may create a system (spreadsheet, flowchart, sticky notes) just to reach out to people, follow up about something from your conversation, maybe invite them to grab a coffee.

As a shy introvert, I find that following up with others can be just as difficult as making the first contact. But I try to keep in mind that comfort zones equal stagnation. It’s like the advice on water sources found in the wilderness: Drinking running water is usually okay, but standing/stagnant water … you gotta watch out for that stuff. (Sorry for the digression — I’m ramumbling again.)

For those who need help with networking (like me), check out this video I made last fall about networking for the shy introvert:

5 Things Every New Business Should Know

Starting a new business? There are probably some things that you find uncertain, and others you just don’t have the hang of yet. While there’s no cookie-cutter approach we can offer budding entrepreneurs, there are some general tips to keep in mind. Here are five:

Failure/Rejection (on small scales) are probably in your near future, and that’s a good thing. There are more lessons to be learned in rough waters than when it’s smooth sailing. Remember Newton’s First Law: An object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. A little adversity here and there will not break your business — depending on how it’s handled, it can actually help your business grow. There’s something to be said for a healthy amount of risk-taking, too.

The first 2 years are usually the hardest. This is a good stat to keep in mind as you develop your business plan, especially budget-wise. Remember — if things don’t go the way you planned, don’t worry. It’s fairly common for businesses to struggle in their early, formative years.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As a small business owner, you’re probably used to doing things on your own. However, that doesn’t mean you need to isolate yourself. There are lots of resources for small business owners. Remember to ask people in your network for advice.

Take a look at our post on Automating, Delegating, and Outsourcing to develop ways to include others in your day-to-day work life.

Show, Don’t Tell. To build both your business’ trust and reputation, showing is better than telling. Marketing and advertising are important to spread the word about your business, but performance and delivering quality products and services are more important. No amount of advertising makes up for a poor product, and there’s no substitute for trust.

Learn to be efficient with your time. It can be easy to become a martyr for your business. But isn’t it better to work smarter, not harder? Part of this involves delegating and outsourcing as mentioned earlier. Take charge of your schedule in a way that’s productive but keeps your sanity intact. Develop systems, stay organized, and jettison anything that doesn’t serve a purpose.

Here are some posts we’ve written regarding efficiency, including systems and getting organized.