Author Archive

What’s so Great about Being a Thought Leader?

Friday, March 24th, 2023

For the last few years, we’ve heard the term “thought leader” and “thought leadership” thrown around as something to which we should aspire. But what’s so great about being a thought leader? Why should you want to be perceived as a thought leader in your industry?

New Opportunities

Because with this perception comes respect, influence, and opportunity.

The truth is, thought leadership is basically a fancy term for expert or guru. According to Oxford Languages, a thought leader is “a person whose views are taken to be authoritative and influential.” Not only are thought leaders extremely knowledgeable in a particular field, but their ideas are influential, persuasive, and often significant. They are leaders in their space, able to change how others think about certain subjects, and even to prompt them to act.

Being a thought leader comes with power that can generate new business opportunities—everything from public speaking to teaching to consulting, publishing, and creating—all of which can enrich your bottom line.

That’s the real benefit of being a thought leader.

So how do you become one?

Becoming a Thought Leader

The thing about thought leaders is that they are almost always a step ahead of everyone else when it comes to information in their industry. Because of their experience, talent, education, and connections, they spot patterns and opportunities before others do. And they share that information to benefit others, because a leader is all about serving others. That doesn’t mean they can’t also benefit themselves, but being of service is what true leaders aspire to do.

Educate and inform

Thought leaders use what they know, and what they observe, to educate and inform others around them. They are information hubs, gathering and disseminating useful information as much as possible. They may do that through a blog, a podcast, social media posts, public speaking, writing a column, or something else, but they are often the first to address a relevant topic.

Be unconventional

It’s much harder to be viewed as a leader if all you do is follow the crowd. Sharing relevant social media posts that others have published is fine, especially if you add your own thoughts or viewpoints at the top, but don’t let that be the only thing you do. You need to also publish your own original content. And in order to stand out as a leader, sometimes you need to go against the grain, to question decisions, to offer alternatives to the ideas that have already been presented. Rather than sweep issues under the rug, you may need to bring them up. However, whenever you surface a problem, it’s important to also offer a solution. Don’t risk being viewed as a complainer.

Align yourself with other leaders

When you do share information and ideas that others have put forth, try to make sure it comes from other leaders you would like to be aligned with. Give them credit. Are there local business leaders you admire, or maybe leaders in your field? Make a point of commenting on their social media posts in support. Share articles they publish and add your take. And when you write articles or blog posts, speak in public, or are quoted in the media, name drop other leaders whose thinking is like your own. Not only will you position yourself as an ally, but you may earn their gratitude.

Publish consistently

Above all else, being a thought leader requires that you publish your ideas regularly. That may mean a weekly blog post, three social media posts a week, a podcast episode every Friday, or a biweekly newsletter, for example—whatever makes sense for your particular audience. But whatever pace you decide on, stick with it. Publishing interesting, useful information is key, but as soon as you begin to attract followers, they will look forward to your musings. Don’t let them down. Pick a schedule and stick to it.

Build a community

Publishing regularly is the best way to build a community. Write useful content and share it with people you think will find it relevant. Work to attract new members or subscribers and ask what they want to learn. Use that information to craft even more relevant content to share. That will win you social media followers. You can also create a Facebook or LinkedIn group to bring together individuals who want to be part of your tribe, as Seth Godin calls it, meaning, people with similar interests and aspirations.

Never stop learning

The only way to remain a thought leader is to keep learning, keep growing, and keep sharing what you know. Attend industry conferences, watch webinars, read content inside and outside your field, record videos, subscribe to newsletters, network with others in your space. Always be thinking about what may come next, whether it’s a technological breakthrough, a legislative restriction, a crisis, an emerging need, or something else. What’s coming down the pike that others haven’t noticed yet, but that you have? Share that and your thoughts about it.

To Win, Be Easy to Work With

Saturday, March 11th, 2023

“Be easy to work with. It matters,” Wen-Szu Lin, author of Deliver, shared in a recent guest lecture at Johns Hopkins University. Whether you’re working to attract clients, hold onto clients, recruit employees, or negotiate with a potential vendor or partner, being easy to work with can make or break you. 

It can even be a competitive advantage.

Not exactly sure if you’re easy to work with? Consider how you respond to requests, whether you consider the impact of your efforts on others, and if you receive repeated or follow-up inquiries from clients or colleagues. If you’re easy to work with, others should gravitate toward you and prefer collaborating. If you’re not, you likely receive one-time requests with no follow-up, or business relationships may be short-lived.

Make Life Easier for Others

At its core, being easy to work with means making life easier for others. “Others” are anyone you interact with, including clients, colleagues, supervisors, vendors, family members, friends, neighbors, service providers, and random people on the street. The more you can make being easy to work with part of your daily routine, the more you will be seen as such.

Demonstrating how easy you are to work with can start with holding the door for others, allowing someone in a hurry to go ahead of you, or giving up a seat on the subway. At work, being easy to work with looks like responding quickly to emails, offering to take care of a small task to reduce the burden on someone else, or simply living up to your promises; be dependable. 

You don’t have to be a martyr to be easy to work with, fortunately, and you can set boundaries. But here are some specific opportunities to demonstrate the advantages of working with you:

Make Connections

Sometimes the best way to help someone is to provide resources or introduce them to someone else who can help them make progress, if that person isn’t you. For example, if a colleague is looking for printer recommendations, make a few phone calls or email inquiries and compile a list for them. Not only does that help them narrow the field of options, but you’ve shown that you’re trying to make their life easier. That’s big.

Or, if you have to let an employee go because they’re not a fit for the job they are in, rather than just showing them the door, you could provide a list of career coaches or even current job openings that you think would be a good fit. Again, you’re demonstrating that you’re trying to make their life easier by giving them a hand in finding their next job.

Go Above and Beyond

To make yourself indispensable to customers or employers, do more than the bare minimum. Sure, you’ll want to deliver on your promise to do whatever you committed to, but how about getting the project done before the deadline and maybe even under budget? That’s going to stand out.

You’ve probably heard some of the legends surrounding the impressive customer service that retailer Nordstrom has long been known for. Most are stories where employees went above and beyond, in order to make life easier for their customers. One story involved a Nordstrom worker delivering a tailored suit to a client after hours at his hotel, to be sure he had it in plenty of time for an important presentation the next day. Another famous tale was about a clerk who allowed a long-time customer to return four car tires that were the wrong size, despite the fact that Nordstrom has never sold tires. 

You probably don’t want to go that far and take a loss to make a customer happy, but think about what you can do that would ease a customer’s concerns or quiet their nerves. If you’re a retailer, can you offer free gift wrapping or local delivery? If you’re a salon, can you provide a quick video on how to maintain a client’s new hairstyle or how to operate a styling tool you’ve sold them? 

Anticipate Questions or Concerns

No matter what business you’re in, you probably know some of the common questions customers will ask regarding your products or services, because you’ve heard them countless times already. 

Maybe it’s about how something works, about alternatives, or about next steps. Whatever those common questions are, if you can anticipate them and answer them before they are asked, you will impress your customer. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, can you provide samples of your design on a variety of surfaces, so your client can get a clear picture of how it will be read? If you’re a venue popular for wedding receptions, can you offer recommendations as far as preferred vendors for photos, flowers, music, and invitations?

Brainstorm what you can give your customers that would help them make their life easier, or help them make the most of their purchase, without costing you a lot of money.

Do What you Promise

Even if you can’t do more than you promised, at least do what you said you would. Be on time for meetings, turn in assignments before the deadline, anticipate questions others may have and provide answers in advance. That saves others time, which makes their lives easier.

Knowing that you are reliable, that you will do what promise, is another way to become a go-to vendor or employee, because you make others’ lives easier by reducing the risk that something will go wrong for them. Consistency and reliability are other ways to build long-term, profitable relationships, because you are easier to work with than others who are inconsistent.

Saying “No” is Good for Business

Friday, February 24th, 2023

Given that growing a business requires customers and clients willing to pay you money, you may assume that saying “yes” regularly is essential for success. “Yes” can mean more customers, more sales, and more business opportunities.

The Downsides of “Yes”

As women, many of us have been taught that saying “yes” is the right thing to do. It is generally expected. Saying “no” may be seen as rude or impolite, or could suggest that we are difficult to get along with. In many circumstances, saying “no” brings up fears of being judged for declining an invitation or opportunity. So, sometimes woman err on the side of saying “yes,” even when they really want to say “no.” 

While this can certainly reduce the potential for negative backlash down the road, such as by agreeing to sit in on a meeting or to donate a product to a charity auction, those yeses require resources you might have preferred to devote to something else.

Yet saying “yes” can also create problems that interfere with business growth and profitability. Say “yes” too often to opportunities and you could overwhelm your team and create a poor customer experience. If you accept every opportunity that comes along, you could end up selling products or services that are not in your company’s best interests, or that are not as profitable as they could be for you. You could end up serving anyone and everyone, rather than targeting a specific buyer that you know can most benefit from your offerings. Not to mention how saying “yes” to everything in your business leaves little time for anything beyond business, like time with friends and family.

Which is why saying “no” can sometimes help your business more than saying “yes.”

When to Say “No”

But when does “no” make more sense than “yes” for your business? In general, saying “no” is often a better choice if you’re not certain that saying “yes” will make the business better. 

There’s an expression you’ve probably heard, that I originally heard from coach Suzanne Evans, that “If it’s not a ‘Hell Yes,’ it’s a ‘Hell no!’” 

For example, it may make sense to say “no” to:

  • Invitations to meetings. Do you really need to be there? Is your attendance the best use of your time? If you’re not a decision-maker, could someone else just as easily participate on your behalf? Or is this a sales call that you’re being pressured to take?
  • Customers who are unprofitable. Sure, doing business with a major corporation or celebrity could raise your business’s visibility, but if all you’ll earn is exposure, you may want to allow a competitor to lose money on that deal. So say no to work that you’ll lose money on, as well as putting an end to scope creep—when the client wants to increase the work you’re doing at no additional cost. 
  • Requests for price cuts or discounts. There is rarely a legitimate reason to reduce your profits for someone else’s benefit. Even when customers dangle the carrot that “If you give us a good deal on this first order, there will be more business down the line,” know that they have not committed to giving you more business and it’s more likely that you’ll take a loss on this deal and then never hear from them again.
  • Opportunities that would overwhelm your schedule. If you’re already double booked and having trouble fulfilling your current obligations, seriously consider declining—for now, at least—new opportunities that come in. These could be requests for your time, your talents, or your finances.
  • Unreasonable requests. Whether a potential client has asked you to work for free, “to see if there’s a fit,” or you’ve been asked to map out a strategy for the prospect to evaluate, recognize that they are asking you to work for free. Why would you give your expertise away, unless it’s to a cause you want to support?

“No” is useful for setting boundaries that protect your time and energy, both of which you need to run a successful business.

How to Say “No”

People who are uncomfortable with confrontation or negotiation have the most difficulty with saying “no.” They don’t want to make anyone upset or cause a scene, so they say “yes” to keep the peace, at the expense of their best interests or sanity, in some cases.

If you know that declining an opportunity is what’s best for you and your business, here are some ways you might phrase your response to reduce the sting of rejection:

“Thank you so much for considering my company for this amazing opportunity, but now that I know more about what you need, I know you’d be better off hiring a company that specializes in XYZ.”

“Thank you for thinking of us for this, but, unfortunately, we can’t take this on at this time.”

“I’m so flattered that you thought of my company for this opportunity to donate to your special event. Unfortunately, we have already allocated all of our charitable donations for the year.”

“Thank you so much for the invitation, unfortunately I’m not available.”

“I’m so honored that you would be interested in having me as your business mentor, but the time and energy required to grow my business doesn’t allow me time to mentor others right now.”

The key components of these “no” responses is that: 1) you thanked the person for the opportunity, 2) you politely decline their request, and 3) give a reason if you feel like it will prevent the conversation from continuing.

Otherwise, “no” is a complete sentence.

How Small Businesses Can Conserve Cash During a Downturn

Friday, February 10th, 2023

Ask a group of small business owners whether we’re in a recession and you’re likely to get a variety of answers. Although we’ve been hearing about an impending recession for months, it’s unclear if it’s on the horizon, already here, or if the chances of it occurring have receded.

If you’re nervous that a business downturn is headed your way, recession or not, there are a few things you can do to soften the blow if sales do decline. 

So, what can or should you cut back on? To figure that out, you need to take a look at your spending history.

Audit Your Spending

To know where your money is going in your business, the best place to look is at your business bank account(s). What kind of sales have you been making, are they on an upswing or downturn, and what do your expenses look like? Go back through the last three to six months of checking account statements to see what you’ve been paying for.

What are the biggest categories of expenses? Depending on your business model, that might include your rent, utilities, labor, equipment leases, raw materials, inventory, marketing, or many other possibilities.

Make a list of your biggest types of expenses and then consider what your business could do without. That is, where could you cut back, even temporarily, to build up some cash reserves? You don’t want to cut essentials—must-haves that keep your business in operation— but are there other types of expenses that aren’t absolutely necessary?

I’m thinking of things like:

  • Subscriptions (magazines, newspapers, office supplies, water, software)
  • Meals and entertainment (for clients, employees, managers)
  • Fees you could avoid with some planning (overdraft, late charges)

What could you eliminate even for just a few months?

Use Up Your Stockpile

Many businesses have built up a stash, or a stockpile, of products they use regularly, to avoid having to interrupt production or sales when the product runs out. Some have as much as six months of some products on-hand, just in case. But do you really need so much?

To benefit your bank account, consider: 1) using up your stockpile before reordering and 2) consider not stockpiling as large a quantity. For example, if you have six months on hand, could you get by with three or four months instead? That would allow you not to buy any of those items for a couple of months, which would reduce your cash outflow.

Another tactic to try is to negotiate with suppliers to lock in rates on recurring purchases, such as office supplies, packaging materials, or food ingredients, for examples. That way you can reduce the impact of a potential price increase.

Ask to Extend Payment Due Dates

If you’ve been paying bills immediately, or even Net 30 (within 30 days), it’s worth asking your suppliers if you can get Net 45 terms instead (meaning you’d have 45 days to pay your bill). Of course, you still have to pay the bill, but pushing out when you have to write some checks gives you more flexibility regarding how to use the money that’s in your bank account.

On the flipside, you could also ask your customers who are paying Net 45 or Net 60 to pay sooner. You may have to offer a small discount for this, but getting what you’re owed faster can sometimes be worth it.

Review Your Hiring Plans

Your workers are essential to the continued operation of your business, so it’s unlikely you’ll want to let anyone go if you don’t have to. However, if you had planned to add new employees this year, there may be some alternatives to adding headcount.

Some of these options include:

  • Offering existing employees overtime hours
  • Exploring hiring college or high school interns for course credit
  • Temporary workers
  • Seasonal workers
  • Independent contractors 

Other ways to tighten your proverbial belt could be to shift spending online.

Move Activities Online

Even brick-and-mortar businesses that serve customers in person, such as restaurants, auto repair shops, daycares, beauty salons, and retailers, can take steps to move some in-person tasks online and save money. That doesn’t mean you have to stop offering in-person selling, only that you could replace some face-to-face work with an online equivalent to save some cash.

This could include:

  • Adding an online store for products, parts, gift cards, courses, and information products in order to reduce on-site staffing needs
  • Offering training online, rather than on-site meetings and classes (which can also expand your target market globally), and encouraging employees to consume their education online, too, to reduce travel expenses
  • Shifting some traditional marketing dollars online, such as to a website, social media accounts, and digital ads, to reduce reliance on paper-based purchases.

Whether a recession hits or not, fortifying your financials by reducing unnecessary spending and finding less expensive ways to access the resources you need is a smart strategy for improving profits.

Charge More, Earn More by Reducing Customer Price Sensitivity

Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

With the word recession being thrown about as a warning for months, many business owners are bracing for a downturn in sales. Some have already witnessed a slowdown, while others are seeing sales rise. The discrepancy is likely due to how price sensitive your customers are. That is, can they afford to continue buying what you’re selling?

When the economy experiences a downturn, it can become more difficult for some customers to maintain their level of spending even on basics like groceries (have you seen the price of eggs?!). Some customers may dial back purchases of essentials to tighten up their budgets, others may reduce buying nice-to-have items, such as vacations or eating out regularly, while others may not feel a pinch at all and will continue spending as before.

What is Price Sensitivity?

These three scenarios reflect how price sensitive different customers are. Buyers who are highly price sensitive will reduce spending if the price goes up at all, while buyers who have low price sensitivity will continue spending even if the price goes up significantly.

In general, buyers have less price sensitivity to must-have items such as housing, food, and transportation, because we all need these to survive. Even as prices rise, it’s hard to go without any of these purchases. Conversely, most buyers have more price sensitivity to more luxury purchases, such as new cars, designer brands, or entertainment, meaning that as prices go up, the more buyers scale back their spending on these less essential categories.

But that doesn’t mean that lowering your price is the solution to increasing demand. In fact, depending on your type of customer, lowering your price could reflect poorly on your brand, making it less desirable to buyers. This is likely one of the reasons that Apple products only go on sale one day a year – Black Friday. Yes, you may find incentives to buy them at other times, such as free headphones or an Apple gift card with purchase, but Apple doesn’t discount its products. The same is true with luxury brands, such as Louis Vuitton or Chanel. Those products do not go on sale.

However, there are some brands that seem to always be on sale. Bed Bath and Beyond (BBB) trained its customers to wait for its 20% off coupons to arrive in the mail, with an executive admitting the company’s customers had an “overreliance on coupons.” In fact, even if you forgot them while shopping at the store,  you had 14 days to come back and present your coupons to receive money back.

What Affects Price Sensitivity?

There are several variables that can impact how price sensitive your customers are, with some of the biggest being:

Your product/service category. What you’re selling, and how badly your customer needs it, is perhaps the biggest driver of price sensitivity. For example, for someone who is diabetic and needs medication to manage it, price is less of a factor than their ability to get it. Similarly, a plumber’s fee when the kitchen sink springs a leak or the cost of a tow service when your car dies on the highway becomes less important than the speed with which these pros can respond to an emergency. But if you’re a retailer selling swimming pool equipment in January, your customers may see those purchases as less essential at the moment.

How different or unique your product/service is. Think about Tesla electric vehicles, which have been in high demand for years. You can’t buy them from a dealership and you can’t negotiate price. You either pay the asking price or you don’t get a car. Tesla can set its own price because for a time, it was one of the very few electric vehicle manufacturers. For that reason, its customers had low price sensitivity, because they were willing to pay whatever the price to get one of the company’s electric cars. If you are the only distributor of a particular brand that is in demand, you are likely to attract less price sensitive buyers. That is, they are willing to pay your asking price to get what they want.

The availability of competing products/services. The flipside of uniqueness is competition. If you have a lot of competitors who are selling the same thing you are, or something that can be used in place of what you sell, your customers are likely to be more price sensitive. For example, if you sell ice cream for $3/cone and there is a store across the street selling a similar cone for $2.50, you may have trouble attracting those buyers unless you can differentiate your product. Maybe your cones come in flavors other than vanilla, or maybe the brand of ice cream you sell is only available at your store. Unless you have a way to justify a higher price, your customers are more likely to be more price sensitive if your product or service has a lot of competition.

How easy it is to switch providers. The ease with which customers can switch from one product or service to another is also a factor impacting price sensitivity. The more difficult it is to switch, the less price sensitive those buyers become. Meaning, if it’s hard to go elsewhere for what they need, they may be more willing to continue to pay your (higher) price than make a move. For example, if you are a hairstylist announcing a price increase, the number of customers you lose from that announcement will depend on the relationships you’ve built. The more your customers trust you and prefer your work, the less price sensitive they will be; they may not want to start trying out other stylists. 

How Can You Reduce Price Sensitivity?

So, how can you reduce price sensitivity to keep your existing customers and attract others, even as you increase your prices? 

One way is to improve your customer experience. Make it so far superior to anything they can get elsewhere and you will reduce price sensitivity. That might mean learning their name, taking notes on what they prefer, or going out of your way to make sure they get what they need. Make buying from you a special experience as much as possible.

Determine desired differentiators and build those in. That is, find out what your customers value about your product, service, or business, and do more of that. Amp up what makes your business unique. Separating yourself from the competition will make your pricing less relevant.

You can also invest in marketing efforts to improve your brand’s awareness and reputation. Increase the number of people who have heard of your business and think highly of it (doing more to enhance their buying experience can go a long way to achieve this). That might mean getting some help with social media, paying for PR help, or rebranding the company, to name a few potential options.

The more you make your product or service preferable to buyers, the less price will be a factor for those who choose to do business with you.

Want to Go Paperless in 2023? Here’s How

Friday, January 13th, 2023

Gartner Inc. estimated that buying, using, and storing paper documents costs an average business 3% of its revenue—and that was 10 years ago. The cost today is likely even higher.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the average office worker goes through 10,000 sheets of paper a year and that the cost of using paper is 13 to 31 times the original cost. And if that weren’t bad enough, years ago Xerox reported that nearly half of all documents are thrown away within 24 hours.

For both cost and environmental reasons, businesses in a wide range of industries are now taking aggressive steps to reduce their reliance on paper. You’ve probably already received notices from your bank, mortgage, and credit card companies asking you to opt into paperless statements. Sending out tens of thousands of emails is much more efficient and cost-effective than printing and mailing hard copies.

If time and money savings appeal to you, here are some steps your business can take to reduce your use of and reliance on paper this year:

Don’t print it out

Start by watching your printer usage. With communication going electronic—meaning messages are more commonly sent via email and direct messaging than using physical mail—you have an opportunity to cut back on paper usage simply by keeping electronic documents in the cloud rather than converting them to hardcopy. 

Read communiques online. If you have to sign a document, use an electronic signature rather than printing, signing, scanning, and emailing back. If someone sends you an interesting article or report to read, peruse it online instead of printing it.

Break the habit of instinctively printing documents out that don’t need to exist in physical form.

Store it in the cloud

When you receive material you want to be able to refer to later, don’t print it out and place it in a paper filing folder in your office. Instead, save it in an online filing folder that you can pull up later on your computer.

Convert your metal filing cabinets to digital ones by using online storage services like Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox.

Scan it

Likewise, when you receive paper documents and want to be able to store and retrieve them later electronically, scan them.

Using a physical scanner that you keep near your desk, or an app like Genuis Scan on your phone, convert your notices, reports, memos, drafts, and other papers to electronic form and then recycle the pages (unless you’re required to keep original signatures). Once in electronic form, you can easily email documents to others as well as store them for easy retrieval later.

Organize it

One of the fears paper hold-outs express is the ability to quickly find important papers; they are afraid that a change to their organizational process may make information harder to find. When documents are in hardcopy and filed alphabetically in a filing cabinet, tracking them down is pretty simple. Fortunately, there are now software programs that will serve the same purpose, but in the cloud.

Evernote and OneNote are two big players in this field, both of which allow you to capture images of online information and store it in online folders. You can capture images of web pages, reports, articles, and other published materials, as well as your own documents.

Recycle it

As you start to convert printed pages to digital form, you’ll be left with hardcopies of documents you no longer need. If they are sensitive or business confidential, you’ll want to first shred them, and then recycle them. If you have shredding to do in bulk, Staples and other office service providers will take care of it for a fee.

If you’re considering storing important documents off-site, keep in mind that there is a cost to that as well, which can range from $6 to $10+/year per box, according to RecordNations. 

Companies are increasingly recognizing how much more efficient their operations can be without stacks of papers cluttering their desks, filing cabinets, and mailrooms. Can you picture what your office would look like without paper in it?

Planning for a Profitable 2023

Wednesday, December 28th, 2022

Have you started planning out your next 12 months yet? With the start of the New Year next week, now is the perfect time to think through how you want 2023 to go.

Look Back First

Before looking ahead, take some time to reflect on what went well in 2022 and what did not. For example, for the high points, you might list:

  • Hitting a revenue target
  • Landing a big contract
  • Launching a new product
  • Reaching a social media follower milestone

As you reflect on these wins, think about what enabled you to hit these milestones. Did you approach situations differently, delegate more, invest in coaching or training, increase your fees, modify your product? What were the most important changes that netted these results?

And for your list of where improvements could be made, you might include items such as:

  • Working more hours than you’d like
  • Systems needing improvement
  • Obsolete technology
  • Underperforming employees

These are your bottlenecks, as Rachel Rodgers, author of We Should All Be Millionaires, calls them. They are what are holding you back from even greater success.  Zero in on the improvement opportunities that would make the biggest impact on your business. What are they? 

When you are clear about the highest impact changes you need to make, you’re ready to plan out how you’ll approach 2023.

Setting Next Year’s Goals

It’s always a good idea to set an annual revenue target to use as one metric of success. It doesn’t need to be your only metric, but sales are one way to measure your progress.

Then you’ll want to refer back to your improvement opportunities. Which of those on your list are having the largest negative impact on your company’s growth? What do you need to do to address them?

That’s your next step: Determining how to best clear those bottlenecks.

Depending on your challenge, you may need to:

  • Hire new employees
  • Eliminate current products or services
  • Invest in new technology or systems
  • Create a new lead generation process
  • Design new products or services
  • Secure funding

Once you’re clear on what needs to happen to achieve your revenue target, you can now start to break those projects down into smaller and smaller tasks. If one project is to hire new employees, for example, your smaller tasks might include:

  • Identifying which roles need to be filled
  • Drafting job descriptions
  • Creating qualification lists
  • Retaining a search firm or registering on a job search platform
  • Scheduling the new hire start dates

The next step is breaking any tasks down even more and then scheduling them. For example, before you can register on a job search platform, you may need to schedule a couple of hours to investigate which will be the most effective for your location, industry, and job. Then you may need to schedule time to set up the account, set a budget, and type up the job details.

Break each larger task down into 10 to 15-minute to-do items. 

Schedule Your Action Items

Then assign tasks to months based on when you need them to be completed in order to have the biggest impact on your company’s operations and your budget. 

For example, you may want to implement all of the projects on your list in January in order to hit the ground running in 2023, but you probably won’t have the time or the budget to cross them all off at once. Instead, spread them out over the next 12 months in sequential order, meaning, in the order in which they need to be completed. For example, you can’t outsource tasks until you hire a new employee, for example, or you can’t start a pay-per-click campaign until you’ve had the digital ads designed. 

Choose your highest impact projects for 2023, break them down into tasks, and then schedule them by quarter or by month. Then, track your progress during the coming months in order to recognize when you need to pivot or make strategic adjustments to your plans.

Research has shown that entrepreneurs who take the time to write down their plans and refer to them throughout the year are, on average, many times more successful than people who make big plans and never refer back to them. So don’t just file these plans away until 2024.

How to Generate More Sales Leads

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022

Most business owners know that marketing is critical to success. Marketing is essential because it connects your company with potential customers and helps persuade them to spend money on your products or services. Marketing is what leads to sales, which is every company’s life blood.

There are two basic types of marketing methods—outbound and inbound. 

Outbound marketing is essentially outreach. It is sharing information about your business with as many people as possible, in the hopes that in doing so you’ll connect with people who might be interested in learning more about your products and services. Outbound relies more on mass marketing tools, like advertising, sponsorships, and email blasts, that are designed to get your offerings in front of the greatest number of people possible. It’s a numbers game you’re playing with outbound marketing.

Where outbound marketing uses more of a push strategy in marketing, which attempts to push information out to potential customers, inbound marketing uses pull methods, which aim to attract just the right customers. Inbound tactics aren’t designed to reach everyone. They include methods such as targeted social media posts, blog posts, and digital downloads that are relevant for your company’s target audience.

Hubspot estimates that businesses today spend 90% of their efforts on outbound marketing and only 10% on inbound, when, really, they should reverse those percentages.

So, what, exactly, are the best inbound marketing tools?

Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler, authors of Predictable Revenue have identified nine inbound marketing methods that work, ranked below from most effective to least effective in terms of generating leads:

  1. Referrals. When a customer is so happy with their purchase from you that they feel compelled to tell everyone they know about it, your odds of landing some business from that unprompted testimonial are high. Sometimes customers share their delight through online reviews, or they may make a recommendation when one of their friends or colleagues asks for suggestions. These are the very best sources of leads. And one of the best ways to encourage others to refer business your way is to refer business to them. 
  2. Free trials. Very common today in the online software business, free trials are a great way to allow a potential customer to sample what you offer without a long-term commitment. If they like your product, they’ll pay to stick around. Free trials or samples also work for online groups or subscriptions. You could offer a free consultation, a free product, or free content to demonstrate your expertise, to encourage your prospect to spring for a full-priced product.
  3. Search engine optimization (SEO). To achieve positive results with SEO, you need to research what keywords and phrases your customers are using to look for the products and services you sell, and then attach those keywords to your website, so that your company’s site comes up higher in search results. The more time and energy you invest in applying keywords to your webpages, web content, and blog posts, the better your ranking—meaning the closer to the top of all listings you will appear. This is useful because many buyers only look at the first few results search engines like Google provide them.
  4. Blogging. Writing blog posts that you publish on your company’s website is a great way to demonstrate your expertise, position yourself as a resource, educate potential customers, and help prospects get a sense of what you’re like in person, among other things. This can be especially useful if you’re selling personal services or consulting. The best blog posts encourage a conversation, Ross and Tyler say, such as by asking a question or inviting input from your audience.
  5. Email newsletters. Although you may feel overwhelmed by the number of email newsletters that land in your inbox, the fact is that they work. Sending out an electronic newsletter once or twice a month using an automated system provides a way for you to remain top-of-mind to your customers and prospects. You can share ideas, promote products, educate buyers, and offer special deals or discounts that may spur a customer to make a purchase.
  6. Webinars. Online seminars are a terrific tool for reconnecting with customers, by inviting them to a scheduled event where they can learn something new from you. Ross and Tyler say that 80% of webinars are focused on teaching, rather than selling, and to make the most of the opportunity, you should consider approaching your webinars as educational opportunities, too. Demonstrate a skill or a product, share industry information, or update participants on information they need to know, but whatever you do, do not use hard-sell tactics to make a sale. You’ll only turn potential customers off.
  7. Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing. Paying for leads through online ads, where you are charged only when someone clicks on it, works well in some businesses. However, “the more trust-building and education your prospects need, the less likely PPC leads will convert into customers,” Ross and Tyler claim. That may be because many buyers are skeptical of paid ads. However, PPC has been found to work for some businesses, just be conscious of how much money you’re investing and confirm the sales that are resulting more than pay the cost of the ads.
  8. Affiliate marketing. Partnering with other businesses that are willing to promote your products or services in exchange for a commission is how affiliate marketing works. And affiliates can help attract new customers, especially when they have huge or loyal social media followings. Think about complementary businesses or colleagues who might be willing to tell their audiences about your company and earn a small payment for each sale you make. Those are often the best affiliate partners.
  9. Social media. Social media platforms can be useful tools for introducing yourself to potential customers, through images and video they can’t see anywhere else. That glimpse into your life or your business helps build trust and familiarity that can lead to a purchase at some point. However, social media alone is generally ineffective. If you’re going to invest your marketing resources in a social media platform, like Instagram or TikTok or LinkedIn, use them to drive traffic to higher value inbound tools, such as your blog, or to your website to sign up for a free trial, or to register for a webinar. 

Although each of these methods is separate and distinct, they are also complementary and can work together to amplify a message. But don’t try all of them at once, the authors say.

Instead, pick three tactics first and get some momentum with those before branching out any further.

By investing time and money in finding customers who have an interest in your business and who then take the initiative to gather more information, either through a free trial or visiting your website, your odds of success rise significantly, all without having to invest heavily in expensive promotional tactics. In fact, the best marketing tactic of all, referrals, can cost you absolutely nothing.

Advice for Amber Grant Applicants

Monday, November 14th, 2022

Filling out grant applications is an art form. And while there are professionals who specialize in crafting grant requests, odds are good you probably aren’t one of them. Few entrepreneurs and business owners are, and that’s okay. No one at WomensNet expects you to have grant writing experience or expertise.

The reason that the application for the Amber Grant is so simple is that we want to make it easier for you to tell us what you think is important about your business; we haven’t tried to pose questions you will find hard to answer. However, some applicants have told us that our broad questions are also challenging. They aren’t sure how far back to go when describing their company’s history, or how specific they should be when talking about their current situation or future plans, for example.

We get it.

So, to help you decide what is most relevant and important for us to understand, we wanted to offer some tips for how to fill out your Amber Grant application. 

Keep in mind your audience

Since our goal at WomensNet is to help woman-owned businesses get started and grow, we want to hear more about your growth plans than anything else. There are plenty of other grants out there that are for startups or retailers or companies hard hit by the pandemic, but that is not the focus of the Amber Grant. 

Before you submit your own application it’s always a good idea to study past Amber Grant winners. Watch the video interviews we recorded to get a sense of who applicants have been, what their challenges were, and how they used their grant funds. That information will help you determine what you should share about your own business. 

The basics

Members of our advisory board, who determine the monthly grant winners, want to understand what your business is, first and foremost. What do you sell? Who are your customers? Why did you start it? How have things gone? If business is growing like crazy, why? 

If you’re comfortable sharing top-level financials, that can help make your case. Statistics are also useful, such as by explaining that costs have increased 45% in the last year but that you still managed to grow by 20% by raising prices. Or that 89% of your customers are repeat buyers.

By giving the advisory board context, or background, it helps them evaluate what you tell them next.

What is stifling your growth?

Since the Amber Grant was established to help companies grow, our advisory board is especially interested in understanding what’s restricting your company’s growth. What is your current bottleneck or obstacle? 

For example, if you’ve been offered a contract for embroidered sweatshirts, but you can’t accept the contract because you know you can’t meet the terms, that’s a growth challenge that grant money can fix. Or maybe you sell out of your cupcakes at 11:00 am every day and would like to be able to keep your display case stocked longer. That’s also a capacity problem, which better equipment or more help can fix. 

The key to your growth, you can explain to the board, is securing the resources that will provide more capacity. That capacity may come through being able to order more inventory, to stock up on raw materials, to invest in more equipment, or to hire more employees, just to name a few solutions.

How will the grant money help you be successful?

The advisory board also wants to understand how you’ll use the Amber Grant if you’re awarded the funds. How will you invest the $10,000 grant to have the greatest positive impact on your business?

Will you move into a larger space, renovate the space you’re in, outsource more of the production, build or update your website, upgrade equipment, or something else to address the bottleneck you’ve identified? Tell us.

And what are your long-term plans? Where do you want the business to be in three or five years? Do you envision multiple locations? A different clientèle? A broader product line?

Stay focused on your business

Although some business grant programs want to hear how you’ll benefit the community, since the Amber Grant’s primary purpose is to fuel a company’s growth, community service is not something we look for or expect you to do. In fact, if your community service could be perceived as interfering with the management of your business, or if you tell us you’ll give any part of the grant away to another organization, your odds of winning decline.

Although there is no limit to how long your Amber Grant application can be, don’t type five pages of information if you can cover all the relevant facts and figures in two.

While any stage business can apply for an Amber Grant, startups do face the challenge of not being able to report a financial history. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply, only that it may be difficult to demonstrate unmet demand if you haven’t been in business very long.

Competition for the Amber Grant is fierce, so make sure your application reflects your very best work.

Get More Done in Less time by Reducing Distractions

Friday, October 28th, 2022

The opportunities for distraction today are greater than they’ve ever been. With phones by our side 24/7, social media calling our name, and anxiety seemingly ever-present, it’s challenging for anyone to stay focused on any one task for more than a few minutes.

And yet, staying on-task is critical for progress to be made. Spread your efforts and attention over multiple tasks at one time and you’ll make little progress on anything, or the progress you do make won’t be your best work.

So, what’s the secret?

There’s really no secret or trick, but getting more done requires getting organized and setting yourself up to stay on task. 

Start with a to-do list

Getting more done starts with identifying what your highest priority tasks are. What’s on your to-do list?

It can help to make a master list of absolutely everything you can think of that you need to do, from drafting a blog post to responding to a customer’s email to picking up dry cleaning, placing your meal subscription order for next week, and paying your utility bill. Get everything out of your head and onto a sheet of paper or into a Google doc where you can see it.

Distinguish between important and urgent

Next, go through your list and identify the top things you must get done today. Rank them from 1 to 10. Although it’s best not to try to do more than three major things in a day, if some of your action items are sending emails or making phone calls, you can get more than three accomplished.

As part of your ranking process, think about which activities will have the greatest impact on your business success. Which proposal has the potential to bring in the most money? Which tactful email needs to be sent to calm an irritated client? Which Yelp review needs a response? Which supplier needs a call to clear up confusion about your order?

Some tasks may have deadlines that are in the next day or two and that could eat up most of your day, but are they really essential? Just because someone else has assigned a deadline doesn’t automatically make it important to you. (Sure, your sister wants a call back to catch up this afternoon, but is that the best use of your time today? If not, call her tonight or tomorrow.)

Then there are tasks that have deadlines that have the potential to make or break your business, like the deadline to be considered for a grant, or to be quoted in an article, or join a business accelerator.

Which to-dos are most important? Those go to the top of your list.

Break down larger tasks

Now that you have a list of your highest priority tasks, start with your top priority. Think through what it will take to complete this activity and break it down into 10-15-minute tasks. You may have been putting it off because it seemed so overwhelming, such as responding to an RFP or outlining a course you want to release. So, break it down into smaller pieces, and then break those down, and again, until each task is super quick and easy.

Finally, get that very first piece related to your top priority done. Then, move on to the next piece of that first priority, and to the next, and keep crossing those steps off your to-do list as you complete them. Only stop when you can’t do any more, either because you have an appointment to get to or because you need information from other people before you can do more.

At that point, it’s time for a break. Take a few minutes to relax, maybe take a short walk, get some lunch, for example.

After your break, come back and go through that same process for your second-highest priority.

Avoid multitasking

You’ve probably heard how inefficient multitasking, or task switching, is. Sure, it may feel like being on the phone while you also read or respond to emails is killing two birds with one stone, but it’s not. You’re not giving all of your attention to the person on the other end of the phone, which makes it less effective, and you may be missing key pieces of information in those emails you’re skimming.

Research has shown that you are up to 40 percent less productive when you multitask. Also, the results of your efforts are of lower quality. A London study found that “multitasking dropped a person’s IQ at the same pace that someone experiences after a sleepless night.” Meaning, you aren’t able to do your best work. 

Instead, do one task at a time. Focusing on one action item allows you to devote all of your attention to it, which will actually help you complete it faster.

Optimize your environment

Sometimes where you work impacts your ability to focus, so take steps to improve your surroundings. 

Cleaning your desk and work area off helps reduce distractions, because your eye is able to focus on what’s in front of you, and not what’s in the piles off to the side. Closing your email while you work also prevents new messages from pinging and alerting you, which can cause you to fear you’re missing something important. And if you work in a noisy setting, consider getting noise-blocking headphones to drown out the chatter or ambient sounds that can interfere with mental function.

If you know you need support to prevent you from taking a peek at social media, consider getting a program like Freedom, which blocks your access to certain websites for whatever period of time you specify. Want to force yourself to work uninterrupted for 30 minutes? Use Freedom to keep you from checking the latest Facebook or Instagram posts.

Once you’re clear on what you absolutely have to get done, by when, and you take steps to reduce potential distractions around you, you’ll get much more done faster.

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What people are saying about WomensNet

Forbes

“You have to be in it to win it...seize the opportunity and apply.”

Nerd Wallet

“The Foundation awards $10,000 to a different women-owned business every month. At the end of each year, one of the 12 grant winners is awarded an additional $25,000.”

Score

“Launched 20 years ago this grant honors the memory of a young woman who wanted to be an entrepreneur but died at age 19 before she could achieve her goal.”

Fundera

“The Amber Grant Foundation was launched in 1998 to honor the memory of a young woman. The grant was formed to help women entrepreneurs reach their goals when Amber could not.”