Monday, 30 January 2012

What makes video viral?

I am a trifle bemused.

A rather cute/creative video has appearred about my latest book.

I love it. We love it. The publisher loves it. I can name names of people you know who say they love it.

Here's the BUT...

But... no-one presses the re-send/share button. No-one says "this is so funny that I must share it to my friends."

They obviously hit the re-send/share button for this video: Somebody That I Used to Know - Walk off the Earth 28 million views since 5 Jan.

Well done them.

So what makes a great viral video?

Friday, 27 January 2012

The First Mastermind #mastermind

I was recently asked how and when I was introduced to the Mastermind concept.

Aged 21, I set up my first business with all the insufferable smug arrogance that I could muster. Pretty obnoxious I suspect.

Having read all the books and having attended all the courses (as well as having a degree in economics with business), I still felt things just weren’t coming together. I had accrued way too much theory and hadn’t learned all the lessons I should have learned. But then again, I was young, very young.

It was at this point, working my little socks off and feeling that I wasn’t really making progress, that I was introduced to what is now known as a Mastermind Group: expert sessions; ‘insider secrets’; golden nuggets of research and market research; exposure to genuine how-tos and tools, tips and techniques that actually work; regular coaching and feedback sessions; peer group support; regular info updates, especially about latest and proven techniques; selective introductions, and a whole host of myriad benefits that were too subtle for me to appreciate at the time.

The experience changed my life and I continue to be indebted to the expert business grower who is responsible not only for turbocharging my business career, but also for introducing me to a career that I would later follow: namely helping businesses to grow, and fast. So, what happened?

While my programme took place some time ago, the fundamentals have not changed. The recipe comprises:

·       An expert business grower that can inspire you to make the tough decisions and take the actions required
·       Regular (but relatively brief) coaching and mentoring
·       The creation of a safe haven, a club, of trusted peers who can share your issues and your dreams. People who are on a similar journey to yourself
·       A focus on results, how to get them and how to measure them as well as putting processes and systems in place to automate as much of the business as possible and to put you in a position of working ‘on’ and not ‘in’ the business
·       Regular prompts and mini-updates to keep you fired up and focused, and much, much more...

When I signed up for the programme I wrote my targets for the programme on a piece of paper and put it in a sealed envelope to be opened at the end of the 12-month programme.

What I signed up for was the insights and the golden tips, the priceless nuggets that the others could share as a result of their combined x years of business experience.

What I signed up to was a clear pointer of what worked and what didn’t work for a business like mine.

What I signed up for was magic fairy dust that I could find in no book.

What I had signed up to was my own personalised version of ‘What They Teach You at Harvard Business School’ combined with ‘What They Don’t Teach You...’

And did the programme deliver?

Yes, the programme gave me all of the above. And yes, I exceeded all the targets I had put in that envelope. But this really is the tip of the iceberg.

What I hadn’t accounted for was that the programme changed my view of the business, my view of the world and what exactly I was trying to achieve and it totally opened my eyes to options I had never imagined. (I was young!)

Most of all, the programme succeeded in pinning me down. It got me to declare my ambition, explore how I would achieve it, commit to the strategy and be accountable for the results and my behaviour) not only to the programme leader but also to the whole group.

In the past I had got away with murder by refusing to declare my goals (not that I knew what they were!) and refusing to follow-through on plans and so I was not in any way accountable to anyone for the success or failure of my results. Like most owner-managers I behaved like a law unto myself, taking credit (where credit was not due) and moving the goalposts or blaming some external circumstance if things didn’t go my way.

The programme was the wake-up call I needed; it also provided the key, the solution (the tools) to help me move on. In short, it changed my focus, my viewpoint and my horizons. I became a grown-up!

So, is this type of programme for everyone?

Emphatically the answer is ‘no’! It is not for the faint-hearted or for people content at playing at being in business. Likewise it is not for the fresh-face start-up or the business that is about to go bust (in search of a magic wand).

Who it is for is... people who feel that they have a business that hasn’t yet fulfilled its potential. They have had some success but often feel that they are now working harder than ever and not realising the anticipated results. People who feel they need the support, focus and attention of others, specifically a particular business expert (people who have been-there-and-done-it and can inspire you to do similar things).

There are not too many groups out there that suit your individual business experience, ambition, drive and character. But they are out there. Time to start looking...

Mastermind Groups - Three Mini Case Studies

Three case studies from the world of mastermind groups.

While the journalists and politicians always want to have sexy stories about business growth, the reality is that most growth comes in what appear to be fairly ordinary industries. 

There can only be so many zero-to-hero stories that turn the owner into an overnight celebrity. Believe you me, there is no shortage of highly successful businesses that just never hit the award ceremony stage, or the entrepreneur of the year prize or the flash lamps of the paparazzi.

Likewise there is a fairy tale belief that high growth only emerges in the thrusting, new industries but in reality we see more than enough growth in what to many would be considered the dull industries.

I can assure you that these businesses are anything but dull. Their business growth and development are a testament to the bravery and determination of their owners to deliver extraordinary performance.

In my experience, these exceptional and relatively anonymous businesses include: opticians, specialist travel agencies, translation agencies, freshly prepared/chilled food, fish wholesalers, hospitality/meeting room hire, hotels, restaurant chains, software houses, specialist oil importers, outside caterers, 4x4 specialists, car dealerships, recruitment consultancies, haulage companies, marketing and business consultancies, digital agencies, magazine publishers, research agencies, cross-cultural learning centre and so on.

I make no excuse for the length of the list as I am trying to make a point about the breadth of different businesses that can outperform the market.

Either a mastermind group or one-to-one consultancy assignments have been the main processes to propel these businesses towards what used to be called hypergrowth. And each business went through a similar journey.

Case Study 1: Jane, Marketing Agency
Fed up with an education-focused learning group Jane chose between a Mastermind group and a consultant/coach to help her grow her £1.2m turnover marketing business. Somehow the vast array of very impressive speakers had entertained and educated but hadn’t translated into results.

The group quickly focused on her inability to be decisive and wooed, cajoled and virtually bullied Jane to make three tough decisions that she had avoided to date (sacking/replacing her business development manager, launching a new ‘platinum’ product line, and limiting her workweek to weekdays only).
Results: almost immediate; the sense of relief and the direct results to the bottom line were instant. Over 12 months profitability and sales both increased 30% after three bumpy flatline years.

Case Study 2: Sheena, Specialist Medical Consultant
Business growth and entrepreneurship courses had led Sheena to look for funding to run a private hospital (despite her international expertise as a specialist surgeon). The penny dropped that she was not a manager or entrepreneur and did not want to actually run a hospital but actually wanted to be the best surgeon in her field. 100% focus on establishing her reputation as a surgeon (and outsourcing the capital intensive hospital side) meant that Sheena was able to radically increase revenue by taking on ground-breaking work with brand name athletes. Sheena was not a born businessperson; she did need clear direction and she desperately needed the support of a business expert and the mastermind group members to make the leap of faith.
Results: Client Fee rates up. Profit up. Dividends up. Free time up. Worry down

Case Study 3, Jim, Training Company
Jim had become a training junky. Had all the books, CDs and DVDs but somehow none of the ‘one-to-many’ products had ever delivered the promised ROI for his £800k turnover business. The hands-on, nature of the Mastermind programme, with its obsession with results had a dramatic impact on Jim and his business. “The group fundamentally shifted my mindset and attitude to business”.
Results: with the changed mindset came a new energy that meant that he worked smarter, only working on high-value projects. The group provided him with over £400k of referrals. In one year, turnover up 35%, prices up, profits up, holidays up.

The case studies reveal an interesting series of themes. Marketing blurbs that hyperventilate and scream of incredible/unbelievable results (“double your turnover in just 17 days”) is not particularly helpful to potential delegates although some hopefuls may believe that the silver bullet is there for the taking/buying.

Most of the delegates had tried training/DVD/CD interventions and had felt short-changed by the one-to-many nature of the beast. Many had tried consultancy/coaching and had found it wasn’t able to maintain momentum. Most had tried the DIY option and discovered that they didn’t have the time or skills to master someone else’s craft. None of the delegates could have made their own respective leaps without the support of the group or the mastermind leader.

So what does seem to work is a combination of factors that all create a massive impact on the client business: group support for decisions, joint ventures and referrals; expert support, advice and insider secrets; accountability to the expert and the group; a changed mindset by rubbing shoulder with other highly motivated entrepreneurs; a focus on results, month-on-month; a programme that runs over a year and doesn’t disappear if the going gets tough.

Not for people looking for the easy option, not for people looking for someone else to do the hard work and make the tough decisions, the mastermind is only right for a certain type of person at a certain stage of their business career. Is that time now?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Turning the Corner Out of the Recession - a case study

Three months ago I sat in on a so-called management meeting for a rather lovely business (10 staff in the creative industries) who were heading towards bankruptcy with remarkable speed.

They asked if I could bring a magic wand with me. (The bank manager's heavy-handed letter had prompted the meeting).

They showed me their wonderful work, they showed me their wonderful business plan and then they started to bitch amongst themselves about why other things were stopping them from being successful. The problem was not defined but a few questions clarified what was going on. In a nutshell, the key comments I heard were following a well-worn model:

"We're losing clients"

"Clients have got tighter and tighter budgets and are less and less profitable"

"Profitability is declining"

"Cash is shrinking at a growing rate"

Getting them to pause for breath, I asked them to explain how they get things done. The gregarious boss, Tony, explained: "We have this drop-dead vision and mission and out of that has emerged our strategy, milestones and performance indicators. Robert, we copied it straight out of your book so we know that it will work." The pregnant pause was huge. My nervousness was massive.

This team of creatives had skipped through the process without actually taking ownership of it. After twenty minutes I had put them back in the driving seat.

Business planning is simply making your mistakes on paper. It is only worth the paper that it is written on if something happens.

Here is what they had missed:

Success, at its simplest, is about following through (according to its Greek origins).

As well as doing all the good business planning stuff there is a need for your team to:

1. Make the tough decisions - what you are going to do?

2. Take action based on the decisions - doing it
3. Be accountable - who are you going to report to? ( to make sure you do it) - what are the penalties and rewards for success/failure?

4. Deliver the results and associated outcomes and benefits
They had written the business plan and then they waited! They had reverted to staring at the phones and their inboxes and waiting for something to happen. They had to break this loop of despair and negativity and get out there and make something happen.

They quoted some mid-Atlantic author who talks about passion and the will of the spirit and the karma of knowing your goal and meditating on it. Time for a wake-up call.

After they realised the vacuous nature of the philosophy (why should wanting something to happen make it happen?) they sat down and discussed how and why they got results. What was it that made them different from the competition? What was it that their clients loved about them? What was it that couldn't be copied? What was it that added 'awesome value' (their words) to their clients?

A new one-page plan was created with clear, measurable actions distributed. Everyone was to report in to the MD on Friday afternoon. All successes were to be celebrated. A new "quick 'n' dirty" marketing and sales plan was put into action within seven days. Every single existing and past client was contacted with a compelling proposition or white paper document that demonstrated how working with the agency would deliver clear RESULTS for the client.

Results are the proof of the pudding for the agency. Eight weeks since our meeting, the numbers tell the story. The pipeline is bigger, the proposal hit rate is better, the order book is fuller than it has been for nearly a year.

One swallow doesn't make a summer, but the agency has taken control of its destiny and stopped hiding from the decisions and actions that it needed to take to get the results it wanted.

Tony sent me a brief email this morning: "The penny has dropped. It is all about making the tough decisions then taking massive action and being accountable and getting the results. Thank you." Job done!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Smoke Your Own Dope

I spend most of my time working with service firms. Either I am their customer or I am their supplier, helping them to grow their sales and profits. They provide services for other people: digital marketing campaigns, logo design, end of year accounts and management information, time management techniques, coaching around objective-setting, social media expertise, strategy workshops, and homeopathic treatments.

While the category of ‘service provider’ is huge, what they have in common is the selling of advice and expertise that will help the client.

There is a delicious irony in the behaviour of the majority of these businesses. They should be exemplars of their trade, demonstrating the highest values in every aspect of their field. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Buried in the mire of working IN the business, delivering the product/service to the client in the best possible way (whatever that means!), or finding the next client or getting paid, they usually are less than impressive in the very field that they advise on.

The digital marketing company who has a really naff website, the graphic designer with an embarrassing logo, the accountant who isn’t on top of his own management accounts, the time management trainer who turns up late. You get the message.

It is not so much that they deliberately fail to walk the talk but the reality is that so many service firms just don’t cut the mustard.

These businesses need to map out what is called the customer service journey, listing (and scoring) every step of the customer journey from hearing about the service through to the purchase through to after-sales service. It is my belief that most businesses do not sit down and design the customer experience. It is something that just falls out of what is convenient to the service provider, to fit in with their map of the world.

The reality is that the customer experience is everything to the customer. It is the only thing they can really measure you by. And they would expect an accountant to have stunningly fast and crisp measurement systems (and yet it takes 21 days to get a breakdown of my bill..!), you would expect a web designer to have a faultlessly red hot seductive website, and so on.

The truth is that, in all the hullaballoo and noise that is associated with delivery, the very thing that we claim to be proponents of gets forgotten about. We fail to demonstrate our above-average ability in our field.

So, just imagine how impressive your service firm would be, how much of a no-brainer it would be to potential clients if you really did demonstrate brilliant skills in your area of expertise.

You should ‘smoke your own dope’ if it is as good as you say it is...

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Why Do Some Firms Grow Nine Times Faster Than Others?

There is a group of professional service firms (PSFs) that grow nine times faster than the average. They are 50% more profitable than the average. So, what’s going on?

Doing the research for the new Grow Your Service Firm book, it was easy to see that high- performing service firms are the ones that have clients that believe in the business. The ‘positioning’ (and ‘targeting’) talks to clients in a way that the client can relate to and understand. The firm understands the client needs, hurts and wants and has a solution. The likelihood is that the service firm is a specialist and not a generalist. That is the Grow Your Service Firm ‘ology’.

High performers have always had a particular profile; they have always been identified as being different from the average.

So, how do they drive their growth?

They could just spend more on marketing and sales. But the high performers don’t do that; they just become qualitatively better at the marketing and sales. Frederiksen and Taylor point out that the high performers do not spend proportionately the most on marketing and sales because they are already very good at it. They are simply more effective so don’t need to compete by spending the most. Obvious really.

The high performers actually spend (slightly) less than average firms on their sales and marketing activities. The high performers’ marketing spend isn’t quantitatively higher; it is qualitatively better. They spend less and get better results.

Every firm says pretty much the same boring thing, selling similar services to similar people using similar straplines and similar people with similar qualifications to sell similar services at similar prices etc etc.

Clients have switched off; shouting louder just irritates them some more. The days of interruption marketing are over: people trust referrals, recommendations, word-of-mouth and reputation way more than any paid-for sales campaign. In fact, most people believe that businesses lie in the adverts!

The high performers, meanwhile, focus on client needs and priorities. They are not preoccupied with their own capabilities and expertise. They are not mesmerised by the reflection of themselves like some Greek myth. They focus their limited budgets on specific target customer groups and use a clear and easy to understand message. Simple really.

So, who is in this group of professional service firms that grow nine times faster than the average and are 50% more profitable than the average? How can you join them? What do you need to do?

The starting point I am afraid comes straight out of day one of your Marketing 101 class. You have to create and communicate a clear positioning that demonstrates how you can help your target clients… unequivocally. A totally compelling proposition becomes seductive.

As a starting point, ask yourself if you consistently communicate:

  • Your overt business benefit
  • The real reason you can deliver
  • The dramatic difference between you and your competitors

I meet very few service firms who have actually done this properly. As a result they deliver average results.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

When Gold/Silver/Bronze Packages Become A Bad Idea

I have long been a fan of creating different service qualities for different client groups; different service packages at different price points for differing client needs and pockets. There is, however, a big BUT...

Gold/Silver/Bronze can in fact be expanded into Platinum/Gold/Silver/Bronze/Paper product classes where ‘platinum’ is uber-expensive and ‘paper’ is free (See Expensive is the New Free)

The incremental cost of selling the premium price product tends to be negligible so it makes sense to spend more time selling the better (and more profitable) offering. Despite this, there is an opposite pull – a force to dissipate the benefits of premium pricing. One which will damage your business.

So, here’s the problem, the paradox. In the interests of growing our businesses we look to maximise our opportunities to grow our client base. As a result we might abuse the various package offers and alienate our existing loyal customers by doing the following:
  • Take away parts of the platinum offering to increase profits quickly
  • Downsell clients as a quick win (losing out on the more profitable opportunity)
  • Upsell clients when they don’t really want it creating resentment
  • Discount the higher level offering to win the sale
  • Forget about the platinum clients as we chase new sales.
Of course it is correct to sell (or rather to upsell) to people who wish to pay a premium price. Do not forget, however, that they are paying for and expect to receive the premium-priced service.

Creating different product packages (gold/silver/bronze) works but please be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

Monday, 9 January 2012

From Vision To Exit

Guy Rigby's From Vision To Exit arrived on the doorstep... 

The book is pretty ambitious in its goal - a guide to building and selling a business. No mean task. In fact, Rigby succeeds in covering all the key points from vision, strategy, tactics through growth, pace and profits to flexibility and focus and on. If you've got a 'growing/selling the business' question, it will be covered in the book.

The book uses plenty of examples and quotes to support the commentary on each topic. This brings things to life.

As a thorough A-Z, the book cannot be expected to be an expert in every field but it certainly gives you clear, straightforward guidance and is an excellent starting point.

Rigby is from an accounting background and the book is a thorough piece as one would expect. No wish-washy hippy stuff here. Just a factual account of what do to, where to go, how to do it. While this approach may not appeal to new age business people it will appeal to those people who are looking for a grounded real-world viewpoint.

Some people will read this from cover-to-cover; others will use it as a reference book.

The book will be used and kept by anyone in the business advisory world as the book they have in their drawer as the reference point they can use at zero notice. 

It will be read by the aspiring entrepreneur to help them understand the journey ahead.

It is certainly not a bluffer's guide. It is grown up which is refreshing after all the breathless, get-rich-quick, fad-of-the-month, I'm-a-celebrity/guru, PR-driven volumes that have been published more recently. 

Does it achieve its goal, to be a guide to building and selling a business? Yes!