So why did you decide to start your own business?

In last week’s blog, “What sort of business manager are you?” we talked about taking the plunge and running your own business and the reasons you did that – or you may be still thinking about it.

Taking that question to its next stage means we must rationalise the drivers to making the big step. One thing that is often forgotten or taken for granted is that behind every larger company there was always a ‘back-room team’ and often you have only a limited idea as to what they did. It didn’t concern you too much; you had your job to do. Now that you’re in your new business, you are that back-room team – and you will have to learn ‘stuff’ that doesn’t interest you or that you’re not good at.

Being your own boss suggests a sort of gung-ho, confident – even arrogant – stride into a new lifestyle. It suggests a capability and a natural flair and gift – almost a ‘right’ to the role.

This is the point where you’ve decided to wave goodbye to the monthly pay cheque. (Though it may not have been by choice, of course).

Establishing your own business means you certainly have to think differently, I’m sure you’ll agree. You have to depend on yourself alone to start with, at least. In fact, it’s more than a step-change, it has to be the most important work decision you’ve ever made. If your income and family are dependent upon your success, the way you apply yourself to the change is critical. There’s no profit and loss cushion as with a larger company. “We’ve had a bad quarter. Oh dear, still never mind.” (‘I’ll still get paid the same pay cheque, no change there.”)

Because you’ve done similar work for an employer counts for very little as you start up a new company. You’re generally starting from scratch, after all.

Yet so many breeze into their new small business with a sort of boutique mentality, imagining the world and his wife will naturally buy their goods or services. (Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams philosophy…..“Build it and they will come.”)  Hoh, no they won’t!  From now onwards, your income will be highly variable and sometimes you may not be able to pay yourself at all.

So, let’s look at the bare necessities. Even if you’ve been running a business for a while, the points we’ll make here will help you to (re)focus and perhaps identify why you’re not ship-shape and even if you’re running aground.

Talking to business owners, after a few months or years, it’s often clear that the vision has all but gone. If you can identify with this, then these blogs are for you. Also, consider that if you were to lose your top one, two or three customers, the impact this would have on you.

Where is the entrepreneur who had started the business?  The answer is simple, the entrepreneur had only existed for a moment. If the entrepreneur survived at all it was only as a myth that grew out of misunderstanding about who goes into business and why. 

The energy for the climb when they started their own business, and they must have had some dream that drove them to take such a risk, turns into a terror of heights. The rock-face had become something to cling to rather than scale. Exhaustion is common, exhilaration rare. But hadn’t all of them once been entrepreneurs?

The entrepreneurial spirit finds its root in a romantic belief that small businesses are started by entrepreneurs when in fact most are not.

We’ll develop the theme next week… Call us if the need is more pressing right now.

What sort of business manager are you?

Everyone who sets up his or her own business generally lunges into it for five main reasons…

  1. They’ve just left their ‘real’ job in a larger organisation and they’ve decided that this is their opportunity to ‘break free’ from the shackles of working for someone else. (In many cases, they’ve played the boss, knows her foibles and habits, know the hot-buttons and sensitivities and the way to make her look good in meetings. But politics at work can be a full-time job and most people hate it. Why? Because it’s not really them. Accountabilities and ‘playing the game’ always got in the way of doing a good job.
  2. In larger companies, ‘not letting down the side’ was more important than relaying the truth! It was safer to keep quiet and tow the line.
  3. In running their own show, they see that their skills and contacts can see them through to being their own boss at last: accountable to only themselves.
  4. They see an opportunity or space in the market that needs their skills and experience, or that friends and family are very encouraging with the ‘Go for it’ spirit!
  5. “There’s gold in them hills!” – and I want some!

Are any of those the reasons why you went into business?  Or are you thinking of going that route?

If the latter, please consider this blog and the next three. It will help you to position yourself and get ready for the many pitfalls that will slow you down. If you’ve been operating for a while then this is also for you, because you may already have fallen into a number of traps….and you may be wondering how to get out of them.

Michael Gerber and Seth Godin have both had plenty of to say on these subject and I’ll add my appraisal and try and bring it all together. That way, it will give you the chance to assess where you are with your business and the action to bring it back into line – assuming it’s off-line, of course.

Most businesses are under-achieving, and they know it. Forbes maintains that 40% fail within the first five years. Most of those within two years. Why? Principally because:

  1. They have a weak or badly thought-through business model
  2. Unclear communications
  3. They have not done their research on costs, margins, competitors, local alternatives
  4. Under-investment in set-up costs – everything on a shoe-string budget, corners are cut. (I’ve heard business owners saying that their redundancy money has paid for a pad in the Med and the rest of their little nest egg cannot be touched!)*
  5. Knowing who to trust for good advice and advice that conflicts their own preconceived ideas and values.
  6. A good level of confidence in technical/product knowledge but very little idea as to how to market the product.
  7. Little confidence in selling beyond the realms of a few friends or work colleagues. (No, you cannot rely on mates from your former company entirely. In three years time, you’ll be surprised how few you’ll hear from. (Nothing personal, you’re just not part of their tribe anymore).
  8. However, for reasons we’ll explain, often the ‘wrong types’ run companies.

So, you’re on your Jack Jones….that may excite you or help you to realise that it’s going to be both exciting or tough, probably both. Rather than walking away from the office at six and enjoying your weekends, it will mean you’ll probably have to work 10-12 hours day and at least part of the weekend. (But it’s all for your own ends, not a boss!)

*Starting any company, Limited or not, will cost you money. If you want to protect your company name, then you must stop your potential competitors from using it by registering it at Companies House. You need to be accountable to HMRC which of course we can help you with.

So, we’re going to take you through a reality check or for those just starting a business, a plan to help you get the thinking and mapping elements right. This process will save you hours of toil and anxiousness, so please stick with it!

Are you up for it?

Getting selective with your target market….


We looked at the reasons why you need express permission to talk to cold prospects and even to call your customers. Do not assume that because they have bought from you before, that they still agree that you can bother them!

We have also looked at the similarity of your customers and the dating process. We’ve also agreed the scatter gun approach is expensive and too random.

It is goodness to suggest that, as they may have ‘moved on’, they may prefer to unsubscribe for now. It bodes well with the data protection laws that you have exercised that option and asked them. However, it is always worth asking clients why they no longer want to hear from you. It may have been a once-in-lifetime purchase. But surely, it’s worth asking them if they know anyone else who….? So you lose one and gain one?

Why not take the view that, even if they’ve found a better or cheaper alternative than you right now, always leave the door open where you can always come back later. I know a double-glazing company where some clients can never be satisfied and find fault with anything; they have to manage that situation. Would he really want to keep mailing them with offers?  Best sometimes to know when you’re beaten.

If you could identify and get close to your best customer type, what would he or she look like?

If you’re a tradesman:

They know you from previous work

They paid on time and in full, or they paid for materials up front.

They live within a 5-10 mile radius. They trust you to do a good job.

They agree to let you mail them with ideas or with a blog occasionally.

Have they recommended you to others? Did you ask them to?

If they did, did you thank them and hand-deliver a bottle of good wine or some flowers? (Don’t send M&S / any vouchers!)

If you’re doing work on a house, ask the client to tell her neighbours.

Drop a well-produced A5 card into the houses 5 to the left and 5 to the right and 10 opposite. Have a free-text box and tell them what you’re doing at your client’s property. (We’ll help you to set the content and the artwork and to get it printed in a purposeful way).

Neighbours tend to chat – so be that conversation!

If you’re offering a service:  Many of the criteria above apply, but also:

Do they listen to you and appreciate what you do?

Can you demonstrate the difference you have made to them? In their thinking, their approach, or B>B, did they get new clients as a result of your ideas and work?

How often do you ask them for an endorsement? Also, if you’re still working for them, ask them for an endorsement that you’re doing good work for them. Occasionally ask them if they know others who you could talk to. Ask them to take 3-4 of your cards. Make it easy for them.

Wherever the client is satisfied creates a huge network for you – if you play it. Your clients should love being able to pass on your name. It makes them feel good and people do love giving free advice and good news!

Keep accurate notes of prospects linked to your current clients. These characteristics help you to build others like them?

How much are you prepared to spend on acquiring a new customer? If you run the numbers, surely if you have 6 customers and their average yield is £1,000 a month for an average of nine months, it must be worth investing 10-15% of that total to market to other, similar customers, over a period?

How many customers do you need to talk to – with their permission? How will you grow your contact base? Securing regular contact with your fans through word of mouth must be the cheapest form of advertising, surely?

So, what’s your plan? Call us and challenge these (well-tried) theories.

Streamlining your target market

Gaining your clients’ permission to talk to them reminds me of the throwing mud at the wall analogy: Well some of it will stick!  Is that really how you want to run your business?

Well, it may seem easier in the short term but relationships need to be nurtured and customers, as we’ve said, need to be engaged, ready to listen to your story.

There is generally nothing at all you can guarantee with marketing or sales. You just never know what response you will get, right?

But Permission Marketing guarantees that the consumers will pay more attention to the marketing message. It allows you, the marketer, to tell your story. It encourages consumers to participate in a long-term campaign in which they are rewarded in some way for paying attention to increasingly relevant messages.

If your marketing message were read by 70 percent of the prospects you sent it to, I think you’d agree, that would be a great result.  Not the mud at the wall analogy of 1 or 2% which would also irritate a lot of people and be considered interruptive and spam. (Soon to be countered by Data Protection Regulations).

Imagine instead that 35% respond. That’s what happens when you interact with your prospects one at a time, with individual messages, exchanged with their permission.

Permission marketing is anticipated, personal, relevant. (Remember, relevant isn’t junk, irrelevant is junk).

When going out for a date (you remember!) if it goes well, you’ll go for another date. In this instance, after ten dates both sides can really communicate with each other about their needs and desires. After 20 dates, they meet each other’s families. Finally, after three or four months of dating, marriage may be suggested. Permission marketing is just like dating. it turns strangers into friends and friends into lifetime customers. Many of the rules of dating apply and so do many of the benefits.

Every marketer must offer the prospect an incentive for volunteering. Using the dating analogy, that means you have to offer something that makes it interesting enough to go out on a first date. After all, a first date represents a big investment in time, money, and ego. So there had better be reason enough to volunteer. The incentive must be overt, obvious and clearly delivered.

Taking your date to same restaurant, sitting at the same table and ordering the same food would get a bit tedious. As the marketer, you need to reinforce the incentive to continue the attention. You’re looking to motivate the prospect to steadily give more information about themselves over time.  You’re trying to change consumer behaviour- that is, to get them say, “I do.”

Permission marketing is: APR:

Anticipated – if they’re expecting it, your open rates will go through the roof (It’s not interruption marketing if they’re expecting it).

Personal – the messages are directly related to the individual – it’s for THEM!

Relevant – you know that the marketing is about something the prospect is interested in.

Warm them up!  – always ask people you talk with, “Is it ok if I mail you from time to time to keep you up to speed with what we’re doing? From what we’ve discussed, I think you’ll find it interesting.” (It has to be good for them).

Never, ever miss an opportunity to gain permission to stay in touch.

Then, crucially, add to this conversation the assurance that you won’t go OTT. “I promise that I won’t burden you with loads of mail, just every now and then.” (Then the magic words… “Is that ok?”  Then you’ve done it. Permission granted. And because you’ve asked, they’ll even be looking out for you.

Hang on to this thread – it will help you with every call you make, every link you know, every prospect, every call you receive. And it will model your customer and prospect lists to being sensitised to the fact they have given you express permission to talk to them.

That’s how you turn permission into profits.

“But, I’ve got to advertise or I won’t get noticed”

When was the last time someone launched a new range of men’s suits? Or a nationwide chain of department stores? Or a successful new airline? One of the reasons it’s such a difficult task is that that we’re pretty satisfied as consumers.

If the deluge of new products ceased tomorrow, almost no one would mind. How much more functional can a T-shirt get?  Except for fast-moving brands like computers and comms, the brands we have today are good enough to last us for years and years. Because our needs as consumers are satisfied, we’ve stopped looking really hard for new solutions.

For those who do invent a new brand, a killer product, a new category, the consumer is deluged with messages. It’s not impossible to get you to switch brand, marketers keep trying. The number of marketing messages we see each day is staggering. Either online in pop-ups and in organic search or offline – posters, junk mail, in every supermarket, jump-outs or on the shelf, we probably have little idea how many of these influence us and to what extent.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a retina scan/ recognition device that told us what we were responding to? Either way, we’re either soaking it up or dismissing it by our concentration on our purpose for looking that way or remotely acknowledging those messages. Often messages of quality, taste, self-improvement, fulfilment, make us feel better, etc. We are receptive but only to a point. What we absorb and dismiss is an interesting conundrum. It’s a big haystack and interruption marketers don’t have that many needles.

So how do marketers deal with and compete with the glut of information?  There are four approaches:

  1. Spending their money in odd places: in interesting and obscure media. Parking meters, taxis, on the back of checkout receipts. They’re trying to find media with less clutter, where their interruption techniques can be more effective.
  2. Making advertisements more controversial and entertaining.

Of course, as the ads try harder to gain your attention, the clutter becomes worse. A local advertiser, maybe you, manages to top a competitor for a moment but you’ve only temporarily raised the bar. The next ad will have to be even more outlandish in order to top the competition, not to mention the previous ad, to keep the consumer’s attention. You may remember the fabulous Lily Allen song ‘Somewhere only we know.’ This song for the TV ad, had fluffy bears and children in a wonderland, played out through the John Lewis Christmas commercial in December 2015. Spellbinding because the music and setting were intriguing. Nearly three minutes of music without a mention of John Lewis until the last 3 seconds. It hit all the right buttons. (measured by prompted awareness and unprompted recall Marketing Week, Jan 17)

They failed to top it in 2016.

Take the Interruption Challenge: write down all the commercials you saw last evening. If you can list more than 10%, you are the exception.

  1. Keep advertising interesting and fresh. When they slide – judged by how many calls you’re getting in response, it’s time to up your game.
  2. In search of the Holy Grail, many are at last abandoning advertising and replacing it with direct mail and promotions. They are being used because they work. They are more effective in interrupting you than an ad. The trick is to make it relevant and not junk. Junk isn’t relevant, relevant isn’t junk.

How about you? Where are you interrupting, advertising or looking at refreshing your message with fresh, new, pulsating, hook ups that will intrigue people?

Just like off-the-page ads in free newspapers, ‘Same Old’ is failing.

So, how do I grow my business?

Last week we looked the inherent suspicion by most towards your product that needs to be overcome before a prospect will buy. This week, we’re looking at the factors that make that possible.

The first two elements to consider are around gaining you real traction and a following that you can rely upon to either buy or recommend you.

  • New customers: we’re digging deep into your belief system and offering suggestions based upon on your own deep felt beliefs and prejudices that steer you away from products and services.
  • Then your “Advocates.” People who have bought something from you already, who will buy again and will recommend you to others.

We’ve said that you do need express permission to talk to people (please see last two blogs) and that you will certainly have to get specific agreement from people to talk to them after 25 May 2018. (Data Protection rules).

For ninety years, marketers have relied on one form of advertising almost exclusively. Let’s call that

Interruption marketing. Interrupting people to get them to think about something else.

Most people do not go home eagerly anticipating junk mail on their door map, it’s safe to say.

few go home relishing the thought of the TV commercials that evening. (Sad, if so!)

I was talking to a therapist on Friday who told me that her advertising in the local free paper had not yielded one call whereas she used to get three or four reasonable leads. She also said, “Do you know how long that piece of advertising took to think through, revise, set the artwork to a pdf, get the best spot on the page at the right price? (Free papers are just that to the reader, no risk, and scant regard for ads. When people buy a paper they will pay more attention to it. Fact!)

Because you have created your own advertising pet monster and that the effort was enormous, means nothing very much. There. I’ve said it. Throwing seed on stones, as we know, gets you nowhere.

Advertising is not why we pay attention but marketers depend on our attention for an ad to work. If they don’t interrupt our train of thought by planting some kind of seed, the ad fails. Wasted money. If the ad fails, and no one notices, there is no ad.

So, does your advertising create and place media that interrupts your consumer and gets him or her to take some action?

Despite this pressure to create the wonder-ad, the great piece of interruption, ads only seem to grow. Think of your personal preferences. Do you switch off during the ad breaks, skip all the whole page display ads in the paper or do you hang on each of them?

In addition to the clutter, there’s another problem facing us. Consumers don’t need to care as much as they used to. Two things have happened to products:

  • First, the quality of higher end products has increased dramatically. (Have you noticed how fewer, given the ratio of cars on the road now to 20 years ago, are the number of breakdowns?) So much, in fact, that it doesn’t matter which car you buy, which coffee maker you buy, or which shirt. They’re all great value and they’re all going to last a good long while.
  • The second thing about low-value products is that where we used to keep a kettle in the family for 20 years, we’re happy to get another after three when it starts to creak a bit or it gets furred up, or on an impulse buy.

If a stranger were to ask you a question in public, you’d answer it, probably. If you were interrupted five times in the next 15 minutes, you’d start to tune out to their questions or give them scant regard, do you agree?

We’ll continue this theme next week. Call us to talk about how you see your advertising right now.

But my product is great!  (isn’t it?)   

We all think we’ve have created the best product in the world and that surely, everyone will buy it? But you often hear, “I just don’t understand why so few are buying my stuff!”

Even some of the best ideas ever invented have failed because, while they may indeed have been great ideas, even possibly award-winning, they have remained the best-kept secret.

We talked last week about Data Protection. If you haven’t read last week’s article, please do; it’s extremely important. The new laws around data protection endorse why you have to grow your customer and prospect base with willing recipients who have given you their express permission to talk with them. Unless you are talking to an ever-growing list, whoever will buy from you?

We’ve heard people say, “Well, I don’t like being pushy.” The hard facts are that creative marketing, standing out from the crowd and asking the customer what she thinks of you and your product or service is not being pushy at all. And it’s a reasonable strategy for starters!

Yelling your product at your prospects and customers doesn’t wash anymore. People are so hacked off with the thousands of advertising messages thrust at them every day, that most messages wash right over them.

But you have to advertise in one way or another to sell and grow. For example, so many retailers and family hotels spend a fortune on rebuilding or decorating a property and, having mentioned their enterprise to a few friends, open their doors and a week later they ask, ‘Where is everybody?’  Guess what, ‘everybody’ doesn’t really care very much.

You can either market your products or drag in unwitting passers-by yelling and screaming!

If you put a black curtain in a shop window and doors and there’s not even a sign over the top saying clearly what’s inside, who’s to know what your business is all about?

A second-hand car dealer, trading for twelve years in the same spot, told me on Sunday that he has never taken email addresses from clients. Now, he can only land-mail them at vast effort and expense. Why ever would he not be wanting to email his clients two years after they bought their last car to make suggestions about their next one?

You must grow your network by every means possible from Networking to your website, to your collateral and at every word of mouth opportunity.

Ask all enquirers where they heard about you; every single one of them that crosses your threshold, calls you and buys from you. They may need to be offered some kind of reward. (More ideas on that later).

We’re going to offer you 20 strategies on how to win business or win it back. But, bear in mind, Marketing is a process, not an event; there are rarely fast-track remedies and lucky breaks. You must create them. But we’ll give you plenty of ideas and you decide if they match your style and approach. It’s then a question of you deciding which of the tools and techniques are worth trying for your products or services.

We must understand that our own scepticism is mirrored by others. People have to block out mass messages. They only have a finite amount of time to be interrupted and only a finite amount to spend. Many steer clear of any sales messages.

Here’s a question: does anyone sell to you immediately? What are your own buying habits? Do you look at price and question why it’s so cheap? If 40% cheaper, is it real or reliable? What have others said about it? What is the risk?

If you were offered a free drink at a bar from a stranger it’s likely you’d want to find out his or her motives. But you would naturally start with your suspicions, rather than their generosity, right?

That is what you’re up against with your products. An inherent suspicion. So, get permission to carry on the conversation… or you’ll run out of prospects!