How Jennifer Downsized…and Doubled Her Business

Jennifer Roggeman

I enjoyed catching up with immigration lawyer Jennifer Roggeman a couple of weeks ago at Kitchener’s Ben Thanh Restaurant.  It’s been great fun supporting Jennifer in “doing the right things right” over the last few years.  Through implementing best practices in a number of areas, Jennifer has managed to double her business. I figured you might be interested in the secrets of her success…

1.  Narrowed Her Focus.

Jennifer used to do all kinds of law. Real estate, corporate/commercial, estates, immigration…you name it. Here’s the thing. While she liked it all, she LOVED immigration. She gets her biggest kick from helping newcomers make a great life for themselves here in Canada.

We tend to do our best with what we love. So last year, Jennifer made a difficult decision.  She decided to focus her entire business around what she loved…and let go of everything else.

Gulp.  This sort of decision is not for the faint of heart.  Turn away business?  Yes, it was incredibly difficult. As Jennifer watched her overall billings decrease for the first couple quarters of last year, she was constantly tempted to go back to the old way of doing things.

But she persisted. And by the end of 2013, the downward pattern had reversed. Jennifer’s brand focusing strategy was working beautifully. She now owns the word immigration in people’s minds.  Since they know exactly what she does, it’s become super-easy for anyone to refer clients, and billings are way up.

2. Targeted Her Ideal Clients.

Next, Jennifer and her team sat down and figured out which clients were helping grow her business – and which were not. They fleshed out two main personas: detailed descriptions of specific  individuals with whom they’d most enjoyed doing business.  Not just in terms of demographics such as age, education, and marital status – but also including intangibles such as values, aspirations, motivations, and connections.

The team gave these personas a personal touch, naming them “Jack” and “Jill” : ) Then the team asked themselves, What specifically is it about these people that makes them ideal for us?  Now they can easily distinguish between ideal clients, and clients who would likely waste the staff’s time and energy. Side benefit:  it’s easier to attract and keep talented staff  when their time is not being wasted.

3. Finessed Customer Experience.

Thirdly, Jennifer and her staff shone a spotlight on every single interaction they were likely to have with a client… from the first phone call to the exit interview and each step in between. They asked themselves, “What does this step in our process feel like from the client’s point of view?”  Then they carefully critiqued and tweaked each step to get it just right. They’re continuing to adjust and perfect as they move forward.

So there’s the story. A year later...referrals are way up, tire-kickers are out, serious clients are in, and  business is booming. Way to go, Jennifer and team!

4 Things to Do Before Visioning

business vision

 Have you set your vision and goals for 2014 yet? 

 No?   Good…I’ve caught you at the right time.

I rarely recommend starting with vision and goals when looking to the future. It’s just that certain other basics are important to cover first. Otherwise it’s all too easy to chase shiny objects and get involved with busywork that doesn’t actually build your business. When you get clear on the 4 building blocks below, your vision and goals will emerge naturally and with little effort.

1. Strengths.  What is your  “low-hanging fruit”?  You know, the things you and your business are already good at, and can improve with little effort? Of course you’ll want to note weaker areas – but focusing too much time and energy on them is usually a waste.  Focus on your strengths and use these to offset your weaknesses, or delegate your weaker areas to others. One of my favourite resources on leadership strengths is Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie.

2. Values. What underlying principles are non-negotiable to your business? Things like Creativity, Competence, Respect, and Helpfulness? Most owners need to get clearer about their values, communicate them more consistently, and incorporate them into daily life.  Values are  intangible and hard to identify.  But they’re like flooring:  foundational  to the design of the whole room.  I have an exercise that is great for helping you better understand your personal values.

3. Purpose.  So…why did you start this business again? You don’t need a two-day retreat to determine your purpose. Ask yourself and your team a simple question: “At the end of the day, what difference are we trying to make in the world?” Record whatever ideas come up when you ask the question.  Then delete the responses that have to do with money.  Highly successful companies have an overarching purpose that’s about more than making a profit.  Here is an excellent Forbes article, and a TED talk  on this topic.

4. Mission.  Now that you’ve figured out why…take a look at what & how.  What exactly do you do, for whom, and how do you do it differently from others?  Here is one of my favourite outlines for Mission Statements.

Since Values, Purpose, and Mission comprise the core of your organization, they should hold fairly steady from year to year. But reviewing them regularly and assessing how well you’re living them out is one of those “important but not urgent” keys to strengthening your business.  Do this before setting goals, and you can be assured your actions will actually build your business.

5 Keys to Building Your Content Strategy

Several intrepid entrepreneurs met today to discuss the in’s and out’s of developing a content marketing strategy and tactical plan. Themes that emerged from our discussion:

1.  It is no longer possible to attract customers with scattershot marketing (i.e. “getting your name out there”). Every entrepreneur needs a map and a plan.

2.  Make sure you look in the mirror before you head out the door.  (In other words clearly understand your business identity, brand, and value proposition before you start spreading your message).

3.  It is important to adapt your content and messaging as the needs of your market shift.

4.  To clearly understand your business identity, take time to define your Values, Purpose, Mission, and Vision. These components are the foundation for a solid brand.

5.  Two helpful tools for developing content strategy include: the empathy map and the buyer persona map.  These allow you to see the world from your client’s eyes, and adjust your content strategy and tactics accordingly.

Increasing Sales with the “Skinny Call”

One of sales reps’ most common mistakes is to try closing a sale too quickly. Predictably, the potential customer feels misunderstood, turns off, and leaves the conversation. End of story.

One widely-taught solution is to create a “trial close”.  A trial close is where you present an offer that falls short of an actual sale, but is something that the prospect can still say “yes” to. You ask the prospect for an opinion or idea that reveals how she’s thinking so you can further tailor your sales approach – rather than requiring her to make an actual buying decision.

One special type of trial close is the “skinny call”.*  A skinny call is one that’s kept very short and to the point.  It avoids explanations and seeks simply to qualify the prospect so no one’s time gets wasted.  It also breaks up the sales process while building trust with the potential client at the same time. Here’s how to a skinny call might work to help you better qualify your leads.

Suppose someone comes to your website and downloads a white paper.  You get an email notification in your Inbox, and follow up by phone. What do you say in this phone call?

What you SHOULDN’T say is “Ms. Smith, I see you downloaded our awesome white paper. Do you want to buy our product?”

Remember your only goal on the skinny call is to qualify this person and build trust.  It is NOT to make a sale.  So you COULD say…

-          Ms. Smith, I see you downloaded our white paper on x subject.

-          Is x an issue in your company?

-          Is it a priority for you / your company to solve the problem we’ve outlined there? [because if it isn’t a priority, you might as well not waste each other’s time at this point.  You could offer to check in again at a later time, or ask them if you could send out a further helpful document that also addresses their needs in some way]

-          Would it be helpful to talk to an expert / attend a webinar / schedule a further call that would help you to explore ideas and options? [insert helpful intervention that addresses one of their top 3 issues or pain points here. This will allow you to explain details when they’re in the mood to hear them and are thus likely to be more receptive]

-          Would you be available at x time? [get a commitment to proceed to your next step in the sales process]

That’s pretty much it.  The skinny call saves time and aggravation, builds trust, and leads to more and better deals over time.

* I first heard the term “skinny call” in our @Communitech Tactical Sales Peer-2-Peer Group this week.  Thanks to Ryan McCartney and Brad Kwiatkowski of Miovision for sharing it with us!

The Top 5 Questions to Ask When Starting or Growing a Business

Whether you’re starting a brand new business, or seeking to grow an established one, there is one key principle that should always be top of mind…

Stay focused on the customer.

In the hurly-burly of business life, it’s easy to get sidetracked by all sorts of issues that in the long run are not nearly as relevant to business success.  Pressing tactical issues like…  What’s the best way to “get my name out there”? How do I get the best price from suppliers? Which social media should I be on? Which networking groups should I attend, etc. etc.  Yes, these are important.  But the key, central question should always be…

1. “What do my customers want to buy that I can provide better than anyone else?”

Below is a list of related questions to ask when starting or growing a business…and continue asking at least once per quarter ever after!

2. Why do I want to own this business in the first place?
In the early days of your business, your goal is to experiment to learn what works:  to “fail fast, fail cheap, and fail often”. But sooner or later, you’ll need to articulate your values, purpose, mission, and vision  – because you’ll be called upon to determine what’s most important in a variety of difficult situations.

Values describe the things that are so important to you that you would hold to them – even if you were to start a different business, in a different industry, 100 years from now. They include things like integrity, innovation, competition, service, and respect. Your company’s purpose, vision, and mission flow naturally out of your core values.

Whether or not you’ve expressed them, your core values shape your most important business decisions: who to bring on as a supplier, who to hire and fire, how to manage conflict, and how to build a strong, talent-attracting culture.  Being clear about your values will empower you to make quick, well-grounded business decisions, sometimes under extreme conditions, at the drop of a hat.

Check out http://www.jimcollins.com/tools/vision-framework.pdf for helpful exercises that will help you identify values, purpose, mission, and vision.

3. Which customers am I most eager to serve, and why?
High energy and motivation are crucial to success in business. It’s much easier to stay focused and motivated when you are attracting and serving your favourite people. What is their age, stage, location, variety of needs, concerns, and so on? Where do they congregate and how can you hang out with them, both face-to-face and online? Connecting with your potential customers in a variety of helpful ways facilitates the flow of energy and money.

Sometimes it can be just as important to fire customers as it is to retain them. Bad customers can quickly drain valuable time, energy, and resources.  Look for a way to kindly offload repeatedly difficult customers so you have more time and energy to spend on the people you can genuinely help.

4. What do my customers need that I most love to provide for them?
Business is about more than taking people’s money: it’s about meeting people’s needs. Money is a handy side benefit.  When we meet the needs of customers we love with our strengths and talents, they’re generally happy to give us their money.  The better we meet their needs, the more money they’re willing to give us. It’s not rocket science.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box on this one. What else do your customers need that you can provide, besides your regular products or services?  Maybe they need further connections, cool experiences, information and learning resources, incentives and perks, and so on.

As customers turn to you to get a variety of needs met, you become a centre of influence for them.  They say good things about you when you’re not there, and they naturally refer their friends.  What’s not to like? You get valuable word-of-mouth marketing for only the cost of providing a few extra resources for people you care about anyway.

5. What are the ways in which I’m able to meet my customers’ needs better than anyone else?
Price, Quality, and Service are the top three factors that allow a business to compete in the marketplace.  But it’s very rare for a company to be amazing at all three factors.  Better to choose two of these three and focus your development efforts around them.
For example, you could advertise your services as the lower-cost, faster alternative to your competition. The fact that you’re also of higher quality would be a much-welcomed surprise – allowing you to under-promise and over-deliver.

Blogging from Smartphone

Okay, so I’m not an engineer. It took me long enough, but I’m finally figuring out smarter ways to post content to my blog. So I’m sending this post via email from my Blackberry.
If you want to do the same, check out http://www.en.support.wordpress.com/post-by-email/.

Get Grounded for Growth

“Vision, mission, values”…ah, they roll off the tongue so easily.

But I find that folks tend to line up these three musketeers in the wrong order.   We need to reverse the order – start with Values and add in Purpose, before we go anywhere near Mission and Vision.

Why?  Values and Purpose tell us who we are as a business and why we’re here on this planet.  When we know the who and the why, it’s much easier to figure out the what and the how (“Mission”), and then the where of it all (“Vision”).  True, start-ups often need to fly by the seat of their pants until experience helps them more fully understand their identity. But for established businesses, a clear understanding of Values and Purpose is crucial for strategic planning and business success.

Success in business involves above all the ability to quickly decide what is most important in any situation. A deep understanding of core Values and Purpose allows us to say in a flash, “Yes, of course – it’s this, and not that”.  Strategic decision-making gives us the agility to out-dance both competitors and general market conditions.  And with an engaged and aligned work team that is also empowered to make its own decisions…the sky is the limit!

Since all decisions are based on Values, it should be easy to figure out our Values, right?

But in fact Values are not easy to identify.  We are way too close to them.  They’re like the background of a favourite painting…bringing definition and meaning to events in the foreground, but easily overlooked on their own.

Over the years, I’ve tried many methods to help people articulate their values.  I have to say that most methods fall short. Generally people work with a laundry list of abstract terms like “peace”, “freedom”, and “balance”.  Well, who on earth doesn’t want world peace?  Who doesn’t want freedom and balance?

Using the laundry list approach, people find it difficult to choose, internalize and then remember their chosen values – much less apply them in decision-making.  And the important question is always: what do these grand ideas really mean to me, right now, in this situation?

I’ve been having a lot of fun asking big questions lately with the 4-partner succession team at Menno S. Martin Contractor.  The fact that MSM is already over 70 years old tells us this business has been doing the right things over the years!

When we first started re-examining core Values at MSM, I asked the partners if they could state their company’s values without looking at the website.  When they weren’t able to do so easily, I knew we were starting in the right place.
So I asked team members to individually review a basic Values list and choose the ones that stood out for them.  We pooled our lists, noted commonalities and patterns, and reduced the joint list to about ten.

Now, 10 is way too many values to work with.  I like to see people whittle away until they come up with a top 3.   Because generally by the time most people get to the 4th one, they’re hesitating, and by the 5th value they’re drawing a blank. We’ve all seen this happen.

But this is not what we want to see with core Values. In fact, we want every last person in the entire business to remember the company’s core Values at the drop of a hat, in their sleep, and while they’re out of town.

So we took each of the 10 values and put it through some tests.  Business author Jim Collins has developed some highly useful questions for prioritizing Values and Purpose. Here are my personal favourites:

-       If you were to start a new organization, would you build it around this core Value regardless of the industry?

-       Would you want your organization to continue to stand for this core Value 100 years into the future – no matter what changes occur in the outside world?

-       Would you want your organization to hold this core Value, even if at some point in time it became a competitive disadvantage?

After much discussion, we were able to come up with MSM’s renewed list of Values.  While there are some similarities with the original list, the new list of values is shorter, pithier, and easier to remember:

1. Build it right.

2. With integrity.

3. People first.

We all fell in love with MSM’s renewed Statement of Values…including me : ).

ACTION STEPS:

1. Grab a list of Values from the net, or email me, and I’ll send you one.

2. Review the list and choose your Top 10.  Take your time and confer with others if necessary.

3. From there, test each brainstormed value and choose the 3 that really stand out for you.

4. Wordsmith until you resonate completely with them and you sense they really articulate what is most important to you.

5. Now post your values where you’ll see them every day and let them permeate everything you do.

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