Roll with the Changes

In the same way that it wasn’t surprising to see Toys ‘R Us go out of business, it’s also not surprising to see that Blockbuster is down to one remaining location. Actually, that is surprising – I’m surprised they still have one location that can somehow turn a profit. While there were a number of things that lead to the end of Blockbuster (like their biggest profits coming from late fees), the biggest issue was that they never saw the online jump coming.

In 2000, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, approached the Blockbuster CEO at the time John Antioco, and pitched an idea that would bring Blockbuster into the space that Netflix was (online). Hastings was reportedly laughed out of the office. Fast forward to 2018: I still buy a DVD every now and then, but all the movies I watch are either through Netflix, Amazon Prime, or another source for online streaming. We’re still consuming movies but the manner in which we do so has changed – drastically. And quickly.

The same pitfalls are out there for any business. If a grocery store isn’t willing to update the lines of food and variety that their customers are demanding, they’ll quickly see those customers going to the places that will.

To make sure you avoid those pitfalls, look at your business and try to see what changes are coming. Ask your clients how they use your product or service and if there’s anything changing. As the business owner, we’re possibly so close to our product we may not see these changes coming until they’re on top of us. That’s not 100% a bad thing, but we do need to be sure to find ways to gather more input and feedback on our products and services.

Look back at how things were done in your company 5 years ago versus today. Changes like those that happened in the past will continue to happen – or they’ll be replaced by completely new changes. It’s been said that the only thing constant in this life is change. (That was said by Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus 500 years years before the birth of Christ – and it’s still true today.) You can take the changes from 5 years ago and double them to get an idea of what the next 2 or 3 years will hold. Change happens so rapidly now that what took the past 5 years to get done will now be done in 2 or 3 years.

I can still remember going to the Blockbuster a few blocks from my childhood home and renting my first movie – Ace Ventura 2. The building that held Blockbuster then now houses a Qdoba, a Smart Cow, and a Noodles & Company. If you want to keep your business relevant in the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years, keep an eye out for oncoming changes and act upon them. Don’t let the Netflix of your industry catch up and surpass you overnight.

Toys R’ Us Going Under Is Not a Surprise

Not long ago, someone asked me if I was surprised that Toys R’ Us was going out of business. I couldn’t help but laugh. Oftentimes in life we can learn so much from other people’s mistakes. The same is true in business and Toys R’ Us is a perfect example. I’m not saying to wear a bracelet that has “WWTRUD?” (What Would Toys R’ Us Do?) on it, but they can provide a great picture of what NOT to do. Simply flip those things around, and you’ll have what you should do.

While it’s true that I don’t have a finance degree or an MBA, I still can’t imagine that running a business with $5 BILLION in debt is a good idea. Add in about $400 MILLION to service that debt, and the situation is even crazier! After reading several of the many articles out there regarding the specifics of their situation, it is apparent that while those two factors were a huge burden to the company, they were only part of what doomed the toy retailer.

One of the many issues Toys R Us had – aside form their debt – was the fact that they did not evolve with the times. One point that hasn’t received a lot of coverage in the news is how their website was always outdated. For a long time, it was clunky and awkward to use.

A few years ago, some friends who live out of state had their first kid. I jumped on the Toys R’ Us site to find some toys to purchase and have shipped to the new parents. You would think that would be an easy task, right? Ha! I literally felt like I was jumping through hoops to make a purchase. The specifics of what they did aren’t really what’s important here. The bigger take away is what they should have done – listen to their consumer base. It’s not difficult to hold some focus groups to see how users navigate the site and how they work through the process.

The problem for many businesses, and even me as a designer sometimes, is that since we use the site so much, we know exactly what to do, and therefore can often skip over the awkwardly clunky steps. Bring some users in, watch them make a purchase, ask their feedback, and best of all – remove a step or two in the purchase process!

Another huge issue they had was that they never evolved their offering. When I was growing up, certain toys were only available at Toys R’ Us. It was THE place to go to if you were looking for a cool new toy. Once other stores started to creep into that niche market, they should have at that point done something to remind customers why Toys R’ Us was the place to shop at. Instead, they pretty much dug their heels in and stood their ground. That works great for parenting, but not for a toy store.

In the 8 years that Full Scope has been in business, we’ve seen most of our clients go through a change of some sorts. Whether introducing new products, drilling deeper into their niche, or changing the way they market, they’ve all done something to stand out and keep customers coming in. We’ve done that ourselves: we’ve introduced new services like graphic design and copywriting and we’ve continually invested time and money into making our website hosting top of the line. Change really is a beautiful thing.

Sometimes seeing the struggles and failures of another company can help a business owner point their own company in the right direction. Toys R’ Us gave many businesses, even small businesses, examples of what NOT to do. Was Toys R’ Us going out of a business a surprise? Nope. We can take the tough lessons they’re learning and apply them to our own businesses, however, and it will be no surprise when our businesses are around for years to come.

Do you have trouble closing your blog articles?

Watch what I do here: oftentimes when I’m writing a blog, the opening of the blog comes pretty easily to me. The body of the is fairly painless to write as well. The part I get hung up on the most it seems, is the closing. However, recently I found a great way to help get the closing piece written quickly and easily as well.

If you’ve talked with me much at all, you know I’m a big fan of having a blog on your site. It’s a great way to provide your users and readers with more of your ideas and let them get to know who you are. The problem with writing articles for your blog, however, is oftentimes the actual writing of the article. When I give a prepared speech, I always go in knowing what my opening is, have a couple of bullet points for the body of the speech, and then state my intro again, but in reverse. The same applies to writing a blog article.

Simply start by writing out your opening since quite often, that’s not very difficult. Introduce your subject and say why you feel it’s important. Moving into the body of the article, simply list some bullet points and then expand upon each point and turn it into a paragraph or two. Offering an example or two can be a good way to help illustrate your point as well.

However, it’s those pesky closing paragraphs that can trip me and many other writers up! One of the easiest ways to handle the closing is to simply to restate your opening. As we say in Toastmasters, in the opening of a speech you should, ‘tell us what you’re going to tell us,’ in the body you should actually ‘tell us,’ and then in the closing you should ‘tell us what you told us.’ Simply apply the same method to your blog or other writing projects.

By writing your opening in reverse, you’ll be able to quickly and easily bring your blogs to a close. The closing is the part of writing a blog that a fair amount of writers get tied up on, even with the opening and body of the article come easily. Simply switching the heading around is a great way to easily bring your blog to an end. (See what I did there?)

Focusing Too Much on Budget?

I recently went through the always fun process of putting the company budget together for 2018. When I had it ready, I met with a few key advisors to go over it and make sure I didn’t miss anything. I got a lot of great feedback from doing that. One of the nuggets of advice I received was from a trusted mentor when he said to not focus on the budget so much, but rather focus on what goes into making the sales happen.

I know it sounds obvious: don’t spend all day staring at your budget wondering if all the numbers are correct or not. But I had never really given a ton of thought to creating an almost second budget, a recipe of sorts, as to what goes on to make each sale happen. Once I took the time to really dig deep down into what typically makes a sale happen for Full Scope Creative, I had a list of some key activities that result in success for company sales.

Once I had that list assembled, I was able to focus in on a few key activities that I can almost dial up and down as needed to result in more sales for the company (key activities such as cold calling). With that list assembled, I now have an identified list of tools of sorts that I can turn to should sales turn out to be less than what was budgeted.

Having a yearly budget is a great thing to have. I have a yearly budget for the company and even a monthly budget for my personal life. Having those budgets is great, but they’re obviously no guarantee for success. If the income lines don’t come through, all that hard work can be for naught. Focusing on what goes into sales will provide just as valuable of a tool for you and your company – one that can continue paying dividends long after the budget year is over.

Business Networking Groups

As the owner and president of Full Scope Creative, I tend to find myself doing a lot of networking. As people get to know me, they tend to ask my advice regarding which networking groups they should join. Business networking groups are a great way to build awareness of your company, especially in your local area. There are three networking groups I recommend to almost any business – both established brands as well as entrepreneurs just starting out.

Chamber of Commerce

The first group I recommend getting connected with is your local chamber of commerce. They tend to have a finger on the pulse of what businesses in your area are doing and what the business climate is really like. Even with a global economy, having strong ties to your local community is always valuable, especially for a small business. Many times, a local chamber of commerce will have great deals you can utilize. For example, the Greater Green Bay Chamber (my local chamber of commerce) has discounts available to its members for cellphone plans, office supplies, YMCA memberships, and more. A local chamber of commerce is also likely to have great networking events and other opportunities for meeting other business professionals in your area.

Relationship Networking Group

Another type of networking group I recommend is a referral networking group – as long as it is the right group. A referral networking group where you show up a few times a month and do your 60 second elevator pitch and pass referrals isn’t what I what call the the “right” group. I’m sure you’ve heard of groups such as BNI (Business Network International) or HBBA (Helping Businesses Build Assets) where you meet a few times a month, do a 60 second elevator pitch, and then send referrals to one another. While those groups can be helpful, if all you’re doing is meeting is meeting and passing referrals, there will be a limit to the number of referrals you’re likely to receive.

I recommend a somewhat different approach: focus instead on building strong relationships with the other members of the group. For example, in my HBBA group, another member and I have gone for coffee and lunch more times than I can count. Through those meetings, we’ve built a strong business relationship and a great friendship. Needless to say, he and I referral clients to each other frequently.

Toastmasters

The final group I’d like to recommend to everyone today isn’t necessarily a networking group, but rather a personal development and leadership development group: Toastmasters. While I’ve certainly received referrals through the group, the focus is on being a better and more confident speaker. The better and more comfortable you are speaking in public, the better and stronger networking events will be for you. Thanks to the work I’ve done in Toastmasters, walking up to someone I’ve never meet and starting a conversation with them is no problem. Most people say that public speaking is their greatest fear; Toastmasters is a great way to overcome that fear and become confident speaking in public.

I may own a website design business, but building relationships through business networking groups is one of the best ways I’ve found to grow my business – especially in the local greater Green Bay market. Even if your business isn’t currently looking for more clients, you may find value in networking groups; I’ve seen countless business have great success finding new employees and team members through them. We may live in a very high tech day and age, but in-person networking is still a critical foundation for most businesses.

Everyone Is In Sales

Whichever company someone works for, whatever position they hold: everyone works in sales. Whether directly or indirectly, the actions of any member of a company will lead to increased or decreased business transactions. No matter the role, from barista to a janitor, everyone is in sales. Let me give you a couple of examples of both good and bad sales people.

Let’s start with an example of someone in sales who didn’t do such a great job. I stopped at a well known nationwide coffee shop, one of the supposed stars of the industry. After waiting for what seemed like 3 hours in line I finally got up front to the barista to place my order. Problem was, I really didn’t know what I wanted. Simple solution: I asked the salesperson (the barista) what she recommended. Her response was not what I was looking for. She awkwardly replied, “The menu is on the board…” as she pointed to the 100,000,000 (probably an exaggeration) options they had for drinks. She could have recommended something liked the a grande vanilla latte with soy milk with caramel drizzle and I would have ordered it. Instead, I simply took a small coffee to go. I realize that not too many people go to a coffee shop and don’t know what they want, but they missed a chance to sell me a $7.00 drink; instead, I took a $1.50 coffee to go

So what does a good sales person (that isn’t really a salesperson) look like? I’m in California right now for a training program, and the hotel has a continental breakfast. Here in the hotel, I met an employee, a janitor/maintenance worker who is an amazing salesperson. Sitting at a table across from me was a group of people that didn’t push their chairs back in as nicely as some of the other tables’ customers did. The maintenance guy came and moved the chairs to how they should be. When I was getting up to put my plate in the collection bin and throw my trash away, he very quickly said, “No no, please, let me.” and took the plate. Is he in sales? Nope. I saw him earlier in the morning doing some work on a piece of trim on the wall that wasn’t quite right. I’ve since then seen him doing other maintenance and repair projects around the hotel, and while his job title might not say it, his actions gave an excellent example of someone being a great salesperson. Based, in part, on his actions, if I’m back in Ontario, California at some point int he future, I would have no problem staying at the Azure Hotel, and would recommend it to anyone.

The lesson here is that even if your title or your business card doesn’t say that you are in sales, you are! Whether it’s directly involved with calling customers or knocking on doors, everyone is in sales.

Online Job Application

A common issue I hear from clients is that when they are looking to hire, they are having a tough time finding enough qualified applicants. Too often, those businesses just have their job applications printed and ready for applicants to stop in and grab one. Many times, these businesses are looking to hire and employee millennials. When millennials, and many other slightly tech-savvy folk, are looking for a job, where do they go? Online.

Having your job applications printed and ready for people to stop in and collect is very much a dated idea. Today, when people are looking for employment, they’re going to look to online sources such as Facebook or other social media avenues. If your “Help Wanted” listing instructs potential applicants to stop in and fill out an application, you are likely going to lose a handful of them. It’s not that they’re lazy (debatable I guess); it’s simply a matter of convenience.

When I was last looking for a part time job in July of 2011, I went to several companies’ websites and completed applications directly on their sites. I wasn’t too lazy to go in and fill out an application, but it was about 9:00 at night when I started looking. I was able to find an available position and complete the online application from the comfort of my own home. Two days later, they called me for an interview. What could be easier for me, the job applicant? Adding a form to your website isn’t a huge ordeal. There are a number of ways that they can be set up.

For example, a few of our clients have their full job applications online for applicants. Some of them require all the fields to be filled in – they are only looking for people who are truly wanting to work for their business and are willing to fill out a full application. Some of them only require a few fields – they are looking for a wider pool of applicants. For other clients, their job applications are very simple: they collect just enough information to determine if the applicant is a credible option for the position they want to fil. If so, they will have the qualified applicant fill out a second form, saving time and energy for both parties.

Having printed applications available at your business isn’t a horrible idea, but don’t limit yourself to yesterday’s norm. That just limits the number of applicants who might apply. Place a job application, either the full application or an abbreviated one, on your website and make posts about it on your social media platforms to help drive attention to the positions you are looking to fill.

Do You Follow Up?

Regardless of the product being sold, sales is a tough field to really excel in. Many salespeople often complain about their low sales volume at the end of the month. When asked how many follow up attempts they make, the answer is usually, “Once or twice.” The unfortunate fact, however, is that 80% of sales are made after the 5th follow up.

When I first started doing sales with Full Scope Creative, I only did the typical 1 or 2 follow up attempts (either phone call or email). I attended every networking event I could and was writing a good number of proposals, but with only the 1 or 2 follow ups, I wasn’t closing many. Fast forward to today: I keep track of my follow ups, and on many projects I am making contact 8 – 12 times for each prospective project. When I first started to do more follow up calls, I kept a notepad on my desk (yes, paper and pen type), and each time I’d make a follow up call or email I’d make a quick note about the date and time and if I left a message or what the prospect may have said. I would also make a note about when my next call on that project should be. Eventually the notepad approach wasn’t cutting it anymore, so I switched to a simple spreadsheet that I keep on our company Google Drive. I still track the same information for each follow up call: date, time, contact method (telephone or email), what I said, what the client maybe said, and when to make the next call.

I mentioned that for many projects I do 8 – 12 follow ups; on a couple of projects, I’ve actually gone up to 15+ calls and emails. How do I know when to stop? After 15 calls to one prospect they agreed to the project. Another, after 15, they said they really weren’t interested anymore. So how many follow ups should you make? Well, let me ask you – how much do you want to close the sale? I often keep making follow ups until I either receive the sale or the clients let me know that they are no longer interested.

Doing follow ups can seem like a waste of time and a never ending pain in the neck. The simple fact of the matter is that the top salespeople in any industry make 5 or more follow up attempts on most sales. The only question you have to ask yourself is do you want to be one of the top salespeople? If so, follow ups are required.

People Connect to People, Not to Machines or Processes

I recently attended a Greater Green Bay Chamber Lunch & Learn event. The speaker was Mike Haddad, President/CEO of Schreiber Foods. Mike had a lot of great ideas and nuggets of advice, but one that really stuck with me is this: people connect to people, not to machines or processes.

Your business machines or processes may be what get the job done, but they won’t build strong brand loyalty. Your employees may be using the latest and greatest machines, processes and procedures, but those won’t create long term employees. People won’t be loyal to machines or processes; they will only be loyal to people. That doesn’t mean that having functioning equipment and foolproof processes and protocols aren’t important – they’re obviously crucial. But machines and processes are not something with which people can really build a connection.

For example, people don’t wear Harley Davidson hats and shirts or have the logo tattooed on their shoulder because of the types of metals used in the engine. They sport the company logo because of how loud the engine is or, more importantly, because of the connection they have with other Harley owners.

Those of us who live in Green Bay (and others around the country) don’t love the Green Bay Packers because of the process the team uses for drafting talent – we love and connect to the players that get drafted. We love the team because of the excitement we get from the team. We fall in love with the players and are heartbroken when they sign with or are traded to another team. We could care less if the team switched their workout equipment to a new supplier even if it makes the players better because we love the players.

No matter the company or industry, people may buy your product or service, they may benefit from your machines or processes, but they build their connections with other people. Brand loyalty is not about the machines or processes; it’s about the people involved.

Your Elevator Pitch

When someone starts a business, they spend countless hours on their business plan, legal agreements, marketing material, office setup, accountant selection, and countless other crucial tasks. One simple task that is often overlooked – if not excluded all together – is crafting your 60 second elevator pitch.

While it is the year 2016 with technology and the internet found everywhere, basics are still important: the need for a well-crafted 60-second elevator pitch is more important than ever before. Even for me, a guy who owns a website design company, face-to-face networking is crucial. Many of the referrals I receive are based on the networking that I do. Part of the success I’ve achieved with networking is based on my 60 second introductions.

When I give an elevator pitch, I don’t attempt to cover everything my business does; in fact, I’m really not even looking to make a sale. All I’m looking to do is grab someone’s attention long enough to get them to say, “I’d like to go have a cup of coffee with Chris.” It’s really that simple. Then, over coffee, I can go into greater detail about what I do and what my business can do for them.

When I give an elevator pitch, there are really only 3 things I aim to convey to the audience – what I do, who I am, and (most importantly) why I’m different than my competition. That third piece, why I’m different, is most important for a few reasons. It not only separates me from my competitors, but it helps to highlight the unique sales proposition of my company. It also helps others to view me personally as a key resource, not just a service broker. Most importantly, though, it is that piece of the introduction that will resonate with most people and will likely be what they remember most about me.

Your elevator pitch is often someone’s first introduction to your business. Don’t squander the opportunity by rambling on about nothing. Take the time to fine tune and rehearse your elevator pitch. Even with all of today’s technology, business is still about interacting with other people, and sometimes you only get 60 seconds to do that. Make the most of it.