I had the great honour of being interviewed by Steve Twynham for Great Yorkshire Radio and Podcasts for Business.
We chatted about giving value to your clients, how sales isn’t the sleazy process it often appears, how getting your money sorted can trigger the improvements in the rest of your business and how you need to put your Profit First.
The phrase is thrown around often, but it’s only once you work for yourself that you truly appreciate what a rollercoaster it can be.
One minute, work is coming in faster than you can keep up with it. You’re working day in, day out, evenings, weekends and even through the night. Taking a day off seems impossible and the thought of a holiday is unimaginable.
Suddenly, things ease off.
You can breathe again. And you start thinking you might have finally got this business malarkey sussed after all…
Then you realise there’s barely anything in your pipeline, your biggest client has gone off the radar, and the project you had scheduled in next week has fallen through.
The good news is you’re not alone. And the even better news is that there are some things you can do to make the fluctuations less severe.
Understand the magic numbers
Most problems occur because business owners don’t understand their magic numbers.
How many clients do you need to win each month in order to cover your overheads and pay yourself the amount you want? What is your conversion rate and the average length of time from enquiry to invoice? How many enquiries need to be generated each month to hit your target?
If you know these figures, you can forecast for the months ahead, predict when a quiet period is coming up, and feel confident enough to turn away the projects you don’t want.
Pay yourself a set amount each month
When the work is flooding in, it’s tempting to spend a little more than we should. It’s great while it lasts, but when the work quietens down, it can leave us wondering if we’ll be able to cover the mortgage next month.
I’m a big fan of the ‘profit first’ way of working. Rather than paying yourself whatever is left at the end of the month, you take out the profit you want first and then invest what is left into your business.
Of course, if you want this to work, you need to have figured out your magic numbers.
Manage your marketing
When you’re busy, it’s easy to neglect your marketing. When you’re busy, you focus on the work you already have, not on winning more.
The problem is, once you’ve completed all your current projects, you’re left with nothing in your pipeline except tumbleweed.
So what happens now? Well, you go back to everything that worked last time of course.
You have a real push on marketing and advertising and networking. Your follow-ups are awesome, you spend hours putting together detailed proposals, and you take time to go and schmooze potential new clients.
All your hard work pays off at once, and you get an influx of work. Brilliant!
And now you’re back to being too busy to manage your enquiries properly, and you’re working on a load of projects you don’t really enjoy.
And so the cycle continues.
Up, down, up, down, round and round you go.
Take control of your pipeline; don’t let it control you.
To ensure consistent sales, you need consistent marketing.
Even when you are crazy busy, take time to nurture future clients. And when business is a little scarce, don’t fall into the trap of taking the projects nobody else wants.
It’s time to get off the rollercoaster
If you’re struggling to break the feast and famine cycle, I can help.
Every business needs a system.
A system for making sure you’ve got enough cash. A system for generating enough sales. A system for making sure you’ve got enough time to live your life. I work with you to create that system.
If you’d like to know more, let’s arrange a call, and I’ll explain exactly how I can help you build a business that works for you.
When you started your business, did you have big dreams and ambitions? Or even moderate dreams and ambitions?
Maybe you just wanted the free time and ability to take time off and pick your kids up from school?
Or you fancied a big house in the country, and a slightly smaller town house that you could gift to your mum?
Whether you wanted your business to give you a lavish lifestyle or just give you a bit more of what you were lacking – it’s often easy to lose track of those dreams.
When I was looking back through my notes from three years ago, I was shocked to see that I’ve not really moved forwards in all that time. The goals I had set for myself were substantially the same as this years. The progress I had made was, in many cases, non-existent.
There’s a saying “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”.
If you want to move towards those dreams, you need to change how you do things. It’s not enough to write out a plan. You’ve got to decide to implement it. And make sure you actually do.
Too often, I’ve come up with the plan then got distracted when implementing it. And the reason for that is because of a number of issues I’ve got in my own brain.
I consistently underestimate how long a particular project will take. I always undercharge for the work I do. I’m always too nice when it comes to accepting change requests.
So I decided, earlier this year, that it was time to change.
I no longer take on those bespoke, open-ended projects. So there’s no estimating to be done; instead I have a series of defined, thought-out products that give you what you need but give me certainty in how long they will take to deliver.
I have a fixed price list. No more writing proposals and estimating how much it’s going to cost. Instead, I can say “here are the prices; I hope you’ll see they’re extremely good value for what you get”.
And I have a process for handling requests. When we’re at points X and Y in the process, that’s when we make those amendments. That way we stay on schedule, we all know where we stand but the end result still fits your needs precisely.
For me, the change I needed was all about money. Where do you need to make the change?
We decided that we weren’t going to put up with working for an idiot or being told what to do.
We were sick of working incredibly hard, only for the rewards to go to some high-up who has no idea what we actually do each day.
We’ve chosen flexibility.
We’ve chosen responsibility.
We’ve chosen working from home, so we can look after the kids.
We’ve chosen doing things the right way.
We’ve chosen being fair with the money we earn.
But it’s difficult.
Most businesses fail within the first year.
If you’ve made it that far, congratulations. You’re doing an amazing job.
Even worse, almost all small businesses die within four years.
So if you’ve hit that milestone and made it to five years or beyond, you’re in an elite club.
The reason for this is simple.
The things that you have to do when you start a business are different (year one) to the things you have to do to keep that business running (up to year four), which in turn are different from the things you have to do make the business work without your constant attention (year five and beyond).
There are five areas where you need to make those changes – profits, operations, sales, marketing and time. Taken together, it’s a big set of changes, a lot of learning to do all at once. But break it down, attack one piece at a time, and it becomes manageable and a natural part of building a business that gives you the life you want.
If you’d like to know what could make a difference for you, check out my quick and simple quiz.
It’s designed to pinpoint the area of your business that you can make the most improvement on, for the least effort.
So you can actually get a bit of that flexibility, that extra cash, that free time and that freedom that we were all wanting when we started our businesses.
It only takes a couple of minutes to complete and could make a real difference to your business.
You probably subscribe and listen to a load of people who have job titles like “Consultant”, “Coach”, “Expert” and “Maven1“. These are people who are constantly posting in-car videos on LinkedIn, giving out advice, releasing podcasts and writing blogs. They’re obviously amazing at their jobs – why wouldn’t you want to hand over thousands of pounds in cash to them? Don’t you want that fantastic life too?
You can tell their lives are fantastic because they’ve sorted out their own work-life balance2.
You can tell their lives are fantastic because they then went on to save the lives of at least three of their clients3.
You can tell their lives are fantastic because their profits are going through the roof, and they’re recording that in-car video in a Lambo.
You can tell their lives are fantastic because they spend three months of the year hiking through the rainforest. For fun4!
You can tell their lives are fantastic because their team never makes a mistake and is always happy and smiling.
I’m not like that.
I’ve worked for myself since 2007, because I thought my boss was making a mistake and should have been listening to me. Eleven years later and the jury’s still out on whether I was right5.
I am very very good at what i do – especially when it comes to sorting out problems for my clients – but I’ve not really managed to sort myself out and have been winging it ever since.
I was really really lucky at the start, so I didn’t have to learn about how to run a business for years – no sales, no marketing and as for finance, well…
I then started a company with friends and we got a load of money from investors, which we spent very quickly. And that’s when things started to go really wrong.
I was sick of working alone, so I hired a team on the cheap6.
They didn’t do a great job as I didn’t know how to get them to do what I wanted7.
I spent all my money on these people working with me – they were cheap but took ages to get things done.
I was using up my evenings and weekends fixing mistakes8.
All of which meant I was ready to jack it all in.
So this is the bit where I turn in to one of those amazing perfect consultant types.
Because I sat myself down, gave myself a good talking to and …
spent a load of time and effort learning about sales
went out networking even though I found it really uncomfortable at first
I read that to do sales, you need a CRM system9. So I tried out 11 different ones and eventually found one that I liked
I suddenly realised that I had my sales process all wrong
The sales process that I had built for myself, that I implemented in my CRM, was based around the idea of promoting myself to people. This is what I do, I’m really good at it, it will save you time and money if you hire me. Please hire me.
Then I realised that actually, the clients I worked well with were the ones where we had a relationship. Where we trusted each other. So I switched my process around to look for people I thought I could work with. And it meant I was looking for excuses to say no at every opportunity.
That was when I had another revelation – the CRM isn’t going to help you. Your process has to be right first.
This inspired me to put together a process for my team – a seven stage software development system – and I used expensive project management software to track it all.
But I totally failed to heed the lesson from before. The process didn’t work for me. The software didn’t work for me.
It just meant that I did the work I didn’t like and the team did the work I did like.
The project management software was lovely. I could keep track of my overflowing to-do list and see how late every project was – and it updated in real-time so everything got later and later right in front of my eyes.
Again – my realisation was that the software doesn’t fix things for you. I needed to get the process right before even thinking about software.
So I reset.
Now I’ve got a really small team who work on the things I don’t really like doing and I’ve kept the things I like doing to myself.
I still pay for various bits of software but I’m very careful about how I use them.
And I don’t set myself a ton of deadlines, which make me unhappy as they whizz pass, unfulfilled.
I have to say that I still don’t make very much money – I have a problem with pricing my services which mean I give away a load of valuable work for cheap.
And I still don’t have that much time – I take on too many projects and then get caught up trying to deliver them all.
And, despite all these revelations, I’m still rubbish at saying no. Which is why I have too many projects on.
But this is my story about how I’m working my way out of these things. Unlike those other consultants, those bloggers and vloggers and podcasters, it’s not a picture of a perfect life.
It’s messy and annoying and nowhere near where I want it to be.
Because I’m very good at solving problems for my clients – not so good at it for myself.
So, I’m Baz and that’s what I’m going to be talking about over the next few weeks and months.
If you want to subscribe to the audio so you never ever miss my beautiful voice, just choose your podcast app and click below:
One of my clients, let’s call him Kevin, had been doing OK.
But he was in a bit of a rut. There was growing competition in his industry and he knew that if he didn’t move forwards, he’d get left behind.
But he didn’t know where to begin.
The advantage of having ten years of business experience behind you is you have a whole raft of previous clients. In Kevin’s case, lots of previous clients that he’d done one bit of work for and never spoken to again.
But Kevin’s industry was one of those where the regulations meant you needed to get certification every two years. That was a lot of repeat business he was missing out on.
So we took all his previous customer data – which was scattered all over the place.
Some was in various folders on his (creaking) server in the office.
Some was stored as emails in his mailbox.
Some was in paper reprints of his certificates that were in a filing cabinet.
We got all that data together, compiled it into one big spreadsheet. And imported that into the system.
Now he knew, at a glance, which of his previous customers he still had contact details for. He knew, at a glance, in which month their recertification was due (remember, it was every two years, so it was likely in the same month each time).
And then we added in an automated “to-call” list.
The system just looked at previous customers who had a recertification due in three months and flagged them up. If we didn’t have contact details, someone would look them up and fill it in on the database. And once we did have contact details, we would ring them, asking if they needed recertification.
This was easy.
The system picked out the prime candidates automatically.
The call was easy – your certification is probably up for renewal anyway and we’ve worked for you before.
And the call had one of three outcomes.
“No” or “Not Found”. In which case, we flagged them up as “do not contact”.
“Maybe”. Perhaps it was the right month but the wrong year. In which case, we scheduled a follow up call at a time that suited.
And “Yes”. In which case, Kevin had won some repeat business from someone he hadn’t spoken to in years.
Kevin was pleased. It was working. The “Yes”es were piling up.
It was an incredibly simple system.
If your business is struggling, there are five areas where you can make similar, incredibly simple changes. These are:
Finance – the business needs a degree of profit to survive. You need to make sure the bills are paid, the team get their wages and you get something as a reward for all your hard work.
Operations – the business needs to run like clockwork. You need to make sure you consistently deliver a great service to your clients, or they won’t come back.
Sales – no business can survive without clients, so you have to make sure you’ve got new ones coming in at the right times.
Leads – if you want new clients, you have to get the word out there, make sure you’re attracting people and letting them know what you do.
Time – at the end of the day, you need to be able to switch off, safe in the knowledge that the business can look after itself. You’ve taken a huge risk in getting this far, you deserve some time to ourselves to enjoy your life.
Once you identify the area of greatest impact for YOUR business, there are simple changes that can make a massive difference.
So instead of trying to tackle them all at once, you can focus on the area that will free up the most time and money, giving you the most freedom to live your life the way you should be.
If you’d like to know which area you should concentrate on – and get a few ideas about improvements that can be made in that area – take my quick quiz. It only takes a few minutes and can point you in the right direction for making a positive change to your business.
That’s one of the most frustrating things you can ever hear.
Someone who complains about the price.
The thing is, it’s actually your fault.
Now there are some businesses where you don’t have much control over the price. Commodities – where there are so many available vendors that the “market” sets the price and you can’t differentiate yourself.
But most businesses – retail, products, services – have room for differentiation.
Your difference might be that you’re cheaper than everyone else. Personally I think that’s a dangerous game to play, as there’s always someone who is willing to go cheaper – maybe as a loss-leader to destroy your business.
But if you know your ideal customer (who we spoke about earlier in the week), you understand why they want your stuff and how much it’s worth to them, you should be able to choose points of differentiation that make price irrelevant.
Let’s say you’re a second hand store. You buy up used goods, clean them up a bit and then sell them on. Necessarily, the price you offer for a particular item is going to be less than the price someone can make from it by selling it themselves. You need to spend some time cleaning it up (which costs) and you need to add some markup, in order to make a profit.
So, straight away, we’ve got a price discrepancy. I can take my X and sell it with you for £20. Or I can take my X and sell it on the local Facebook buy/sell page for £30.
Why would I go with you?
This is where your story comes in. You need to go back to your customer’s “why”. You need to connect it with you.
So maybe you tell the story of how you were selling something on Facebook, got scammed and ended up out of pocket. The burning injustice of it, though, was you were going to use the money to buy your niece a present for getting through her exams. When this happened, you vowed to ensure that no-one had to go through a scam buyer like this again. And you make sure that everyone who sells through you is treated fairly, with guarantees, up-front pricing and safe and understandable terms.
Suddenly, there’s a reason to take the £20 instead of the £30. It’s all to do with peace of mind. Of trust. Of safety. Which is easily worth the £10 difference.
Take action: Don’t compete on price – come up with a differentiation
PS: If you’d like a hand coming up with your differentiation, drop me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org
People are amazing. I love people because they’re so interesting. It’s very rare that you can figure someone out, even if you’ve known them for years.
But there are patterns that you can spot. Stuff that applies, more or less, to all of us.
And one of those things is most people hate disappointing other people.
So when you’re telling them all about your incredible product or service, they’re going to sit there, nodding and smiling, replying that it sounds fantastic and it’s exactly what they’re looking for.
Until the time comes to sign the contract.
And then they’re gone. Vanished. Never to be heard from again.
It’s just human nature.
But there are things you can do about it.
Firstly, make sure you don’t waste time on people who definitely aren’t going to buy. This means setting up a “qualification” stage where you ascertain if this is someone who could be a customer or not. We’ll talk about this later in the week.
Secondly, structure your offer so that it’s so compelling, they genuinely do feel that it’s exactly what they’re looking for. Not just that, but they need it today.
There are four aspects to the structure.
Number One – you need to hit their emotional buttons. This training course isn’t about how you can increase your revenue by 10% over three years. This is about how Susan is going to look like the automatic choice for promotion next year. This car isn’t about the leather seats or air conditioning. This is about how your neighbours will be secretly jealous and twitching at their windows whilst you wash your car every Sunday.
Number Two – you need to show them that they’re not alone. It’s not just Susan that you’re going to get promoted; you’ve already done it for George and Hardeep. It’s not just your neighbours who are going to be jealous, Annette gets compliments on her car all the time.
Number Three – you need to take away the risk. If you’re not satisfied with the course materials after seven days, we’ll give you your money back – no questions asked. Why not borrow the car for the weekend and you’ll see how easily it handles the shopping, as well as being amazing to drive on a Sunday afternoon in the countryside.
Number Four – subtly add some urgency. Drop hints that it takes time to get results – so if you want that promotion in September, you better get started now. Let them know that there have been a couple of other people interested in the car; you can order another direct from the factory but then it takes 2 months to arrive.
None of this will help bring back the prospect who’s just ditched you. But if you get those four aspects across with your next prospect – without laying it on too thick – you’ll find that the people who get past your qualification stage will be genuinely interested in what you have to offer.
Take action: Put a sales system in place that guides people through the four stages
PS: If you have any questions about this, drop me an email – email@example.com