business development

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Inventory Software Options for Small Business

Are you stil managing your inventory from a spreadsheet or on paper?  That's great when you have a really small business but it isn't really scalable.  At the same time, you aren't ready to jump into Sage or Great Plains or another 5-digit package yet either.   So where does that leave you?

There are loads of inventory packages available, with prices ranging from free to hundreds of thousands of dollars.  There are a fair amount even below $1000.  It can be really confusing to decide what package to choose. 

I went through and reviewed some of the inventory packages available below $1000.  Some of the things I looked at were:  

  1. How easy is the product to use?
  2. How well supported is it?
  3. What features does it have? 
  4. How easy is it to configure? 
  5. Can I test it out for free? (This is significant because you need to see the product in action.)

And yes, I did look at Quickbooks inventory, but it quickly came off the list because it is not easy to use and is not very rich in features.  Quickbooks manages inventory from an accounting viewpoint, so it is fairly limited.

Here is what I came up with:

  1.  inFlow Inventory System  - This package is clearly the best that I found for the price by far.  It has 2 price points ($299 and $499), a demo version that is very strong and the most features for the money.  It is also very well supported.   The Premium version even comes with phone support.  The only negatives for this program that I found are 1) it is Windows only and 2)  it does not print bar codes.  
  2. ABC Inventory Software - This product is pretty good, considering it's free.  It is difficult to set up, but it is fairly flexible and has a lot of features.  It has a very strong user forum for support and can print and scan bar codes, along with many other features.  It is Access-based and Windows Only
  3.  Inventoria Mac Inventory Management  -  This is the only product for the Mac that seems to be in the same classe as inFlow and ABC Inventory.  It doesn't provide as much functionality, but it is pretty close.  It isn't as easy to use as inFlow, but easier than ABC Inventory.  The demo is a 14-day trial, which isn't bad. Inventoria also offers a Windows-based version that is comparable.

There are lots of other inventory packages out there.  Many are industry-specific, which can come with some benefits and usually less setup time because it's already mostly configured to your business. 

Here are a couple more resources to help you on your search:

All giving, no getting. Are you getting frustrated with giving but never getting referrals?

Have you ever noticed that there are people in many of the networking groups that are very good about asking for referrals, but never give any out.  I'm pretty sure they're not even aware that they don't give referrals a lot of the time.  This is actually the norm.  Most people learn to ask, but not to give.  I think it starts in childhood. 

So what's a networker to do?   Give referrals and never get any in return?  I know sometimes it really feels like that,  doesn't it.

Here is how I deal with it:

1.  I give with the thought of helping someone else out, not getting in return.  For example, I just gave a referral this morning to someone looking for an accountant up in the thumb.  I happen to know a good CPA who maintains an office in Saginaw.  This is a natural fit.  I don't know if it will work out, and most likely, I will never find out.   For these kinds of referrals, I'll give the contact and just let it go. 

2.  I believe that the more you give, the more you get, but not from the same place - it will show up somewhere else entirely.  So giving out referrals is never a bad thing if you are comfortable that the person you're referring can do the job.

3.  Remember that your reputation rides on every referral you give.  Don't give a bad referral.  If you don't know the person you're referring, make that abundantly clear.  Also check in if you know both parties and see how it went.

4.  Certain groups don't pass referrals well.  If the reason you're going to the group is to get referrals or business, don't go.  Find another group that fits better.  I find this in a lot of the free networking groups where most of the members are small or at-home businesses.  A  lot of these people never learned how to refer or how to do business.  The higher-end groups that cost more generally don't have that problem, but they also have to be in a position to refer you.  Give it a couple of times and see how it goes.  Don't spend a lot of time with groups of people who will never buy from or refer you if you're there to do business. 

5.  Find a group of people that will be in a position to refer you.  For example, I'm a difficult person to refer if you are not in a position of trust with the business owner.  My best referral sources are the same as my best sources of clients - accountants and attorneys.

In my opinion, networking groups are also an overrated way to get business for many industries.  But that's a topic for another day.

 

 

Book Review: What Clients Love by Harry Beckwith

I found this book a little difficult to get through, as it's kind of all over the place, but it's really well worth it.   Harry's style in this book is similar to an experienced salesman mentoring someone new - he is imparting advice and concepts that made him and could make you successful in selling services as he thinks of things and not necessarily  in a particular order.

There's lots in What Clients Love, from what to call yourself, how clients perceive you and what they really buy when purchasing a service to how important the relationship is to selling a service (everything).  He also talks about what goes into building a relationship and how to maintain it.   He addresses issues like how to deal with mistakes and how to listen.

I'd recommend reading this book, and then going back and focusing on a section here and there slowly until you really absorb his points.   Mr. Beckwith isn't correct on everything - His predictions on the Internet were certainly off and you can tell that his target audience is white middle aged men, or white male wannabe's - a normal bias for most traditional salesman.  And yet there are pearls of wisdom, even in that. 

So many things struck me in this book, it's hard to list them all so I'm not going to even try.  Here's just a few highlights.

  1. From page 129 - "Prospects choose service providers who share their tastes."  Remember the advice - "dress like your clients, just a little bit better."  It's excellent advice, but not if you pretend to something that you aren't, such as dressing like a farmer if you aren't one.  That ends up offending worse than the silk suit.  Mr. Beckwith addresses this very nicely with a clear story and better advice "Dress honestly and a little up."
  2. From page 182 - Imagineering's Six Commandments.  These are great reminders of what's important when designing a space, a sales presentation, or anything affecting your image or marketing.  My favorite commandments are "Avoid overload" and "Tell one story at a time."
  3. From page 237 - The Ten Rules of Business Manners.  These alone will make a big difference in growing your business and developing relationships.  If you do nothing else from this book but practice these, you will have made a huge impact on  your business.  My favorites are #1 - Wait until the other person has finished talking before you speak. and #9 - Be kind.   These all seem to be so obvious, yet very few people really practice these behaviors.
  4. I'm a coach and trainer, so I really like great questions.  The questions in the appendix starting on 260 are wonderful.  If you answer them yearly, you will really have a great guide to growing yourself and your business.

In short, buy the book, read it and re-read it.  Then start practicing bit by bit.  You'll really notice a difference in your business and your clients.

I'd love to hear what you get out of What Clients Love by Harry Beckwith.  Leave a comment here.

Book Review: The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne


I re-read The Secret from a business standpoint recently and would like to share my thoughts with you.

My main point of disagreement with the book is  with the premise that you attract every single thing that happens to you.  No one attracts cancer, murder, rape, etc.  Children do not attract abuse.  My basic philosophy is that we cannot always control what happens to us but we can control how we respond.  That is the root of the word responsibility.

Having said that, there are a lot of good ideas to help you reach your busines goals.  It's worth looking at.   I have included several below.

1.  Be happy now.  -  Negative emotions and feelings weigh you down and turn off other people.  It's like trying to swim uphill.  Feeling good makes everything easier, especially getting new clients.

2.  Act as if you already have your goals.   -  Obstacles that seemed insurmountable become easy if you look at them from the vantage point of already having passed them.

3.  Focus on what you want, not what you don't want.   Most of us spend our time thinking about what we don't want, and that's what we end up with - not enough money, not enough time, not enough clients, etc.   If you're focused what you don't want, you will miss opportunities to get what you do want.  So look for what you want instead.  Vision boards, screen savers and putting pictures of what  you want all over your house are all great ways to do this.  So is writing down your goals and really looking at them every day.

 What did you get out of The Secret?  Post a comment and let me know.

Consistency is Key in Growing Your Business

There are 3 parts to creating reliable, steady growth for your business.  The first part we've talked about a lot - where and how to find clients or referral partners.  The second is consistently working to develop relationships and get known.  The third part is knowing how much is enough to gain clients.  By that I mean,  how many people do you need to talk to in order to get one paying client.  This is often referred to as the sales funnel.  I'll focus on that in a later post.

Today, I want to talk about consistency.  Consistency is showing up and participating day after day, week after week, and month after month in whatever networking or other marketing methods you have chosen to employ.  It takes a while for people to get to know you enough to think of you when they're ready to buy or hire and to trust you enough to want to hire or buy from you.  How long that time period is will depend on what service you provide.  If you'r a coach or a financial advisor, it's going to take a  lot longer to establish that relationship than if you clean carpet.  You'll talk to some people who will become your clients immediately, but they are the exception rather than the rule and not what you build your business on.

Showing up one time is not effective in getting clients.   You can't lose weight or build muscle that way - you can't build your business that way either.  You must pick  your approach and keep doing it until you are sure it either is or is not working.  A rule of thumb for any service business is at LEAST three or six months to a year.

Consistency builds upon itself, just like it does in exercise or weight loss.  The more you do, the more you gain and the easier it becomes. 

I see a lot of professionals taking the start-stop approach to developing  their business.  I call this the feast or famine cycle.   People run out of work and then start marketing like crazy until they get more work and then they stop marketing.  This is not a way to grow your business.  You'll find it more and more effort just to maintain your existing business doing marketing this way.  It's a lot like yo-yo dieting and exercise.  Every time you stop exercising and gain the weight back, you are actually losing muscle so it becomes harder and harder to lose those pounds.

Work on building your marketing muscles consistently so that you can steadily grow your business over time with less effort.

"I hate to admit this, but mediocre marketing with commitment works better than brilliant marketing without commitment."

-- Jay Conrad Levinson (author of the Guerilla Marketing series)

Next time we'll talk about the third part - How much marketing is enough? (or What Does Your Sales Funnel Look Like?)

What networking groups should I attend?

This is one of the questions I am most frequently asked.  Sometimes it's asked in the form of a statement:  "I don't know any networking groups." and sometimes people just ask me where they should go.  The short answer really depends on two other questions: 

1) Do you get clients by referral or directly?  If you get clients mostly by referrals (Not the ones from existing clients - we'll talk about how to generate more of those later), who are your best referral partners?   This question leads directly to the second question.

2) If you get clients directly, who are they and where do they go?    If you get clients through referral, who are your referral partners and where do they go?

This leads directly to the answer:

You network where you are most likely to find prospective clients or referral partners.  Period.  It's really that simple. 

Ideally these are also things you enjoy doing as well.   If you hate golf, don't join a golf club just because you will find prospective clients there.  There will be should be enough points of common ground that you and your best prospects and referrals partners share that you will enjoy the time you are spending networking.   Otherwise, you really need to look at who your best clients are - if you don't have a lot in common with them, they really aren't your best clients and there's a whole other group that would be a better fit.

If you're not sure how to figure out who your best clients are and what they do - check out my blog posts on how to identify your ideal client.   If you don't have any clients who fit what your idea is, find some people who do and ask them what they do and where they go.  If you're not trying to sell anything most people are delighted to give you a few minutes of their time.  Note that this is also a great way to start developing a relationship.  It's a win-win.

Don't limit your definition of networking groups to traditional business groups like LBN, BNI or chambers of commerce.  There are also philaphthropic and development groups like the Rotary Club, Optimists Club, Toastmasters, Lion's Club, Kiwanis, etc.  And any social group where you interact on a regular basis and get to know the other members can be considered a networking group.  Examples of this are country clubs, golf clubs, tennis clubs, hockey clubs, the PTA, Church and Synagogue groups, nonprofits where you are an active member and serve on a committee can be great places to network as well. 

If you regularly work in the same coffee shop and it's a busy place, that's a great place to network too.  Before we moved, I always made a point to work one day a week at the Coffee Beanery near where I lived.  It was a busy place where a lot of small business owners congregated and I regularly saw a lot of colleagues and prospective clients that way. 

Look for other benefits besides meeting prospective clients in the networking groups you choose.  The more enthusiastic you can be and the more you enjoy your time there, the more your networking efforts will pay off.

Dealing with the Discomfort of Getting Outside Your Comfort Zone In Your Business or Any Other Area of Your Life

"Learning any new habit is like starting an exercise program: It can be painful at first, but as you exercise that particular muscle it becomes stronger and supports you better.  Over time the pain gives way to tolerance, tolerance to satisfaction, and satisfaction to exhilaration as you see the results of your commitment and persistence" -- C.J. Hayden

Your business is like creating a new habit - it is new behavior.  Any new behavior forces you outside of your comfort zone.  It may be just a small bit ouside, in which case the discomfort is very small and far outweighed by the benefits.  It may be far outside your comfort zone - in which case the discomfort can be very painful.   How well you deal with the discomfort will really determine how well you do in your business.   If it's only a little bit of discomfort -no big deal, your current coping strategies will probably be just fine.  If it's a  lot of discomfort, it's a very good idea to work on strategies to deal with the discomfort of the change as you make the change.   It's not realistic to say, expand your comfort zone -  that usually happens after you make it through the discomfort and discovered it hasn't killed you. 

So what can you do to make it through the change process of developing a new behavior?   I believe that there are several things you can do:

  1. Recognize and accept that there is going to be discomfort or pain and it is not necessarily going to be easy.  We live in a world of instant gratification that doesn't teach us patience or persistence, so we don't learn growing up how to deal with discomfort.  That is part of the reason so many people quit diet programs or regain the weight they lost (95%).   If you accept that there is going to be discomfort, then you can come up with ways to deal with it.  If you aren't prepared to deal with pain or discomfort,  it will derail you. 
  2. Create healthy ways to deal with discomfort or emotional pain before you experience it.   Practice them before you need them so they are available when you do.   You learn to fire a weapon and practice with it in basic training or boot camp, not in the middle of combat.   Combat is when you need things to be automatic.  You need to create new automatic behaviors that will help  you achieve your goals, not derail them.  Here are some good ideas:
    1. Practice meditating daily.
    2. Use EFT (emotional freedom technique).  A good resource for this is www.tapping.com.
    3. Exercise.   It's a great stress reliever.
    4. Schedule play time.  You need to recharge to keep going and having down time is an important part of being productive.   I ride my horse 4 - 5 times a week.
    5. Get a good night's sleep.  Everything looks worse when you're tired.
    6. Eat good, healthy food.  Don't skip meals.
    7. Create a visual representation of your goals and look at it in the morning and before you go to bed.  You could even create a vision board if you want.
    8. Laugh and be silly.  
  3. Set realistic expectations.  We often have very unrealistic expectations of how long things take.  Losing weight, developing a skill, or starting a business or practice are all excellent examples.  People don't get to be olympic athletes or millionaires overnight.  There's typically a lot of hard work and effort that goes into it that we don't see and the movies don't show us.  If you develop a realistic expectation of when you can reasonably attain your goals, you won't be disappointed when you don't see results immediately.   I usually tell my clients that if they can't believe in the goal, there's no way they can reach it - a good way to handle reason and desire is to use the words "at least" so that you are leaving room for better performance than you expect but you are aiming for what you can reasonably expect to achieve.  Here are some examples:
    1. "Lose at least 20 pounds in 5 months."
    2. "Make at least 10,000 per month by the end of next year."

It's a lot easier to persist through discomfort or emotional pain if you expect and plan for it, until you reap the benefits of your behavior change.

So what can you do to create a new habit that will help your business grow?

Which Is More Effective - A Mail Newletter or an Email Newsletter (E-Zine)?

It's a good question - suprisingly so.  Most companies have switched to only sending out electronic newsletters because of the expense.  It can be quite costly to send out a printed newsletter between the printing and postage.  Electronic newsletters, in comparison, cost less than a penny per newsletter.

Sounds like a great deal, but how many people are actually reading those newsletters?  The statistics can be quite misleading.   Direct mail is usually measured in response rates, which means that the recipient has opened the newsletter, read it and taken action on the contents.  The average response rate for direct mail is anywhere from 1% to 1 1/2%. ( I checked various different sources for both including aweber.com, Gallup, the AMA, etc.)    The number of people who have opened and read that newsletter is much larger, but unknown.

Electronic newsletters are usually measured in open rates, which means that the recipient has opened the email.  It does not mean that they have read it or taken action on it.  The open rates I saw on the web for electronic newsletters, or e-zines, were all over the map (try googling "average open rate electronic newsletter" and you'll see what I mean).   Most came between 10% - 25%.  Now this sounds much higher, but remember that it's an open rate, not a response rate.  Of that 10% - 25%, how many actually read and take action on the newsletter?   I couldn't find any statistics on that.  One thing I noticed was that all the statistics were somewhat old - and yet the rate of spam increases exponentially daily.   I have a hard time believing that most people even open or see e-zines anymore.  A lot get buried in an inbox filled with junk emails or caught by a spam filter.  I'd be suprised to find that the open rate is much more than 1% - 2% now.

So what to do?   Direct mail costs a lot, but you've got a better chance of someone reading it.  Newsletters are much cheaper and easier to send, but not as likely to get read.

And then there's blogs and twitter, just to add to the confusion and noise - how do you get your message out without it costing a fortune or getting buried in the general din?

I would recommend doing a mix of as much as your time and budget allow.  I'm pretty sure very few people read my blog, but it's enough that it's worth it to post weekly.   The same goes for my monthly newsletters.   With the low cost,  only a few people have to read them to make it worth it.

I use direct mail for personalized individual messages and the occasional printed newsletter (maybe once a year).  I do a lot more personalized notes than newsletters.

What will you do?

"Endless Referrals" by Bob Burg

"Endless Referrals" by Bob Burg, "Get Clients Now" by C.J. Hayden and "Book Yourself Solid" by Michael Port are among the core books that I use with many of my clients.   In combination, they make a fantanstic business development program for the non-sales professional.  "Get Clients Now" provides the structure, "Book Yourself Solid" provides the focus and "Endless Referrals" talks about how to develop the relationships you need to grow your business.

Bob Burg was here in June with Motor City Connect. Don't worry if you missed him.  You can find everything he talked about in his books.

All three books talk about the "know, like and trust" factor that's mandatory for anyone who sells a service, such as an attorney, chiropractor, coach or consultant.   "Endless Referrals" focuses exclusively on it.   Bob talks about how to get to know people enough to be able to ask for and get quality referrals, and maintain that relationship over time.

The first few chapters talk about building rapport, the process of developing trust.  He gives 10 'Feel-Good Questions©'  that help you get to know someone and create a connection with them.  He also guides the reader on how to adjust these questions for social events of any kind using the "F-O-R-M" (Family, Occupation, Recreation, Message) method.  I highly recommend studying these questions and using them at your next networking event.  Watch your network grow as you get proficient at this process.  This is by far the clearest process of how to create connection with someone that I have seen so far.

The next few things Burg focuses on are how to ask for referrals so that you actually get them.  Most people just aks if you know "anyone."   I have news for you - there is no one by that name.  It's not likely to get you referrals because it's too general.  He shows you how to narrow it down so that you make the frame of reference manageable for most people without making it too narrow (Tina Morrow at XYZ Company).

Burg also talks about how to get a testimonial that actually supports your business.  I really appreciated that section, after receiving some testimonials that were either unreadable or not what I do. I'm sure you've gotten a few of those too.

I would go to other resources rather than "Endless Referrals for information on internet and other business development strategies, but there is nothing better than "Endless Referrals" for how to build trust and follow up. 

"Endless Referrals" is not the only book you need for your business if you provide a service, but it's a good place to start. 

Dealing with Business or Job Loss - Allow Yourself to Grieve

I have talked to a large number of people who were laid off over the course of my career.  One thing I have consistently noticed is that the vast majority have not yet moved on - they are still emotionally stuck in their previous job.  And, yes, I am deliberately using the words "laid off."  I believe that 'in transition' is a euphemism that doesn't do anyone other than the company who laid off the person in question any good.  It's an effort to shield you from the pain or stigma of being laid off.  In other words, any effort to avoid dealing with the emotional consequences of being forced out of a job you didn't choose to leave.  The same holds true if your business failed.  My guess is that you would have chosen to have it succeed.

Yes, some people take classes and change careers, but even most of those do so out of reaction - not from the basis of desire.  Do you think this is a very powerful way to live your life?   More the opposite.  What you choose out of fear isn't very likely to be what you really want.  It's either going to put you right where you were before you got laid off, or in an even worse situation.

Not only that, but when you do go on interviews, you take all the emotional baggage of the last job and how it ended with you.  Trust me, this does not make for a good or exciting interview.  It will also make it a lot more difficult to get said job.  Even if you don't say anything, you will still be projecting and filtering based on that previous job.  It's a lot like going on date with someone right after they broke up with their significant other.   Might be not be bad, but not someone you'd want to get into a relationship with. 

Allowing yourself to to through the full grieving process after a job or business loss allows you to process all the emotions and thoughts that come up so that you can move on and base your future and your planning on what you want, not what has happened in the past.  You will be able to be excited and interested in what's happening instead of what's in the past.  The last job or business is like last week's lunch.  It may have been a great meal, but you don't necessarily remember what you had.   Wouldn't you rather be excited about your future?

No one really talks about grieving in relationship to job or business loss.  Generally people are just expected to move on immediately.  Here's the rub - we're not robots, we're human.  Your relationship to your job or especially business may have been more long-standing than your relationship to your spouse or children, and just as close in many ways.   And not only don't we talk about it,  most people haven't a clue HOW to grieve and move on.  We're not taught deal with grief effectively in most cases when it comes to people and pets, much less jobs.   Has anyone ever told you "Don't feel bad, there's other jobs"  or something similar?   It wasn't particularly helpful, was it?

The best resource I've seen yet for dealing with loss (whether it's a job, a pet, a spouse, etc.)  is the Grief Recovery Handbook by John James and Russell Friedman.  It actually defines grief and forgiveness and walks you through a fairly straightforward process for dealing with loss.    I came across it through the book When Children Grieve, also by John James and Russell Friedman.  I checked When Children Grieve out of the library to help my son deal with our dog, who has cancer.  I  knew that what I learned about loss and grieving from my parents was not helpful to me (it basically consisted of "Don't talk about it") and I wanted to do better with my son.   When Children Grieve was immensely helpful in giving me some tools to work with my son, but it was also invaluable to look at where I hadn't dealt with loss in my own life.   

I highly recommend purchasing the book or checking it out of the library.  I can't do justice to the full process in a blog post.  You can also visit the website at www.grief-recovery.com.

My advice is work through your job or business loss before moving on to what's next.

 

 

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