How to Become Indispensable?

Critics say that Linchpin is Seth Godin’s most passionate book and I definitely have to agree. First, he reveals that “there are no longer any great jobs where someone else tells you precisely what to do.” Linchpins who hold great jobs don’t just follow orders, they add creativity, innovation and value and thus, create art.

Seth tells how to free people around us so they can become artists, which means creators of unique, compelling and substantial value. It does not matter what these individuals do for living, it is the attitude that matters. Linchpin’s drive and passion make it possible to create art every day.

If people can become artists, “they will rise to a level you can’t even imagine. When people realize that they are not a cog in a machine, an easily replaceable commodity, they take the challenge and grow. They produce more than you pay them to, because you are paying them with something worth more than money …” People crave connection and respect.

As an individual, “You can’t become a linchpin merely because you are different. The only way to become indispensable is to be different,” says Godin. “That’s because if you’re the same, so are
plenty of other people.”

One reviewer says the chapter titled “The Resistance” is worth the price of the book. Readers are
faced with all the reasons they are not as indispensable as they could and should be.

Linchpin is a most unusual, thought-provoking and concise book about becoming indispensable,
whether you work for someone else at any level or are self-employed. Godin’s principles can be
applied to other aspects of life. Linchpins can be better spouses, friends and community members.
They can be indispensable in many ways.

Godin says that if you want customers to flock to you, it’s tempting to race to the bottom of the price chart. There’s plenty of room there, but the only way to win is to race to the top. If you are more human, remarkable, faster, and connect with customers in 2011, you will win.

Are you indispensable? Do you create art?

6 Ways to Grow Your Small Business

When Fortune magazine interviewed several leaders of large and small firms, they gave a few eye-opening pieces of advice on how to grow a business. Check these out to determine whether any of their formulas could become growth-growing points in your business.

* Find an edge over competition. Look at your industry’s biggest cost and time constraints and focus on those areas of your business.

* Describe your business in 1-2 words. Own a phrase that illustrates your product or service. Then Google it to see if you have chosen the right one. A beverage company used “enhanced waters” for example.

* Focus on one measurable priority for your company, not a dozen. For 90 days, focus on one problem area of your business.

* Control your cash flow. Construct a business model that fuels your growth without the need for outside financing.

* Use blogs, white papers, YouTube and Twitter to align your marketing materials with the phrase you own.

* Make changes faster. The fastest-moving companies huddle daily to drive their priorities.

Add More Hours to Your Day – The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

The most common problem among many small business owners is “time poverty.” Putting in a lot of extra hours could help a little, but it’s not the answer. Neither is trying to do two things at once. Some ideas that may help:

* Become an expert at what you do. Study the workflows of people who are very efficient and copy them. You will often find that they are extremely well organized. Learn from experts in your field.

* Prioritize. What is the most important thing on your list? Concentrate on that alone until you are finished.

* Be open to new ideas. Some overwhelmed people think they already know all they need to know on a subject. Never stop learning.

* Become an expert on time management. Then practice every day until you master time management skills.

Read Getting Things Done by David Allen. This book was released in 2001 and remains a best seller as it fuels global demand for Mr. Allen’s workshops and personal coaching. Amazingly, he has established an industry around a simple approach to getting things done.

What Is the Difference Between a Tri-fold Brochure, Case Study and a White Paper?

Pen on NotebookI have never been a big fan of tri-fold brochures that attempt to convince me that I should buy a particular product or sign up for a certain service.   These marketing materials tend not to be persuasive enough due to the fact that information has been crammed into a limited space.  The customer benefits are not always obvious, contrary to emotional appeal – nice images, unusual fonts and unique paper may catch my attention, but not for long. 

White papers appeal more to me as they provide logic through facts, statistics and quotes from end users or industry experts. They are not flashy, but usually filled with facts.  For me, they are much more informative. I consider writing a good white paper a real art form as the author has to be a good researcher, persuasive essayist and a marketer all at once.  At the same time, a good balance between the right amount of facts, images, quotes and often industry terms has to be achieved.  Case studies tend to focus on customer stories and testimonials whereas white papers add a touch of credibility through unbiased information.

High quality content is becoming increasingly important as people crave useful information and have access to growing number of information channels before making buying decisions.  All marketing materials should educate; therefore, business people, especially marketers, need to become avid readers and dedicated students to continuously improve their skills.  I am planning to master the art of writing effective white papers in 2010 to deliver quality leads for my own business and customers. I encourage you to do the same. Good content leads to good customers.

Good place to start:  White Paper Success Summit 2010, a live online event that will empower participants to attract quality leads and grow their business with educational white papers.  I am planning to attend as the list of instructors is impressive. I would love to win a free ticket or two and you can too (until January 25th, 2010) – read more on the Content Marketing Revolution blog and stop by Michael Stelzner’s website. 

To Tweet Or Not To Tweet?

Some small businesses are hesitant to embrace social media. Blogging seems time consuming, Facebook scary or unknown.  At the same time, old marketing strategies don’t seem to work any more.

Business owners may not always realize that they need to re-visit their marketing plan to create and adopt a marketing system to get results.   The same principle can be applied to Social Media – do your research, learn from others  and create a well thought-out Social Media Marketing Plan to implement your Social Media Marketing System and benefit from social networking.

During last couple of months I have been helping my clients research social networking opportunities for their organizations.  They have been using Twitter and Facebook to listen and learn before they plan and create their own Social Media Marketing Systems.  This is what we’ve learned:

  1. Make Twitter a part of your marketing strategy – Social Media Marketing System. Do your research and determine whether your business could use free social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook for market research, customer service and/or for reaching your target market.
  2. Improve your professional skills, products and services by paying attention to what your competitors, potential clients  and current customers are raving or complaining about.
  3. Learn how to educate and inform your target audience,  share information about the articles, products and opportunities that your followers/fans may find useful.
  4. Person handling tweets/posts/fan pages for your organization should be familiar with the web and web-based tools.
  5. Make it your goal to become an “informer” who has the potential to be a “trust agent” – someone who is an expert and has an ability to influence other people.
  6. You only have 140 characters for one tweet, use them wisely.
  7. Avoid words and phrases that may attract unwanted followers/fans.
  8. 100 loyal followers/fans/subscribers who look forward to reading your tweets/posts may be worth more than 1,000 random followers.
  9. Learn to use Twitter/Facebook/Blogs as your company’s online reputation management tool.
  10. Don’t waste your time if you don’t have a social networking strategy.

How to Become a Good Leader – Should You Learn Acting First?

It takes Warren Bennis 480 pages to describe leadership, compare it to acting, and tie together the three pathways to becoming a great leader.  Bennis, a UCLA management professor, has many stories to tell.

He points out that leaders have the ability to draw together a fragmented public, be it on the radio, television or in person.

Bennis quotes Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as he says, “Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” He cautions the reader not to assume these three paths get equal traffic.

Most leaders, he says, achieve greatness when a role requiring it is thrust upon them.  Bennis compares leadership with show business again when he says actors and directors may feel a role is too big for them. It is a feeling many leaders are familiar with. But the leader’s leap into the unknown and accepting the risk of failure, is the first step in becoming great.

Like great actors, great leaders create and sell an alternative vision of the world, a better one in which we are an essential part.  He says leadership may be “the greatest performing art of all, the only one that creates institutions of lasting value that can endure long after the stars who envisioned them have left the theater.”

The Essential Bennis by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ware Biederman, Jossey-Bass, 480 pages, April 2009.

Are You Fatigued by Facebook and Twitter?

GOP imageFacebook gave us a way to find old classmates and renew friendships, find clients and share ideas.

Email has given us a way to quickly conduct business or send silly stuff to co-workers and friends.

So now we have IM, text messaging, friends on Facebook, and constant communication by 140 characters or less on Twitter.

All of this messaging is great as it is supposed to bring us closer to our friends and find new ones, but if we aren’t careful, these interactions can harm our real-life relationships. Columnist Elizabeth Bernstein quite recently said that she is experiencing Facebook fatigue because loved ones are sending so many photos of their children or parties, forwarding funky quizzes, and posting dozens of jokes. And they are tweeting about their whereabouts and what they are doing at the present moment.

To improve our daily interactions, Bernstein says: Before posting an item, ask yourself if it’s something you would want one of your contacts to send to you. Reward people by responding to interesting messages.

While private blogs can be platforms for political ranting, it can be considered poor form on Facebook to constantly post your political opinions.

Grow Your Business With Proven Word of Mouth Marketing Strategies

Word of Mouth Marketing, the oldest form of marketing is gaining ground again. How can business owners beat the current recession with Word of Mouth Marketing?

Educate and Nurture Your Current Customers

Don’t put all emphasis on new customer acquisition, but affirm your current customers,
find ways to develop loyalty programs that increase the lifetime value of your customers. Reward
clients with your time, attention and little extras – they will become enthusiastic promoters for your products and services.

Get Known as an Expert in a Niche Community

Are you creating compelling stories (ideas, articles, informative presentations or videos) that are picked up and shared person-to-person via social networking sites or within niche communities? If not, observe successful entrepreneurs in your niche and find out how they have become experts and what has contributed to their success. Participate in discussions, create conversations and relationships that help you become an expert and share your ideas.

Offer Pleasant Surprises to Create Viral Marketing

Surprising your clients is worth your time, since it gives you an opportunity to exceed their expectations and satisfied customers will be back. It is not hard to come up with a special offer or free complimentary service, you can always add something remarkable to your product. The level of expectations changes fast these days, you have to be creative and continuously find new ways to “over deliver” so that your customers keep having new reasons to talk about you. Get to know your customers, their habits and buying patterns, develop a system to pleasantly surprise them.

Become and Stay Referable

Never stop learning how to be better and more efficient at what you do. Give your customers every reason to drum up more business for you and find out why or why not people refer you. Always welcome opportunities to meet and help other small business owners. Be interested in their business and volunteer activities. You will learn from them, also share your expertise and they will refer you as they get to know, like and trust you. You and your business will be on their mind as people in their network need products or services that you offer. Find time in your busy day to send thank you cards and notes to people who have made a difference in your life. Make it effortless for your loyal clients to provide information about you, your products and services (make sure they have your business cards and promotional materials, etc.) If you become and stay referable, you don’t have to try to sell your business to others, it will come to you.

Improve Your Communication Skills While Travelling and Meeting New People

Warning for Tourists

Warning for Tourists

I have been traveling quite a bit lately. I embrace these opportunities as there is always so much to  learn from people who live in different parts of the world – frugality and resourcefulness from citizens of countries that have to get by with much less than people in the U.S,  relaxed and easygoing attitude from a young man who lives in Brazil, efficient time management from German professionals and eloquence from British gentlemen.

I have witnessed different approaches to marketing and politics as well – pre-election Germany had a different feel than pre-election Estonia.  Overall, it looked like Europeans had taken a low key approach,
people and governments are tightening their belts.

Just like people in different countries have different needs, so do small businesses. Product and service customization as well as getting to know your customer are both equally important, or you’ll miss the mark.  We have so much to learn from each encounter with potential and current customers.

Top 10 Challenges Professional Service Providers Must Overcome to Generate New Clients and Revenues

I would like to share my fellow Duct Tape Marketing Coach Bill Doerr’s advice:

Challenge 1
“Not seeing enough people”

Probable Cause/s:

* insufficient level of marketing-related activities

Corrective Strategy:
Be sure you’re engaging in appropriate activities at an adequate level for the client acquisition and revenue-generation goals you have. Seems obvious and may correct any deficiency right there. As one respondent said, “Get of your office and go see some people!”. Sage advice.

Challenge 2

Dealing with ‘high maintenance’ prospects and clients

Probable Cause/s:

* not clear about who is ‘right’ for the business or practice (i.e. who is ‘qualified’ to work you?)
* not using that profile at the ‘moment of truth’ with a prospective client or referral source

Corrective Strategy:
Define your ‘ideal client’ and don’t compromise your own standards. A number of people lamented that their willingness to take ‘anyone with an open checkbook’ often led to a client engagement that, in the end, proved frustrating for all parties. Just don’t do it! Identify specific ‘knockout’ factors and, if present, avoid engaging with those people.

Challenge 3
Prospects (and, some clients!) are asking us for ‘lower fees’ or ‘better pricing’

Probable Cause/s:

* not focusing on the value you provide vs. the fee you are charging

Corrective Strategy:

Charge a ‘fixed’ fee for your services rather than billing by the hour. Why? Understand that an hourly rate is something you need to know to be sure your pricing is profitable for your business or practice. It is NOT something your clients need to know. In fact, most don’t like hourly billing (survey your clients and you’ll confirm that one!).

What they do need to know is the answer to this question: “What’s it going to cost me . . . if I use you or, if I don’t?” Once framed that way, any ‘price’ you’ll ask for will be positioned around the VALUE you represent, not the time you have to invest in a project that will provide the client what they want. In my own experience, ‘package’ pricing invariably causes more services to be sold and better margins to be maintained than providers who bill ‘by the hour’.

Challenge 4

Losing bids to other firms (who are arguably less qualified, too!)

Probable Cause/s:

* No system for helping clients to make a decision is present
* Not skilled at using a system for helping clients to make a decision
* Not seen as a preferred provider of your services

Corrective Strategy:
The first two causes will be addressed by a systematic approach to helping someone make a decision . . . in short, ‘selling’. Seen as an essential aspect of your professional advocacy role, it’s an incumbent responsibility of every professional to help clients make decisions about their services – including the decision NOT to use them. But it must be a deliberate decision, not a decision by default because it wasn’t made deliberately.

If prospects fail to perceive you as a preferred provider you are not differentiating yourself to your marketplace. To differentiate yourself, you must be both beneficial and unique. Being yourself is about as unique as it gets. So you need to learn how to demonstrate the beneficial ‘edge’ you offer that will cause you to stand out to your prospective clients.

For service providers the ‘secret’ is to learn how to manage the experience your prospects have with you during the courtship phase of your relationship so they will feel, all things being equal, that you and your firm are definitely the preferred providers of your problem-solving expertise.

Challenge 5

Finding it distasteful to have to ‘sell’ and/or ‘market’ our services

Probable Cause/s:

* An attitude of advocacy . . . as a fiduciary of your client’s interests is missing

Corrective Strategy:
Reframe ‘selling’ as a ‘moral responsibility’ that your professionalism demands. Selling is simply ‘client-centered advocacy’. Think of a physician who ‘advocates’ a course of therapy for a patient not because they want a fee as much as they want their patient to be healthy. So too, you must see that such client-centered advocacy is a high calling and not something much lower . . . in your humble opinion. More than one respondent offered the admonition to “just get over yourself”. I hope this perspective will help you do just that.

Challenge 6
No sense that EVERYONE is responsible for marketing in the firm

Probable Cause/s:

* leadership has not communicated that marketing IS everyone’s responsibility
* There is no consequence for not bringing in clients (or, doing things that would!)

Corrective Strategy:

If you / your firm hasn’t made this expectation public . . . do so! Rewrite everyone’s position description (yes, even the receptionists’) to include behaviors that support ‘marketing’. Unless and until marketing behavior is expected and inspected, it’s likely not to happen. Better yet, post this expectation in locations where you will be re-minded of it frequently.

Challenge 7

Not having time to devote to marketing my services

Probable Cause/s:

* No need to market (see Challenge #6)
* No plan – so no marketing activities have been identified to do in the first place
* No skills – you know what to do and why but you still don’t allocate time for it

Corrective Strategy:
Create and use a ‘Marketing Activity Plan’ to ensure you’re allocating your time to what some call the ‘mission critical’ activities so the ‘mission’ of your planning will be accomplished. And brushing up on your time management skills might be a good idea, too!

Challenge 8
Not leveraging our relationships with existing clients to find new ones

Probable Cause/s:

* Not asking for help from existing clients
* Asking but ineffectively

Corrective Strategy:

Learn to use an effective referral system with existing clients and centers-of-influence. Two possibilities to consider might be: “Referral Flood” by Duct Tape Marketing or The Preferral Prospecting System®

Challenge 9

Not developing long-term relationships for the referrals and revenues they offer

Probable Cause/s:

* No system for following-up
* No system for keeping-in-touch
* Not using such systems even if present

Corrective Strategy:
Get – and use – a system for

1. following-up, and
2. keeping-in-touch

in a manner that is as professional as you are.

While no one will argue these two functions aren’t important, many cite they either don’t know how or feel they’ll come off a ‘less than professional’. The key is not to ignore the need to do these things but to find a way to do so that won’t be offensive – to you or your marketplace.

Challenge 10
Focusing on client acquisition activities at the expense of client retention activities

Probable Cause/s:

* myopic mindset . . . “Need MORE Revenues? Get NEW Clients!”
* inability to appreciate that not all revenues are equally profitable to your firm

Corrective Strategy:

Consider that the cost of acquiring a project from a new client is much more costly (cost of sales) than generating a project from an existing client. In his book, “The Loyalty Effect” Theodore Reicheld explains that many firms don’t see a profit until an account has been with them for some time. Implication: “equal revenues with high turnover is less profitable than equal revenues with lower turnover”. Point: Keep-in-touch and stay-in-mind with your existing clients so whenever a need arises . . . you’ll be there and . . . seen as the preferred provider that you are.

Doing more than expected . . . without being asked – (so here’s my little ‘extra’ for you!)

Challenge 11
Not getting people to buy or refer us when there’s no apparent reason not to do so

Probable Cause/s:

* Trust (or, a significant lack of it!)

Corrective Strategy:

For any professional or business service provider, trust is an essential element to the formation and maintenance of a productive client relationship. If trust is an issue, getting and keeping clients will be highly problematic if not impossible.

From The National Networker