Being a small business owner can feel overwhelming at times
and the reality is that there is not a single recipe for success. In most cases
you will find that new entrepreneurs tend to act on intuition rather than proper
research and planning - which makes sense to a certain extent.
It’s true, some people are born audacious and their instincts are likely to guide them to the right direction. For the rest of us, however, walking blindly into a new venture might not sound so appealing.
As someone who grew up in an entrepreneurial family and worked closely with various small businesses over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about successful first steps when it comes to starting a business – the things that fancy universities won’t teach you.
Today, I thought I’d share with you 6 ways to effectively kick-start your small business:
1. Have a business plan
If you don’ know how to type a formal ‘business school’ plan with detailed financial forecasts and an executive summary at the top, that’s absolutely fine. You should still have a rough idea about how to turn your vision into reality, though. As a first attempt to an informal business strategy, I would suggest considering your goals and objectives, your target audience and marketing mix. What I find useful when planning BLAM’s marketing strategy is keeping a calendar where I mark promotions or special events on key dates of the year. Remaining organised is essential for every new business where daily tasks can easily pile up and seem chaotic; a good to-do list app can always help keep you on top of your responsibilities.
2. Focus on results
Oh, so you’ve created a new Instagram page and managed to acquire 2,000 followers. Well, unless building a following is part of your social media strategy and linked to a specific objective that will make you more money, it doesn’t mean much. So, instead of having goals such as ‘build a Facebook page’ or ‘gather the x amount of likes on a blog post’ try thinking about the end result of these actions and focus on that. A common mistake among small businesses is failing to associate their social media activities with their overall business strategy, be it lead generation, building brand awareness, creating positive word-of-mouth or any other end-goal.
3. Ask yourself questions
Entrepreneurs are busy people; we all know that. More often than not, being an entrepreneur can be hectic and before you know it you lose track of your goals. I know from experience that taking the time to reflect on your business activity can be particularly useful and even save you from wasting money on the wrong efforts. Make a list of relevant questions and plan the time and day each month to sit down and answer things like ‘What can I do to maximise my sales?’ or ‘What are my competitors doing that I am not?’. You will be surprised how creative you can be when you have planned that time in advance instead of rushing those decisions within your busy daily schedule. Involving your team, if you have one, would be an added bonus to the process.
As our BLAM partners are well aware, going out there and talking to people is crucial for new business owners. We always advise people to start talking to everyone they know including family, friends and old colleagues. These individuals already trust you and would be likely to recommend you when there is a chance. Meeting other entrepreneurs can also be beneficial. Don’t be intimidated to attend networking events or simply hand a few business cards over to your local store owners – these are people exactly like you and they will benefit just as much from knowing you. Our co-founder, Gareth, recommends making 10 meaningful connections per day – you can adjust this number to fit your particular needs, but try not to postpone making contacts. LinkedIn communities are another great way to reach people in your industry on busier days. Just remember to be a useful contributor instead of spamming people with promotions.
5. Get to know your audience
If you are a new business owner, you might think that actually ‘knowing’ your audience is not feasible at this early stage. Use your imagination and create an avatar to represent the person who is most likely to become your customer. My father always says that his company predominantly markets to middle and upper-middle-class citizens – that is not meant to be pretentious, it simply represents the demographic segment which can afford his product and helps him define the quality as well as his pricing strategy. Do you know how much your audience earns and, therefore, is willing to spend on your offering? What about their age, profession, education and family status? These are things that need to be determined early on in the process, otherwise, you risk sending the wrong message to the wrong people, therefore, endangering your firm’s reputation.
6. Know your stuff
One thing our team keeps stressing to our partners is to invest time in learning everything there is to learn about their product. Appearing knowledgeable – and actually being – is vital to any new entrepreneur. How do you expect people to trust you with their money if you are unsure of the value your product can add to them? One of the main reasons my parents’ small business has remained successful for more than 40 years in the market is that their expertise in their industry is second to none. Were they experts when they first started out? Definitely not. Were they afraid they were going to fail? Absolutely. Research your product, discover what exists out there, follow your industry’s news and events, stay close to your customers and listen to what they have to say. And if you are one of the few new business owners who can afford to employ staff, don’t rely on them to know more about how your product works than you do!
I hope these have given you some food for thought. I would love to hear your advice on how to kick-start a small business, so please comment below and join the conversation.
If you’re in a business where you are aiming at generating multiple leads a week, you’ll need a system to manage those leads.
In the most basic form that means you’ve got a spreadsheet where you list your prospects name and contact details and have a notes field for each time you make contact with them. This simple form of contact management does the trick to begin with but is only good for a basic sales process and soon becomes tiresome when your list starts to build.
You now need a Customer Relationship Manager or as we say in the trade, a CRM.
There are plenty of CRM’s out there that will allow you to import this list when you are ready, so you can start managing your data more efficiently. We’ve tried a few of them at BLAM and find that they tend to fall into two categories, those that have marketing tools and those that stick to contact management.
At BLAM Partners we’ve been using our own CRM for a few years now, which is a white label product based on an American platform. We’ve found this system to be extremely useful in our business due to it’s powerful marketing integration tools that not many CRM’s offer at this price point.
Pretty much all CRM’s these days offer great contact management tools, that’s almost always a given. A lot of them also offer a deals tracker tool which is a great way of managing a sales pipeline for forecasting, follow ups and general sales best practice. What we like about the BLAM CRM falls into three categories:
1. Ease of use: All elements of the BLAM CRM come with a video tutorial that simply shows you how to make the most of the system. All too often these days it can take a long time to get used to a new CRM system and can often require expensive training from a qualified specialist. We have found that even the most adamant technophobes can get to grips with our CRM within a few hours.
2. Landing pages: These easy to design pages can be built with a form to capture information that will go directly into the CRM with the appropriate tags attached. This means if you run a Facebook campaign to capture leads from a specific industry for example, each time the lead is filled in it will be tagged with that industry. Further email campaigns directed at that industry can then be managed and sent easily.
3. Autoresponders: All contacts can be added to an autoresponder campaign that is pre-defined by you and can run for months there after. This powerful tool allows you the sophistication of some much more complicated and expensive CRM’s and means contacts can be communicated with automatically without any further action. These campaigns can also overlap, meaning if a prospect on the fifth email in the autoresponder campaign turns into a customer they can be added to a different autoresponder campaign for new customers.
Some of these functions can be gained through using email campaign software such as Mail Chimp (which is great) but the ease of having everything work seamlessly in one place is really convenient.
To find out more about the BLAM CRM or any of our other partnership programmes get in touch here .
If you’re a businessperson, you are a salesperson whether you think you are or not. In fact, I would go as far as to say that everybody in a business, from the bottom to the top is in sales. After all, the sum of every single part of the business contributes to the whole, and that’s what people are buying when they make a purchase.
When I’m dealing with BLAM Partners, they are nearly all engaged in direct selling, but often say “I don’t want to come across as a salesperson” as there are lots of negative connotations to the word and the role. The truth is, because when we’re in business we are all salespeople so lets get over it and learn how we can sell best!
There are many ways to improve our competence at selling but first and most important is changing the mindset and embracing that we are all salespeople on some level. We are currently running a course for BLAM Partners called our Super Sales Training Day and on it we begin by helping people understand that being a salesperson doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Once that has been accepted, the real leaning can begin and from there leads success.
In order to help you embrace the inner salesperson a friend of mine Phil Jones, wrote a book called Toolbox. This useful guide to sales is full of great information that will help any salesperson develop their skills at this ancient art. You can get a free copy on Amazon here if you are quick, the offer ends tonight (Wednesday 31st May 2017, midnight UK time).
One of the great parts at the beginning of the book is a list of people who are awesome salespeople. The list includes Nelson Mandela, Katie Price and Jamie Oliver among others, all experts at getting us to buy from them in their own way. These people are not typically the kinds of people that spring to mind when we think of "salespeople" but without the skills of a true professional salesperson they'd be far less effective.
So the next time you hear the word salesperson, give a thought to the job and what it entails. After all one way or another we are all in sales!
"Sorry Grant, but I've been too busy, so there wasn't enough time to do that task you set me." grrrrrrr!
Anyone that's been mentored by me or attended one of our BLAM courses will know how annoyed I get when I'm told that someone didn't have enough time to complete an important task. "Being too busy" is a bloody epidemic that is infecting a huge amount of people and in most cases it's just an excuse.
Don't get me wrong, a lot of us have very busy lives and it can be challenging getting all of our tasks completed. The order in which we undertake those tasks though, is completely under our control, we decide which tasks we prioritise.
In nearly all cases, when we hear these kind of "too busy" excuses, there definitely was enough time, it's just that we chose to do something else instead.
If you fall into this trap, you may have been prioritising family time, relaxing in front of the tv or having a night out with friends. It's not that you were too busy or didn't have enough time, it's just you chose to do something else instead, which is fine. What's not fine is kidding yourself that you didn't have enough time, because I'll bet you did!
Acknowledging that there was enough time and that in fact you weren't "too" busy but you decided to prioritise something else instead is a huge step change in your thinking that can help you make decisions about how you spend your time most productively.
So next time you catch yourself saying, "I've been too busy" or "I didn't have the time to do that", remember you weren't too busy and there was enough time, it's just you chose to do something else instead.
Have a great week.
Running BLAM Partners gives me the privilege of meeting lots of people starting a business for the first time. This can be a daunting prospect for them and, let's face it, it's not for the faint hearted!
We provide plenty of resources to help these first timers, but with this article I wanted to reveal some of the less conventional tips that I've seen used to great effect for start ups. They may not be for you, but that's what makes life interesting, it takes all sorts!
1. Develop morning routines - This may seem a fairly ordinary tip, but that does very much depend on the routine! Having a sequence of practices that are geared around your businesses performance from the moment you wake up, puts you in the right mindset as the day begins. I know of some entrepreneurs that get up at 4am to get their work done whilst there are no distractions at all, so after their first stint of work they can fit in a gym session at 6.30am then a family fix around 8am, then they finally go into work.
2. Affirmations - Writing down a statement of intent and then repeating it out loud several times a day may sound a bit crazy, but thousands of successful millionaires do this, as described by Napoleon Hill in "Think and Grow Rich". There are numerous variations on this practice and it’s not for those that feel self conscious when caught doing it. I’ve had many a weird stare from other drivers when they catch me talking to myself on my morning commute in the car!
3. Meditation - Meditation can help you focus on your goals, define your purpose and relax your mind when the stress of running a business gets to you. It is becoming a more conventional tool these days and there are plenty of apps that will help you begin your journey to reaching mindfulness nirvana. How much meditation you undertake though is down to you, but it's all too easy to say "I'm too busy to meditate”. I’ve even gone as far as getting a meditation teacher in to the office to educate the my team on how to get the most out of their meditation.
4. Talk to your pet - I recently read an interesting article from a fantastically wealthy entrepreneur who gauged his motivational talks by how long he could keep his pet Great Dane sat paying attention to him. If the dog lay down whilst he was practising he would assume it wasn’t good enough and adjust it until he held his attention for the full speech. So, I am now suggesting that we all practice our pitches on our pets, if we can’t hold their attention, what chance do we have with prospects?
5. Dress to impress - Think about what you wear and the way you look every single day because like it or not you are judged by the way you look. Unless you are a Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg (who are on another level entirely) looking as good as you can, appropriate to the business you are in, can give you the edge. If you are the best dressed person in the business meeting you are already making a good impression and for the right reasons.
If you find these tips interesting and want to find out more about how we help our BLAM Partners achieve success check out one of our webinars that we run every week, available to all here .
Have a great week!
One of the hardest parts of growing a small business is managing staff. Dealing with the day to day issues that come up preventing you getting on with growing your business is one of the most frustrating parts of running your own company.
I've listed five tips here that have helped me manage my staff over the years that you may find useful.
1. Build systems: If your internal business systems are designed around the roles of your staff it can save a lot of problems along the way. If each time you have a staff issue you amend your system to accommodate the situation, your systems should evolve and avoid similar problems in the future. An example of this would be a member of staff consistently forgetting to undertake a particular task. By applying a flagging system, a reminder, alert or trigger, you will then either solve the problem or have the evidence to discipline accordingly. My motto is, always be improving the systems, always keep learning from mistakes.
2. Communication: One of my personal weaknesses this one! Quite often I have found that I have neglected to communicate new initiatives in my businesses appropriately to all of the organisation. This sometimes causes me to verge on paranoia and end up repeating myself a lot to my team! By keeping all of the staff informed on the business goals, objectives and general on-going issues, you can build a fantastic team atmosphere. Regular team meetings, social events and a communication system that fits appropriately with your business are key. In my various businesses I have used a variety of different tools for doing this and they change depending on the level of staff I'm communicating with. For example, I often use a What's App group for management teams and then email communication, triggered from our CRM for more general staff matters.
3. Set goals with rewards: I use a staff review system that includes goals and targets set on a quarterly and annual basis. Each quarter the previous goals are reviewed and marked by achievement. My managers also use this system with their staff and it works consistently down the managerial line. When goals are achieved rewards are based on the achievement. There are several rewards systems available to employers now such as Perk Box but I've used a variety, from a good old fashioned bonus through to a holiday.
4. Work with strengths: I few years ago an extremely successful entrepreneur showed me how he managed his staff from the very beginning of their employment by assessing their strengths. I found this to be completely in line with my core values and love the positive approach of focussing on strengths rather than weaknesses. There are various strength finder tests that are available along with books that help you best understand the way to utilise the strengths and manage accordingly. Each member of staff takes the test and then you can see what their strengths are and what job roles will suit them best. I have now taken this to the next level by employing team members based primarily on their core values fitting with the business and then fitting their strengths with the appropriate role there after.
5. Know the law: On more than one occasion I have found myself in need of an employment solicitor when dealing with a tricky staffing situation. Employment law can be a minefield and when faced with a situation you need to know you’re getting the right advice. For many years I have been a member of the Chamber of Commerce who offer a free employment support line. They gave me invaluable advice and support and I highly recommend their membership for that service on its own. There are other organisations that provide similar services and for the business owner with only a small team this is a great first step in resolving issues or making sure you are operating correctly and in accordance with employment law. Of course, for more serious instances, a employment law solicitor may not be avoided!
Despite this article having elements relating to staffing problems, I would like to end it by saying that despite having my fair share of issues over the years, my team have been awesome. When you find the right people, they are the greatest asset your business has and are the foundation of the organisation.
From a young age my parents drummed into me that honesty is the best policy. When I was at junior school I recall accidentally throwing a hardball through a high window, showering the entire assembly hall with glass. To my mates amazement I went and told the teacher immediately and was sent to the head master. He actually praised me for my honesty and then when in the next assembly (after the glass had been cleared) he made me stand up and used me as an example for my honesty, pointing out that it was because of my confession that I wasn’t punished.
What a great head he was, as this had a lasting effect on my attitude, which I've carried through to my business career too.
When it comes to selling in business there is a temptation to tell lies to further enhance your product or service. You may prefer to use the term exaggeration or stretching the truth but the principle is the same, it's lying.
Historically this is one of the main reasons why sales people have got a bad reputation. Whether it's the stereotypical slimy car sales person or the boiler room commission based telesales executive, we often have a perception that their morals are less than saintly and sometimes for good reason.
"But where do we draw the line, and how do we know
when we're stretching the truth too far?"
Lying is a fact of life, we all do it to a certain extent. Whether it's making an excuse for why we're running late or telling our partner that their bum doesn't look big in that outfit, it's a fact of life that we are all aware of. But where do we draw the line, and how do we know when we're stretching the truth too far?
I often find with business owners I coach who are new to selling or are less experienced in their product range (e.g. some of our BLAM Partners), they are tempted to appear more expert or experienced in their subject than they truly are. In this instance my advice is always honesty is the best policy. If you are found out to be less experienced than you have said, your credibility is completely blown and the chances of a sale are less than zero!
"Disarming honesty" is contrary to how traditional sales people are used to acting. Admitting that you don’t know the answer to a question can be a pleasant surprise to your prospect and can build trust and rapport. As long as the question is answered at some point (usually after the appointment) in an efficient and professional manner, it can actually help your pitch rather than damage it.
This has often worked for me and my sales people over the years. In the cases where the prospect has reacted badly to not being given the answer immediately, then they would never have been a good fit for our business anyway, if that’s the way they choose to behave.
So, I say to people who are new to selling, be truthful with your prospects and be disarmingly honest, after all it’s much more difficult to remember a lie than it is to recall the truth!