How to Identify Your Brand

Man standing in boat on water outside of city, how to identify your brandThere are many components of your business that need to be hashed out before you even open the hatch or sign for a loan. From the initial concept, to the goals you wish to achieve, to creating an actionable plan, you’ll need to have at least a rough draft of your brand first and foremost.

Here are some questions to ask yourself while identifying it.

What’s my business mission?

If you were a ship owner your vessel would have a name and it would have a mission. It would carry cargo or people, or it might be an Arctic icebreaker, or a defender with tools to serve its purpose. It may be out to explore new places or gather information. Your mission will help you determine your brand.

Having launched your business, you must have a strategy to address the market climate and determine where there are holes to be filled. What has you excited about embarking on this voyage? What do you plan to offer? How will your customers be served?

Beyond understanding your own destiny, consider those of your customers: who are they and what are they searching for? Develop a customer compass that identifies their personalities and lifestyles, what they spend most of their time doing, what they like and dislike. Whatever is important to your business is what you should be seeking to learn about your market.

What’s my brand personality?

Your brand (ship) should have a unique personality to set it apart from others, the same way your personality sets you apart from other people. Start exploring what your brand will convey, remembering that it goes beyond what your business merely looks and sounds like, but in fact embodies the core values of what you offer your customers.

Choosing a name, a look and a logo for your brand will either be the most fun or the most stressful part of the journey. You’ll want to go with an image that represents your products and services well; something that catches attention, is easy to remember and tells the right story about your brand (ship) while being relatable to your customer.

How is my brand communicating?

Your brand (ship) will be the first impression you make on prospects. It also gives a long-lasting impression to returning customers. You want it to speak to them in a consistent tone of voice, serving as a constant reminder of your business’ character.

An elevator pitch can serve as an oral representation of your brand (ship); a 30-second-or-less statement about your business’ mission, goals and values. Strength is in the brevity of your pitch as you’re forced to narrow down your services to just the specifics. This will help you greatly when networking with others who may soon develop a great interest in your brand.

Your brand is important because it cultivates trust between you and your customers early on in your business relationship. Without it, there might not be a relationship to follow. It’s important to not gloss over the details, but to clearly understand what impact your brand will have on the future of your company.

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Are you seeking help with identifying your brand? Prime Strategies offers the necessary guidance and expertise to help you develop your brand and create a strategy to build it into your own fleet. Ask for a complimentary session to get you started.

5 Fundamentals of Business Success

We have discussed why it’s important to build your business on a solid foundation, but it’s equally crucial to maintain certain fundamentals throughout the life of your business.  As the captain of your ship you are responsible for reaching your destination. You need to be in command as much as possible, so it’s important that you know and can apply the fundamentals of business success.

Set your compass using these 5 basics which, with the right care, will assure your small business will reach its intended harbor and be prepared for many more profitable voyages.

  1. Accurate Finances

It’s okay to admit if you’re not the best with numbers. If this is the case, consider investing in a professional to manage the books because it’s one of the most important components of your small business. You not only need a good accountant, you need someone who can help you interpret what the numbers mean. Access to this information will significantly improve your ability to make good business decisions. Sailing without a compass and checking status along the way will surely find you off course at some point.

  1. Customer Values

In the early stages of your business, it’s important that you identify who your customers are and what they want. But once you find your target, don’t stop. Every sale is an opportunity to understand a little more what matters to your customers. What products and services do they need to improve their daily lives? What expectations do they have of your business? What would they like but don’t yet have?

  1. Strong Crew

Don’t skimp on attention to detail when it comes to your crew. Whether your staff is large or small, ensure that you’re giving it your all from recruitment to training, incentives and promotion. Hire a staff diverse in skills and experience and foster a positive onboard experience for them to thrive in. Ask them to share their observations. Employee feedback is as important as customer feedback so be sure you’re keeping eyes and ears open at all times.

  1. Identifiable Brand

Your brand should have a personality that fits with your corner of the market. It should be something that resonates with your customers and becomes an identifying representation of what you offer; not just your products and services but your customer service and business values. Read our article on “How to Identify Your Brand” to gain more insight on the steps involved in brand development.

  1. Outside Help

The value of outside help is being able to gain an objective perspective and possible suggestions which you might not think of on your own.You can seek help at any stage of your business.  Seek a “mentor” with similar business experience or a captain’s coach who can help you navigate around the shallow harbors and keep you on course.  Getting help to safely sail through potential storms will minimize negative impact on your customers, employees and products. Save yourself from making avoidable mistakes by asking for help before it’s too late.

Marian Banker, MBA, trains today’s Business Captains. She works with small business owners who want to learn and practice the skill of leading a successful business.

 

The First Step in Creating a Successful Business

Successful Business blueprints and 3-D chartBy now you know how important it is to create your business goals, strategies and plans as the precursor to taking action. But there is something that comes before all that; it’s your business Vision.

Think of it as if you were going to create a painting or build a house. You would envision what the end result would look like. You’d know what you are going to create before you started. You’d think through the details. The same is true in building the business you want; one that will satisfy your needs and fulfill your dreams. So how do you get started with that?

Close Your Eyes and Imagine… Five years from now, what do you see? An expanding, bustling empire? A business just as small as the day you started it? Do you have hundreds of employees or just one? Have you already cashed out to lay  on the beach, drink mai tais and reminisce about business ownership? Or are you actively working in the business either full time or part time? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re not ready to move past this part, so get creative. Let your mind wander, see yourself and your business as you would like to be. Consider the kinds of services or products you’ll be offering, who will be your customers, your work environment, the support services you will have, the bottom line profit you will make. You might even consider writing yourself a personal letter from the future (5 years from now) detailing all of your business successes. Or just write freely about your hopes and dreams with regard to this venture and see what comes out that you didn’t already know.

When All Else Fails…Use the Q & A method. Entrepreneur.com suggests asking yourself some straightforward questions if you’re still having trouble with your Vision. Questions such as:

  1. How much am I willing to sacrifice to see this succeed? My own money? Long work hours and no vacations? No income for possibly years?
  2. If this venture doesn’t work out, then what?
  3. What annual revenues do I expect this business to make?
  4. Will this serve a niche market or sell a broad range of products and services?
  5. If I decide to delegate responsibilities, which will remain mine and which will I share?
  6. Could I work with a partner or investors? How comfortable am I under authority?
  7. Do I want to keep this business in the family and private or do I want it to someday go public?


Test Your Idea Against Two Major Components

Financial: If your business makes no economic sense now, it likely never will. Put your idea against financial challenges such as whether or not ( and when) you expect to see a return on your investment, what the projected profits over time might be and if you can devote yourself wholly to this venture monetarily.

Lifestyle: Your business will require a big commitment from you, but if you feel comfortable once you’ve figured out the details, you’ll know what you’re in for. Consider where you’ll live, what might happen if you get sick, if you’ll earn enough to maintain your desired lifestyle and if your family is on board with your choice.

Don’t Waver! If you can make it past this envisioning phase, then you’ll also have tested your commitment (and passed!), so remember that when things feel overwhelming. Having a clear Vision of where you are going with your small business can exponentially improve your odds of success, so take one step at a time and stick with it. Don’t lose sight of your Vision.

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Want professional guidance in creating a Vision with potential for success? In 30 minutes you will have a Vision that will motivate you and become the guiding light for your future success. Request your free 30 minutes here.

If you’re experiencing challenges in your business and not sure where your priorities should be, consider downloading the Business Challenges Checklist help you see where you need to focus now.

Getting Started on the Right Foundation

Business Foundation blocks with HELP at the top.The harsh reality of starting a business is that the odds of failure are very high. Forbes reports that nearly 80% of small businesses don’t survive past 3 years with that number rising to 95% in cases of online businesses.

This stark reality exists because many people try to build their own business in the hopes it’ll make them rich quickly without first building a foundation upon which to grow a lasting business. The stronger the foundation, the more likely the business will survive and thrive.

YFSmagazine walks us through three basic steps to take to build a solid business foundation and avoid becoming a statistic.

1. Divide Business Functions

To manage and grow a new business, you have to be a jack of all trades. This means knowing everything from payroll to marketing, customer service to HR and technology to product development. Since there’s so much to do, it’s important you don’t play favorites. Make sure you’re giving the proper time to each segment of your business and not neglecting the more stressful tasks.

You may want to delegate functions and tasks you don’t like to do or are not competent doing to a contracted specialist or a part-timer. They can help lessen the burden, but being in a position to do so probably won’t come overnight.

By compartmentalizing your business functions you’ll also grow stronger psychologically and be in a position to hand off elements as the business grows.

2. Develop a Comprehensive Business Plan

The research shows having a solid business plan can double your chance of success.

YFS says to begin with an executive summary before branching into a company description. Then refine your products and services, market analysis, marketing strategy, management summary and financial analysis. I believe it’s better to create your plan first, then go back and write the executive summary and company description. After working through all the elements it will be much easier to summarize into a comprehensive introductory document.

The financial analysis should make clear how your business is being financed now, and how it will be financed in the future. Getting a clear understanding of this early on will increase the odds of you meeting your goal .

3. Create a Realistic Budget

The Houston Chronicle reports that small businesses can spend $5,000 and up on one year’s worth of insurance alone. Your specific cost will depend greatly on a number of factors, including the type of industry you’re in, your location and how many employees you have.

Add the cost of marketing, product shipping and overhead like vehicle maintenance and office space rentals  and your budget can be consumed very quickly. Use social media and build a solid website to help lower your marketing costs; with the internet providing a much less expensive, often free, environment for you to reach your target market, you should use it whenever possible to cut down on costs.

You will  also want to invest in an accountant to help you get the most out of your budget, including expert knowledge on tax write-offs.

There is a lot to consider when taking the leap into small business ownership but the better foundation you lay down, the better your chances of long term success.

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If you’re putting together a business plan and would like help with creating a budget, I’m happy to help.

Challenges of Transitioning from Executive to Entrepreneur

We love a good small business success story here at Prime Strategies, and open forum’s telling of Charles Henagan’s is a great example of someone moving from executive status to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

Embarking upon what appeared to be his dream job, Henagan was tasked with bringing new life to a legendary brand of vodka. Nearly 50, he was given new life with his exciting schedule of travel, meetings and strategy sessions while staying connected to his younger colleagues over post-work drinks.

Only 6 months into his new role, spirit sales began to sink internationally in response to the recession. As a result, Henagan was let go, leading him from the work force to becoming an unemployment statistic.

Henagan decided against looking for another corporate job in such delicate economic times, so he established Market Edge International, a New York City-based consulting firm that helps clients create sales teams and marketing strategies.

Henagan laments “The U.S. economy is changing so dramatically that in most industries, even when things pick up, the management structure will be fairly flat.” He felt exiting that scene and starting his own company was the most logical and dependable solution.

Not all victims of the down-turned economy have landed on their feet. Flexibility and long-term experience saved Henagan from the unemployment line but for some, starting their own business with a corporate executive mindset is slightly trickier. Most at the executive level are used to collaborating on big decisions and spending corporate money. Having sole responsibility for all decisions and tasks, can be a difficult mindset to accept. Plus it’s tough to deal with the loss of status. Some even experience anger, denial, depression, and so entrepreneurship is not for every transitioning executive.

Henagan, however, considers himself lucky to have made a smooth transition into entrepreneurship as opposed to pursuing another corporate job. He’s busy at work applying his acquired skills and new knowledge to his growing business. It works for him.

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If you’re an entrepreneur seeking help with planning for 2014, Prime Strategies offers One-Day Fast-Track Planning  to guide you in creating a solid Action Plan that will lay the foundation for a successful and profitable year.

Internet Marketing 101: Part-1

Marketing your brand and getting customers in the door is a complicated but necessary component to the success of your business. It can be expensive to implement the right kind of advertising strategy which makes the internet all the more appealing.

But in addition to being mostly free, the internet can be overwhelming, especially for late-life entrepreneurs who didn’t grow up Tweeting and Facebooking and LOLing. This is new to you and it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Here are some tips for staying calm and making the most of your internet use.

Find Your Target Market

One of the first mistakes most business owners make when using the web for marketing is they yell at the masses instead of networking with a more relevant pool of people. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of content online and a lot of people online. Not every web surfer is going to be your potential customer so instead of getting lost in all the yelling, target who you need to.

Chances are you already know your target market, assuming you’ve gotten that far in your business plan. The next step is to figure out where these folks hang out on the internet. What kind of websites do they visit? Which blogs do you think they read? Are they more likely to use Twitter or Facebook to connect with their friends and family? Age, gender and other demographics are a great way to figure this out. Doing some research online (Google any doubts away, always) can steer you in the right direction but in general, use what you already know. If your target customer is like you, find blogs you enjoy reading. Or simply find other people talking about the type of products you sell and get ready to tell them they should be buying yours.

Build Up Your Profile

Once you figure out which social platforms your target audience is using most, go there and become a part of it. Before you get started, make sure your profiles represent your business well. Be sure to include contact information; business address, phone number, website – if any. Make sure the aesthetics match your overall brand and include something personal so people can get to know you better. If you’ve been in business for 35 years, mention that you’re an authority with a lot of experience. If you’re just starting out, discuss how eager you are to get in the game and how much fun you’re having. Be you. That’s how you will attract listeners.

One of the more common misconceptions of internet marketing is that it will be quick and easy. But to get the right results and avoid wasting your time on the wrong demographics, it will take some time and patience. Don’t fear, though, because you’re not alone. Figuring out the nuances of internet marketing isn’t just challenging because you’re not entirely used to it; its complexities are blind to age, so why not join the race and see what you can make of it?

Stay tuned for next week’s post where we’ll conclude our internet advice with part 2 of Internet Marketing 101.


If you’re a late-life entrepreneur seeking support in business planning and management techniques, Prime Strategies can offer the necessary guidance and expertise to help you reach your goals.

BUSINESS LEADERSHIP SERIES:

BUSINESS MANAGEMENT USING OPERATING RESULTS

OK, now it’s time for your report card – your business operating report card, that is.

Not only have you planned, you’ve acted on your plan and calculated how you would cover the cost of these plans by creating a budget that included: Directly and Indirectly Related Expenses, Overhead, Timing and Projected Return on Investment (ROI).

Now that you’ve taken the actions that were on your calendar and you’ve budgeted for them accordingly, you’ll be able to see how well these actions produced the desired results.

The intent is that everything will come together as planned. In the real world, we know that doesn’t always happen – sometimes not even often. Your challenge is to see if you can determine why things didn’t go as planned and to come up with a way to do better next time. By continuing to improve your planning and budgeting skills, your chances of achieving the desired results go up accordingly. That’s when you’re truly LEADING your business. You can say this is where I want the business to go, how much profit I want and have a strategy and plan to make it happen.

As you begin to monitor and manage your business operating results you’ll probably see a change in your perception of yourself and your role as business owner/leader as well. You’ll be amazed at the confidence gained in being able to make sound business decisions.

Here’s what I suggest you do.

1 – Take an in-depth look at your business report card – your financial statements. We’re operating on the assumption that you have a system in place that will provide you with accurate, timely financial reports. I recommend a monthly review, a quarterly review and an annual review. You have to do the quarterly review for tax purposes anyway, so it’s a great time to consider the quarter as one-fourth of your operating year. What has happened in this period will likely set the framework for future quarters. Make adjustments to your plan as needed based on results achieved.

2 – When doing your monthly review, check back over your calendar for the past month. How much of your plans were actually accomplished? Is there a need to make budget changes because plans fell behind? Why did that happen? What impact will it have on revenues and costs? Question each finding that is different than expected.

3 – Compare each line item with previous months as well as next month’s projections. Look at increases and decreases. Three months in a row of increases or decreases may indicate a trend. Be sure you know why this is happening. If it’s not what you want, create a plan and take action to alter the trend.

4 – Adjust next month’s plans after determining how much of the old plans should be brought forward. Make any budget changes and transfer your first two week’s plans to your weekly calendar. Then each week break the plans down into specific actions by day. Actually give a time slot (can be an hour or a whole day) to actions that will require time. How can you expect to get things done if you don’t schedule for them?

5 – It’s this monthly review, planning and action that allows you to stay on your toes and nimble enough to make changes before negative trends become hard to reverse. It’s how you know what’s going on in your business and it’s a solid foundation for daily and periodic decision-making .

6 – Transfer each Quarterly Budget to an Operating Summary Spreadsheet. Many accounting packages can provide this for you or you can create something yourself. You want to compare three months’ results with corresponding monthly projections. You’ll be able to see right away where you were off and can zoom in to look for what happened.

7 – Compare Quarterly Reports and then look at all of them sequentially for the past year. This gives you a lot of valuable information for creating next year’s strategy, plans, actions and budgets. Having accurate documentation in this fashion not only helps you make better business decisions it shows any outsider (investor or lender) that you are in fiscal control of your business. It goes a long way toward building your credibility and the confidence of the outside party.

8 – It can be very helpful to have someone who’s knowledgeable walk you through it the first few times until you become familiar with what is included in each item and report. That’s a great role for your business coach to play. Having a mentor through some of the details can make a big difference in how quickly it falls into place for you. The important thing is that you become comfortable with what your numbers are telling you.

It’s wonderful to watch clients’ reaction when they finally “get it”. They’re much more confident in their decisions and actually look forward to their monthly financial statements to see the results of the decisions they’ve made. The bottom line is the ultimate report card and that’s what we’re all trying to improve.

Once you’ve changed your involvement in your business from being reactive to being proactive you are truly a BUSINESS LEADER. And you’re now in a great position to enjoy the rewards!!

Partnership: Potential for Success

Partnership Potential Success photoMany of the top companies today were started and grew as partnerships.  Among the Internet online giants Twitter, Yahoo, eBay, and Google were all started with partnerships.  And in many of these cases they were people who were at odds with each other.  Once they looked past the differences they found that each complemented the other.  For them such a union could make the process of birthing their dream, easier, better, and faster.  They saw their partnership as potential for success.

Some of the largest tech companies have also started as partnerships.  Intel, Apple, Hewlett Packard, and Microsoft are such examples.  In many cases the way partners complement each other doesn’t have to be about the creation and launch of a product or service.  Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard worked together on many things, but they feel that the working atmosphere they created in their company was what helped it become as large as it did.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry’s started out as friends with a passion for food and a $5 course on ice-cream making.  But many say their real success came from their agreement on becoming a socially and environmentally aware business. Their focus went beyond the company profits.

These are only a few examples of highly profitable and worldwide recognized companies that have started as partnerships.  When you read the histories of these icons, you see that many partners did not get along; in fact some even today are not amicable.  Yet they worked on success by focusing on their product or service, their clients, their employees, and their industry.  Success was a byproduct.

If you’re struggling with your partner or your partnership, can you set aside your differences and see the big picture with the understanding that your partner is a unique benefit for your endeavor?  If not, feel free to contact me for help in sorting through the issues.

BlogWorld buys Small Business Summit

Earlier this week New Media Expo BlogWorld announced it had purchased the assets of the Small Business Summit and will continue to lay the foundation for expansion upon what my Summit partner, Ramon Ray, and I have built over the past seven years.

Since 2006 Ramon and I have produced the annual Small Business Summit here in New York City. You may have attended one or more of these exciting all-day events. We always enjoyed putting together a day packed with fascinating speakers, top notch panels, interesting exhibits and lots of high energy fun. We have known for quite a while that the potential for this event was much greater than we could manage alone. So when we were recently approached by a major digital media company we knew this was a terrific opportunity for the Summit to reach its true potential. [Read more…]

8 Steps to Set Your Business on Fire

All too often I hear comments like “I’m tired of putting out business fires on a regular basis. There must be a better way.”

Well, of course, there is, and we want to convert the energy that’s being spent on putting out fires to a more constructive use. Let’s talk about setting your business on fire – on purpose – by being smart. Set those fires yourself and plan in advance how you will leverage the energy that’s released.

If the energy is organized and has a mission or target, the chances of hitting the target (goal) will be a lot greater. (Consider a bullet in the cylinder, awaiting the trigger to release its energy). We want to get you and your business organized and focused so the energy you release will propel your business forward in the direction you choose.

Following are the steps that seem to work best if done sequentially, all with the specific purpose of setting your business on fire. Literally translated that means bringing in more revenue, more customers, more brand recognition.

1 – Get your foundation in place
Without a sound business structure, you won’t be prepared to handle the surge in activity when your business takes off. Start by being really clear about what value you bring to the marketplace and making sure you are clearly communicating it in a variety of ways that put you in contact with your target market. Set measurable, realistic goals and create a strategy and plan to achieve them.

2 – Focus on Sales
What’s the most important part of your business? Sales, of course. How much of your time are you spending on Revenue Generating Activities? I find I need to spend at least 50% of my time on staying in touch with my market and interacting with clients and potential clients. A specific marketing plan with timeframes will keep you focused and allow you to assess the results of your actions.

3 – Commit to being responsible for and accountable for your business results
Set goals based on research and strategic decisions. Commit not only to yourself, but to a coach or a colleague. This adds fuel to your commitment. Communicate your goals and make sure your team and staff know their role and responsibility in achieving desired results. Get their commitment as well so everyone will be adding to the focused energy.

4 – Develop Strategic Alliances
You know you can’t build a business without help from others. Strategic alliances are how smart business people are leveraging their connections to reach beyond what can be done alone. I use my connections to add expertise beyond my own for many of my programs. This helps both of us reach new targeted connections where we can share our expertise. I also use marketing and technology alliances to open new networks. Every time you add an alliance you are expanding your network exponentially.

5 – Showcase Your Expertise
Every entrepreneur has expertise in something. The key is to identify and showcase yours. Your combination of training, experience, knowledge and resources makes you unique. Who cares about that expertise and how can you best share what you have to offer? Some people look for speaking opportunities in front of their target market; some who like to write will create articles, newsletters, books, CDs. Give freely of your knowledge; share your unique perspective, focus on helping others accomplish their goals. You will attract those who relate to what you say and do.

6 – Use the Web strategically
Most businesses today can benefit from using the web. This may or may not include a web site, but e-mail is definitely a prime means of communication for most businesses. It’s important to learn e-mail etiquette and to stay current on use of e-mail for marketing. Search Engine Optimization has become a key strategy for web sites. Changes happen so rapidly for anything that’s web related you’ll want to consult with a web marketing professional before undertaking any campaign.

7 – Support Yourself
You want to focus the majority of your time and energy doing what you do best in your business. That may mean product development, marketing and sales or overall management. Enlist the support of others whose expertise complements yours. Consider whether you’re better off doing that by adding to staff or through a strategic alliance. Sometimes bartering services can be a great way to get what you need and generate a client/customer at the same time. Keep adding to your team until you’ve covered all the gaps.

8. – Begin to act “as if” your goal (target) is already achieved
Thinking and acting “as if” magnetically pulls you to your goal. Success becomes easier when you’re operating in success mode. And success begets more success. Jill Ammon-Wexler’s article offers more on why acting “as if” is so powerful.

Focus, like a laser, can set your business on fire. Follow through with these steps and watch your business heat up.