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.

 

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.

Risk vs. Success

risk vs. successAs an entrepreneur you expect to fail every once in a while, but what about risk?  New, brilliant and unique products/services/strategies don’t get tried any other way.  In some cases, avoidance of risk can lead to a total business failure.  So what is the right amount of risk?

Some business owners play it safe by watching others succeed and follow their lead with a few creative differences; this can lead to some success without the risk.  But did you really start a business to be a follower, to be left in the dust, or shown up by your competitor? I have learned that this strategy of succeeding in others footsteps robs you and your company from the invisible lessons (and accompanying knowledge and experience) gleaned from taking risks. You won’t share in the glory, praise, or energy derived from the success.  Taking risk is a good thing, if you do it with your eyes wide open.

Being able to discern acceptable risk vs. crazy or time wasting risk is the key.  You don’t have to follow in anyone’s footsteps to learn from them; [Read more…]

Prepare for Recovery: Think Like a Leader

As most of you already know, my mission is “transforming business owners into business leaders”. As the economy moves into the next phase of recovery, it will be those who think and function as leaders who will be the winners. Leaders will have identified pertinent opportunities and prepared themselves for advantage as things improve.

Are you thinking like a leader? Let’s see.

1 – A leader accepts responsibility for business results. As a leader it’s your job to recognize and solve problems, make good decisions and take effective action. The more you can systematize the process the easier it will be. But the final outcome, success or failure, is up to you.

2 – A leader is Vision/Mission driven – Do you know what you want for your business? Do you have a clear mission? If not you’re just flapping your sails in the wind. You won’t be going very far very fast. The clearly thought-out vision is the magnet that pulls you forward. And the clearer, the better. You’ll be less likely to get off track, but when you do, the vision will be there to help you get back on track.

Your mission is what you do to achieve your vision. Business leaders have strong missions that take into consideration accomplishing something of value beyond themselves. [Read more…]

Common Business Challenges: You’re Not Alone

If you’re in business, you’ve got challenges. Some are priority; some can be deferred. Some will take time; others can be handled quickly and easily. Some will require a financial investment; some will not. They are all business challenges because they are holding you back in some way.

Rather than see a challenge as a negative, I find it’s helpful to think of it as an opportunity. It usually means choices must be made, and that’s where it can get sticky. Sometimes we feel stuck because we’re unsure about the right course of action. When the problem continues, we feel the stress and so does the business.

Some of the types of challenges I frequently hear about from small business owners are:
– sales – how to get more
– time/organization – not enough time, chaos mode, overwhelm
– cash flow – unpredictable and uneven income and expense
– staffing – conflicts, poor delegation and job matches
– technology – not adequately supporting operations

Anything sound familiar?

Even though the specifics are unique to your business, thousands of others experience the same kinds of challenges. The great thing is you don’t have to deal with these all alone. You can learn from those who’ve been there.

There are also experts in each of these areas who may be able to help you better see the issues and create a smart strategy. Even getting their perspective can sometimes trigger a new idea or technique that will let you move forward.

As entrepreneurs, the buck stops with us, so we need all the help we can get. I’m happy to share with you my perspective, suggestions and case studies. Let this be a point of reference for your next steps.

Sales

If you’re struggling to make sales, something needs to change. Sales happen when the perceived value is equal to or greater than the cost. Of course, it’s a matter of timing also. A customer may not need computer repair today, but sooner or later they probably will. The key is to be there, at top of mind, when they do.

You may benefit from an outside perspective on how to better reach your target market, pre-qualify or follow-up. Don’t continue to sink resources into something that isn’t working. Find out how others have addressed this type of challenge. Talk with a sales consultant, trainer or specialist to help you see things from a different perspective. At least you’ll know you have options.

Sylvia was a publicity and public relations consultant who increased her sales dramatically when she changed her marketing strategy from shotgun to rifle focus. She decided who were her best clients and focused her efforts on finding what they wanted.

Time/Organization

Who has enough time? It’s a challenge for every small business owner.

Analysis, organization and systematizing operations are the key to making the most of your time and that of all your staff. With organization and systems to support the operation of your business, time will be on your side.

Most businesses have “predictable” activities, many of which can be automated to some degree. In the process of putting this in place you are forced to review the actions of your business. You’ll also become aware of areas that can benefit from streamlining.

Yes, bringing time under your control will likely require some more invested time, but the payoff can be huge.

For Gus, owner of a bakery products distribution company, creating a system to track movement of his inventory saved him many hours of searching for information when he needed it. There was a financial investment for purchase of computer hardware and software, but he was able to break even in less than a year and has knocked 4-5 hours/week off his own job.

Cash Flow

Both new and well-established businesses often find themselves in a difficult cash situation and don’t know what to do about it. The answer, of course, is cash planning. In order to do that, you will need accurate and timely financial information and know how to interpret what you see.

Good cash planning requires review of historical financial information, including a look at business cycle and sales cycle. Credit policies and practices, marketing plans, periodic expenses, debt and cash access need to be considered as well. The concept is to control what can be controlled and to manage what can’t.

Erica, owner of a wellness center, was able to move into a bigger space because she knew her cash flow would support it. Using her past 2 years cash history, the results of a recent marketing campaign and a change in patient planning strategy, she was able to project more than adequate cash inflow to cover the expected increase in expenses.

Staffing

You may have difficulty finding or retaining qualified help. Your staff may not be onboard with your goals. There may be interpersonal conflicts. The real problem with unresolved staffing issues is it will hold back the growth of your business. Until you can get your people, as well as your systems, to support your operations, any potential growth is in jeopardy.

It may not be difficult to identify where the problems are. Reaching the right resolution, however, may prove to be more difficult. Certainly, until you are totally clear about where you’re going and have a plan to get there, your staff won’t be able to provide consistent support.

Adam was an engineer who owned and managed an 8 person company. He had an assistant who just wasn’t performing at the level he needed and expected. In a focused interview he learned she had no idea what her job was supposed to be.

His steps were to wrote a job description discuss it with her, get her agreement, include some of her suggestions, show her the critical nature of her role and help her set personal goals.

Some follow-up and reinforcement was necessary, but in less than 3 months he was able to delegate management of the administrative portion of his jobs. This, of course, freed him to spend more time seeking new business.

Technology

Every business must first define and streamline its business practices and processes, then seek the technology to carry out and support operations. Correctly applied, technology makes information more available and useful, helping small firms better manage their finances, sales, prospect development, customer relationships, inventory, etc. A good marriage of business and technology saves time and money. expedites workflow and provides accurate and timely information.

When Jonathan transitioned from being head of a division in a mid-size company to opening his own business, he knew this was the time to introduce technology that could streamline his operations.

After being in business only six months he researched and chose a paperless system that allowed him to scan and archive the numerous forms and documents that are required to be maintained as part of his operation.

He estimates the business saves 1-1/2 to 2 hrs. (20-25%) daily in time previously spent on filing and retrieving paper. And the cost of storage is practically non-existent.

These are certainly only some of the more commonly reported challenges. Consider which of these areas need your attention. If something else is more urgent, by all means, address it first.

And don’t forget, you’re not alone. Ask for help when needed and find out what others have done in similar circumstances. Use this information to help you gain the confidence you need to make a commitment to a strategic course of action.

 

Delegation & Teamwork

Delegation & Teamwork, businessman covering his head with his laptopRegardless of the business you’re in you’re not going to be able to build a viable, thriving enterprise without the help of others. This is where some entrepreneurs get stuck. Many of us fall into the rut of trying to do it all ourselves even as the business grows. And that’s where problems can begin.

Alfred Peet, founder and former CEO of Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Inc., admits his biggest mistake was not being able to delegate. Quoted in an Inc article, he said, “I know exactly where I want to go, but I can’t explain every thought, every idea I have for the future of this company. Many people left. I was burnt out, so I had to sell. Do you know what it’s like when you’ve given so much, there’s nothing left?” He sold Peet’s Coffee in 1979 after 13 years in business.

Burn-out takes its toll and the business feels the stress. [Read more…]

How to Create a Marketing Strategy That Delivers

One of the most challenging parts of marketing is creating effective strategies. That’s because it’s impossible to be certain what outcome any given marketing strategy will bring. But there are ways you can increase the probability of success.

First, let’s define strategy and consider why it’s needed.

Wikipedia defines strategy as “A long term plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal, most often “winning.” Strategy is differentiated from tactics or immediate actions with resources at hand by its nature of being extensively premeditated, and often practically rehearsed. Strategies are used to make the problem easier to understand and solve.”

My definition is a bit simpler, and hopefully, easier to understand. I consider developing a strategy as the “thinking” part of the process. It’s where you gather all the pertinent information, analyze it, and then make “informed” decisions based on what you learned. A strategy is an informed decision that provides a framework for actions. [Read more…]

The One Page Marketing Plan – Preparation

The purpose of the One Page Marketing Plan is to simplify the steps of creating a practical plan you can put to use immediately. It can be used to support a marketing campaign or to carry out your overall business plan.

We start by gathering pertinent information and answering specific questions. The purpose of the One Page Marketing Plan is to give you explanations and examples to organize your thinking and direct your actions. You’ll have simple tools that provide a structure you can use over and over again. You are both learning and doing at the same time.

There are only two basic steps in the One Page Marketing Plan process: Preparation and Planning. This article covers the highlights of the Preparation process. During this step you’ll gather critical information about your business and your market. Upon completion of this step you’ll be ready to create a simple and effective One Page Marketing Plan.

PREPARATION

Preparation consists of gathering pertinent information about your business and your market. You want to be very clear about your market position before starting your plan. You also want information about your market and your marketing history. [Read more…]

7 Strategies to Prepare for Recovery

Road to Recovery.  No matter our circumstances, we all have been affected by the deepest recession in our lifetime. This summer seems to be even tougher than usual for many small businesses.

Now is a great time to take a hard look at the realities that exist, get help where needed and rethink our business strategy in preparation for recovery.

Here are seven strategies that will help.

1. Open a dialog with those you know. Mutually beneficial relationships are now, and always have been, a key to success. Reconnect with former customers, former prospects, business colleagues and friends. Ask about their plans and their challenges. How have things changed for them and what do they need now?

2. Identify your personal value and offer to give that on the terms of your choosing. Incorporate your personal values into your business. Support programs you believe in. Join selected organizations and find a way to contribute your personal value.

3. Expand your network. Seek to connect with those who are either in your target market or do business within it. Be sure to have a follow-up plan for all new connections. Limit time on social media and networking activities to only those that produce results for you. The volume of information and interactions in online networking can be overwhelming, so be ruthless with sticking to your strategies and plans.

4. Consider alliances, joint ventures and partnerships with those already in your network. These are typically low cost, high return arrangements if structured to the benefit of all parties. Such business relationships can provide flexibility, new resources and stability in a sea of chaos. For more information on growing your business using partnerships review my recent webcast,

5. Make informed decisions and take calculated risks. Before making any decisions gather all pertinent information from your business, your market, your community and the economy in general. Take calculated risks based on all the pertinent information you have gathered and analyzed. Consider the risk vs. reward relationship. You’re bound to come up with new options. As some doors close; new ones will open.

6. Remain flexible. Test your ideas on a small scale. Adjust and modify based on what you learn. Make small investments in new ideas. Set very short term goals and determine early what works and what doesn’t. Innovative ideas that prove themselves now could position you to lead in a recovery.

7. Provide yourself with ongoing support. Create a small, close network to help provide perspective. Get feedback on your ideas and concerns. Find out what others are doing that is proving successful. Ask for what you want and need.

These are actually good business strategies for building a strong business in any economy, but they are especially important in maintaining and growing a healthy business now. It’s how many small businesses are taking the lead in creating a recovery for themselves and the economy.

To learn more about business success strategies and actually apply them to your business check out the Business Success System Course. It’s the Prime Strategies self-study program that walks you through the fundamentals of building a strong and profitable business.