Strategy: Is Your Goal a Place or a Direction?

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Strategy

Strategy

You started out putting together something that you could call a Business Plan, right? If you had some help, or needed one to present to the bank or some investors, it was probably pretty detailed and held most everything you hoped to accomplish and how you would get there, all in one hefty document.

Then you launched your business, and got down to the day-to-day of keeping things going and growing.
The months and years flew by. Some products and services took off, and others flopped. You made adjustments, and kept at it. You marketed to your select audience the best you knew how, taking advantage of every free or low-cost method you could find so you could keep costs down. Your strategy, such as it was, was “Keep Things Going!” It worked for awhile…

Now it’s been several months or probably years. You’re working like crazy, but the return has slowed. Even if you’re getting new customers, you’re not getting as many return customers. Your products and services have changed a bit (or a lot..), but not much of the other pieces of the business framework has. You’re still not as profitable as you need to be to REALLY be making a living. You keep looking for things you can alter a bit or tweak to squeeze out more, but you’re running out of options.

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Are You Ready for Wrong?

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Wrong

Wrong

Nobody likes to be wrong. Guys have an especially hard time with failure. My wife knows me well enough now that, when she asks me about something and I start an answer, about 80% of the time she can tell if I’m just piecing together something from opinions, random thought, and floating bits of semi-related rubbish in my head (what guy doesn’t want to the The Answer Man?…) rather than an ACTUAL answer. While “getting caught” this way in a personal discussion is embarrassing, it is REALLY not a great way to approach business decisions, regardless of their size.

There has been a lot of digital ink spilled over the past years about the importance of Failure in Business. Most everyone gives it some level of lip service, but when it comes right down to failing, the shivers and the pointing fingers/assigning blame begin, and the lessons that can be learned are muddled or lost. As human as it is to make mistakes, being wrong in public is still a key source of shame….so we avoid it or ignore it at all costs. Sadly, even at the cost of figuring out what can be learned and applied to the program, process, product or relationship.

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FOCUS: Get That One Thing Right!

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One Thing

One Thing

You’ve got that ONE THING to do, and you’re convinced that getting that right will make all the pieces fall into place, right?

I’ve had more than one business owner approach me and ask for help with a Facebook Ad or a Google Ad. My first question is usually to find out what it is they’re trying to accomplish. The answer is usually a very specific, tactical objective: promote a coupon, sell a special item or service, get some LIKES, get sign-ups for an event….

My follow-up question is usually the same one: What are you trying to accomplish?
If that doesn’t make them annoyed with me, it soon does. I sometimes go through multiple iterations of that question before we draw back far enough to the business goal or goals this one thing is supposed to support. Then we can get into the reasoning around why this will (or will not…) actually support that goal.
Not that clarity of the Next Step is bad, but obsession with it may not be the most effective focus. You may have focused so tightly on this single action or problem that  it has actually become more difficult to see in context. Your habit may be that, given the problem of promoting your coupon, you need to drop a bundle on an ad. That could work to some degree, but if you temporarily suspend that impulse and redefine the problem, you can discover that there is a different, better way to achieve the objective.

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Best of November: TOP POSTS – No Turkeys Here!

Can you believe it? Thanksgiving is past and we are all on the short countdown to Christmas!? Well, while you were trying to finish off the Halloween candy AND putting together the grocery list for Thanksgiving, there have been a LOT of article published that deserve your attention…..I’ve gone through them and cherry-picked the most relevant ones for you!

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Fall Reading List

Fall Reading List

One of my favorite sites to read, Conversation Agent by Valeria Maltoni, posted the seasonal reading list. I know your reading list is already pretty long, as is mine, but her recommendations always lead to revisit and lengthen mine. I’m sure this list will do the same for you!

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How Do You Get to Valuable Options?

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Options not Answers

Options not Answers

How many squirrels can you follow at once?

This is the thought that occurred to me while reading a recent article by Valeria Maltoni entitled Inventing Options for Mutual Gain. While describing an excellent process for arriving at options, and not necessarily “the final solution”, I am reminded of Edward de Bono and his book Lateral Thinking that I read years ago. The depth and specifics of this work long ago drifted into the “you don’t need to remember this at a granular level” section of my mind, but one of the descriptions I remember well is that the activity of lateral thinking could be visualized as you digging numerous holes in the ground. Although you may find something of interest, even compelling, in one of the holes you dig, you don’t stop digging. Don’t fall in love with the first appealing thing you come across. Other holes you dig may (or may not) offer up a more creative, more defining, more appropriate solution.

Now it’s true that at some point you’ll need to stop digging holes and bring all these potential answers up to consider, but the initial goal is to discover options, not arrive at an answer. Some of the options may well present you with trade-offs, value to different segments of the answer base (those for whom you are digging, whether they are customers, friend and family, or the factions in your head…).

In her article, Maltoni describes a prototypical strategy session that may be carried out amongst 5-8 people and many excellent points that will allow this group to get to the options, and THEN to a decision based upon negotiation. But what does this look like when it’s just you, the entrepreneur or small business owner?

There are a couple of complimentary approaches you can take.

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Can You Attack the Same Problems with Novel Perspectives?

Strategizing

Strategizing

A hundred people at an event heard the word “Strategy” as part of a presentation I gave recently. Likely there were at least a hundred different interpretations and mental pictures that lit up for the attendees, some very related and others quite different from the others. Each was a product of their experience, education, beliefs and prejudices. This fact gets to the heart of effective, and ineffective, communication….always a challenge, but a well known one. As Valeria Maltoni has written, “There is more to semantics than meets the eye.”

Just like having a solid business plan, having a marketing strategy that supports and advances that plan is crucial to success. Many programs, classes, books, and online tools (along with tips and suggestions of varying degrees of helpfulness….) may help you assemble a business plan that will pass muster and get you going. To many entrepreneurs and business owners, though, marketing strategy embodies a different kind of geography in their thoughts and can have too many connotations to list. Nonetheless, here are two thoughts you need to consider, regardless of your particular definition:

  • Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare. – Japanese Proverb
  • However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.  – Attributed to Winston Churchill
What does a strategy get you? It can establish a specific direction, a foundational launch pad, for your business, focus your resources, generate a plan that is both effective and agile, and give you a reliable way to “gut check” your direction and efforts over time. Most business owners I have met are world-class technicians, but struggle with strategy. Even those who have had some education and experience in that area can suffer from being too close to their particular industry and business, thereby missing the “We don’t know what we don’t know” gaps in what they put together. What they need to do is get some expert help putting together (or reworking…) their marketing strategy….bring someone on board to view these problems in new and novel ways.

All of the books, articles, templates and other information inputs we encounter bang on about the importance of goals. When I initially think of goals, especially in the U.S., I am presented with the mental picture of a football goal post. This implies that once I Hit The Goal, I’m done. Of course, many of the resources I mentioned earlier encourage you set new goals, circling back and starting the circle of attainment over again. That just feels kind of jerky to me. In her article “On Strategizing” Maltoni quotes Scott Adams on why a system is more useful than goals:

“For our purposes, let’s agree that goals are a reach-it-and-be-done situation, whereas a system is something you do on a regular basis with a reasonable expectation that doing so will get you to a better place in your life. Systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction. My proposition is that if you study people who succeed, you will see that most of them follow systems, not goals.”

I tell my clients that, once they build and initialize their strategy, implementation becomes a “horse they cannot get off of.” The majority of them are not happy with that message. As a business owner, if they’re involved in a project, they want it to be a project….that is, it is this lump of work that they (or the hired expert…) can complete and get off of my desk, so they can move onto the next project and get back to selling their products and services. When reminded of the importance of working ON the business as well as working IN the business, and how it strengthens the business, the strategizing process and system look much more valuable and key to growth. The dynamics of every business now require a consistent process and may require much more frequent course corrections than in the past (or in the past as we perceived it…). A sustainable business depends on making dynamic choices. Regular, if not constant, co-ordination of the current state of things with what is on hand to work them out is the new norm….fixed objectives are not viable because of the more frequent and unknowable disruptions our society and world endure daily.

So, the novel view: A Strategy feels like a “One-And-Done” item which, sadly and frequently, ends up in a filing cabinet. Strategizing is an action word. It’s something you do with some kind of frequency because of the need for it in your business. Again, many business owners are not expert strategizers, and that’s OK. As I mentioned, they are world-class technicians for their business’ focus. Do some research, get some recommendations, and start up a valuable relationship with an expert strategizer for your business.

What could be more valuable than establishing your business system of growth and success, and not just “hit the sales goal for this quarter”?

Are You Interested in Working Through the Fear?

Fear, Performance and Your Business

What are you afraid of?

Holidays make many entrepreneurs and small business owners nervous.
On one hand, HURRAH! A holiday!
Depending on your business, you may be looking at numerous merry-makers coming to your shop and celebrating by indulging in a bit of “retail therapy.” A different kind of business is looking at turning a “regular” weekend into a three-day weekend, and one where a LOT of people (their employees included…) take some time, gas up the motor vehicle of choice, and head out for a vacation of some length. Sometimes these two collide and the owner can have a staffing problem, but, hey, just put in a few more hours yourself and you’ve got it covered right? But what happens if, on this more dangerous holiday weekend, somebody gets hurt or something? In between all the travelers, the uncertainty of fireworks (as one of my colleagues said, “Normal people with a few drinks in them setting off explosive devices….what could go wrong?“…) and the randomness of other accidents…well, there’s plenty to get wound up about.

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