The One New Year’s Resolution Every Business Person Should Make… And Keep

In the pursuit of every pitch and proposal comes the inevitable follow-up phone call… and the predictable frustration that follows.

You have a meeting; you talk over objectives, needs and points of pain. With positive words and head nods, there seems to be a connection. You create and submit your plan and wait the requisite week for response to look professional, but not over eager. With no word, you place the call about next steps and…. nothing. Another week slips by. Then you’re like Lt. Uhrua on Star Trek. All hailing frequencies open. Emails and phone calls ensue. What you get in return is dead space.

You scratch your head, wondering what possibly went wrong. Odds are you’ll never find out because, for whatever reason, you’re out of the running. The prospect is no longer interested, and for some so-called professionals, it means you might as well have never existed.

Just what makes it so hard for business people to promptly return emails and phone calls? It’s my number one pet peeve.

Too busy? Sorry, we’re ALL busy. Don’t care to deliver bad news? Too bad. This is business. Not only is this silence bad etiquette, it harms reputations. Take a few seconds and think about your last non-responsive prospect. Yeah, I thought so.

You’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of behavior and you know how it feels. You’d like it if that the person you were perusing showed class and professional courtesy. So here is my suggestion: make 2012 the Year of the Return Phone Call. Now, this does not mean EVERY call. Unsolicited messages don’t count; just the people with whom you purposely engage. If the person or business you were talking to with so much interest isn’t selected or if there is a delay in your decision-making process, make sure to call him or her back.  Not only will you look professional, you’ll cut down on the amount of calls you’ll receive.

So, if you cringe at every voicemail you get, make it stop. Respond back and tell them why there will be no deal. Ten seconds later, you’ve rid yourself of one more unimportant call and come off looking like a decent human being for having done something so few people these days have the courage — and the courtesy — to do.

Why Good Content is Your “Social Annuity”

Just how valuable is the content you create? That depends. Are you writing derivative, uninspired, directionless crud that simply supplies words on a page? Or do you have a trajectory of thought that is meant to enlighten, persuade, educate and sometimes even delight?  In other words, what is the point of your engagement?

There’s no escaping what sharp marketers already know: the power of creating good content can’t be over emphasized. If it delivers information of value to your prospects and optimized correctly, it will be accessed and read repeatedly.

Think of it as your “social annuity”.

This recurring access is similar to a financial annuity. In its simplest form, you hand over a lump of your savings to the financial institution of your choice, and it sends you a monthly payment for the rest of your life.

Just as investors use these simple instruments to supply a consistent flow of cash over time, the content you commit to the web does the exact same thing. As your content is crawled and indexed, it’s committed to a server, ready to be tapped by whoever is clicking in the right keywords to find it.

What’s the primary benefit of a “social annuity”? It has staying power. Unlike ephemeral advertising (and no, I’m not smacking advertising; it has its place in integrated marketing), content sticks around and keeps on producing. But unlike the lump sum of the financial kind, the more content you add, the potential for the return grows and compounds. What you create for your website or blog has a long shelf life at a very low cost. More content leads to more traffic and engagement online.

Marcus Sheridan (and if you don’t know Marcus, you really should) recently showed how just eight blog posts he wrote for his pool company are still grabbing page views months and years after being published. Sure, page views is just a measurement… but so is the money those eight posts help deliver. Marcus estimates that they earned his company about $2 million in revenue. Yes, you read that correctly. And they’re still there, bringing in eyeballs and eventually open checkbooks.

Marcus knows what you should know. Understanding who your audience is, where they are and what keywords they’ll respond to, will draw them to good content. To your content.  And to your company, and your product.  You can take that one valuable investment to the bank.

12 Most Common Excuses Why SMBs
Are Afraid of Strategic Planning

While this is the time of year many SMBs have developed their plans for the new fiscal year, many more used some of the 12 most common excuses not to.

It reminds me of the spittle-prone Sylvester the Cat. If you’re a fan of classic Warner Brothers animation (like I am), you’ve undoubtedly been exposed to the Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn song “You Never Know Where You’re Goin’ Till You Get There”.

No truer words have been spoken about businesses that don’t plan. If there’s no destination, how will you know when you’ve arrived, or at least headed in the right direction?

No time
The workday is filled with the day-to-day business drumbeat and emergencies, both large and small. How is there time to focus on the long-term when the short term needs so much attention? Understand where you’re spending time, and then segment time to work ON the business. You can’t execute all day, every day, nor should you

The culture doesn’t allow it.
“The sky looks the same anywhere you go”, my grandfather would say about his aversion to travel. The same goes for SMBs that say what worked yesterday will work tomorrow.  Change is the only constant. Your customers change, your competition changes.

Marketing is married to an outdated set of tools
If a company says that print advertising is as effective as it ever was, it isn’t looking to divorce old-line thinking. They heyday of mass marketing is gone. Today’s marketing kit is wider and deeper because there are more ways than ever to interact with customers and prospects.

What are we buying?
Consultant speak, academic nomenclature, and business jargon can be off-putting to small business owners. They worry that the theoretical won’t translate into the real world. Be open to the idea of planning, but do not be a pushover on what you’re paying for. Ask for a definition of terms so you and the consultant are speaking the same language.

Too costly
Instead of viewing strategic planning as investment, company leadership will see it as an expense. You invest in people, equipment and technology. There’s no difference in investing to discover a better path forward. An effective plan will produce a pay-off. 

Planning takes away from selling
Daily, weekly, quarterly and annual numbers. No matter the duration, the only thing that is of importance to many companies is growth. Without a plan, the growth will come by luck.  Numbers tell a story, but a numbers-only focus is like putting blinders on a horse. Peripheral vision lets you see more than just straight ahead. 

“Stuff” is easier
While addressing real issues, someone throws out a kernel of an idea and “Boom!”, everyone starts popping down the tactical solution highway.  Ideas based on what you’re already doing are easy; understanding how to plow new paths takes work.

The process is overwhelming
Fear, uncertainty and doubt clouds many smaller business owners and leaders about what strategic planning is about. Intimidation leads to not even starting the process. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is good strategy. Like anything else, chunk the process down into smaller portions that are easier to execute.

Lack of control
Business owners fear that the facilitation process, no matter how well intended, will be rudderless, focusing on past faults and head toward the weeds without a clear purpose. You are a participant in the process; if you don’t understand something, speak up.

Fear of commitment (and failure)
A commitment to anything means taking action. Management that is fearful of change can talk themselves around issues and out of anything, especially when one’s livelihood is on the line. Give yourself some credit. You’ve been flying without a net since you started your business.

No accountability
The reason most small business owners started their firms is because they didn’t want to be accountable to anyone. Therein lies the problem. Strategic planning introduces a layer of accountability into the process, producing fear and anxiety among some owners. Like the smart solo practitioner who toils in near total independence most of the time, move outside your comfort zone and get a different perspective and direction from someone else, sometime.

Past experiences
Previously negative strategic planning experiences produce the “once bitten, twice shy” organization.  An unqualified consultant produced an inferior plan or a poor facilitator spent weeks in meetings without accomplishing anything.  There are the good and the bad at everything. You have the experience to ask the right questions to find the right guide.

Sufferin’ succotash! Are any of these the reasons why strategic planning is the plan of last resort?