Favorite video: Joseph Stiglitz on GDP as economic barometer

I love economics. Yeah, I’m weird that way.

Most of the time, my interest in economics is reasoned and applied at the organizational level. But national and international economics is still fascinating. Although I’m sure macroeconomics isn’t compelling to everyone, I think it’s still important to stay current because it’s such an influencer of microeconomies.

In this thought-provoking video, Joseph Stiglitz talks about why GDP is flawed as an economic barometer. It’s a good lesson for businesses, too. What barometer for success are you using and is it measuring the right things?

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I think drop.io is the coolest thing ever

When I’m not writing for businesses, I’m writing for magazines, which requires me to pitch article ideas. The problem is: Editors want to see writing samples (“clips” is the lingo) and I’ve got a bunch and I want to send more than one or two but I don’t want to send a 10MB file of PDFs to editors.

So I hunted around for a solution. Posting them on this site is one option but I don’t want editors to feel like they have to download each file to open it. I want to make it easy for them to quickly review a couple.

Image representing drop.io as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

So, in hunting around for a solution, I came across drop.io. How have I missed this? I mean, I’ve heard of it but never heard about how exciting it is and it certainly isn’t on the tip of anyone’s tongue… but I think it should be. It’s the most comprehensive, robust, brandable, user-friendly free file-sharing tool I’ve ever seen (and to call it a file sharing tool limits its capabilities).

It’s easy to create a “drop”, it’s free up to 100MBs, it has a variety of really useful permissions and password settings, and there are extra features coming out of the wazzoo. So, you can use it like I am to do some showcasing. Or, you can use it to collaborate with your team — and they can upload and comment on files or not, depending on your permission settings. Or, it has a bunch of other uses and even comes with a paygate so you can sell one-time or recurring access to information and files. For a new business starting up, I would consider this to be an essential tool in their operations (along with tools like Zoho or GoogleDocs).

Few sites really inspire me with the profound number of business opportunities that I think are untapped. Drop.io is one of those sites.

Check it out. Create a drop. Imagine the possibilities.

(I hate that I have to say this but in case you’re wondering: No, I am not receiving any compensation or special consideration for my glowing review. This is a completely unsolicited recommendation based solely on how impressed I am with their awesomeness).

*** Update: Drop.io was purchased by Facebook and later shut-down. Too bad.

Accelerate business performance with improved conversion rate

In a previous blog post, I introduced you to Brad Sugar’s simple formula for accelerating business performance:

Leads x Conversion Rate = Customers
Customers x Average Dollar Sale x Number of Transactions = Revenue
Revenue x Profit Margins = Profit

Sugars says that if you improve all five areas that you can influence, (leads, conversion rate, average dollar sale, number of transactions, and profit margin) you’ll dramatically improve your business.

In this post, I’m going to give you some ideas for increasing your conversion rate:

  • When you identify the benefits that your product or service offers, keep them consistent. Consider this a branding exercise and always come back to those benefits in the same way.
  • Record every objection that a prospect throws at you when you are presenting your product or service. Yes, write down every single one. Group them together then clearly and proactively answer those objections in your marketing. Make this effort a continuous effort so that you are always dealing with objections before the presentation.
  • Survey your customers to see what were the key elements that convinced them to buy from you. Survey many of your customers and gather that data together and assume those are your strengths. Build on them.
  • Review the questions you ask or the qualifications you require of someone before they buy from you. Do you really need all of them? Can you reduce the amount of questions or qualifications so that it doesn’t sound like an interrogation?
  • Some of your prospect marketing and communication will be generic. But make sure it’s not too generic. As much as possible, offer a customized experience.
  • Design your later-stage prospect marketing so that it assumes the customer is going to buy. No, I’m not necessarily advocating an “assumptive close” sales technique. Rather, I’m talking about communicating with the customer beyond the sale. In other words, don’t make it seem like you’re working up to a sale; rather, make it seem like you are building a foundation for a long relationship. Show the customer that you have a vision for your mutually successful relationship that lasts long into the future.
  • Review each of your customers to determine how long they were in the sales funnel and what they received from you (i.e., for marketing and communication) and what they eventually bought. Notice any correlations? For example, did the customers who were in the sales funnel longer and received marketing documents W and X buy more from you than the customers who were in the sales funnel a shorter period and received marketing documents Y and Z?
  • Make sure that all of your prospect communication and marketing has a clear call to action, and that it is the same call to action. Consider your call to action a branded event and put it at the end of everything. Keep it consistent across all media and messages.
  • Forget trying to convert a prospect on Twitter. Please. It’s not that they won’t convert, but rather that you need to move them closer into your sphere first.
  • Have a friend or family member go through the process of buying from your site. Watch how they interact with your site to see what they encounter and what potentially trips them up.
  • If your sales process involves some customized communication (such as an RFP or a face-to-face communication, for example), provide your prospects with as much material as possible that is carefully branded with your name on it. In other words, get your name stuck in their heads long before they become customers.
  • Outline all the steps between becoming¬† a prospect and becoming a customer… then double those steps. I don’t mean make it more complicated, I mean make each step insanely easier. Make each step a baby step, and one so simple and “brainless” to perform that the prospects launch themselves along the pathway towards conversion.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of momentum. Don’t let any part of the process get held up on your desk. If things tend to get tied up with you for whatever reason, solve it somehow — hire an assistant, create a flow chart so you can give a faster answer, publish your price chart. Whatever it takes.
  • Collect objections like kids collect baseball cards. Love it. Be a detective to uncover every objection. Don’t dread them, embrace them because they are the keys to future sales.
  • Avoid a binary option: Yes they will buy or no they won’t. Instead, offer degrees of purchase such as the full purchase, or several partial options.
  • You can have all of the greatest looking marketing content in the world, but if you don’t build trust or value, it’s all worthless because no one will buy from you. Demonstrate trust, demonstrate value, and you will convert customers.
  • Have a plan for those who don’t immediately buy from you. Don’t just keep them in the prospect loop and don’t let them fall out of the funnel. Instead, create a separate series of steps that will allow them to continue hearing from you but with targeted information and not the generic stuff you’re publishing for prospects.

Develop your core product or service – Part 1

For entrepreneurs who are just starting out, developing the core product or service is a critical early step in business planning. What should you sell? How should you position it? Who should you sell to? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you to generate more sales with an offering that is highly targeted to meet the needs of your clientele.

Rather than opening your business with a haphazard set of products or services for sale, use this concept to help you create a refined suite of offerings that your customers will want to buy.

THE INTERSECTION OF NEED AND INDUSTRY
Think of every product or service as being the intersection between a need (or problem or challenge or want) and an industry. As illustrated below:

It’s entirely possible that you might solve a few needs or serve a few industries. Find the intersection between the two and develop your core offering from there. To illustrate, I’ll use my own business as an example:

STEP ONE: IDENTIFY NEEDS
The needs my clients have are briefly summarized as “content” (they need compelling articles, blogs, ebooks, etc. that position them as experts and help them to sell to their customers) and they need “content strategy” (a strategic approach to the creation and dissemination of their content).

STEP TWO: IDENTIFY INDUSTRIES
But I don’t just serve every industry and neither should you. Instead, I’ve identified just 3 industries that have this need who I can serve with excellence: The B2B industry (like entrepreneurs, freelancers, start-ups, business coaches, etc.), the financial industry (like banks, stockbrokers, etc.), and the real estate industry (including Realtors and real estate investors).

THIS IS WHERE YOUR CORE OFFERING WILL BE
At the intersection of those needs and industries is my core offering: A comprehensive, strategic approach to compelling, high value content.

STEP THREE: DEVELOP YOUR CORE OFFERING
Now that I know at what intersection my core offering “resides”, I can spend some time brainstorming about what I could sell at this intersection.

  • Writing
  • Coaching
  • Consulting
  • Training
  • Workshops
  • Editing
  • Speaking
  • Books
  • Interactive tools
  • Magazine articles
  • Ebooks
  • Fee-based “velvet rope” community
  • Affiliate programs
  • … etc.

I don’t actually offer all of these services, but rather I’m showing you that the next step is to brainstorm the possibilities of different products and services to sell. Once you’ve brainstormed a few, you can narrow it down to a handful that you feel confident delivering.

STEP FOUR: DEVELOP YOUR CORE OFFERING
Create your offering by selecting a few of the brainstormed ideas and offering them for sale in your business. Market your offering to serve the needs of the industry (or industries) you’ve identified. Refine the core offering, get feedback, and refine it again.

BUILDING IN THE FUTURE
As your business grows, there are three ways that you can build your core offerings.

The first way is to simply build “upwards”, adding more products or services from the list you created above. Compared to the other two ways, this way is the easiest and (usually) the most cost-efficient way to grow. That’s because your marketing is already positioning you in the marketplace and these are useful add-ons to offer.

The second way to grow using your core product or service is by solving another need of the current industries you service. I’ve added a line here to illustrate…

In my case, content strategy was an addition (content was the original need) that I’ve grown into as my experience broadened and I sensed my own clients needing more. While adding another need to your intersection can broaden your core offering, it can be challenging for you if the second need is too “distant” from the first need. I’d recommend that the needs you solve should be closely related.

The third way to grow is to solve the same needs but of a new industry, as illustrated…

For example, if I decided that I should serve the content and content strategy needs of florists, I would need to broaden my core offering so that it was relevant to them.

MORE THOUGHTS

  • Avoid trying to solve too many needs at once or serving too many industries at once. You’ll do far better by focusing: Just a couple of related needs and a couple of related industries at most. Someday, you might consider branching out (or starting another business altogether) but start simply.
  • If you’re selling but not getting anywhere, take a long, long look at the needs you’ve outlined. Are they actually needs? Are they felt strongly? Are they needs of the industry? The need for content might be a significant need in some industries but it might be completely irrelevant in others. (I don’t write for other freelance writers, for example).
  • Develop a core offering of just one or two things and do those things with excellence. Later, build upwards as your first step before you add more needs or industries.