Fast, simple ways to improve your business on the fly

Starting and growing a business can be tough. It can feel like you are juggling and trying to keep a whole bunch of balls in the air at once. If you lose your focus for just a moment, the whole thing seems like it can come crashing down. Then, in the midst of all that juggling, add in the need to improve your business and suddenly you may find yourself struggling to keep up.

So what can you do?

Fortunately, improving your business doesn’t have to disrupt your rhythm and you can make positive changes to your business without losing focus on everything else.

Here are some quick ways to help you:

  • Make better decisions. It might surprise you to learn that one of the biggest drawbacks to an entrepreneur’s ability to grow their business is an inability to make decisions. They’re not sure what to focus on first. Avoid this problem by making a list of the things you want to change.
  • Know what you want to change. Before you make any changes, make a note of the following things: What the current result is, what you’d like the result to be, and what compelled the change. These force you to think through your changes first, perhaps even forcing you to apply a simple metric so you know what’s going on. By asking these questions first, you might discover that something isn’t broken (or that something else is broken instead of the thing you thought). Keep these notes as a journal of your progress.
  • Keep it simple! Don’t try to make sweeping changes to all of your business right now. You may be frustrated by what feels like an inefficient system but it will remain inefficient (or even get worse) if you try to change it all at once. Instead, take one small thing and make it better. Pick one small thing – as little as how you answer the phone or how quickly you respond to customer complaints – and change it. It doesn’t have to be big. But if you make one small change every day, you still make more changes than most businesses make.
  • Measure, measure, measure. Measure everything and test it. When you make a change, don’t consider it a permanent change until you’ve seen improvements. Test the changes as you go and be willing to reverse the changes if you were wrong.
  • Move in the other direction. When working on something that impacts your sales funnel, work backwards. Instead of starting at the top end of your sales funnel (your marketing) start at the bottom end of your sales funnel (the sale). Make adjustments to those efforts first. Then work backwards through the funnel. You’ll see better returns on your changes.
  • Test drive your changes. Before introducing a sweeping change to your business, ask a customer to help you “test drive” the change (perhaps for a discount on their purchase). Get honest feedback from them and use that information to move forward.
  • Learn to sell. Take courses and study diligently. The ability to sell will help you in nearly every facet of your business – from management to dealing with vendors to human resources to customer service and (of course) to marketing and selling your products or services.

Successful businesses are always improving. But it doesn’t mean you have to stop juggling to make those improvements. Try some of these quick tips to help.

Aaron Hoos’ weekly reading list: ‘Analytics, productivity, and content marketing’ edition

Aaron Hoos: Weekly reading list

It was a short week of reading because I was travelling for part of it. So here’s what read this week…

  • The snapshot is not the game. Have you ever read a blog post and felt that you were looking at only the part of the iceberg that was above the water? That’s what I feel when I read this blog post. In this post, Christopher S. Penn shows a snapshot of a basketball game and asks the reader to predict the outcome of the game. Then Penn gives a detailed analysis of the game itself to show that one photograph doesn’t sum everything up. His point is that making business decisions on small snapshots of analytics is not helpful. Here’s why I like this post: It’s not just true in business. It’s also true in finance and real estate as well. In finance, you can’t just make a decision based on the balance sheet (the snapshot), you have to also use the income statement and the statement of cash flows. In real estate, you can’t just make a decision based on the price of the property (the snapshot), you have to use comparative analysis and economic trends to help you.
  • Put your work in where it makes sense. In this blog post, Chris Brogan gives us one of those “good reminders” that we all should know but easily forget: In short, he says that entrepreneurs tend to focus on different methods and strategies and channels whether or not the work, just because that’s the way they’ve always done it. This is true and I’m totally guilty of this.
  • Consulting firm nets 388% more leads with 4-step strategy . In this article from MarketingSherpa, they give a case study on a consulting firm that changed its approach from sales-driven to content-marketing-driven. What I love about this case study is that it is so detailed, explaining exactly what the campaign was, what types of content it focused on, where it got its content, and more. I don’t advise that copy this campaign exactly (which I think might be a temptation) but rather learn from the detail and thought behind the campaign.

Your sales funnel equation

In the American Express OpenForum, author Braden Kelley explore an equation he calls “the innovation equation”. You can read the full article here.

But calling this equation an innovation equation falls far short of what it really is (in my opinion). I think this equation is brilliant but it is so much MORE about your sales funnel. In a way, it’s your entire business model summarized in one small sentence.

Kelley’s equation is this:

Innovation = Value Creation x Friction Reduction x Value Translation

In short, he says that your innovation is the result you get when you combine the value you create for customers (what benefits do they enjoy when they buy from you?), the ease with which they interact with your business (how simple is it for your customers to buy, use, and benefit from your product or service?), and the way that you communicate your value with your buyers (how do you express your value to your sales funnel contacts?).

I agree that this is an innovation equation but I truly think it’s much more. It’s a business model equation; it’s a sales funnel equation. It’s a way for an entrepreneur to sit down and think about how they’ll sell to customers.

Understanding these three elements is a huge step toward starting a business.If you’re a business owner who is just getting started in business, and you’re not sure yet what you want to do and how you’re going to do it, start with this equation. Work through each of the three elements listed above and you’ll end up with some significant headway in understanding your business opportunity.

If you run an existing business, this is a useful way to re-evaluate your business: Are you adding as much value as you can? Are you reducing friction? Are you communicating your value effectively? Chances are, if your business is struggling, the problem exists in one of these three areas.

Social media metrics in your sales funnel

I was in a conversation with another business owner recently about blogs. We were discussing traffic and the large volume of people he gets to his blog, then he asked me how many visitors I get. I don’t like playing this game of “how big is yours?”. By comparison, I get considerably less traffic than him but my readers are highly targeted and well into my sales funnel by the time they get to me.

Metrics have always been a problem for small business owners. Too often, entrepreneurs mistakenly measure quantity over quality when it comes to metrics. They go for the easy-to-identify and easy-to-understand numbers and skip the real numbers that lie below the surface. Blog traffic is just one example. Twitter followers or Facebook fans are another. People spend a lot of money to get lots of Twitter followers or Facebook fans but then they don’t do anything with them. It’s not the number of followers or fans that count… it’s the level of engagement of your fans. That’s why replies and retweets are a far better metric for Twitter engagement than the number of followers you have.

In a recent article on Mashable.com entitled Making Data Relevant: The New Metrics for Social Marketing, social media engagement manager Prashant Suryakumar talks about the relevance of social media metrics and how business owners can learn more when they find the right metrics to use.

He lists valuable opportunities for businesses to use social media to discover and exploit opportunities, and what I want you to pay attention to specifically is the role of social media metrics in your sales funnel. Below, I’ve listed some of the areas of social media opportunity that Suryakumar explains (in bold), and then I describe how these tie into your sales funnel.

  • Invest in data (to bring structure and understanding to the unstructured abundance of social media data): Data can so much about your contacts — from what stage they are at in the sales funnel to how likely they are to become a customer. With insight like that, why wouldn’t an entrepreneur WANT to move from a number-of-followers metric to something more meaningful?!?
  • Real time monitoring (to keep your finger on the pulse of your sales funnel at any given moment): Watching the ups and downs of your business is so valuable in creating a predictable, sustainable business. But until social media became ubiquitous, it was difficult to have useful, real-time data. Now, you can see what people are saying and when, and you can respond accordingly… far earlier than you were ever able to before.
  • Sentiment analysis (to see if people are generally positive or negative about your brand): Happy Customers tell their peers about you. But how can you make sure that your Customers are happy? Social media helps you watch all stages of your sales funnel to see how people are responding to your brand.
  • New metrics (to move beyond followership to understand how group dynamics can improve your sales funnel): Selling to each contact takes a lot of work, and the people who are truly successful in business know that they can’t sell to everyone individually. What is needed is an endorsement from a key influencer. Trace the success of many entrepreneurs (especially online entrepreneurs) and you’ll see that a lot of it was tied to a key influencer who gave a hearty endorsement.
  • Testing (to modify your activities and offerings based on immediate feedback): Ford’s Edsel is a great example of a product that could have undergone more testing. It was pushed out to the public and completely flopped. Today, social media gives an immediate avenue for businesses to try out new ideas before investing a lot of money in them. For example, social media allows you to quickly and easily identify what messages work well in a particular stage of your sales funnel.
  • Behavior segmentation (to anticipate buyer profiles with information that goes far deeper than simple demographics): Your sales funnel contacts aren’t just made up of age and income statistics. They are living, breathing people who live very transparent lives online. Social media allows businesses to tap into that information to discover new connections (and thus, new opportunities) of understanding their target markets.

If you’re using social media as a tool for your sales funnel, it’s time to move beyond the simple number-of-followers or number-of-fans you have and go deeper into the data.