Emotion: Does it have a place in business?

It’s funny when you notice something that becomes a pattern… Kind of like when you learn a new word and then you start hearing that word all the time. Once you see it in one place, you see it everywhere.

The same thing has happened to me with the following concept…

  • I’m doing some consulting with a company that is going through a period of rapid growth. They are expanding in several different and exciting ways, and all this change is mostly good but it also creates some challenges. While talking to the owners yesterday, they said to me that they are trying to take emotion out of the situation so they only deal with things logically.
  • I’m also writing a book for a client and he talks about the value of making decisions based purely on a logical decision-making criteria versus basing your decisions on in-the-moment emotion.
  • And in my personal life, I have a family member who is considering the positives and negatives of a fairly big change in their life. And in a conversation they had yesterday, they said to me: “I know the logical reasons for the change but it’s the emotional reasons that are holding me back right now.”
  • I was watching a TV show that took place during the suffrage movement, and the argument made in the show (and presumably in real life, at the time) was that men were logical and should be the ones to vote while women were emotional and therefore not equipped to make good voting decisions.

In each case, I encountered someone who sought to remove emotion from the picture so they could only look at things logically.

At first glance, this idea of logic trumping emotion sounds good: Logic is clinical, analytical, focused (Hey, didn’t SuperTramp sing about this?)… and in our modern, scientific society, this approach is highly respected. We’re advanced enough to know that we aren’t guided by fate or luck but that our own decisions shape our future. We also think that applying 100% logic and 0% emotion to every decision will give us the very best outcome in every situation; that the application of a scientific approach will, by its very nature, take us to the best choice.

But is that true?

Until recently I probably would have said it was. I’ve always been kind of a studious academic kind of person who appreciates a logical, analytical approach to things. (Well, most of the time. My high school science teacher might disagree). But I’ve been rethinking it a bit and yesterday’s encounters have forced me to articulate my thoughts.

Here’s what I’m thinking about…

IS LOGIC THE OPPOSITE OF EMOTION?

I think this is a big part of the puzzle. We tend to think that logic is the opposite of emotion. On the one hand, you have a logical, analytical approach. On the other hand, you have an emotive, impassioned approach. One is step by step, the other is a frenzy of feeling.

I don’t think that’s true, though. Logical approaches can’t always arrive at a conclusion through a step by step process. Logic is true for a moment but as the world changes, the logic that decisions are built on will change as well. Take the example of my family member contemplating a large move. For many years, their current location was right. It was the logical approach for their situation. But now the situation has changed so the logic needs to change. Therefore, logic isn’t as clean and as precise as we want it to be.

We tend to think of logic being driven by our brain while emotions are driven by our heart, which, scientifically, is of course not true. Both logic and emotion come from the same place.

We tend to think that logic and emotion compete with each other. But do they? Sometimes it seems that way (as is the case in all four encounters I had recently) but it’s not always the case. Your marriage, your decision to have children, your decision for a career, and the purchase of your home (to randomly choose four HUGE decisions we make in life) are often born out of a congruence between logic and emotion. For example, logic says: “This person will make a good life partner” and emotion says: “I love this person” — so there’s congruence between the two. So there are times when logic and emotion work together.

(Admittedly, there are often times when emotion and logic are not congruent — when there’s a logical approach to something and an emotional approach to something. In those situations, we often think we need to defer to the logical approach.)

I think if logic and emotion were truly opposites of each other, they would more often work at cross purposes — logic would tell us to do one thing and emotion would tell us to do another… way more frequently than they do. And although that does happen (sometimes too frequently), it doesn’t happen consistently.

So I don’t think we can say logic is the opposite of emotion. They’re two approaches we take or two viewpoints we have or two “lenses” through which we see the world. They come from the same place (our minds) and they sometimes take divergent paths (but sometimes they don’t).

Which leads to my next point…

IS IT POSSIBLE TO REMOVE EMOTION FROM DECISIONS?

Name a decision in your life in which logic made 100% influence on the choice and emotion had 0% influence.

I think you’ll have a hard time finding one. Logic and emotion are intertwined in every decision. Sure, one usually wins out over the other and there are times when you deny one in favor of the other. But each was still present; each one still influenced the decision in some way.

Even a sale that is made logically is really made emotionally first. Ask any salesperson or copywriter. You always sell to emotions first and foremost and then you back it up with logic. Even when you’re selling to a large corporation, you’re still selling to the emotions of the decision-makers first. That’s a sales 101 concept that has stood the test of time.

We all have logic and emotion — both are present in, and shape, every decision we make from the largest to the smallest. The choices we make throughout the day are guided by whether they are fully congruent or whether we choose to listen to one and ignore the other.

EMOTIONS ALREADY GUIDE SO MUCH OF OUR LIVES

On a piece of paper, create two columns — one that says “Logic” and one that says “Emotion”. Now start listing decisions you made in your life in which one trumped the other. Again, I think it’s impossible to say that any decision was made solely on the basis of one of these influencers over the other. But I think you’ll often end up with ideas like “Career, house purchase” in the Logic side and “Spouse, children” in the Emotion side. We believe our logic guides us on the practical issues while emotion guides us on relational issues.

But I think you’ll agree that logic and emotion present in all of our decisions. And we’re okay with emotion being the dominant influencer in very important decisions (that are often relational in nature). So it’s not like we don’t trust emotions to guide us properly. In fact, I’d argue that we trust our emotions to guide us during our most important decisions (my emotion-dominant choice of a spouse is considerably more important than my logic-dominant choice of a car).

Furthermore, we’re emotional creatures who often measure the quality of a day by how happy or sad or angry (or whatever) we were that day.

We can’t suck emotion out of our lives.

So if that’s the case, what place do emotions have in business?

SHOULD EMOTION HAVE AN EQUIVALENT PLACE TO LOGIC IN BUSINESS?

I think they should.

Emotion is the weather vane of our satisfaction. When things are going well, we’re happy. When they’re not going well, we’re upset. Our goal in business should often be (within reason) to pursue our own satisfaction by increasing the things that make us happy and decreasing the things that make us upset. Negative emotions point to problems we need to address right away. The more acute the emotion, the bigger the problem that needs to be addressed.

Emotions are connected to our intuition. Anticipation and anxiety are both emotions that grow out of our intuition of what something is going to be like.

Logical and emotional alignment feels right. When that happens, we feel confident in our decisions and actions.

SO, SHOULD WE DO BUSINESS IN A FRENZY OF EMOTION?

Logic and emotion both come out of the same place yet sometimes they take divergent paths.

But I think we often try to deny emotion in favor of logic… and we shouldn’t: We can’t ignore or eliminate emotion entirely from any decision, plus emotion gives us an excellent guide to how things are going.

  • So, when our logic and emotion align, I believe we can move forward with confidence.
  • And, when our logic and emotion do not align, we should take that as an indicator to zoom in more closely and inspect the situation. Rather than deny emotion and go with the logical choice, we need to accept that something is not right and we should try to discover what piece of the puzzle is missing that is causing the misalignment.

How to start a business when you DON’T have a product or service

I’ve always aspired to be a business owner, even when I was a kid. And I would stay awake at night dreaming up business ideas. In high school and college, I obsessed with the question: “What product or service should I sell?” I remember coming up with and discarding so many ideas.

I think the need for a product or service actually held me back from taking action.

When I finally started my business, it was out of desperation to get out of a job I hated — I couldn’t stand it anymore so I quit on the Friday and on Monday I was “in business”, even though I didn’t fully know what I was going to sell.

Even though I didn’t start with a product or service, here I am today with a fully-booked writing/consulting practice that primarily delivers copywriting for real estate investors.

And that was a huge lesson for me. I would love to go back and tell my younger self this lesson. (And it’s the exact same lesson I tell EVERY aspiring entrepreneur who wants to start a business and may or may not know what they want to sell).

Understanding this lesson will transform your new or existing venture, bring in more money than you ever thought possible, and eliminate all the worry and frustration that most business owners face about where their next sale is coming from.

Here’s the lesson:

YOU DON’T NEED A PRODUCT OR SERVICE TO START A BUSINESS

The ONLY thing you need is to find someone who has a problem and then solve that problem.

That’s it. Find a problem and solve it.

And the great news? There is no shortage of problems in the world. And, people are willing to pay (sometimes a lot) to have their problem solved.

I started a business once and it struggled because I tried to sell what I thought needed to sell. But the second time I started a business — after quitting the job I hated — it was different. On the first day I decided I was “in business” I connected with a friend who had a problem that I could solve. And I solved it. He became my best-paying, longest-lasting client, and I only recently dropped him as a client when our businesses evolved in different directions and I was no longer able to solve the new problems he faced. (Good news: Someone else is helping him now).

BUT WHICH PROBLEM SHOULD I SOLVE???

There are a million problems out there — from the relatively simple need of learning how to read sheet music all the way to a larger-scale need of solving global hunger. You can’t help them all. So consider the problems that your knowledge and skills and passion and industry contacts can solve.

I have a friend who is very skilled at analysis and she has been in management for many years. She feels somewhat trapped by her position and she’s been at it for so long that she isn’t sure how to make the move away from the job she has. She doesn’t realize how valuable her analytical skills and industry contacts are (well, I’m trying to tell her!). Here’s what she needs to do (and, if you’re in the same position, here’s what you need to do)…

  1. She needs to think about all the problems out there that her analytical skills and industry contacts can solve.
  2. She needs to find the people who are facing those problems.
  3. She needs to offer to help them solve those problems… for a fee. Some won’t want help but some will.
  4. Then she needs to solve those problems.

Voila! She has a product or service to serve a ready market.

Find the point where the problems of the world intersect with your skills, knowledge, passions, and contacts.

Heck, if you don’t feel that you have skills, knowledge, passions, and contacts, that’s okay too. (When I started my business, I had passion and a bit of skill but that was it.) You can figure out the rest. Just go and help someone.

HOW DO I MAKE MONEY SOLVING PROBLEMS WHEN I DON’T HAVE A PRODUCT OR SERVICE?

If you’ve never helped anyone before, I would just go out and help them. Maybe ask for some money to cover any expenses you might incur. But mostly just invest your time and effort to help one person.

With that success story in hand, figure out what it was worth to that one person and set a price around that, then go find other people with the same problem.

Boom. There’s your business plan to start your next business… or your next 10 businesses. It really is that easy.

And you don’t have to actually know the solution before-hand. You just have to know the problem and have some confidence that you can figure out how to solve the problem with the combination of knowledge, skills, passion, and contacts that you have.

MORE EXAMPLES

What I’ve been telling you applies to every single industry or niche or sector or marketplace (or however categorize yourself).

A friend of mine is a musician. He’s enjoyed a bit of national recognition but his marketplace is primarily regional — Western Canada. For a long time he’s been “selling” (although he would never use that word) his concerts. But one thing he does pretty well (and he’s getting better and better at it) is that he positions himself as a problem solver. He knows that his concerts solve a problem, just as all products and services do. He identified the group of people who have the problem and he’s been marketing to them and positioning himself as THE solution to their problem.

I know someone else who is trying to start a nursery school in a small town. Frankly, they’re struggling to find clients, even though their marketplace should be able to sustain the business. I’ve been trying to help them understand that they can’t just push their nursery school concept and then wonder why people aren’t signing up. Instead, they need to figure out what problem their nursery school solves and tell people the good news that their problems are completely solved by signing their kids up.

I’m starting another brand (because I don’t have enough already — haha) and the only reason I’m starting it is because I’ve noticed that there’s a problem that is not being solved. I’m not 100% sure how I’m going to solve it but I know I can so I’m putting the pieces in place for it right now.

What problems are out there that you have some combination of knowledge, skills, passion, and contacts to solve? Great! Go out and solve it.

Welcome to the dark side: 13 annoying things no one tells you about making money online

Starting and running an online business is often presented as a rose garden of instant wealth and self-actualization.

It’s not. The “make money online” niche is a MASSIVE niche that rakes in a ton of money by selling the promise… but many people who spend money on these products continue to struggle. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who tell me that they dream of quitting their job and escaping the rat race so they can “make money online”, or how many people who own online businesses but are struggling and don’t know why.

There’s a dark side to making money online that no one talks about. Here are 13 incredibly annoying things no one tells you about starting and running an online venture… but you should probably know about.

1. IT’S NOT REALLY ABOUT MAKING MONEY ONLINE.

The “make money online” niche sells the opportunity of freedom (from bosses and 9-5 and petty coworkers and bills). And it’s okay to sell into that dream but often those products fail to follow up on a key truth: It’s all about running a business. You need a sales funnel — a business model and a target market and a product or service. You need to find a pressing need among a group of people who are capable of paying you, and you need to monetize a solution. Then you need to offer it to them. That’s a business.

“Making money online” is the automatic result doing that. So focus on the business skills first. Case in point: I used to get sucked into reading those “make money online” or “how to start a business” books. But my business TOTALLY changed when I stopped reading those books and started reading stuff about how to sell, how to build a website, how to create products. The money followed.

2. YOUR DREAM HAS TO BURN HOTTER THAN A THOUSAND SUNS

The desire for freedom (which is what the make money online people are selling) is good. But frankly I’ve never known a successful entrepreneur who desired freedom so much that they became entrepreneurs. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Rather, the most successful entrepreneurs I know (or know of) all burned with some other dream — to solve a specific problem or to build a specific thing or (in my case) to write. And when I say that your dream has to burn, I don’t mean that it has to be something you feel like doing once in a while. Rather, it has to keep you awake at night, every night, and you have to get ulcers when you’re not working on that dream. The freedom follows but it’s never ever the thing that motivates them.

Consider some of the most successful entrepreneurs out there — Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Donald Trump. None of them dream of freedom. They all burn with a desire to do something (innovate, invest, invent, etc.) and their success followed.

3. ACTION IS REQUIRED.

One of the biggest complaints among “make money online” publishers and product creators is the sheer volume of people who return their products for a refund and complain it doesn’t work, or the even bigger number of people who buy a product and then never read it. Folks, action is required. It’s okay to invest in resources but then you have to use them. Buy one resource, learn from it, take a ton of notes, and then implement. Act. Do. Try. Fail. Fail again. And then succeed. That’s how it works. Simply purchasing the product is an all-too-common way of feeling like you’re doing something when you’re really taking just one miniscule step.

You will get much farther in achieving your goals in life and in your financial situation if you do something than if you simply read a book. (Clarification: I’m all for reading books! I love books and I write books. So please, read books. But my point is that if you’re scratching your head and wondering why your business is struggling, maybe it’s time to put the books down).

4. YOU’RE GOING TO GIVE UP YOUR PEACE OF MIND… AT FIRST.

Over the years I have watched hundreds of people (maybe thousands — no exaggeration) quit their job to start a businesses because they wanted freedom… but then shut down their business and go back to a job because they wanted peace of mind. That is fascinating to me. I’ve been on both sides of the fence — enjoying the freedom of running a business and the peace of mind of a regular paycheck. Both are very, very attractive but I’m starting to realize that they cannot easily co-exist, at least in the beginning. Maybe a few years down the road your business will give you freedom and peace of mind but it’s very hard to have both of those things at the beginning.

This is where that burning dream comes in. A burning dreams really gets you through the times where you have freedom but no peace of mind. If you want peace of mind, don’t start a business. If you want freedom, quit your job. It’s nearly impossible to have both at the very beginning.

5. YOU’LL BE ASKED FOR FREE STUFF… A LOT.

As your business grows, you’re going to be asked for free stuff — a lot. People will ask for review copies, or they’ll ask you a “quick question” (although the answer is never quick), or they’ll ask you to deliver your service for free because of all the amazing exposure you’re going to get, or they’ll offer to buy you a cup of coffee if they can pick your brain. People don’t mind asking you for these things because they don’t realize how many other people are also asking you for these things at the same time. It can easily turn into a daily onslaught and you could easily spend all day every day providing free stuff to people. (And believe me, very few people actually take your advice anyway).

While it’s okay to deliver some limited free stuff when the opportunity is right, delivering free stuff all the time will hurt your business. And because of the number of people who ask — quite innocently — it can be tempting to give a snarky response. So take a moment now to think about a polite response to say “no” to the people who ask for free stuff.

6. THE BIGGER YOU ARE, THE BIGGER TARGET YOU BECOME.

Frankly, this one was the hardest for me to learn and I still struggle with it because I hate it when people don’t like me. The internet is wonderful place where trolls and haters can thrive because they can often spread their abuse anonymously — without consequence to them. They spew vitriol but remain untouchable and no one knows that they are really unemployed bums living in their mother’s basement. As a business owner, you put yourself out there with your marketing and your products and services. You’re going to get bad reviews, ugly comments on your blog posts, and people who happily go above and beyond what is reasonable to tell the world they don’t like you.

Get thick skin or get out of the game. Don’t go down to the level of the haters. Don’t fight back. Just address them (if appropriate), delete them (if necessary), or ignore them (if you can’t do anything else). The best cure for haters is to become even more successful and to build a base of great customers who love you.

Funny update: I just received the GKIC ‘No BS Marketing Letter’ in the mail and read it… and Dan Kennedy refers to the exact same group of people as living in their mother’s basement.

7. COPYWRITING IS AN UNDERVALUED SKILL.

When starting an online business, first timers will often focus on the design, the logo, the brand, and the product and ignore everything else. But what they really need is to focus on the copy. An ugly site with good copy will sell more than a beautiful site with bad copy. Unfortunately it sometimes takes the first business failure to figure that out. Copywriting is undervalued. I recently heard someone (Dan Kennedy, I think) talk about copywriting. He said that copywriting is a skill everyone should have but no one wants to pay for, and copywriting courses notoriously don’t sell. On the other hand, there are a variety of other internet-marketing/make-money-online/start-an-internet-business courses that sell well but they are really just copywriting courses in disguise.

Learn copywriting even if this is something you plan to outsource in the future. It’s a HUGE skill that will benefit you forever. I think it’s the most valuable skill you can have in business.

8. YOU RISE ACCORDING TO THE RISKS YOU ARE WILLING TO TAKE.

With risk comes the potential for costly failure, so we avoid risk. People avoid risk by dreaming about making money online but never quitting their job, or trying to start a business but only doing it part time in the evenings because they can’t give up their paycheck. Risk management and risk mitigation are good; don’t get me wrong. But eliminating risk completely is bad because you can only change and grow your business when you risk something. Risk seems scary but most entrepreneurs who have been in business for a while will tell you that the really scary thing is not risking anything.

It’s like our bodies. Our immune system needs the germ in order to create antibodies for it. If we lived in a sterile environment and then suddenly left that sterile environment, we’d get really sick because we have zero immunity. You need to get a little bit sick in order to stay well. When you are willing to take risks — financial risks, social risks, time risks, etc., you position your business to grow.

9. INVESTMENT AND SACRIFICE ARE REQUIRED.

This is so similar to the above point. You need to invest in order to make money online. That investment includes time, money, and effort… and it could also include relationships. When I hear someone tell me that they are starting a business, I get excited for them until they tell me that what they are really doing is posting a few affiliate links on a free website from Wix (or some other free website provider). Yikes! They are not willing to invest in a real website with real products or services. (Clarification: You can build a business with affiliate links on a free site but then you’ll need to invest in other things instead — like traffic-driving mechanisms).

I do okay today because I invested a bit of money and a lot of time and because my wife graciously let me spend less time with her in the beginning while I started and grew my business. The reward is there but it takes a bit of investment up front to get it.

10. SELL PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT BUT GIVE THEM WHAT THEY NEED.

I hate that this is true but it is. I recently wrote a book about how to be a freelance writer and I really wanted to package the book as a way to get business and run a really fun freelance business. Unfortunately, that’s not what people want so they’d never read the book. So instead I talked (reluctantly) about the money you can make as a freelance writer and the freedom you can enjoy as a freelance writer. And the book sold. Inside the book I gave them really solid how-to advice and the reviews that came back praise the book for the helpful advice. But no one would have bought the book if it didn’t sell them the opportunity. (See the copywriting point above — everyone needs to know how to copywrite but people instead buy other resources and learn copywriting from them).

I’m not just picking on the “make money online” category here. This is true in every single industry. It feels so dirty to say “sell people what they want but give them what they need” but the reality is that consumers don’t buy what they need. The fitness and weightloss industry knows this. The financial industry knows this. The real estate industry knows this. I wish consumers would learn it so sellers could simply say “Hey, you need this” and people would buy it because it was a smart thing to do. But it’s not going to happen any time soon.

11. IT’S NOT LUCK OR SYSTEMS… IT’S FOCUS AND CONSISTENCY.

The make money online niche makes its money from repeat sales. From people who keep spending a ton of cash on different products and resources because what they’re really looking for is the silver bullet — the one thing that will unlock it all. There is no silver bullet to be found in a resource or tool or system or even luck. The only thing that will generate success is focus and consistency. Pick something and then work at it over and over every single day. Period.

Alarming story: I dialed into a webinar that a real estate investing client was putting on. During that call, my client asked questions and invited responses: One of his questions early in the webinar was “how much have you spent on real estate investing courses in the past? The numbers were $5,000, $10,000, and one guy estimated close to $100,000 in the past decade or so. Then later in the webinar he asked how much people might be willing to spend on some one-on-one coaching to actually set up their real estate investing business and a lot of people replied that a few hundred dollars would be too much for them. I see this kind of thing all the time — people willing spend thousands on ideas that might help them but won’t want to spend a few dollars and a few hours on focused and consistent habits.

12. YOU’LL WISH YOU DID A HUNDRED THINGS SOONER. JUST DO THEM NOW INSTEAD.

I wish I started building an email list sooner. I wish I focused on copywriting sooner. I wish I built up a blog in a different category sooner. The list goes on and on. I could spend my entire day regretting things I didn’t do yesterday or last week or last year or last decade. You’ve got to put that stuff out of your mind. Just do it now.

There’s a well-known saying that is relevant here: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now.” So true. Do smart things as early as possible but if you don’t do them early, don’t regret it and don’t let your regret delay you any further. Start now.

13. THE 2 REAL SKILLS IN BUSINESS ARE TO DRIVE TARGETED PROSPECTS AND CLOSE THEM.

It’s so easy to put up a website. It’s so easy to offer something for sale. It’s so easy to create marketing content. It’s easy to drive traffic. Anyone can do this stuff in their sleep… and so many people do this stuff because it’s just so darn easy to do. And then they wonder why they struggle because they seem to be doing the right things but nothing happens. That’s because these are easy things and anyone can do them but there are two more challenging yet more important skills to have: Drive targeted prospects and then sell to them. Driving targeted prospects is not just marketing. It’s a collection of skills around needs assessment, targeted advertising, copywriting (and yes, a bit of marketing). And closing is a collection of skills around copywriting and selling.

If you can develop those two skills, your business will grow as fast as you want and you’ll actually make money online. But if you ignore those two skills, you’ll just be doing what everyone else can do in their sleep and you’ll miss out on seeing any results.

THE LAST WORD

If you are dreaming about a better life for yourself, that’s great. That aspiration is part of what makes us human. But I wrote this post to make you aware of what you’re facing by following a path defined by “making money online”. Instead, focus on building a quality business with great products and services that truly meets the needs of your customers. Build the right skills and take consistent, daily action. You can see results if you can overcome the dark side.

11 ways to build credibility for your business

Prospects are more likely going to turn into customers when they feel that they will be buying from a company that is credible. The more credible you are — the more trust and authority that prospects ascribe to you — the more likely you are going to win their hard-earned dollars when they are ready to buy.

So how do you build credibility for your business? Some entrepreneurs are fooled into believing that any marketing builds credibility but this isn’t the case. Many businesses market but only a few build credibility.

Here are 11 ways you can build credibility for your business. Mix and match them to build your own unique credibility (even if your competition is already doing some of these).

#1. CRITIQUE OR EVALUATE SOME ASPECT OF THE INDUSTRY

Every industry has its popular aspects and its shadowy underbelly. Your competition is trying to shine the light on the best parts but you can build credibility by being honest and up-front and showing quantitative comparisons or frank critique about the industry.

One example is a grocery store near my house: They usually have a couple of shopping carts by the front door, loaded with products, showing how much you’d pay at their store compared to a couple of the other major chains. It’s an effective way to position themselves as the low cost option.

#2. SHATTER MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS

Consumers are outsiders. They only encounter your industry and your business when they need your product or service. Therefore, they develop myths and misconceptions. You can build credibility by educating them about these myths and misconceptions.

A good example here, in my opinion, is Chris Brogan. Brogan does a great job of shattering the misconceptions of social media by coming back to the ideas of listening, building trust, and connecting to your network rather than focusing on the number of followers or how to explicitly sell on social media.

#3. REVEAL SECRETS OF THE INDUSTRY AND YOUR BUSINESS

This is similar to the above idea, I guess, but it’s different enough that I wanted to include it separately. Every business and industry has secrets. They aren’t always bad, they just haven’t been explained to customers. Pricing is one secret. Ingredients is another common secret. And while you may want to keep some parts of your business a secret for competitive reasons, you might gain credibility with your prospects by revealing some secrets.

One example is from McDonalds. In this video posted on Mcdonald’s Canada’s YouTube site, the McDonald’s Executive Chef explains how to make a Big Mac, and he reveals the ingredients that go into the “secret” sauce (which, he points out, isn’t really a secret at all).

#4. CREATE INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS

Many industries suffer from “same-as” syndrome, where all the competitors offer exactly the same product or service as every other competitor. I have been very critical of the real estate industry for this very reason but I could list a number of industries that suffer from this problem: Financial advisors, dentists, chiropractors, optometrists, locksmiths, roofers, mechanics, and I could go on and on. You’ll build credibility if you break out of the mold and offer something different. It doesn’t have to be massively different — even just slightly different is good. (The Business Model Canvas and Blue Ocean Strategy are both good ways to innovate your business model). And click here to read my best advice on innovation.

I’m going to piss some people off by mentioning this example: Property Guys is providing a very innovative solution in the real estate industry. (Note to my real estate friends and clients: Don’t let their growing success annoy you. Rather, let it spur you on to further differentiation in your business).

#5. SHARE CANDIDLY

Many businesses maintain a barrier between themselves and their customers. I think there are a number of reasons that this happens (depending on the business, I’d guess that profitability, receivable-collection, competitiveness, privacy, and safety are all potential reasons). But customers want to connect with the businesses they buy from, and they are more likely going to buy from people they know, like, and trust. And when things go wrong, customers feel like they can reach out to a person instead of a faceless corporation. You can build credibility by being yourself. Or, if you have a large company, you can build credibility by having a representative be the face of your company. But as you’ll see in a moment, it doesn’t have to a specific person. The point is to share.

One example of a business that shared candidly and built credibility with their sharing is Domino’s Pizza. They have had an amazing transformation since their pizza turnaround commercial. That’s just an example of how one company used sharing in a one-off way. I think Twitter and Facebook give businesses the opportunity the share on an ongoing basis.

#6. SURPRISE WITH MORE INSIGHT THAN YOUR COMPETITION

Businesses put a barrier around what they know. There is a very distinct scope of information in a business’ marketing and a very distinct scope of information in their deliverable. The internet has really challenged many businesses to rethink how much they share before they deliver their deliverable. Some businesses share, for free, as much as 90% of the value they provide customers for free, leaving the 10% as their monetized value. This is smart but it’s not widespread, which means that many businesses can build credibility by educating their market and providing further insight.

One example was given by Perry Marshall a couple of years ago. (I’d link to it directly but I can’t find it). Perry described a local home repair company that produced a book — a beautifully bound, full-color book with pictures and how-to instructions. Perry rightly suggested that any home maintenance/renovation company could produce a similar book for their type of work — a plumber could produce a book about basic household plumbing; an electrician could produce a book about basic household electricity; and so on. They wouldn’t even have to give away the “secret sauce” of their business but rather just establish credibility by showing people how to care for that part of their home. You may be able to do the same thing in your business.

#7. DEMONSTRATE YOUR SOLUTION

I have a secret fascination with product demonstrators. They’re like carnies. They entice people to their booths and show them how sharp their knives are or how absorbent their shammy is. They need to do this because these products sell well when they are demonstrated. We have gotten away from demonstrations in our infoproduct world but products are still being demonstrated. Can you demonstrate some aspect of your product? You’ll build more credibility if you do.

I recently heard a consultant who demonstrated his methodology on a recorded call with a client. He got their permission first (of course), and then performed his consulting process on them while recording the call. Then he used the call to help sell the consulting service he was selling. This is a brilliant way for a service-based business to demonstrate a solution to build credibility.

#8. CREATE BEST PRACTICES

As industries grow, old businesses exit and new businesses enter. The growth is organic and messy. Years later, industries become complicated and fuzzy and even sometimes difficult to understand. You can build credibility by creating industry best practices. Even if other businesses don’t follow them, you’ll still position yourself as a pioneer. Your best practices don’t have to be all-encompassing or industry-wide. You just need to pick one thing and establish best practices. Codify them and establish yourself as an industry leader.

Many of today’s “gurus” in the world of B2B services have done just that. Seth Godin created what is ultimately a set of best practices around permission marketing. Dan Kennedy created what is ultimately a set of best practices around direct mail. Chris Brogan created what is ultimately a set of best practices around social media. I just wrote a report for a client who is building a certification process in an industry that has none.

(Note: It’s easy to overlap this idea with the “create an innovative solution” idea, above. But in this example, you’re not actually doing something new, necessarily; you’re just codifying it for others).

#9. PROVIDE DEEP ANALYSIS OF YOUR PROSPECT’S SITUATION

Successful sales people understand their prospect’s problems and use that knowledge to sell more effectively. The more you know about your prospect, the better. But often, that knowledge of the prospect’s situation is gained and then used to sell. But you can build credibility by gaining that knowledge and then feeding it back to your prospect. You’re not telling them that they feel a certain way. Rather, you’re telling them why they feel a certain way, and you’re listing and quantifying the many, many, many factors that contribute to their problem.

One example of a company that does this well is SAP. They’re a huge software company and they write a lot of whitepapers and reports. Those reports focus on the problem their customers have; not just the problem but the deeper, underlying reasons for that problem, along with the “cost” of the problem. They gain credibility by exploring the problem in-depth and, of course, positioning their software solutions as the answer to their customers’ problems.

#10. EMPATHIZE WITH YOUR PROSPECTS

Your target market doesn’t want to buy from you. And, in fact, they don’t even care about what you’re selling. They’re thinking of themselves and their problems or needs and how those problems can be solved or those needs fulfilled… not only that, they’re focused on themselves and they have much bigger lives than the problem that your product solves. They’re also thinking about how they’ll pay for their kid’s braces and they’re trying to remember to pick up milk on the way home from work. They don’t want to buy from you. They want to solve a problem with the help of someone who understands. You can build credibility by understanding — activity listening and seeking to see through their eyes.

I hate to say this but I’m having trouble thinking of an example here. I see it happening a bit… but not nearly to the degree that it could happen.

#11. BORROW YOUR CREDIBILITY FROM OTHERS

All of the examples I’ve given so far are credibility-builders that come from you. But your credibility doesn’t have to come from you. There are many ways that you can build credibility by “borrowing” it from others. For example, you should collect testimonials, write case studies, take before and after pictures, encourage customers to provide reviews and to tweet about you and provide a backlink to you on their site. If you’re an author, get a foreword written by someone famous. If you own a restaurant, get a food critic to visit. If you have awards, credentials, and degrees, these can all help with your credibility.

We see this in the film industry all the time: When a movie is about to be released, the trailer is full of accolades by critiques and film festivals, and it will list actors and actresses who have won (or even been nominated) or major awards.

Customers buy from businesses that are credible. Mix and match from these credibility-builders to help you establish authority and trust with your target market!

A rant about business plans: When was the last time you looked at yours?

When was the last time you looked at your business plan? Last week? Last year? Last decade? The day before you officially opened for business?

In my experience, surprisingly few people write a business plan (I made exactly that mistake!); and those that do, write it and then let it grow dusty on the shelf, as if the plan was just a small and annoying step that needed to be checked off of the list. I’ve met many people who spent more time fretting over a new car purchase than the start of their business. They don’t mind pouring over vehicular statistics and comparing models of the car they’re going to drive (which will immediately depreciate as soon as they drive off the lot) but they’ll cringe at the thought of writing some ideas, strategies, and financials down to give a little proactive thought to an investment of their time, money and effort that should appreciate over the years. Heaven forbid that they do a little business planning now to figure out the trajectory of their company for the years to come!

I think part of the problem is the we we perceive business plans. They are often thought to be stuffy, formal documents. They are thought to overflow with buzzwords that would make any MBA drool. Their numbers are said to be nearly meaningless. In many ways, these documents need to be written at the worst possible time — usually the point when the aspiring entrepreneur feels the most passionate and energetic about their business and they just want to get out there and take action… they don’t want to get bogged down in research and details and buzzwords and proformas. Business plans are perceived to be soul-crushing documents that are purely optional and typically only written by the anal retentive and extremely cautious.

But good business plans aren’t like that. They shouldn’t be stuffy or stuffed with buzzwords. A good business plan doesn’t have to be arduous to create and highly formal in how it’s structured and written. A good business plan shouldn’t crush your eager-to-start spirit — it should stoke the coals of your imagination and motivation by sharpening your focus. (Mixed metaphor alert).

A good business plan is meant to be used, not stored on a shelf. A good business plan should be both strategic and tactical, and something that a business owner can refer to every single day. Yes, a business plan is a high level document that you might use for banks or investors but it should also contain your operational plan, your sales funnel (your marketing and sales plan), and contingencies for when things go horribly wrong. It should inspire and guide… EVERY TIME YOU LOOK AT IT.

Heck, don’t even bother getting a professional to write it (unless you are going to use it to help you find investors). Just sit down and do it yourself. Roll up your sleeves and dig in. Write your goals and then the steps you want to take to get there. Create financial statement projects and proformas that are useful for you. (Tip: Create 3 versions of each financial statement — a set of high projections, a set of medium projects, and a set of low projections). Research. Add information based on what you’ve seen so far (if you’ve been working in the industry already). Create a document that you can hand off to someone else while you go away for a year-long vacation and when you get back, they’ll have built the exact business you had dreamed of!

Starting and running a business is like going on a long journey — it’s best accomplished when you have a map that you can refer to, which will help you get to your destination.

Like a map for a long journey, it’s not something you should write once and put away. It’s something that you should leave open on the seat beside you while you drive. When you’re not sure where to go, you can consult your map. When you’re tempted to veer away and chase new ideas, you can be reminded of the original plan. When you are forced to take an unexpected detour, you can get back on track. THAT is the value of a business plan.

If you haven’t looked at your business plan in weeks, months, or years, go get it right now. (Do you know where it is?) Dust it off and look it. Is it practical? (Probably not since you haven’t looked at it in so long). So figure out what you can do to make it practical. My suggestions are:

  • Erase the buzzword-filled nonsense that doesn’t help anyone. Replace it with some unpolished ideas in raw form — specifically, big-picture goals, smaller-picture goals, and the actions you’ll take to get there.
  • Write about how you want your business to grow, what you plan to do to get it there, and what you’ll need to scale up along the way.
  • Create financial projections that actually mean something by doing a bit of research and writing 3 sets of financial statements, with high-priced assumptions, medium-priced assumptions, and low-priced assumptins.
  • Add an operational plan.
  • Add your sales funnel (a marketing plan and a sales plan).
  • Add in your document templates, logo variations, branding rules, operational checklists, etc.
  • List contingencies and plans to implement them if the need arises.

If you have never created a business plan, do it now. Here are a couple of good sites to start with. These sites contain a mix of information, step-by-step instructions, and even templates to get you started.

Go and make your business plan useful to you!