Here’s how to get consistent cash flow in your business

The number of businesses that fail within the first year or two is high. Massively high. There are many reasons for failure but one of the reasons is that the bills are consistent but the income isn’t. The income rises and falls as the business owner learns how to market, sell, and deliver their offering.

The sooner you can build your business to be consistent, the higher chance you have of beating the odds and surviving to year 3 and beyond.

So how do you get consistent cash flow in your business?

The only way to do it is to build a consistent sales funnel.

A sales funnel is the system in your business that attracts people toward you so they learn more about you and become prospects and then customers. I content that sales funnels are the most important part of your business because they’re the tool you use to get customers and make money. (I wrote an entire book on it called The Sales Funnel Bible #shameless plug)

So, how do you build a sales funnel that runs consistently?

You need clearly defined steps that are systematized (and preferably automated), and you need a way to keep prospective buyers in a holding pattern.

Let’s break that down…

CLEARLY DEFINED STEPS THAT ARE SYSTEMATIZED

Your sales funnel is made up of a series of steps. These steps are defined by the mindsets that your prospective buyers go through as they journey from “I have a problem” to “This company can help me solve my problem.” Along the way they’ll transition through mindsets like “I can live with this problem” to “I wonder if someone can help me” to “There are several companies that can help me solve this problem” and so on.

So, whether your prospective buyer has to transition through just a few steps or many steps, you need to figure out what those steps are (approximately) and then help the prospective buyer to move through them.

Once you’ve figure that out, you can systematize each step to some degree. Automation is one type of systematization but there are other ways you can systematize it — even if it’s just something as simple as writing out templates so you can customize them when a prospective buyer reaches a certain point in your sales funnel.

By systematizing, you attract people into your sales funnel and move them through with as little effort on your part as possible. (It’s a balance — you’ll want to maintain some visibility and control over the process and it might make sense to build a personal relationship with your prospective buyers. But all of this can be managed through some well-thought-out systematization).

KEEP YOUR PROSPECTIVE BUYERS IN A HOLDING PATTERN

This is the more challenging part. For consistent cash flow, you need to find a way to keep your prospective buyers in a holding pattern. By “holding pattern” I mean: you need to find a way to keep them in your sales funnel without necessarily buying from you today.

You do this through ongoing communication that adds value to them, and makes offers, and promises to add value in the future. My favorite way is to use email or print newsletters, although there are other ways to create a holding pattern.

You should do this while they are still in the Lead stage (that is: they’re learning more about your business and weighing their options). In my opinion, the Lead stage is the best stage to put people into a holding pattern because they are still seeking out information, which positions them perfectly to sign up for your newsletter or some other ongoing communication.

(If you wait until they are at the Prospect stage, they are already getting serious about buying and your newsletter will either entice them to buy right away or will push them out of your sales funnel because it seems to push them backward in your funnel).

HERE’S THE BENEFIT OF A CONSISTENT SALES FUNNEL

By building a sales funnel that systematically attracts people in and puts them into a holding pattern, you create a list of people that you can sell to very easily whenever you want to. This will have a huge impact on your business and its cash flow: An inconsistent business realizes that it needs more customers so it goes out to find them, creating an inconsistent cash flow because of the time lag between finding a customer and getting paid; A business with a consistent “holding pattern” sales funnel already has a bunch of prospective buyers in a holding pattern and can just pluck out a few from the holding pattern when more customers are needed.

Prospecting more effectively in four easy steps — co-written with Rosemary Smyth

This article was co-written with my friend, Rosemary Smyth, an international coach to financial advisors. The article is also posted on her website.

The success of many of the top-earning financial advisors hinges on their ability to simply get more clients. Although exceptions to this rule exist, the advisors who outlast their peers and are nearing retirement with a big book of business are usually those who did more prospecting (and more effective prospecting) earlier in their career. They are also more likely to have maintained the practice even when other advisors stopped.

Most advisors follow one of two routes when they go out prospecting. The first route, especially for new advisors, is to go after anyone you know or meet. Everyone gets a business card or three and a follow-up call. The other route, especially for professionals with a few years under their belt, is to follow the money by contacting whoever has the most likely access to investable capital.

We know that prospecting is essential. So how can an advisor – whether they are brand new to the business or trying to elevate a seasoned career – prospect more effectively in today’s marketplace? Just because the “tried-and-true” prospecting methods of yesteryear don’t work as well today, that doesn’t mean advisors should scrap everything and go all-in on the marketing flavor of the month. You might be surprised at the answer.

If you want to make your prospecting easier and more effective, and ultimately generate more clients for you, here are four steps to find the perfect prospects faster and more effectively:

Step #1 – Look in the mirror:
If you want to find your perfect prospect, the best way to get started is to look inward and figure out who you are and what’s important to you. How would people describe you? How do you like to spend your time? What values do you adhere to in your own life? What are your talents? What sets you apart from other advisors?

Once you’ve made this inward look, the next step is to look outward for prospects who might possess those same qualities. Where do they work? Where do they spend their free time? How can you connect with them?
People enjoy interacting with others who are just like them. Your prospects will see you as an ally who understands them and faces the same joys and struggles in life.

Step #2 – Look at your client list:
Your existing clients provide an excellent clue into who your perfect prospects are (even if you’re a new advisor with only a small handful of clients).

Look at your client list and identify your favorite clients – the ones you love to work with the most. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be looking for the ones with the most assets or the ones who generate most of your revenue. Instead, find the clients who you simply like to spend time and the ones who you really connect with; identify the ones who leave you feeling energized and valued as a professional.

Once you have a list of your favorite clients, determine what characteristics are common among all of them. Check for demographic characteristics, personality traits, aspirations, and values that are shared among a majority of your favorite clients.

Also look at what solutions you are providing for your client’s biggest problems. Does your experience with certain products or services make you an expert in working with those types of clients?

This step is critical because it starts to paint a picture of your favourite clients – the ones who give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. Think about what you enjoy most about being an advisor and how your favourite clients make you feel.

Step #3 – Paint a picture:
Based on your findings in step 1 and step 2, describe what your perfect prospect profile is like:

  • What is important to them?
  • Who is important to them?
  • What values do they possess?
  • What motivates them?
  • How would you describe them demographically?
  • What personality traits do they possess?
  • Where do they spend their time and money?
  • Where do they typically work? Where do they typically spend their time when they are not working?
  • What events in life are they facing now or will they be facing in the near future?
  • What needs and challenges do they face that you can offer valuable insight into?

Craft an outline of what that person looks like and be able to describe that person if someone asks you who they can introduce you to.

Step #4 – Figure out where that prospect is and go to them:
Take a look at your perfect prospect profile and determine where they spend their time.
Review available prospecting methods against the picture you developed of your prospect profile. Do your prospects even see or hear your prospecting message and is it something that resonates with them? Are there specific prospecting methods you can adopt (and adapt, because it’s never one-size-fits-all) to reach deeper into that pool of prospects?

Bonus Step – Segment your client list:
As you add more clients to your business, you may want to revisit the level of service you provide to each client. By segmenting your client list into three simple groups – top tier, middle tier (who might possess some qualities you prefer and have the potential to become top tier clients), and bottom tier clients (who are definitely NOT your favourite clients!). Create service level agreements for each tier that ties into your marking plan and budget. Provide a richer, more valuable experience with more frequent connections to your top tier.

Some of the benefits of working with your top tier are:

  • Less stress as you are working with clients that you like
  • Stream-line your business as you work with similar clients
  • Focuses your marketing campaigns
  • You are seen as an expert
  • More revenue opportunities
  • Your time and effort is respected and valued

Finding perfect prospects ensures a stronger, enjoyable and a longer-lasting career as a financial advisor. Follow these four steps to find more perfect prospects.

Rosemary Smyth, MBA, CIM, FCSI, ACC, is an author, columnist and an international business coach for financial advisors. She spent her career working at leading investment firms before pursuing her passion for coaching. She lives in Victoria, BC. Visit her website at www.rosemarysmyth.com. You can email Rosemary at: rosemary@rosemarysmyth.com

Aaron Hoos, MBA, has worked in the financial industry since 1997. Formerly a stockbroker, insurance broker, and award-winning sales manager, today he writes for the financial and real estate industry as an educator and marketer. He is working on his second book. Visit his website at AaronHoos.com and follow him on Twitter @AaronHoos.

Just what is a lead? How to know if you can make money from this sales funnel contact

As contacts move through your sales funnel, you nurture a relationship with them. The engagement that comes from that relationship elicits more and more information to help you know whether or not this contact is likely to buy from you.

As the relationship builds, the contact moves out of the Audience stage, where they were simply listening to general ideas about the problem or need they have, and they advance to the Lead stage, where they start taking action to pursue a solution.

But what exactly is a Lead? Is it a name? Is it an email address? Is it a telephone number? Is it an affirmation that they are interested in what you have to sell?

I believe that a Lead is a sales funnel contact who has realized just how acute their problem or need is and is starting to search out a solution. They’re willing to exchange a little bit of information about themselves in order to see if you could be one of the potential solution-providers to meet their needs. But what information you collect from them depends on your business.

I recently read an article that was published back in December 2009 (but the good stuff is always timeless!). In the article, Eric Rudolf proposes the difference between “a name”, “a lead”, and “an opportunity”. His article nicely bridges the gap that the marketing department and sales department often try to communicate over.

Summarizing what Rudolf says…

  • A name is just a name with no context.
  • A Lead is a name and contact information of someone within a target market who has expressed interest in learning more.
  • An opportunity is a name and contact information of someone within a target market who has expressed interest in learning more, and has a budget, and is an decision-maker.

Those are pretty good definitions. And if I were to look at those and then compare them to how we understand sales funnels, I would suggest that a name is a contact from your Audience stage, a Lead is a contact from your Leads stage, and an opportunity is a contact from your Prospect stage. And this matches with what Rudolf is saying — an opportunity is the warmest and most likely to buy.

So what should you do? It doesn’t matter whether you work alone or have a big marketing department and sales department. You (and/or your team) need to get names in the Audience stage and then nurture the relationship into a Lead. Then, nurture the relationship into a Prospect. Once you’re there, the contact is ready to be sold.

Read Eric Rudolf’s article Is it a Lead or not? A marketer’s guide to communicating with sales.

Weekly Sales Funnel Challenge: Draw your sales funnel (again)

The Weekly Sales Funnel Challenge is a week-long challenge for business owners to focus on a specific aspect of their sales funnel for one week. It’s a fun way to keep you focused on one of the most important parts of your business. A new Weekly Sales Funnel Challenge is published every Monday and a wrap-up post is published every Friday.
Weekly Sales Funnel Challenge

I’ve had a lot of new readers since I started doing these Weekly Sales Funnel Challenges, so I thought it was time to repeat one of the very first challenges: Draw your sales funnel.

List each stage (Audience, Leads, Prospects, Customers, Evangelists), and outline what your contacts do at each stage and how you communicate with them. It doesn’t have to be perfect. The goal is to write down what you do know and to see what you don’t know… and then build from there.

Even if you’ve already drawn your sales funnel in a previous challenge, I challenge you to do it again. If you’ve been one of the faithful Weekly Sales Funnel Challenge participants, it will be an interesting experiment to go back compare your current sales funnel drawing with your first one. How have you progressed in the months between those drawings?

Weekly Sales Funnel Challenge: Search Engine Optimization

The Weekly Sales Funnel Challenge is a week-long challenge for business owners to focus on a specific aspect of their sales funnel for one week. It’s a fun way to keep you focused on one of the most important parts of your business. A new Weekly Sales Funnel Challenge is published every Monday and a wrap-up post is published every Friday.
Weekly Sales Funnel Challenge

Your Audience and your Leads use search engines to find information and solutions about the problems they face or the needs they have.

Are you showing up in the right places?

Think about what your Audience and Leads are searching for. Are the keywords you’re building your website around the same keywords your Audience and Leads are using?

I’ve seen some businesses with websites built around keywords for their Prospects. The problem is, their Prospects aren’t the ones searching on the web. It’s the Audience and Leads that are searching.

So review who your contacts are at each stage of your sales funnel and think about how they are using search engines. Then target your SEO marketing around those keywords.