15 questions to gain clarity when making complex business decisions

Business can be confusing. There are a million decisions you need to make with very little time to formulate your decision, and usually these decisions are made in complex situations.

We can make rapid-fire decisions easily when we can wrap our minds around the situation but the more complex the situation gets, the harder it is to make a decision.

So here are 15 questions you can ask and answer to help you gain clarity when you make complex decisions. You won’t know the fully answer to each one of these but even the exercise of attempting to answer these questions will help the fog to lift so you can see the path toward an answer.

  1. How would I describe this situation?
  2. How would I describe this situation to a child?
  3. How long will this situation last?
  4. Will the situation increase in severity, decrease in severity, or remain constant?
  5. Am I the only one experiencing this? If someone else has experienced it, how did they handle it? (Even if they didn’t handle it well, that information is still helpful to me.)
  6. Have I ever experienced a similar situation before? If I have, how did I handle it? (Even if I didn’t handle it well the first time, that information is still helpful to me.)
  7. What was the cause of the situation? What was the cause of the cause?
  8. What were the Political, Economic, Social, and Technological influences that allowed this situation to come about?
  9. Are there any influences (organizational or individual) that will continue to influence this situation, perhaps changing it as time goes on?
  10. What is the true cost of this situation?
  11. Who is impacted? (There are usually more people impacted than you realize.)
  12. What are the most likely outcome(s) of this situation if I do nothing?
  13. What are ALL of the actions I could take in this situation?
  14. What are the outcomes of each action that I could take?
  15. Which actions and outcomes deliver the greatest benefit to me, my business (in the short-term and long-term), and my customers?

The 5 steps to identify your sales funnel… This is the starting point of a more profitable business!

I frequently assert that your sales funnel is the most important asset in your business. It’s the structure around which you build your business, it’s the pathway that prospective buyers follow on their way to giving you money, and it’s a strategic tool you can use to grow your business.

The starting point for you to master your sales funnel and take control of your business is to draw out your sales funnel. Draw it out, add notes to yourself, and the document becomes the useful tool you can refer to daily in your business to help you make decisions and work on your business.

Here’s how to draw out your sales funnel…

1. IDENTIFY YOUR TARGET MARKET

You need a narrowly defined target market — one that is large enough to to market to, has enough money to pay you for your product or service, but small enough that you can establish yourself as an expert. (Note: “Everyone” is NOT your target market). Take some time to research your target market and learn about them. When researching, dig beyond the point where your target market’s needs intersect with your solution. Learn everything you can about your target market and you’ll uncover new ways to market to them and new opportunities to add value. To get you started, use this tool I created: 55 questions to answer when defining your sales funnel’s target market.

2. IDENTIFY YOUR TARGET MARKET’S MINDSETS

People buy a product or service to solve a problem or fulfill a need. They never rush out and buy the very first solution the millisecond they discover their problem or need. There’s a progression in their thinking:

  1. At first they discover their problem or need.
  2. Then they realize they have to do something about it.
  3. Then they seek out some solutions.
  4. Then they weigh those their solution options.
  5. Then they decide whether the solutions are worth the cost.
  6. Then they buy.

Those steps I’ve just outlined are an over-simplification of the “evolution of mindsets” that people go through before buying from you. For small purchases (like an impulse item in a grocery store check-out line), these evolutions are measured in seconds. For major purchases (like a house), these evolutions are measured in weeks, months, or sometimes even years. After researching your target market, write out the mindset evolutions that they are most likely going through. (Use the list above as a starting point but then make adjustments according to your knowledge of your target market).

3. OUTLINE THE ACTIVITIES

Once you know what your target market is thinking on their way to buying from you, you can craft marketing and sales messages around those thought processes with the goal of moving them from one step to the next. Activities are comprised of two things: The message you want to communicate and the action you want your target market to take.

Pro tip: Don’t try to get your target market to move from their current mindset to the point of sale. Just get them to move to the next mindset in their mindset evolution.

4. DEPLOY TO CHANNELS

Once you know who your target market is, you know where they like to spend their time and attention. Once you know what mindsets they have, you know what it takes to sell to them. Now you can use this information to put your sales funnel to work. Create marketing and sales messages (see Outline the Activities, above), and then put those messages in the channels (media) where your target market will notice them.

5. ADD PAYGATES AND DELIVERY

Your entire sales funnel “points” to a sale. And that can look very different from one business to another. Some businesses charge up-front and then deliver the product or service; some businesses deliver first and then charge. And there are other paygate/delivery configurations as well. (Check out my blog post Sales funnel paygates for more information and for a list of other blog posts on this topic). Select a paygate and delivery model that will encourage the most purchases from your customers but will also ensure consistent cash flow and manageable accounts receivables for you.

A FEW CLOSING THOUGHTS

This really simple step-by-step method to crafting your sales funnel is useful for new and existing businesses that need to optimize performance and improve profitability. It’s also just a starting point. Check out some of my other blog posts about sales funnels.

4 monetization models for video

In a post I wrote yesterday about the impending death of television and the rise of online video, I suggested that one of the overlooked reasons that we’re moving to online video is that the content is shorter. It fits into our day. Yes, the other arguments are valid (we can watch what we want, when we want, on whichever device we want) but we can’t ignore the fact that a 30 or 60 minute show doesn’t necessarily fit with our schedule… but we still want to be entertained. Shorter videos are attracting us away from television and filling our downtime with entertainment opportunities.

There is HUGE, HUGE opportunity in video, both now and into the future. If you are looking to create content — regardless of whether this is information or entertainment — video is a place you can carve out a space for yourself.

But how do you monetize your video content? Here are the two standard monetization models for video that are well-known and frequently used, plus a third model and fourth model that I think are still in the early stages and we’ll see more of in the future. (And I should point out here that I’m talking primarily about entertainment-type videos rather than informational videos, although I realize that the line is pretty blurry).

So here are the four video monetization models that are pretty popular right now:

1. Place ads in your videos

I think this is the default model for new video producers because YouTube makes it so easy to do this. Just create a video, allow advertisements to display, and earn money from the ad. There are YouTube success stories that make this an attractive model for anyone.

Actually, it’s not that different from traditional television monetization models — either a commercial precedes the video or a clickable ad overlays over the video for part of the video. In fact, the networks that post their full episodes to their websites also use commercials, in the traditional sense, inside their videos.

2. Use your entertaining videos to sell something

If you have a product or service to sell, you can create an entertaining video that people will watch — which subtly (or not so subtly) promotes your brand as people watch.

I have two examples. The first example is a little more overt — Super Bowl commercials. They are high quality productions that people intentionally watch to be entertained and good ones are talked about for years to come. (I still hear people talking about Apple’s 1984 commercial). I just recently posted about Radio Shack’s surprisingly excellent Super Bowl commercial. Those are overt because they ARE commercials.

But there’s also the slightly more subtle (and perhaps more powerful) videos that are true “television shows” in their own right, and yet are created for a commercial purpose. The best example I know of are the BMW commercials. (Search for them on YouTube if you’ve never seen them). The entire series is excellent.

And here are the other two models that were inevitable but are still in the early stages and offer a lot of promise to producers that can use them well.

3. Sell your videos

If you create video content, you can put it behind a paywall and sell access to it. Infomarketers do this already but now we’re seeing entertainment companies do this as well. The best example I’ve seen is Netflix, which has resurrected itself from the ashes to become more than just a paid aggregator of video… they are actually producing their own video entertainment now!

4. Get promotional support and include product placements

This one is the newest and most untried of the four models (at least in online video). I think this is partly because companies just don’t know what kind of ROI they can get from this.

But I recently saw one series (produced right here in Winnipeg — awesome!!!) that is very well done. The show is entertaining, there’s a decent storyline, and the brand placement is present but not silly or overwhelming. The series is called Wind City and it’s a 6-part series of videos that have a storyline but also integrate brand advertising into the show. I think it’s actually a pretty cutting-edge attempt at this business model. Even if you don’t love the show or Winnipeg, you should check out Wind City on YouTube for a bit of entertainment and to see their business model at work.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

Some of the monetization models above are being used well already for informational videos. But as entertainment videos increase in number and variety and quality, we’ll see more of those become monetized in these ways.

9 reasons why you need to become THE expert in your field

Each new level you ascend in your business may be the best you’ve ever achieved… but as you reach the summit of that particular level, your new vantage points reveals that there is still a bigger mountain — with a higher summit — just ahead of you.

In this blog post, I want to talk about the highest summit you can achieve — the expert status — and why you need to scale THAT summit as quickly as possible to make a difference in your business.

When I say “expert status” I don’t just mean that you know more than most other people. I’m talking “category of one” expert status. You’re not just AN expert in something. You’re THE expert in something.

And if I had to start my biz all over again, I’d do whatever I could to achieve this category-of-one expert status as quickly as humanly possible.

Here’s why you’ll want to become an expert in your category:

1. Experts are automatically credible

If you’re sitting in a seminar and a speaker is introduced as the world’s leading expert in [whatever], you will pay attention even if you aren’t familiar with the speaker. Expertise is credible. (If you’re faking it, it will be revealed soon enough so may I should say “true expertise has long-last credibility”).

2. Experts get paid first

Hat tip to copywriter John Carlton for this one. John Carlton says that experts get paid first, everyone else gets paid last. This is great advice and if you run a business (especially a service-based business) this should be the only reason you need to become an expert because getting paid first means no accounts receivables!

3. Experts get paid more

Don’t misunderstand me: Experts deliver more to get paid more. However, in my experience, the amount they get paid for what they deliver is proportionately higher than what non-experts get paid. You might say that experts don’t necessarily deliver a higher volume but higher value to get paid what they charge.

4. Experts are sought after

Most businesses spend a good chunk of their day searching for clients. With experts, it’s the other way around: Prospective clients are the ones seeking out the experts. The experts are in a position of power in the transaction, deciding who they will work with.

5. Experts have a long waiting list

Some businesses might find themselves temporarily booked up so that if they have to turn a customer away, that customer will simply go somewhere else. But a well-positioned expert has a long line of people who are eagerly waiting for the expert’s next availability and will wait as long as necessary for that expert.

6. Experts provide recommendations

When a business delivers its product or service, there is sometimes an unspoken question hanging in the air as if the business asks the client: “Is this what you were looking for?” or “Will this work for you?”. On the other hand, an expert makes recommendations and has the confidence that his or her recommendations will deliver exactly the solution that the client needs.

7. Experts are quoted by others

The insight and thought-leadership of experts is frequently quoted by other people — both by the expert’s target market and by the people who are still scaling that summit of expertise but have not achieved full expert status yet.

8. Experts have names that sell

When someone is still climbing the foothills of business, simply trying to go from “good enough” to “pretty good”, their name doesn’t necessarily hold much cache. The customers those businesses acquire might not care who they work with. But an expert’s name sells. Clients of an expert will not only pay more for the expert but they’ll boast to their peers that they worked with the expert. They’ll “borrow” some of the expert’s name credibility because it has significant value.

9. Experts are self-fulfilling

I added this one just before publishing this post. It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately and I haven’t been able to fully articulate it yet… but I’ll try: Experts are self-fulfilling in that what they say is true. If an expert says something, it becomes true (even if it wasn’t true before) because their stating it makes it so, and because their audience may unwittingly participate in making it true.

Starting a business? Start with a service.

I’m going to get into trouble writing this post. I think people might comment (in this post or privately by email) who will chastise me for suggesting this. I can predict the emails now.

But I’m here to tell you that they are wrong.

Regardless of what the experts tell you, start a business that offers a service.

Years ago, I started my business as a freelance writer. Although different aspects of my business changed (including what I wrote and who I wrote for), I always came back to the one key element: I provided a writing service for other people. It was my default position.

Later, I branched out into other things — selling infoproducts, writing ad-based or affiliate-based content, and more. But writing was always there, always funding that expansion and always putting food on the table.

I’m a big fan of starting a business by providing a service to other people. That service could include something you do (as in my case — writing — or perhaps it’s something else, like renovating houses or consulting on social media or being a plumber, etc.). If you find a group of people who want what you sell, and you market to that group effectively, you’ll always have work… and you’ll always have income. And if you ever want to make more money as a service provider, you can always increase how much you pitch and how much you charge. That’s true security as a business owner. There’s a very simple link between the work you do and the success you enjoy.

A service also makes you relevant and keeps you sharp. It keeps you in the game. It helps you establish and strengthen your position in the industry. It gives you a “laboratory” that you can experiment — see what works; see what doesn’t.

And no matter what happens, you can wake up and make money… and you’ll always have the confidence that more money is just a few phone calls away. (If you have the right service to the right group of people, of course).

Once you have a service established and in place, then you can extend to other monetization opportunities: Products, information, etc. These are awesome because they are “do-them-once-and-profit-continuously” opportunities. Often, they require a lot of work up-front but then can become serious profit generators in the future because the hard work is done initially and all you need to do after is market them.

And eventually, product sales might even outstrip your service sales so you get to the point where you don’t earn much money at all from services. And a lot of the gurus will tell you that starting with a product is the way to go because they can generate a lot of profit.

But I think you should start with a service. Find something you do well and provide it to a well-chosen market.

Products (whether physical products or infoproducts) are good to sell and can boost your income considerably. And products are often heavily promoted by the gurus as THE way to monetize your business. But here’s what they don’t tell you:

  • Cost and effort: Products take a lot of work up-front to do well. Physical products may require that you pay for them to be imported or manufactured. Digital products require time spent in writing and design.
  • Risk: Along with the effort, there’s a considerable amount of risk offering a product that is designed and created… but then turns out to be a dud.
  • Income and timeline: Products are (often) not a windfall. They trickle money in — and sometimes it’s not a lot of money at all. Yes, you could eventually get to a point where your product business is bringing in decent cash from product sales but in the very beginning, you won’t be lighting cigars with $100 bills.

Now let’s compare those same factors with a services offering:

  • Cost and effort: Services don’t need to be “created” so they take zero dollars to do. (You might point out that some services require costly tools or training. That’s a good point but I cover it in my next point)…
  • Risk: If you offer a service and no one buys, you haven’t lost much. You can adjust your service to offer it to a group of people who do want it. Or if you want to make more money, you can offer different services. In other words, services are much more agile. (And as for the point about expensive tools, here’s what I think: If you have the tools required to do the job then you probably have the experience and skills necessary. If you don’t have the tools then find something else that you can do).
  • Income and timeline: With services, you can potentially earn a good living right from day one. The more you sell your services, the more the money comes in. It’s fast and it’s relatively substantial (compared to the profit you earn from most products).

Once you start selling your services, don’t stop there. If services are the only thing you sell from now until you die then you run the risk of capping your income and burning yourself out. However, if you start with services and then start adding products or other “passive” monetization opportunities, you can grow your business further while always having that income from services.

The naysayers of this idea will point out that services limit you by taking your time and capping the amount of income you earn in an hour. It’s true that services pose that risk. However, I’ve seen enough people who dreamed of starting a business but couldn’t earn enough money from products to earn enough income when they needed it.

What I’m suggesting is not a popular recommendation, and it’s not surprising that products are hailed as the best business choice over services. But I think a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs could become actual entrepreneurs right now if they stopped trying to find the perfect product to sell and instead focused on the service they could offer.

If you aspire to start a business, think about what services you could provide. What could you do well that other people might be able to hire you for. Use that as your starting point, enjoy the fast income you can earn from it, and use that income to fund expansion into other monetization opportunities.