Running your own business can be the biggest thrill you will achieve in your working life, or the most stressful and demoralising experience you can imagine. On some days it is both!
However, I have come to realise from my own experience, from talking to business owners, and from gurus such as Ron Baker, Peter Thompson and Steven Covey, that running a successful business is all about minding your Ps and Qs.
Given the stresses involved in running your own business it is vital you are passionate about your product or service. Let’s face it, it is much easier to engage with potential customers if you can show passion for what you do.
Once you know what you want to do, you need to have a robust plan. We business owners are often knowledgeable about our product or service but avoid those business areas we struggle with – often marketing, sales or finance. The process of creating a business plan forces us to review ALL the areas of our business which are crucial to our future success.
We need to present ourselves to the market. If, like me you run a service lead business, one of the best ways to do this is to network. People buy from people they trust so you need to be out there meeting, and getting to know, local business owners.
Consulting professionals to help in areas you are not expert in is wise. Very few of us are instinctive business people and there will be one or two areas we struggle with. Interesting it is often more cost effective to get an expert in to do an efficient job than to try and do it ourselves.
To me a key element of a quality service is communication – this means listening and responding to clients’ concerns. Even if you sell a product there is a service element to what you do and this will be your contact with your customer.
Effective communication will allow you to qualify a potential client’s needs and what they particularly value. Having established value it should be fairly easy to give them a price.
To close, your business will not be measured by the outside world on what it is but on what people perceive it to be. So keep your ear to the ground and ensure peoples’ perception matches your reality.
You know starting a new hobby can give you a much needed boost after the winter months. For quite a long time I have been loosely thinking about taking up church bell ringing – or campanology if you want the proper term.
Wells is a wonderful place for hearing the bells pealing out and, of course, bells ringing out is often a sign that a special event, such as a wedding or Christmas, is happening. So I have always loved hearing them ring.
As often happens it took someone else to prod me into actually doing something about it, and in this case it was my son Simon.
I have only been to 5 sessions so far but I am loving it. The others in the band are lovely people and we always end up in the pub after practise! I have to say it is much harder than I had ever thought. There is so much to think about from sorting out the right strength to pull the ropes, to managing the ropes themselves, to trying to keep up with everyone else.But it is great to be learning something new that is complex and needs all my concentration to do even vaguely competently. Bell ringing is also a great mix of exercise (even before we start it is 72 steps up to the ringing chamber) and music.
It occurs to me that, as with many things, there is a great similarity between bell ringing and running a business. Both require a lot of skill to do successfully. Even the basics can be tricky to master and it takes quite a while before things are proceding like clockwork. Even if you have a good degree of skill, things can still go off track occasionally.
Also both rely on teamwork. Although each bell ringer is in charge of just one bell, they must be very aware of what everyone else is doing to ensure that the peal is rung correctly. Of course it is the same in business. Even if you work on your own you will still have a team of others around you who are key to your business success.
MiPs such as ourselves are often floored by selling and marketing because they are just not our forte. Getting some training or guidance from an expert can really make the difference to whether our businesses thrive or not. I have certainly found that the tips I have had from Trevor Lever (TLC) have made a massive difference to my sales effectiveness – and I see him as part of my team.
Incidentally the picture above is actually 2. On the left are the proper bell ringers and on the right is the complete beginner hoping that it doesn’t all go Pete Tong!
It’s amazing how developing new marketing aids, such as websites, can clarify your view of your business.The process of instructing someone else to produce something which encapsulates your business means that you have to have a very clear view of your business values and goals.
I am very lucky because the person who has the job of representing my business to the wider world is one of the people who knows me best – my hubby Jeff. He has been responsible for the look and feel of my business pretty much since I started out over 10 years ago and its been a gradual development over the years.
When I look at my website and other marketing bits from 10 years ago they seem very dated now, so I am glad that I have made the effort to keep things fresh.
I come across many businesses that have never changed their image since they started out – sometimes many years ago – and their current marketing collateral seems tired because of it.
I don’t think it’s necessary to throw the baby out with the bath water though. There may be a particular theme or image which your are particularly attached to and you don’t need to throw that away. But I do think that the way our businesses are portrayed on our website, and our other marketing, should be regularly revamped (at least every few years) so it keeps pace with the changes in our businesses.
I don’t know about your business but mine has changed quite considerably over the years and is continuing to change as my own goals and ambitions are molded by circumstance and family need.I am much more confident about what I want to achieve and know so much more about the environment my business operates in than I did when I started out.
I think having websites (I have a couple for the different sides of the business) which clearly demonstrate this confidence are a great asset.
So if it has been a while since you looked at your marketing aids perhaps it’s time to give them a refresh – the process can also refresh your view of your business!
A business’s confidence is key to its success.
A confident business does not have to apologise for its existence – it can just get on with providing a great product or service.
In an owner/managed business such as ours the level of business confidence conveyed is directly related to the confidence you as the owner have in yourself and your business proposition. Even a business which offers great service and is well respected by its customers can be undermined, if you continually doubt yourself.
So how do you keep your confidence levels boosted?
Firstly, make sure you give you offer a great service, which you can easily describe to third parties. Productising elements of your service can make it easier for potential customers to understand what you do.
Talk to your customers so you are clear why they buy from you. Although this might be hard at first, it will enable you to talk confidently to prospective clients about the effectiveness of what you do.
Whilst you are talking to your customers, ask them for testimonials. Not only can you use them in your marketing, they will also boost your confidence.
If you know where you want your business to go, you can confidently decide what you need to do to get you there. So, have a robust, regularly updated business plan. Alongside this, try to build a great business skills base. There are many facets to even small businesses, so the more you know about each of them the more effective, and confident, you will be.
Be part of a strong business network. Business networks are a fundamental part of raising the profile of your business and finding support locally. Regular contact with other business owners, many of whom face similar problems to yours, will help make running your business less lonely too.
Finally, think about how you are presenting yourself. If you are well prepared, wear the right clothes for the right occasion, and think about your body language, you will be best able to express yourself confidently.
It’s interesting how large sporting occasions can inspire us. How many of us runners find ourselves with more of a spring in our step having watched the World Athletics Championships or the Olympics? Just seeing world class athletes such as Mo Farah achieve fantastic results can leave an imprint on us.
And I think we can all do with inspiration. When times are tough it is very easy to start focussing on the negative and to get bogged down with what things are not going to plan. A far more positive approach is to move past those obstacles and focus on what you can do to move forward. Concentrate on those things you can change rather than on those things you can’t.
At the end of the day we live in a pretty prosperous country and have terrific opportunities residents of the developing world could only dream of.
Someone I find really inspiring is the para-athlete Mark Ormrod. He spoke at the CIMA Members in Practice conference a couple of years ago and got a rare, but well deserved, standing ovation. Despite losing 3 limbs in Afghanistan Mark has fought all adversity to build an exceptional life for himself and his family. In fact he has just competed in the Invictus games where he won four medals and got an exceptional performance award from Prince Harry.
People do extraordinary things. These people are usually extraordinary individuals but if we can take inspiration from their example we can become, if not extraordinary ourselves, certainly more positive and motivated.
Over the years we build up layers of experience and learning, in our case based on our CIMA qualification, and this experience and learning helps us to be good at what we do. Many of the skills we acquire we are barely conscious that we have, because they are so ingrained in who we have become. However, they are often the skills that our clients most value.
Over the last few months I have had the privilege of spending some quality time with some great CIMA members in practice whilst running my workshops.
It got me thinking about what makes us as CIMA MiPs so great. The particularly important talents we have are not ones learned through doing the CIMA qualification, but are as a result of the journey that took us down the CIMA route in the first place and have continued since.
So what are these magic talents:
1. Curiosity. We want to know what makes our clients tick. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it certainly makes for a much more effective professional!
2. We care. Curiosity leads us to get closer to our clients and their businesses, which means that we care deeply what happens to them. This means clients know they are in hands that will only do the best for them – even if tough love is sometimes required.
3. We want to enlighten and share. We know that we are of best value to clients if they have a clarity and understanding of their business’s financial situation. Unlike some other accountants who think they weaken their own position with clients if they explain what the numbers mean.
Unsurprisingly most of the MiPs in the workshops had not really noticed that they had these skills, nor recognised their value. Instead they concentrated on just their accountancy skills when talking to prospects.
Hopefully the workshop helped them to see the full range of skills they have to offer.
Perhaps it’s worth taking time to think more about your own ‘hidden’ skills!
Trevor Lever has been a great supporter of my business over the years and is a terrific sales effectiveness coach. Although Trevor is now looking to take a bit of a back seat these days he has been kind enough to share his brilliance with me.
I am very pleased to say that he has given me care of his cats as he doesn’t have as much use for them as he did! I am sure he won’t mind me sharing them with you because as MiPs we often struggle with the sales side of our business.
There are four sales cat types: trader cat, poacher cat, farmer cat and hunter cat. As business owners we will often have an affinity for one particular cat but need to be able to ‘play’ at being any cat.
Trader cats are the classic networkers who work hard to develop advocates they can trade referrals with. Reciprocation is the name of their game.
Farmer cats spend most of their time working with existing clients to increase the value of goods and services they can ‘sell’ to them – they concentrate on cultivation.
Poacher cats stalk businesses with the types of clients they want and their clients away. They will use differentiation to make themselves appealing to customers.
Hunter cats are excited by finding new opportunities and new customers who have never used their type of service before. Hunters use education to help new clients understand what they have to offer.
I have to say that of all these types of cat I myself have been least comfortable with being a hunter – and I expect most accountants would feel the same way.
However, I have had to become much more brave in approaching brand new customers since I have started providing workshops and mentoring for members in practice.
I have had to become more of a “hunter”. It really has not been enough to stay in my corner of the forest waiting for people to come to me!
Although it has been a challenge I am becoming braver by the day!