Bite-Size Chunks of Wisdom

March 2014

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Small business troubles don’t happen overnight. In fact, it’s not uncommon for warning signs to exist for months — or even years — before corrective action is taken. Unfortunately, for some small businesses, help comes too late. Knowing the early indicators of potential trouble can keep your business heading in the right direction.

Let’s face it. It’s easier to stick our head in the sand and ignore what’s truly going on in our business. By doing so, we can pretend it’s just a hiccup on the road to success that will self-correct in time. Delaying corrective action, however, places your business in jeopardy as cash flow dwindles and limits your options to turn things around.

Misfortune Brewing?

The following list contains some of the early indicators that your small business may be at risk for greater troubles ahead. Take heed!

1. Revenue is flat or declining.

2. Difficulty in paying bills and/or meeting payroll.

3. Working more hours just to “hold on.”

4. Potential leads dwindling.

5. Client complaints increasing.

6. Passion for business waning.

7. Prices reduced to spark sales.

8. Client lifespan is declining.

9. Systems overwhelmed by demand.

10. Critical spending cut back.

11. Vital follow-up time postponed or put off.

12. Unable to honor commitments or meet deliverables.

13. Inability to keep up with the pace of growth. “Things” fall through the cracks.

14. Billing cycle lags behind schedule.

15. Dread going to work — and you own the place!

Any one of these early warning signs can put your business in tailspin. Combined? It spells disaster for small business dreams.

The Good News

Are you ready for a little good news? Of course you are! Early warning signs are foreseeable and preventable! Awareness, alone, can help you take immediate action to change the trajectory of your momentum.

Are you curious how your business measures up? Download the Core Business Assessment for insights into how your business is doing.

Read on:

The well-known adage, “you never have a second chance to make a first impression” is more significant than ever. In today’s fast-paced business world, decisions are made quickly. The initial impression of your business determines if it heads to the front of the line or if it’s forgotten forever.

Here are 5 things you can buff up to make sure your business passes the test. Your growth depends on it.

1. Modernize your website. Your website is the window to your business. When a potential client does not have a personal connection with you, directly or through a referral, they rely on your website. This gives them a sense of your knowledge, expertise, experience, and professionalism. Refresh your website regularly.

2. Polish your logo. Much like your website, logos require the occasional “spit shine” to ensure they convey applicability to your business and relevancy for today’s business environment.

3. Rejuvenate your picture. Have you heard that “a picture is worth a thousand words”? When a prospect doesn’t have a way to know what a remarkable professional business owner you are, they can only make an assumption based on your photograph. Engage a professional photographer to make sure your professional picture conveys the image you want on your website and social media platforms.

4. Shorten your follow-up cycle. The window of opportunity during which you can secure a meeting with an interested prospect is short. Once a potential client makes the decision to contact you for a sales meeting, you have less than 24 – 36 hours to act. Your ability to secure an initial meeting drops considerably after that period of time. Be sure to allocate time in your day to punctually follow up on new leads.

5. Make, and deliver on, timely promises. There is a crisis in customer care and follow-up today. In fact, recent polling showed only 8% of customers feel as though they’re getting superior service. These days, it doesn’t take much to exceed expectations. Punctuality and timeliness on commitments can carry your business the distance in making a good first impression.

Despite what you might observe in the marketplace, first impressions do count. In reality, you only have 7 seconds to make a good first impression. Use them wisely and demonstrate the ability of your business to deliver.

Carry on:

A service provider or vendor can be an asset or a liability to your business. They either make a contribution to speed up your business growth OR they become a fly in the ointment of your growth. The ability to discern which service provider drives or diminishes your growth is important.

When hiring a service provider, each small business owner generally spends time vetting the service provider. During the vetting period, you’re able to ensure they are a good fit, capable of meeting your business needs, and able to deliver the outcomes you desire.

There are tell-tale signs that indicate the service provider may be less strategic than you need to move your business to the next level. One of the most important indications is whether or not the service provider you’re considering asks YOU these questions — without any prompting from you.

1. What is your business goal?
This demonstrates your service provider’s awareness and understanding of their role within the context of your big picture. As a result, they perform as a strategic provider and bring greater value to your business.

2. What outcomes do you want to achieve?
Understanding your desired result speaks volumes about the mindset of your vendor. By inquiring about desired results, your service provider communicates they are results-oriented. And, if their inquiring helps you get clear on the results you’re after, their value has already begun.

3. What have you previously tried to achieve your objectives? What results were produced?
If for no other reason that not looking like a fool by recommending what has previously proven to not produce results, the service provider that asks this question establishes that s/he is a problem solver that will bring innovative solutions to the table.

4. How will results be measured?
This is a biggy and is evidence that this service provider is about results. You can rest assured that your valuable resources will be invested wisely.

5. What is your time frame for achievement?
Your desired time frame for results determines the tactics and approaches a service provider may suggest. Inquiring about your target date indicates that your service provider will be pulling out all stops to apply the best strategies to achieve your goal.

If you’re a service provider reading this, take note! These are the types of questions you want to ask your potential clients to make sure you deliver the results they desire. Your reputation — and future referrals — depends on it.

If you’re reading this as a small business owner, remember — these are questions any service provider of value will be asking you — without being prompted by you. If absent from the conversation, rest assured this vendor is not a good fit to grow your business.

More questions to consider:

As a business continues to grow, more and more small business owners rely on service providers for their expertise, industry knowledge, and timely service to facilitate business growth. Knowing the type of service provider you’re hiring “greases the wheel” for growth or “gums up” growth.

Two young attractive businessmen hiking up

There are two types of service providers: tactical and strategic.

A tactical service provider is technical in nature. They execute your requests. Much like an average-performing employee, they do what you ask with little forethought to what your business needs to grow. They rarely ask about the outcome you want to achieve. In fact, the only time you speak with them is when you initiate an email or phone call with a request to perform an action.

A strategic service provider, on the other hand, takes the technical service they provide to an entirely different level. They take time to get to know you, your business, and your goals. This discovery process helps them understand their role, as well as, how they can best contribute to your business growth.

Strategic service providers not only listen to the scope of work you want them to perform today, they use your company’s vision to guide their recommendations. Suggestions are made based on insights gleaned from comparing your business data to your desired outcomes.

Strategic service providers have your back. They continually look out for your best interests by providing complete solutions — those that serve you, your business, and your goals for growth today, as well as tomorrow.

Strategic service providers are attuned to your entrepreneurial needs. As a result, they have a wide circle of trusted contacts — lawyers, accountants, designers, growth advisors, human resource consultants who are equally strategic in nature — who can be engaged to help you grow your business.

Undoubtedly, a strategic service provider makes a greater contribution to growing your business. And, your ROI (return on investment) is higher! Given the fees charged by a tactical service provider and a strategic service provider are comparable, a strategic provider is the only way to grow your business.

The next time you’re looking to engage a service provider, be sure to choose wisely! Your growth depends on it.

More to grow on:

Whether you’re trying to reach $100,000, $250,000, $1 million, or $5 million in revenue, getting to the next level in your business opens up a wealth of opportunities. Getting ahead of day-to-day details and accelerating to the next milestone in revenue is exciting — once you have a sound growth strategy in place!

Growth strategies are unique to every business. Where your growth comes from, the amount of risk you’re willing to take, and the available resources all play an important role in the selection of the growth strategy that is the best fit for your business.

As you consider the right options for your business, here are four of the most common growth strategies to keep in mind:

1. Sell more products to your current clients. This is called market penetration and carries the least amount of risk. In fact, in recent studies, more than 50% of small business entrepreneurs plan to use this strategy to increase revenues.

2. Expand your products or services into new markets. This is referred to as market development and is one of the most common growth strategies. Approximately 21% of small business owners expand their product/service as their growth strategy of choice.

3. Promote new products for existing markets. Commonly referred to as product development, this is one of the most comfortable growth strategies for small business owners. Albeit the most convenient strategies to choose from, don’t get too comfortable! Developing new products, even when targeting a familiar market, may require new skills and systems for success.

4. Develop new products for new markets. This is one of the riskier growth strategies given the nature of an unproven marketplace. Implementing a diversification strategy, however, may well be worth the risk if innovation is a key value for your small business.

Every business, regardless of size, needs a growth strategy. As you ponder your choices, consider your willingness to risk, resources available, business capability and capacity, strategic insight into your market…and make your strategy one you can grow on.

More to Grow on:

There comes a time in every growing business when, as the owner, you “come to the end of your sleeve”. Your business reaches capacity. Either your business has surpassed your skill set or your capacity, or both. What do you do? You bring in service providers to help grow your business…unless they don’t.

When you no longer have the time or skill to perform at the level for your business to succeed, service providers provide essential services. Whether it’s marketing, branding, finances, operations, or administration, service providers that fit your business needs and style are critical to your success.

Unfortunately, a poor performing service provider can make or break your small business growth, especially if you fail to take action. Service providers, brought on with the intention of expediting business growth, can unknowingly cause your business growth to lag if you fail to heed the warning signs.

Danger! Danger!

To identify whether or not your service providers are hindering your small business growth, watch for these warning signs:

1. They consistently miss deadlines. This can be particularly challenging to your growth strategy when critical deadlines are missed with little communication from the providers. The domino effect of the delays can cause you to miss important windows of opportunity.

2. “Things” fall through the cracks. “Things” can be communication, requests for work, documents related to the project — anything generated by you, the small business owner, that mysteriously turns up missing once in the hands of the provider.

3. Persistent errors. Granted, we all make mistakes periodically. Errors and bloopers routinely spawned by service providers are demanding of your time. You end up providing oversight for which your service provider should be responsible. Isn’t that what they are being paid for?

4. Slow response time. I understand we’re all busy. However, in this fast-paced economy where open windows of opportunity close quickly, you need service providers with the systems and resources to facilitate timely responses to your requests. A delayed response from a service provider is a setback for your business.

5. Irresponsible in commitments. After several broken promises, one of my clients finally “fired” her service provider. After numerous attempts to accommodate the needs of the service provider, the service provider failed, yet again, to provide a vital service for the business. It wasn’t a case of poor performance any longer, it was non-performance!

Small business owners are much too tolerant of poor performing service providers. Many providers become friends which make it more difficult to tell them to take a hike. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security with your service provider — until a critical opportunity is missed due to their poor performance.

Consider the warning signs that are listed, but don’t ignore the actions you need to take to restore trust and dependability in your service providers. Your growth depends on it.

Carry on:

You’re ready to take your business to the next level and you’re convinced of the need for a growth strategy…if only you knew what that was! Just as your mission and vision generate a landmark on the horizon toward which you stretch, a smartly selected strategy determines your approach to growing your business.

If an informal poll were conducted during which small business entrepreneurs were asked about their growth strategy, it might sound something like this:

  • Hmmm, I don’t really know.
  • Work really hard until the business gets where I want it to be.
  • I’m not sure. Guess I’ll figure it out along the way.
  • Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
  • Cross my fingers and hope for the best.

It would be followed by nervous laughter as we come face-to-face with the reality of the missing growth strategy.

Although there is incredible power in the honesty of the small business owner to take their business to the next level — if only by brute force — what makes their job so much easier is a growth strategy.

What is a Growth Strategy?

Strategies are a pattern of moves or approaches designed to produce the successful performance you desire. They clarify priorities and prioritize actions. Strategies guide decision-making, save valuable resources, prevent you from squandering time and money on the wrong projects or pursuing the wrong market, prevent conflicting priorities, and clarify activities.

A “growth strategy”, then, is a pattern of moves that establishes how you will grow your small business.

Small businesses, in particular, are easily influenced by even the slightest changes in the marketplace. Whether it’s the loss of a key client, changes in technology, or a new competitor, minor fluctuations can have a major impact on cash flow.

An unplanned short-term reduction in cash flow, unfortunately, is the demise of many small businesses. That’s why your growth strategy, and subsequent growth plan, is critical for the growth — and survival — of your small business.

It’s no longer enough for your business to be profitable; your business also needs to grow.

Ready to Grow?

growth planning

Business growth is a lot like a human being — you need to keep growing for survival. In fact, ask 60% of businesses that were listed on the stock exchange since 1980 that are no longer in existence. You’ll quickly learn the importance of growing your business beyond survival.

“Business growth” is a commonly used term to define a variety of conditions. From an increase in sales to the increase in the number of employees, business growth is a phrase that easily describes a multitude of situations. Simply, business growth is demonstrated by an increase in size or scale with an accompanying increase in yield.

Got Growth?

Every small business owner launches their shiny, new enterprise with great hope and optimism for progress in size and scale. Unfortunately, increased competition, the downturn in the economy, or uncertainty in the marketplace has brought some entrepreneurs to their knees. What started as a dream for a castle in the sky has tarnished to a pup tent in the backyard (aka survival).

Here are 4 convincing reasons to grow your business beyond survival:

1. Economies of Scale
Along with business growth comes your ability to leverage costs. This allows your business to run more efficiently and effectively, including lowering costs associated with producing your product or service.

Although this may seem more applicable to manufacturing, the service industry can leverage economies of scale as well. For example, let’s say you’re an accountant billing at the rate of $200/hour. When you “do it all”, including bookkeeping, admin, project management, filing, and tax preparation, the cost to produce your service is quite high. It certainly cuts into your overall profit margin.

However, growing your business beyond survival allows you to outsource administrative duties, bookkeeping, marketing, and project management at a lower rate. This not only frees you up to generate more revenue, it also improves the overall profitability of your service.

2. Higher Profits
Tied in with economies of scales, business growth allows your business to experience greater profits that you can choose to pay out to yourself, as the owner, or reinvest into expanding products and service to continue the upward trajectory of business growth.

3. Market Expansion
Business growth beyond survival means you’ll have the resources you need to make the leap to the next level in your business. Whether you choose to expand current products into new markets or introduce new products into your current market, you have the opportunity to take advantage of additional business growth opportunities that exist.

4. Brand Awareness
The more your business grows, the greater your exposure. The more others become aware of your brand, the more opportunities exist for expanding your business growth through client acquisition, strategic partnerships, and other such probabilities.

Are you convinced of the need for business growth beyond survival? Although it feels a bit like the chicken and the egg theory, one thing we know for sure — business growth begets business growth.

It’s the only way to grow!

More on business growth:

A national poll conducted by National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) shed light on the most common external factors stunting small business growth. Although the majority of small business owners stated their desire to grow, few show an inclination to do so. Are small business owners buying the common myths associated with business growth?

cloud of words or tags related to myth and reality on a digital tablet

Yikes! What could possibly be wrong with that picture?

Is Slow Growth in Your Future?

Although small business owners state their desire to grow, most want to grow modestly. Here are the most common concerns expressed by small business owners that are having a negative impact on their growth….and how you can fix them.

1. Scared of the Unknown. As the NFIB reports, “3 out of 5 owners believe uncertainty — economic and political — impedes growth.”

If you are to wait until all the lights are on green to go someplace (especially if you live in LA), how long would you be willing to wait? Uncertainty is the nature of the beast when you’re in business for yourself.

Learn to love it! Build a reserve of clients and cash to provide a greater sense of security. Set double-digit growth goals to help you weather the storms ahead. Hire a growth advisor to keep you ahead of the game.

2. Where are the Customers? According to NFIB, “53% of owners say lack of demand is a key factor impeding growth.”

Consumer needs, and subsequent demands, are ever evolving. We no longer live in a “set it and forget it” economy. It’s the nature of today’s quick-paced business environment.

A lack of demand for products or services, indicates that you’ve lost touch with your clients’ needs, service lines are outdated, or your target audience has shifted in the dark of night without your knowing.

Get comfortable with change! Set up a Client Advisory Board to stay up-to-date on the ever-evolving needs of your clients. Develop a culture of continual innovation. Don’t just follow the crowd; set the pace for your industry to follow your lead.

3. Stay the Course. Despite lack of demand, “52% of small business owners expect little to no changes” to their marketing plans per the NFIB.

Isn’t that the definition of insanity — doing the same thing and expecting different results? Little to no change in your marketing plan only serves to net the same dismal results.

Do something different! Implement an inbound marketing strategy. (It better fits the majority of today’s consumers no matter what industry your business is in.) Understand your marketing and buying persona with the upmost of clarity. Upgrade your value proposition.

Although business owners may truly believe the negative influence of these factors on their growth, the truth is there is hope against the common myths about business growth.

My final word on the subject falls into the category “what I really want to say” — SNAP OUT OF IT! Believe the myths and your business will go the way of the myths. Believe what’s possible — and plan smartly — and experience double-digit growth.

Which option do you choose?

More to grow on:

small business

There is growing evidence of the vast benefits that a growth advisor or mentor provides for small enterprises. Research shows that small business owners who utilize growth advisors are more likely to experience a 20% growth. Is that enough substantiation for you to engage a growth advisor?

We could stop the article there. What could be more convincing that growing your business by 20%, especially since a 20% growth rate is the tipping point at which businesses are able to survive most any challenge?

Just in case you’re still not convinced, let me give you another factoid. Did you know that 70% of all small businesses that receive mentoring survive more than 5 years? That’s double the survival rate of non-mentored small business!

Given that 42% of all small business owners have yet to consult a growth mentor or advisor, here are a few more compelling reasons to engage a growth advisor:

1. Keep you focused.
As small business owners, we don’t need to be reminded how easy it is to get pulled off track. A growth advisor keeps you focused on the more critical aspects that directly influence your business growth.

2. Provide support and structure.
Growing a business can be a lonely endeavor. A growth advisor or mentor, worth their weight in salt, helps you employ growth metrics to measure your headway. The numbers never lie. They tell you whether you’re growing or not growing. No guessing needed.

3. Offer expertise.
Skilled growth advisors offer business expertise and knowledge about growth strategies and business development. This falls under the “two heads are better than one” scenario. Your ability to leverage additional business acumen lets you skillfully maneuver the curves and bends along the business growth road.

4. Propose insight.
Many times you’re too close to your own situation to clearly see what’s working or what’s not. An extra pair of ears and eyes helps heightens awareness and keeps you hip to where to put your energy, focus, and effort.

5. Deliver guidance.
A good growth mentor or advisor provides guidance on growth strategies, key activities, and potential roadblocks. They make available analytical intelligence to make sure you’re equipped to make smart, strategic decisions.

Finally, small business owners with 3 or more hours of mentoring report higher revenues and increased business growth.

What are you waiting for? Get your business growth on!

Core Business Assessment


Brooke Billingsley

Vice President
Perception Strategies

Synnovatia is a strategic coaching firm that is detailed and knowledgeable about business. i have a small business that grew from $150K to $750K because of the goal setting and resources that Synnovatia provided. It saves me years of learning on my own.

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