AdvisorPR’s anniversary is quickly approaching. It’ll be 13 on January 31. As I reflect back on my business over the past 13 years, and of course on the heels of New Years and new goals for 2018, it dawned on me—if I had known then what I know now, how different the journey might have been. Isn’t that what we all say? But I likely could have saved a lot of time, energy and resources for both myself and my team had I put a few key strategies and principles in place from the onset.
So, now’s the time to pay it forward! Here are five things that I think any small business owner should take the time, energy and resources to put in place as early in their business as possible. But, whether you’re a start-up, 13 years in or 31 – it’s never too late to begin, update or enhance these areas of your business to become more efficient, marketable and profitable.
- Invest in a database. A robust and reflective contact management system (CMS) is critical and is the backbone of any company—service based or not. Little did I realize that I would eventually have interacted with thousands of people over the relatively short span of 13 years and have multiple team members in place interacting with them too. No matter how good your memory is, there comes a point where you can’t remember every conversation, phone number, interaction—let alone read your team’s mind about their similar experiences too. I know a lot of business owners consider Outlook or Mail to be as robust of a CMS as they need, having an archive of emails to reference when necessary—but it’s not enough! A database eventually becomes more than a conversation tracker. It becomes a marketing portal, and for it to work in that capacity, ample information needs to be gathered and entered for every new interaction. There have been many times over the years when I needed to identify someone with very specific criteria: a fee-only planner in the southeast region of the country, for example. Good data going into a database helps makes life much easier in the long-run from both a team and client collaboration standpoint, as well as marketing. Database management may seem like a daunting effort now, but eventually, it will become the foundation from which your company can grow exponentially.
- Have a go-to “What do you do” response. The million-dollar question. Why do people struggle with this answer so much? Many of us default to the “how we do it” answer versus the “what we do.” Early on when asked this, I would have started with the services – “public relations, marketing and branding” just as many advisors may say “investment management, financial planning and retirement.” So what? What’s the benefit of working with you over the other people three booths down or around the corner? If you’re prospecting for new clients and want to grab their attention (unless they’re actively in the market for your specific service), nobody will care what you do until they know what the end result or benefit of working with you could look like for them! Since hearing about the radio station WIIFM – what’s in it for me – this has been my answer, “we make you famous – both on and offline.” If that doesn’t get them asking the next question “how” then they likely aren’t in need of our services. This statement should get the conversation started, but be prepared to say “how” you do it, and “why” you’re better than other similar service providers. We all do a lot for our clients, but it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture and what we’re really doing it for.
- Quality vs. Quantity – A few key marketing pieces. You don’t need a novel to explain your services, but you do need something. I’ve seen both sides to this and been somewhere in between myself. When I first started the company, I tried to be a “green company” without physical collateral. What a waste of an opportunity when people had nothing to take away from our encounter. Without support material, the key points of our conversation quickly faded away from memory. Some requested a second conversation on the same topic, only to have the same outcome as before. Conversely, I’ve also created the robust brochure that explained every service we provide, problem solved, benefits of working with us, why we’re the best and then some. What another waste of an opportunity when people had to walk away from the conversation with materials explaining more than they ever wanted to know and again, the key points of the singular service they were interested in quickly faded away. Neither approach is efficient, nor effective. The solution? Only deliver enough information to get your prospect to take the next step.
- Processes and accountability. Enough said. Every service business needs a process, every process needs people, and every person needs to be accountable to the process (including you!). Service-based businesses exchange time for money; it could be an hourly rate, a flat fee or a percentage of the assets you manage. Your time and energy directly correlate with your compensation, but without standardized processes to follow, more time and more energy are being used than necessary. Now, every function and service in my business, from operational tasks to pitching media to building a brand, has a standardized process for how it’s executed. And, when we identify a new need or situation, a process is documented so it can be referenced later when we encounter it again. A talented team with a process to follow can be amazingly successful and efficient. No need to flail through growing your business when you can just take the steps to get it all documented.
- Take your brand seriously. I know many small business owners go out on their own because they’ve developed a unique niche or mastered a skillset. And largely, especially in the early years, the brand is built around you as the owner. But if you don’t take the time to invest in building the company’s brand—not just your personal brand—you’re never truly going to be able to grow your business to heights beyond your own time and capabilities. Spend the time identifying what your brand represents; it really can and does have a personality of its own. Identify “the business plan for the brand,” the who, what, when, where, why and how of a company. This needs to be clear, purposeful and standardized at every interaction your ideal client has with your firm. If you don’t take your brand seriously, no one else will, and if you don’t invest the time upfront in building it according to your vision, you’re leaving your brand to chance. A brand will be created one way or the other; make sure it’s the one you want for your company.
I think as owners of service-based businesses we often work hard on the here and now, taking care of our client’s immediate needs, but at the expense of our businesses. Had I put the time and energy on these five things upfront, I would have saved a lot of time and energy for myself and my team, and likely excelled the growth and success of the business. Fortunately, it’s never too late, and my goal in sharing my experience is to help you fast-track your own success.
As January 31 and our 13-year anniversary quickly approaches, I want to take the opportunity to say THANK YOU to my amazing team. It’s because of their hard work and commitment to the vision that we are where we are today.
For more information about fast tracking your company’s success, call AdvisorPR (866) 888–5333 or email us at Info@advisorpr.com.