Are You Playing By The Numbers?

While I do know a few business owners who are absolutely religious about tracking their business’ performance, most small business owners tend to use the gut check method of monitoring the health of their business.

Numbers

I get it. Numbers aren’t fun or sexy. They aren’t interacting with the customers, creating new product offerings or coaching the employees. But, without an understanding of the numbers – those opportunities go away pretty quickly.

Think of it this way. If you were going to build a house, how would you know how much lumber to buy if you didn’t have a blueprint? Before we can craft a marketing plan or create marketing tools, you need to know what you’re trying to build.

I’m not suggesting that you spend hours every day pouring over the numbers. But, if you track just a few of the key indicators, you’ll always have your finger on the health of your business.

Do you know the answer to these questions?

  • What is your sales goal for the rest of the year?
  • How will you measure/track that goal?
  • What percentage of those sales should come from current customers?
  • From new business?
  • What is your ratio of gross sales to cost of goods sold? (What percentage of your GS is left for you to spend = Adjusted gross income or AGI)
  • What’s your monthly overhead cost?
  • What’s your monthly salary/benefits cost?
  • By client, how profitable are you?
  • By product line/service, how profitable are you?
  • How have your business sales trended over the past 3 years?

If you already know the answers to these questions – excellent. But, if you are like most business people, these are not something that just trips off your tongue. And yet you make decisions every day that really need this sort of insight.

Isn’t it time to know for sure?

Selling The Pain!

When you want to get your message in front of a target audience, you’ve got to be creative in your approach. During the last week, I was planning on attending an industry organization’s annual general meeting with my wife, Rose – who works in this industry. It was her first time taking part in such an event and she wanted me to accompany her. I pondered as to how I might leverage some business leads while attending and what immediately intrigued me was that during the day’s events was a two-hour window where companies could display their services to attendees taking a break and having a “beverage” while networking. So, naturally I inquired as to the availability of the display space. To my dissatisfaction, it was only open members or suppliers to their immediate industry.

Bummer.

Not one to ignore an opportunity to spread my message somehow, I developed an idea I think you’ll find amusing. I decided to develop “pain point postcards”. Before I elaborate on exactly what these are, let me define “pain points” first. As in any business, there are issues that keep you awake at night. These issues are the things that cause you psychological pain. These are the challenges in business that throw up barriers and irritants, holding you back from your goals, resulting in lost income potential.

Ed Roach

To take advantage of pain points as a strategy targeting my audience’s attention, I engaged in a little guerilla marketing. I am producing a series of 5 postcards roughly 6″ X 4″ in size. On the front side, the entire surface is black and the text is in white. This is where I boldly spell out the pain point. For instance: “Are you finding that there is nothing that differentiates you from your competition?”

On the back is the brand logo for “The Branding Experts” and contact info ONLY. No answer to the pain point question. My goal is to drive them to a special web-page dedicated to this effort. You cannot get to this page without having seen and picked up the postcard AND acted on it. A great way to track the effort. I will place these cards all over the event and hotel where many of the attendees are staying. The web page will provide solutions to the questions. Distributing these Pain Point Postcards is where you must also be bold. You are no doubt staying at the same hotel as your target audience. Leave them message side up on the reception coffee table. The counter in the john. The counter at reception. Anywhere that they might catch the eye. Ideally place all 5 messages in close proximity, as this is a bigger effect.

If you are even willing to invest more funds to the effort, you could see if a billboard close to the entrance to the exhibit hall or hotel is available on a 3 or 4 day basis. Here you would exhibit your most compelling statement. That and your weblink is the ONLY message here.

Prior to the show, try and get emails of the attendees and do html email blasts with the black and white messages. Expose them to the pain points in as many locations as possible within a tight period of time. I would even go so far as putting magnetic cards on the interiors of the elevators. Pain Point promotions can be invigorating as you become somewhat of a guerilla in your technique. Outside of the billboard, the expense is minimal, it is merely your effort that should be inspired. Try it yourself soon and come back and let us know how the experience benefited you. We can compare notes.

How Regulations Benefit Your Brand?

After spending years working hard for someone else, you feel that now is the perfect time to forge out on your own and benefit directly from your business experience. Here at Small Business Branding you will find a lot of good sound advice on building a successful business. My contribution to the mix is typically brand issues that I feel you should pay close attention to.

Ed Roach

The simple fact is we all have a brand whether we want one or not. Now – you can either work hard to develop and nurture a powerful brand, or you can do very little and let your competition do it for you. An area often overlooked in respect to protecting you brand is compliances. Many businesses in order to operate must conform to a at least a few Government or industry compliances. These are in place to assure your customers that you are adhering to minimum industry and community standards. If you are deficient in any way you are putting your brand at risk. (Not to mention, your professional well being). When a company is deficient, you pose considerable risk to your operation. Many times a breach of compliance will result in a costly fix. If you are guilty of compliance deficiencies to avoid costly but necessary procedures then you are a brand nightmare waiting to happen.

Breach a safety compliance, and your brand takes a hit from the negative exposure a safety accident generates. Security breaches puts exceptional attention by Government agencies on your doorstep. Brand jacking (unscrupulous use of corporate identity) leaves you exposed to myriad of potential negative scenarios – none of which you control. Industry and Governmental compliances are there to protect everyone. I would encourage you to view them as a type of brand insurance. It benefits your brand if you are diligent in their implementation. I would even suggest that you raise the bar and improve on compliances where your team sees the opportunity.

If you simply consider your brand your reputation, then you will appreciate that it takes plenty to build up a brand but very little to destroy it. There are no quick-fixes to repairing a brand that has been tarnished from a missed compliance opportunity.

I will be the first to admit that compliances are not the sexiest topic with regard to brand as compared to brand image, but ignoring it will hurt you from multiple positions – all of which have the potential to be a brand killer.

Brand Values In A Recession

I recently attending a breakfast discussion at the Odette School of Business at the University of Windsor. It was facilitated by Dr. Fritz Rieger. The subject being discussed was how to anticipate the outcome of two companies joining forces, through Acculturation – a model of cultural adaption.

Ed Roach

He essentially outlines four directions the corporate cultures would go. First of all they would either assimilate completely into the new culture or the opposite, separate themselves and the stronger entity would continue their home culture. The other two directions are the softening of the model and probably the more desirable positions. They are that the companies would integrate and benefit from their mutual contributions or they would de-culture and assume an entirely different model unique to either side.

Dr. Rieger then gave real-world examples of this and their outcomes and where they fit into the diagram. His best model was the American company Chrysler and the German company Daimler. Each company has a traditional cultural difference. It was a great example for his model. A question from those assembled intrigued me. It was asked,” Where might a company typically fall into the model, when their motivation to partner is desperation due to a down-market?” – the key word (to me) here was “motivation”.

When desperation is the motivator, how clear is a company in making rational decisions that may in the long term be detrimental? There may be some immediate return in moral support (strength in numbers) but what is the potential damage to your brand, if you are even able to maintain your brand or will it be absorbed into the other partner’s culture? The Dr.’s acculturation model is a good one if one is considering a move to partner but maybe hasn’t thought through the possible brand impact due to differing corporate cultures. The model nicely takes into account egos and maturity.

If your brand is a strong one, but numbers have slipped across the board due to the economy, many companies in their war rooms entertain many solutions. If partnering is considered – the fit is naturally one consideration. Invariably one of the candidates will be the stronger company with the deepest pockets, but lets say that this company has actually the weaker brand at this point in time. Which brand will rise to the surface in the partnering? If both parties can put aside egos, would the resulting corporate make-up see an opportunity in attempting to grow the stronger brand as opposed to the one of the richer company, which may actually be the weaker brand. Would they recognize that the stronger brand has a better chance of returning bigger profits in the long run and benefit more from the combined strengths of the partnering or would the relationship implode?

Ed Roach

I contacted Dr. Rieger and shared my thoughts with him. He proposes the following scenario would probably happen based on his research:
“At the end of the day, the stronger (takeover) partner (with the deepest pockets) will be the one to decide how the “acculturation” will take place. If the stronger partner believes that adopting the brand of the weaker has commercial value, then it may indeed choose to adopt that brand name and identity. However, in much the same way that the incoming settlers may choose to “go native” in order to survive in a new land, over time, the conquering settler will seek to modify the “native” culture to better fit their own customs. Often the only aspects that survive of the native culture, or brand, are the external commercial trappings and everything else (management) reflects the takeover partner. Over time, there will be little left of the stronger brand, since all of the “culture” that supported that brand has been stripped away.

A good example is the Sears takeover of Eaton’s (in Canada). Eaton had the stronger brand and Sears kept the name in hopes of retaining the customer base but ran it much like Sears. Customers noticed the difference and the customer base shifted. After a while, even the name was abandoned and takeover Sears became Sears in name as well.

While it is possible to “assimilate” in one aspect, to remain “separate” in another, it is really quite difficult. The result doesn’t last because cultures (and companies) are holistic. Management affects operations affects morale. ”

So, in the world of corporate branding, Dr. Rieger’s scenario adopted the brand image but NOT the brand values. They maintained their own values, which of course would work against the company with the stronger brand recognition. That brand being built on “their specific values”. Without those unique brand values the conquerer fails because a brand is the sum of it’s many elements. (Values are not interchangeable)

When I discuss branding with companies, one key element in our discussions are the company brand values. It is commonly understood and agreed that with out them the company would cease to exist. They are the foundation of the company. So then Eaton’s had to fail. Sears were not prepared to just be a silent partner, and the customers were not prepared to accept the altered brand – it was not what they had grown to love. Once you change the brand values the customer loves, the brand withers. This betrayal of values is what Starbucks is going through this very moment – they moved away from the customer which was the core of their brand values – the customer moved on – now they are back-pedalling as fast as they can.

How Bad Do You Want It?

I had breakfast with a friend recently who wanted to discuss personal branding. They felt that if they determined what their brand was or could be, it would change everything. But the truth is the real problem wasn’t necessarily their personal brand but their passion.

Ed Roach

Right of the top we put cost on table. “How much might this cost me Ed?” they asked. I just as quickly threw $5,000. at them, knowing the reaction – “5 grand, whoa that’s way to much.”

Think so?

Here’s the thing, 5 grand was not the issue. $100 might be too much, who knows. The issue here is passion. How bad do they want it. I know that they just went out the week before and dropped 5 grand on a flat screen TV. It didn’t take much too thought either, as a matter of fact they went out “just to look” and came home with the baby.

I asked them at this point – “How much is your personal grow worth to you?” and of course they said – “A lot”, this is where I jumped it an retorted – “Obviously not as much as a big screen TV.” That last comment was just for fun. The truth is they were passionate about their entertainment, not so passionate for personal growth.

At this point in the conversation it got pretty SELF-analytical. My friend wanted to know what might be wrong with them, that they just can’t get their act together as far as their personal growth aka personal brand. My opinion was there is nothing “wrong” with them, they simply didn’t want it bad enough. They love talking about it, they loved planning it, but they don’t really want it, or they would do it. They replied ” no way, of course I want it.” “If that is the case,” I asked, “why is it that for the last few minutes you told me several reason why you CAN’T do it instead of why you CAN?” You can’t find the time to work out in a gym because there is no passion to work out, BUT if your doctor say’s you will die if you don’t, then guess what, your passion to live opens that gym door.

YOU DON’T WANT IT BAD ENOUGH, YOU DON’T HAVE THE PASSION.

Not having the passion to improve your brand, personal or corporate is not really a bad thing but a personal determination of goals. What do you want out of your personal and corporate life? What is your overall definition of success? If you are passionate about a goal, then money is not so much of an issue. What is more important in your life, professional growth or the big screen TV? There is no right or wrong answer to this. It is what is important to you right now at this point in time.

The one thing you have to come to gips with is the truth. Don’t lie to yourself about where your passion lies. If you truly want to grasp greater things then you have to come to grips with your own personal demons and ignite your passion to obtain it. Stop talking about it and DO IT! If the big screen TV is where it’s at right now, then embrace it and enjoy the sucker with everyone you love.

Passion is why we do the things that are truly important to us. To say you are a procrastinator is just a crutch to not have to come to terms with the fact that there is no passion in doing tasks set out in front of you. Find out what motivates your passion and embrace it. If you feed your passions with positive energy, you will do it. Even if you fail in the attempt, the approach is re-directed but the passion doesn’t die, as a matter of fact it is stronger.

Passion feeds on our efforts, just as little effort starves passion. How bad do you want it?

How to Start a MOOB Group!

There is safety in numbers. There is also a great deal of knowledge that can be had if you take a sharing attitude. You don’t have to be an island. There are good people out there who would love to pick your brain and in return allow you into their inner sanctum of experience.

Ed Roach

I have been involved in a group exactly like this going on five years now. We got together after a design conference in Phoenix and had a burning desire to carry on the conversation . We are a small group of four companies within a 6 hour drive of each other. I am the Canadian in southwestern Ontario, we have a member from Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois. We meet quarterly on a friday for a full day (8-5). We discuss everything that has to do with our businesses and how to make them better. We harbour no secrets and after all this time we have become very good friends. It is also a fantastic way to network and to expand the breadth of services you can offer. How can you get in on something like this? Here are 10 points to consider if you want to start your own MOOB (Mind Our Own Business) group:

1) Decide what kind of group you want to start. Ours are companies in the same industry: Branding/Graphic Design. You can build a group of varying industries, what is important is defining what your group is striving to accomplish by forming.

2) Choose members who have the same success values as the other members. They don’t have to be at the same stage in their growth, as a matter of fact it is more productive if they are not. It is important that each member is a self-starter, as attendance is important to carry on the momentum in order to last more than one meeting.

3) Choose how the meetings will be structured. Our MOOB group has an agenda, we meet where we can be uninterrupted. We have rented meeting rooms, and even met in a park setting over-looking a lake – very relaxing. Other than the agenda, the conversation in left unstructured and is governed by the host. We each hold a meeting in our city. We also assign ourselves homework sometimes between meetings. Also, we have a segment where we discuss recent books read. The conversation is non-stop and the day flies by.

4) Complete openness if absolutely key to the group’s success. Anyone who is not honest with regard to how they do business is a BAD FIT! Times are not always good. The group cannot help you if you are not completely open with your issues. If you cannot feel secure in opening up in your group than it is a BAD FIT.

5) We do not charge anything. The host covers the expenses of their day. We do not have dues. You can, it is really dependent on your objectives.

6) Sharing in the value of discovered revenue streams. In the course of our sessions, we have developed products that we each sell in our own markets. We have found our MOOB group to be lucrative in terms of ideas and motivation. We are currently trying to develop a monetary website where we can sell recordings of our sessions to our industry. This is a big cookie to bite into, but it will happen.

7) When should you meet? As I have mentioned, we meet quarterly for an entire day. If your group is from the same region, then perhaps you can start with half a day. You will be amazed with how fast time flies by.
The important thing is to give yourselves enough time so that everyone can get the value out of shared experiences. If one member is struggling with issues, you want to allocate enough time to satisfy their questions.

8) Decide who you don’t want in the group. And determine how new members are chosen. The make-up of the group is extremely important. If there are members who are just takers, then as in networking – they will not be productive members and they will alienate fellow members.

9) What happens if there is conflict within your group? Decide on a course of action if this unfortunate situation occurs. It is equally important to have an exit strategy that can be imposed on members, if it is deemed by the group, that the relationship has soured and they are adversely effecting the group.

10) Make it fun. All of our members really look forward to our meetings. We are passionate about MOOB. We were even written up by HOW magazine during our first year. We either have lunch in, or go out to some cool place in the host city. We also typically, go out for supper also. We don’t use Robert’s Rules but just freely jump from topic to topic. We laugh it up alot.

That’s about it really. If your group’s makeup is different types of companies, it can easily be developed into a networking group as well. Peer groups are sometimes called “best practices groups”. No matter what you call them, they are an excellent way to help you grow personally as well as professionally. You could develop a virtual group over the web as well. It doesn’t really matter so long as your group values are sound. I have found it another great way to further develop my personal brand.

Because we are called MOOB, I suggested we wear those cow-horned hats that Fred Flintstone and Barney wore at their lodge. It’s not important to note the reaction my suggestion earned.

How To Cure WhirlyBrand!

Ed Roach

Is your brand in a whirl? Many a CEO have ignored the signs and are afraid to contact their brand doctors. Some fear the embarrassment of having admit that they have long ignored the obvious and suffer from denial. Many simply have no idea why they are suffering and are just confused and anxious. If you are uncertain, here are a few things that might alert you that your brand is suffering from WhirlyBrand:

Symptom: Your business completely blends in throughout it’s category. There is nothing to distinguish you.

Diagnosis -WhirlyBrand: People confuse your company with that of your competition? I’m afraid you’ve become – a commodity.

Treatment: The dreaded “D” word – differentiation. Yes, you have to discover what it is that used to make customers love you. Why were they willing to pay more for your services as compared to today’s situation where you have been reduced to a price and easily replaced. You must discover ways to put your company back on top defining you as the leader in your category. What makes you absolutely different. What is your difference that no other company can lay claim to. Nobody said this was going to be easy.


Symptom: Your staff are withdrawn, they seem uninspired, gloomy.
Diagnosis – WhirlyBrand: You’ve played it safe for so long, your most prized assets, your employees are disillusioned by the company. They no longer understand what it stands for. They too have lost their direction. Your company is no longer attracting great talent.

Treatment: You’ve got to give the team something to live for. As the visionary, you must step up to the table and inspire them again. Develop a positioning strategy that has the competition shaking their heads. Don’t carry on business-as-usual. Get their input and carry out their recommendations. It will empower and motivate them. They will become super advocates – they are a part of what makes your company great!


Symptom: Your brand image is all over the map, even you are confused by what you represent.Diagnosis – WhirlyBrand: You have multiple versions of your brand logo. Your corporate colours change depending on use. The blue on your signs is different than your stationary and website. Your brand image is very similar to the current leader in your category. You have multiple brand icons, none of which are exploited to the benefit of the company.

Treatment: You’ve been playing follow the leader for too long. Identify icons and images that compliment your brand values and personality. Develop a brand strategy for your brand image components. Make sure that nobody goes against this strategy and even assign a person to patrol its use. Your have got to take back control of your image.


Symptom: Your at a loss for words at networking and sales opportunities. This sudden loss for words has you nervous and concerned.Diagnosis -WhirlyBrand: You don’t quite know what you stand for. Your company has a mission statement, but frankly it is milk toast. It says the same cozy things most mission statements say. You can list off all of the things you sell, if given the time, but you don’t have a compelling position.

Treatment: Develop a statement that says exactly what you do that distinguishes your company. It must be compelling enough to ignite conversation. Perhaps it is in the form of a question. Whatever the structure the cure here is to compel.


Symptom: Your personal brand conflicts with that of your company. You are never called upon for your opinion. You feel withdrawn.Diagnosis: WhirlyBrand: You haven’t defined yourself as an expert in your category. People around you may like you but don’t necessarily consider you to be an expert at anything in particular. You’ve lost your edge.

Treatment: Assert yourself. Start doing speaking engagements on your area of expertise. Write articles, “start a blog”, engage people with your wisdom. Define who you are and what you stand for. Ideally it is an extension of your corporate brand, each complimenting the other. Don’t assume people know what you do – tell them!

Don’t panic if some of these symptom sound awfully familiar. If your company has WhirlyBrand – take notice, it is serious. If it goes unattended it can be terminal. BUT the good news is WhirlyBrand can be cured. Once you’ve had a brand physical, you will then be on the road to recovery. Nobody has to suffer from this troublesome malady.

The cure does take determination and resolve, but the best news is, NO RUBBER GLOVES ARE NEEDED IN THE TREATMENT!

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