26 April 2008

The Big 5 Business Limiters + 1

I've been a business owner now since 1985, and have experienced much of the joy and pain that seems to go with the territory. At times it has been a struggle. And at times it has felt ridiculously easy.

To say there have been a multitude of "seasons" would be something of an understatement. Whilst the entire time I've been in the service industry, there have been changes within that business life that means that whilst my service product was much the same, the business was totally different. In size, structure, and strategy. This diversity has resulted in a number of observations.

I've read a lot of books that have helped along the way. Generally on something that I felt I was struggling with at the time. But for the most part they focus on some part of the puzzle. I've never really seen anything that succinctly gives a big picture overview of what limits the size or success of a business in its entirety.

At times I thought I had found the key. I'd try something and my business would flourish. But after a while I'd hit another boundary. Another factor that was limiting my business. And over the years I realised that there are a number of different factors that limit us.

After more than 20 years of going through this business life, I'm still not sure I've got the whole picture yet, but I think I've narrowed down five critical areas, all of which are vital to the size and success of our business. And any one of which will ultimately limit you if you don't improve on it, no matter what you do with the other points.

Now it's quite possible when you look at my list, you'll recognise in them things that have formed popular discussion under other names. However, just as advertising forms a subset of marketing, I think most of these popular discussions are subsets. Each subset is relevant and adds to our overall knowledge and understanding. Originally, when I first wrote about business limiters, I came up with a "big 5"; the main categories that make up the whole.

And they are:
  • Ambition
  • Capacity
  • Capital
  • Expertise
  • Network
At various times in my business life, I've discovered that whilst all the other points were in place, a deficit in one of these points was holding my business back. In each instance, unblocking the point in question led to a leap forward.

Focusing on one point may produce results for a while, but if you don't pay attention to each of the other points, the time will come when you're going to hit a limit.

A quick example.
To get this one across, please note that I consider marketing as a subcategory of Network and production as a subcategory of Capacity. No matter how successful you are at marketing, if that is all you do and you ignore production, at some point production will be your limiting factor no matter how much marketing you do. Or in reverse, building production capacity without any attention to marketing and sooner or later your production will outstrip your buying market.

However, there is a sixth limiter and it's a real tester - environment. Because more often than not, the environment in which our business operates manages us rather than the other way round.

But with some careful thought and action, even that can be tamed.

With any luck I'll get round to commenting on each of these business limiters, but in the meantime, feel free to add your own thoughts as a comment.

18 April 2008

10 webhosting ways to lose clients

I had to start looking around for a new webhosting service for The Forum SA the other day, and in the process learnt a few things about how to lose clients.

Here are my top 10 ways to lose clients if you are a webhosting service. And there might be a lesson or two in there for the rest of us mere mortals.

1. Offer a 24/7 support service, then make sure no-one on duty can solve the problem.
If you are going to do this, at least make sure that whoever responds shows some level of competence. When I report a problem, a response that the problem has been forwarded to someone who has enough skill to deal with it is OK. Taking 12 hours and a reminder to get a response from this expert is not. Especially when my website is in the middle of a melt down.

2. Offer a 99.9% uptime warranty, then don’t honour it when your client has 48 hours downtime.
If you are going to give a warranty, at least try to make sure it means something. My site went down a total of 23 hours in three incidents over 30 days. That would mean I am due about 3 years of trouble free webhosting. When it went down again the tech goes “it’s a goal.” Well, that’s not what the marketing says.

3. Make sure you have a hidden limit that will guarantee your client can’t use the big features you are famous for.
One of the latest games in webhosting is overselling. The package looks impressive, but buried in the fine print is a reference to abuse. This will relate to a technical limit that is the IT equivalent of passing a camel through the eye of a needle and keeping it alive in the process.

4. Tell the client to upgrade their package when you are using only 0.01% of the existing deal.
You have to wonder just how well designed this upgraded package is going to be given the obvious design flaw of the current package.

5. Make sure the upgrade costs 20 times more than the client is currently paying.
Make me wonder if your original package was a trap.

6. Tell the client that taking the upgrade is the only option.
Make sure I think your original offer was a trap so that I start doing some research. And find your competition's better offer for the upgrade features whilst I’m about it.

7. Increase the ridiculously low arbitrary limit that got your client upset and not tell the customer.
Realising you are about to lose a client and bending your "rules" to fix the problem is good. Not letting the client know you have made the effort is bad. And stupid.

8. Have your technicians draw up your marketing communication.
Technicians and coders like talking to machines. For good reason - they are not very good at talking to people.

9. Have a PayPal button for online payment, and then insist on a wire bank transfer.
Don’t offer an option if the client is not allowed to use it. Stick to rubbing salt in the existing wounds rather than finding new ways to cut the customer up.

10. Email the customer to call your support centre, and make sure the support centre can't use the telephone.
I could not believe it. In setting up a new hosting account elsewhere I was told to make a telephone call to sales. Not only did sales not know why I was calling (You asked me, remember!), the techie on the line started telling me to take my business elsewhere by email - whilst I was still talking to him on the phone!
See also 8 above.

Of course, at no point did they see any of this as an invitation to take my business elsewhere. Now to check if my business is not making the same mistakes somehow.

28 March 2008

Stuff marketing - Think credibility

So you are not getting the results you want from your marketing campaign.
  • You have profiled your perfect customer.
  • You have got your message out to your target market.
  • You have highlighted the benefits and given the features.
  • Everyone you show your advert to thinks it is fantastic.
And yet no-one is buying. At least not in viable numbers.

I've got a suggestion:
Stop thinking "marketing" and start thinking "credibility."

Despite your wonderful offering, you simply are not credible enough for people to buy from you.

This really struck home for me at a fairly tender age. I remember running around as a youngster looking for personal sponsors for my surfing. The target market was surf shops and surf related gear manufacturers.

So there I was running around with photos and goodness only knows what else, waving my hands as to what an exciting prospect I was and what a worthwhile investment I'd be until one wise bill said to me:
You've told me how good you are. When everybody else starts telling me how good you are I'll sponsor you.

Credibility. I had none.

I've seen lots of business owners over the years never quite get their marketing right.

I've been to marketing seminars, read books, listened to tapes, watched vidoes, read blogs and been to goodness only knows how many marketing websites - all punting all sorts of marketing mixes, messages, strategies and other variants on the theme of marketing.

Here are some of them:
  • You need repeated exposure before an advert works.
  • You need to call 7 times to get the sale.
  • Incorporating sex helps if you're selling to men.
  • Incorporating family helps in selling to women.
  • Be likeable. Smile and shake hands.
  • Be fascinated with them. Stop trying to be fascinating yourself.
  • Identify the need. Then introduce your solution.
  • And of course, if the need isn't in mind - create the need!!
Yeah. They all work. I've got no gripe there. And I believe you can spend days, weeks, even years practicing and experimenting for the penny to drop and get the concepts gelled in your head that will one day lead to your killer marketing strategy. But maybe here's a shortcut.

Stuff marketing - Think credibility.

What you need is to be credible. This is a contest for credibility.

It's all very well getting your message to places where it will be found by people who need your solution. But when they get there:
Your message needs to be credible. You need to be credible.

And if you aren't credible, you're going to need someone who is credible to deliver that message for you.

So maybe before you go spending good money chasing exposure, start thinking about what you can do to make sure your message is the most credible option for your consumer when it reaches him or her.

What can you do to improve your credibility?
It would be great to hear what you think about this.

21 March 2008

The good and bad of the OMB

Oh boy do I ever remember the days of being a one man business. It was great!!
The freedom. The fun. That feeling of making your own way.

If it's going to be, it's up to me - Oh Yeah Baby!
Oh yes. I remember that now. That's the problem with reminiscing - you tend to remember the good times and forget the bad.

That was the blessing and the curse. No me - no business.

Here's what I really liked most about my one man business - Once I had it tuned and optimised, I had my monthly overheads covered by the end of the first week of the month. The rest of the month's earnings was pretty much discretionary income.

The second big plus was that with no start-up capital to kick off with, the overheads simply don't come any lower.

But there were some downsides. For starters "No work No pay" takes on a whole new meaning for the OMB. And if for some reason you can't work - even if it is from circumstances beyond your control - you'd better have left some money in the cookie jar from the good months.

That, of course, was the next problem - that spare change. What's the use of making good money when you can never take the time out to spend it? Sure, you can spend it on stuff to play with on the weekend - but how about taking 3 weeks off? Or more? Holidays are a little tricky to juggle as an OMB. For 3 years or so all I managed to get was the occasional long weekend.

There was another major drawback. You know how a fair size business has owners, managers, sales reps, secretaries and all that other stuff? Look in the mirror - there's your team to take care of all that. Now if all you've got is a technical skill, that can be something of a challenge.

When you're starting out, all those handicaps aren't a problem, really. Well, they are, but you're all fired up (or in my case simply desperate) and prepared to do what it takes, so you just do it.

But if you're ever going to turn your enterprise into a business machine that earns your keep whether you are there or not, sooner or later you are going to need a plan.

Can you relate to any of this? Please let me know.

15 March 2008

Are you a slave to your business?

So you are a business owner! I've got a question for you.

Do you own your business, or does your business own you?

Ever since I went into my first serious business venture at the relatively tender age of 22, I've always had this vision -

My business is a machine that gives me what I want.
And in a general way that was to be able to:

  • do what I want
  • have whatever I wanted
  • whenever I wanted it.
In a shorter way, what I really wanted was freedom of choice. Options.

The basic plan was that I would spend some effort putting together this business machine to produce two things, lots of free time and lots of money. Equipped with these two rather useful commodities, I'd let my imagination take care of how to consume them.

The harsh reality is that most times my business ventures haven't produced the goods. And judging by many business folk I have chatted to over the years since starting out, I'm far from alone. In fact, more often than not, I've found the typical business owner is really a slave in a gilded cage - and that is when the business is successful!

When the business is not doing so well, it's more like being a slave on a ball and chain.

Unlocking the secrets of the business puzzle has been quite a long road for me. I don't pretend I've got the job done yet. But at least nowadays I do have the time to do the things I want to rather than the things I have to. I might not have mastered making enough money to buy all the toys I'd like just yet, but frankly that hasn't been what has proved the most difficult to achieve.

It was getting time freedom from my business that has proved to be the big challenge. Breaking the chains and getting out of the gilded cage.

And here is my confession. The problem was not the businesses - the problem was me!

I'd suggest that for so many business owners who find themselves slaves to their own business, the problem is with the owner too.

So this will be the theme of this blog - unlocking why and how we become slaves to our business. And how to fix it.

I'll be sharing my road to creating my own little business machine. My mistakes and my successes. And some of the stories of people I've met along the way.

And perhaps along the way something will touch you, and be the spark that let's you create a business machine that will give you all you want too.

Can you relate to any of this? Please let me know.