Networking – Love it or Hate it?

Networking Guide - Make it work!

Networking events can be fabulous for your business, or a complete waste of time. And if you are an introvert, they can be torture. How to make it worth your while? Have a plan and a few tools under your belt.

Need some additional help?  Download the Solo2CEO Networking Guide here

How to Outsource on a Shoestring Budget

But I can’t afford to hire anyone!

“I just can’t afford to hire! My budget is way too small.”

I never push back on the budget-size part of this argument; hundreds of solopreneurs run their amazing businesses on blood, sweat, tears, and absolutely minuscule amounts of money.

The part about not being able to afford outsourcing? That is a mindset issue, and one that needs to be challenged. Many entrepreneurs think that if they do everything themselves they are saving money. Frankly, this kind of thinking is short sighted.

When you get bogged down handling the day-to-day administrative work necessary to keep your business humming along, you never get to plan. In many cases, that is going to cost you more in the long term than delegating the busy work.

Remember those CEO time blocks we talked about?

You’re so focused on staying afloat that you keep yourself from dreaming bigger, plotting your next steps, and putting your energy toward growing your business instead of treading water.

So when business owners tell me they can’t afford to hire help, I point out that it’s more likely they can’t afford NOT to!

Still wary and worried that your shoestring budget can’t handle the burden of outsourcing?

Here are 4 easy ways to make sure you can afford to delegate:

Start Small

You might have a list as long as your arm filled with tasks you’re dying to assign out, but you’re better off easing into outsourcing. Try hiring someone for just a few hours each month to strategically get tasks off your plate that you either avoid, loathe, or both.

Pick work that can be done by anyone (like bookkeeping or invoicing) but which ties up your time and sucks up energy you could be putting toward important projects that will help grow your business.

It may not sound like much, but starting with just 4-5 hours per month is a manageable way to get a feel for outsourcing. Hire a virtual assistant on a trial basis for a few months to see if delegating that work impacts your overall stress level, and work your way up to hiring someone to handle more tasks.

Analyze ROI

It’s hard to let go of the money you work so hard to earn, but if you can do some simple return-on-investment calculations you’ll see it’s money well spent!

Think about what you could accomplish in the hours you’re now NOT spending in the weeds of your business.

For example, if you hire a VA for 10 hours per month, and use your now-empty 10 hours to create a product you sell for $200, you’ve just covered the cost of your virtual assistant (VA) with a single sale.

Here’s a quick summary for calculating your ROI:

  • Start by picking a task set (such as publicizing your blog posts on social media)and total up how much time per month you spend doing it yourself right now.
  • Multiply hours per month x your hourly rate, and the resulting figure will tell you how much it’s costing you to handle this task set yourself. Assume you can hire a VA for $50/hour or less. Would it be more cost-efficient to outsource?
  • NOW analyze the task set to see if it actually, actively makes you money. (For instance, how many sales did you make last year that can be traced to blog posts?)
  • Ideally, you want to outsource tasks that bring in revenue, but remember that assigning admin work to contractors means YOU are freed up to focus on money-centric work.
  • Weigh the data, and decide if paying a VA to handle this task set is worth the investment.

Consider Hiring a Less-experienced Contractor

VAs with decades of experience can (and should!) charge more. Newer freelancers will have lower hourly rates, which makes them more affordable.

Naturally, the tradeoff will be that less-experienced VAs will need more training. But if you’re on a tiny budget and currently have more time than money, it can be a win-win for everyone.

And, being among the first to help a new freelancer get situated means you can shape his or her work habits and processes!

Assign a Portion of Your Income to Outsourcing

When you look at your income and budget, it can be tough to see any wiggle-room. A simple work-around is to dedicate a certain percentage of your business income to outsourcing.

For instance, use 20% of your website affiliate income to cover contractor costs or dedicate 50% of book sales each month. Parsing your incoming money in this way makes it feel less burdensome to add another line-item to your monthly budget! Remember, start small!

So why would you pay someone else to do work you can do yourself for free?

Because the work you do is NOT free! Your time is valuable, and should be put toward projects that will either bring in revenue or allow your business to expand. And even if your budget is painfully tight, you can find ways to make room for outsourcing!

When Going it Alone is Going Nowhere.

Maybe it’s Time for a Mastermind.

I’ve said it before. We’re not meant to do this entrepreneur thing alone. Personally, I’d be lost without my Biz Besties, coaches and mastermind team. I thrive on the conversations, interaction, ideas and motivational accountability.

Masterminds are especially valuable for that accountability and forward momentum, but they’re not for everyone or for every stage of business.

So who is a mastermind for? And how do you know if you need one for your business? Do any of these scenarios sound like you?

  • If you’ve been in business a few years, you’re likely at a place where you’re no longer trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of business, but need an outside perspective to help you rise to the next level.
  • You are ready to implement some big new ideas and would love some guidance and ideas from others who have gone before you.
  • You’re making money in your business but sometimes (maybe too often) you get stuck in the weeds of working in your business, rather than on

What Are the Benefits of a Mastermind?

We will bring together women from different locations, industries, educational backgrounds, life stages, and experience levels. The whole point is to make space for diverse points of view, which will lead to incredibly creative ideas generated for your business.

Let’s face it. We can all get blinded by seeing things a certain way. Sometimes the approach we took in the early days is no longer working, but it can be hard to let go of the old way of doing things. I can tell you that being a part of a mastermind program has been an absolute game changer for my business. I have accomplished more, in less time, than I ever thought I could.

When you’re in the right mastermind for you, you can start to see your business and yourself through someone else’s eyes as you leverage ideas and support one another.

When you’re working inside your own business alone or with a small team, there aren’t a lot of people who know your business inside and out to help you leverage ideas. With a mastermind, you get the brainpower to do just that.

It’s really an amazing place to be in business and something that, when you show up the right way, can help grow your business by leaps and bounds.

Think about it. How many people in your personal life actually understand your business and what you do? If you run your business online, your family and friends probably give you a blank stare when you talk about Facebook ads, email marketing, client acquisition and the like

There is also something empowering about investing in yourself. It was a big leap when I started thinking of online courses, coaching, and masterminds as an investment in my business (and belief in myself!) rather than an expense. Major mindset shift there.

If you put skin in the game, you are far more likely to demand more of yourself and REALLY get results. That’s been my experience.

Even better, as a member of a mastermind, you also have the ability to share your expertise and perspective with others as you give feedback to your mastermind sisters. You learn about how others do business as you help, making you a better business owner at the same time. It’s a win-win for everyone.

 I’m offering just such a Mastermind starting in September. I’d love to have you join me. Click here to find out more and schedule a call to discuss it.

The Trap of Working IN Your Business, not ON it

Don’t Get Stuck in the Weeds!

Danger! Danger! Most of us start our entrepreneurial journey with a passion. A passion to serve, to share our expertise, or just for the love of what we do. With that, we jump into our business with both feet, hands and everything else and devote as much time as we can spare for the creation of our baby. But there comes a time when operating from passion and not strategy is going to hold our business growth back – in a big way.

If your desire is to grow and scale your business, then you will need to start looking for other people to do the doing so that you can be doing the visioning and strategic planning.

What are some of the ways and reasons that you are keeping yourself stuck in the weeds?

You LOVE the what of what you do.

There is certainly no shame in that! But if you love it so much that you are still doing the day to day, then there will be a cap to how many new clients and new projects you can take on, and therefore the amount of revenue you can take in.

You like to feel needed.

Looking at a packed to-do list every morning certainly will make you feel like you are needed. It may even give you a sense of security. But is that what creates value in your business and is that the best use of your talents? Perhaps you need a revised vision of how you are needed by providing the strategy and direction for the people who work for you. It’s a shift of focus, but you are needed even MORE at this level.

Chaos becomes your best friend.

When someone asks you how you are doing, how often do you answer “BUSY!” In our fast-paced world, it has become a badge of honor to be “BUSY!” Being super busy can be addictive. And stressful. Be wary of this one, as it’s a great way to reach burn-out fast. You are not doing your business or yourself any good by burning out.

No one can do it as well as you can.

Perfection paralysis or fear of delegation is so common and one of the primary ways of getting in your own way. You are afraid that if you delegate to anyone the task will not be done correctly. You need to accept that there will be many differing ways to get the hoped-for result – not just yours. Be open!

No idea what it would look like if you weren’t the worker bee.

If you have been a solopreneur for any length of time then you may not have any idea of how your business could function any other way. As I pointed out in a previous post, it’s time think like a CEO and move from doing to leading.

In all of these cases, you may be afraid of taking the big leap of bringing in people and creating a team. Bringing on your first part-time or contract person is a big leap to a solopreneur’s identity and can cause a lot of fear, understandably so. Or maybe you have done that and have a small team – maybe even a largish team, but you are still hanging on to too much of the doing.

The skill set you have mastered, and grown so comfortable with to create your business is NOT the same skill set that is required to manage people and think strategically. But you will need a new skill set if you want to grow.

I love helping solopreneurs move into the entrepreneurial realm and start to experience real growth. Let’s schedule a call to discuss your business and how I can help you.

Creating Visibility: Do Your Customers Even Know You Exist?

Tips for Boosting Visibility for Your Biz

Visibility means having your entrepreneurial business be visible to the audience you want to serve. This means being in front of them in any number of ways and creating a strategy for promoting brand awareness that is custom-made for the stage of development your business is in.

This week, I will walk you through two main aspects of visibility strategy: Scaling visibility efforts to match your stage of growth and how to make the most of your networking efforts.

Stage Appropriate Visibility Efforts.  

Your strategy for creating brand visibility needs to be tailored to the stage of development your business is currently in, with an eye towards future growth.

Startup Mode: Your focus should be on awareness and feedback from customers so that you can craft your brand and offer to what your audience wants. Visibility should be one of your top priorities during this stage. After all, no one can work with you if they don’t know you are there!

Validation Mode: (The first active 1-2 years in biz) Your focus should be on positioning and developing expertise to cement who you are and what value you bring to your customers.

Scale Mode: (2+ years in biz). Now you are in a period of growth. You want to be seen as a thought leader to create more demand on a larger scale.

Multiply Mode: When you are ready to max out your growth and reach. You should be looking for ways to elevate your personal brand.

Here are a 5 ways to create visibility that are sure wins, especially in those first few years.

1. Network strategically.

We have all been to networking events that were a waste of time. The attendees were not your target audience, the event was poorly planned, or everyone was just handing out business cards. Not a good use of your time!

Do some research in advance of signing up to attend. Go online to their website and Facebook page, check them out on LinkedIn, find a few members and connect with them directly to get a feel for past events and the overall climate of the organization. Then decide if you want to attend.

To maintain momentum with your networking, shoot for 1-3 events per month to keep yourself in circulation. But not just any event – make it count!

2. Pick an organization to join and go all in.

Sign up and show up! It’s tempting to join several organizations that look promising and then attend meetings and events only sporadically. That does you no good for your visibility; in fact it may even be harmful.

Pick ONE group that you are going to commit to. Organizations like NAWBO, E Women Network, Women’s Networking Alliance all have local chapters. There are also many industry-specific organizations that might be a better fit for your business.

Choose just one to start and make a commitment to get the most value out of your membership by attending events on a regular basis, connecting with other members, and offering to speak or sponsor events to provide value to the group as a whole. The deeper personal connections you will make by investing in quality relationships have much more value in the long run.

3. Be seen consistently.

Choose your medium wisely. You may want to create a podcast, a newsletter, or YouTube videos, but the real value will be in creating content on a consistent and predictable schedule.

You are establishing your brand and consistency sends a message that you are serious about your business, are trustworthy, and can be relied upon.

If you can’t maintain a weekly schedule than appear monthly or bi-monthly. Whatever you choose, stick to your own schedule and you will build a loyal following. It will be small to start but will grow over time.

4. Be of service – Don’t just show up, engage! Connect with the intention of assisting others, not just asking for something. Actions will speak louder than words. You will add to your visibility by being seen as a connector and someone who provides ongoing value, rather than a taker.

5. Advertising? Be careful! This is probably the first thing that we all think of for creating visibility. But no matter what platform you are considering, this will be expensive. Wait until you know what you can afford to pay per lead and make sure your business can truly afford an advertising budget.

Don’t be shy!

The most important thing in business is being visible to your perfect audience. Develop strategies that are appropriate for the stage of growth your business is in. Reach out and develop quality relationships built on adding value for those you come into contact with. Take your time to identify the right organizations to join, and commit to being an active member of that community

Do You Hate Sales? Then Don’t Sell.

Change Your Mindset: Invitation Only

I used to dread the thought of selling. It didn’t fit my personality; I hated feeling spammy or pushy. I just dreaded the whole process. But business doesn’t happen, and revenue doesn’t come in, without the selling.

The game changer for me was moving from selling to inviting. It’s an offer, not a push. Need a visual? Picture an open hand and an inviting gesture, not a grabbing motion followed by a clenching, yanking movement.  To comfortably offer an invitation you have to have confidence in the value of your offer and of yourself. You have to believe that you can help a potential customer in some way. Help them solve a problem, or grow, or get healthy. You have to really know in your heart-of-hearts that you have a product or service that you know can help your prospect.

You have to be so confident in your value that there is no NEED to push.

What would you do with a friend? Invite, don’t push.

There are so many points in the sales process where, if you shift your thinking to offering an invitation, you are far more likely to get to the next stage.

Invite someone to connect on the phone for a Discovery Call. Or an initial conversation. Whatever you want to call it.

While on the call, once you have assessed their needs and if they are a fit for what you have to offer, invite them to hear about your services.

Invite them to choose among the 2 or 3 options you have presented. (That might sound like this: “Of the 3 packages we discussed, which one feels like the right fit for you at this time)? No pushing required!

Invite them to get started with you by scheduling your first appointment, even before you have collected any money.

If they can’t decide or are on the fence, or have to check with someone (and this is a show stopper for many!) that’s OK! Ask them how long they might need for the decision-making, and invite them for a “circle back” call to decide if and when you will be working together. Schedule that call right then and there.

Both of you want to know if you should continue the conversation or not. If they ultimately don’t want to move forward, or if they don’t show up for the call, that’s fine. They were not the right client for you!

None of these steps are pushy. None of these steps have to feel uncomfortable, awkward, or invasive. Invitations are polite and respectful of you, your product/service, AND your prospect.

Sales can be a comfortable and authentic process that feels easy and natural, just like any conversation with someone new. If you walk away without closing, guess what? You now have a new network contact that you can tap in the future because you chose to invite, not push, your offerings.

Speaking of Discovery Sessions,  I’d like to invite you to join me to explore your business and how we can work together.  Click here to schedule a 30-minute call.  I’d love to connect with you to help you grow your business!

Get Out of Your Own Way – Pt. 2

Obstacles to Business Growth

Part 2 of 2.

Last week I covered 4 obstacles that can get in your way. This week, I’m finishing up with the final 4.

5. “I have a good sense of where I want my business to go, but can’t figure out how to get there”

This is when growth and transition are the hardest. The processes, procedures and structures you carefully put in place for the first stage of your business may not be right for your next stage of growth.

This is THE time to look outside of yourself for support, direction and new ideas. You can’t possibly know everything! Join a Mastermind or Group Coaching program. Seek one that is a paid program (skin in the game creates a more focused result). If you can, find one that has several members that are more advanced in their business than you are. Be sure you are a bit outside your comfort zone so that you have to stretch to participate. You will grow and your business will thrive as a result.

Find a Business Coach, even for a short period of time (3-6 months is the shortest I would recommend) to help you see beyond your own walls. Others have been where you are.

6. Who am I to….

 Imposter Syndrome rears its ugly head at every stage of business, no matter how successful you are. If you feel you need more courses, training, certifications, degrees etc to establish your credibility, spend some time documenting the experience you DO have that create your expertise.

What jobs, clients, life experiences have you had that add up to true expertise? You are valued by the results you produce, not for the certifications and degrees that you have.

7. I don’t have any MONEY!

 It takes some money to start a business. Start with what you can afford, and grow from there.

Seek out Free resources first. There hundreds of podcasts, blogs, free courses, and apps and tools available online. There are groups like the SBDC, and SCORE who offer free counseling. Take advantage of those!

Source for money. There are ways to get money when you need it. The SBA offers loans at a very reasonable rate. Some banks are more small business friendly than others. Friends and family (although those choices can be fraught with issues), or your own credit cards are potential sources for start-up costs.

You can always find a part-time job or start contracting with your area of expertise until your cash flow crunch is behind you. I’ve done it – It’s not the end of the world. It’s a transitional solution to a short-term problem.

8. I’m too late to the party. (It’s all been done before.)

 It has all been done before, but not by you. It’s VERY rare that a business concept will be a one and only. You will always have competition. But you will have your own spin on your niche too. Let your personality shine, develop your own methodology and framework to the services that you provide, and stand out from the crowd.

Each one of these obstacles can be overcome with mindset shifts or changes in your approach to your business. I’m always here to help you figure out how to overcome your obstacles and create and grow a profitable business. Contact me for a free call, and let’s discuss.

 

Know Your Numbers

You Can’t Improve What You Don’t Understand

I know. It feels like hopping on the scale. That dreaded moment that many women agonize over (me too!) when they get on the scale to check their weight. Time’s up! Was I good, or bad? Is there shame or self-doubt? Jubilation?

Body image aside, we need to get over that fear regarding our businesses. You need to know what your numbers are at all times. I strongly recommend at LEAST a monthly check-in. Don’t wait until the end of the quarter or (ye gads!) the end of the year.

If you have ongoing ad campaigns, then tracking those efforts is critical. How else can you improve or eliminate what is below an acceptable metric? How else can you do more of what is working well? You will be investing your time and/or money in your efforts, so measuring on a regular basis is key.

What numbers are we talking about? You get to decide.

Of course, your accountant and the IRS will want to know your revenue and your expenses, so those are a given. One of my favorite books, “Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine” has recommended healthy percentages of revenue, profit, operating expenses and taxes based on where you are in your business.

But those are not the only things, by far, that you should be tracking. Here are a few key things (frequently called Key Performance Indicators) that you can be measuring monthly, and these will vary based on the business you are in:

 

Revenue
Expenses
Net Profit
New customers or clients
New leads
Size of email list
FB page likes
FB group participants
Instagram followers
Pinterest followers
Podcast interviews conducted
Speaking gigs given
Free discovery calls
Strategy Sessions
Page views
Networking events attended

 

Some of these are very dollar oriented, and others are softer measures, but nonetheless, important to track growth. You are expanding your revenue as well as your visibility (online and offline), so the more improvement on the latter, the more likely it will reflect in revenue.

Strong tracking leads to solid strategy.

Once you are tracking regularly, you will know how many cold calls (or ads, or event attendees, or outreach of any kind) you will need, and at what cost, to yield x number of discovery calls. With time, you will see that 10 free discovery calls will usually net you 2-3 new clients. (A 20-30% conversion is not bad for the early stages. As you get better at sales, or have a seasoned sales team, that number should be much better). Your numbers will be different if you are running a chiropractic business, or a high end consulting firm, but the model holds. This will set you for a realist lead funnel.

Once you have your metrics in place, you will develop some benchmarks that will allow you to create realistic and stretch goals for each area.

You will be able to identify what is going well or which areas need improvement. It will allow you to create an action plan based on results that will allow you to improve.

Think of this exercise as an “aha” moment rather than a call to judgment.

Have you KISSed your business lately?

Keep it Simple, Sweetie

Keep it Simple, Sweetie!

One of the things I see with entrepreneurs in the second and third years of their business is a tendency to overcomplicate things.

If you have made it through your first year or two then something is working. Congratulations! Really! Something like 20% of small businesses fail in the first year, and 50% within the first five years. Your products or services are resonating with your target audience often enough that they are keeping you in the black. And that’s when we tend to get cocky.

Before you fall into the rabbit hole of: “If THIS is working, how about this, and that, and more of that?” take a breath and think strategically. Different is not always better. If you want to grow your business, consider the following first:

Where is your revenue coming from? Do more of exactly that, but to a bigger audience. Increase your reach with affiliates, joint venture partners, collaborations of all kinds., online ads, or an increased marketing budget. Spend some energy exploring greater reach rather than something new.

Take a look at client retention. Are you losing more people than you’d like? Are credit card failures killing your profits? Are people signing up for a 3-month program and ditching early (and not paying in full)?

Are you building long-term loyalty? Are you returning to the people who have purchased your least expensive offer and invited them to your higher priced one with a specific value-add, or discount only for them? Focus on making your community feel more like a tribe and less like a number to gain repeat business.

If it’s working, just add on a bit. Add a new level of whatever you are already doing – create an advanced course, develop group coaching or design a Mastermind These offerings should be along the very same lines as your core service with value added for returning clientele.

If you are a local business or service provider – Is it possible to expand your geographic reach? Can you train others to do what you do and bring them under your umbrella? For example, if you have a dog walking service, can you bring established local independent contractor dog walkers into your biz, offering them the benefit of your marketing reach as you expand your terrain?

Value-add – VIP days add another level of service that is related to your current offer. Can you condense the best of what you are offering in a one-day format? These can be offered in person or virtually to also expand your reach geographically.

Add ONE new channel to increase reach. Start a podcast, write a book, create a membership site. Start with one. Get it humming and earning a steady stream of revenue before you branch out again.

Before you expand in any way, take a good hard look and assess whether your main revenue source is going to stand up to growth. Can you scale it? You may need to improve (or add) a dedicated customer service function, or a better onboarding process for new clients, or a stronger collections process. Put your energy here first before branching out.

Different and more is not the answer to growth. If something you are doing in your business is a top revenue stream, think more about how you can do more of THAT, rather than wasting energy creating new things.

Ditch the Distraction – Insert Focus

Staying focused is a learned skill

Growing a business is a roller coaster. Good days, bad days, good months, bad months. As you grow, the balance can tilt to the bad side if you are not careful to protect your strategy, your direction and your “why.” Nothing kills the desire to get out of bed on a workday than if you have lost track of why you are doing all this in the first place.

Keeping focused is a skill that needs to be worked on to improve. It’s similar to meditating – you get better at it as you do it. Here are a few focus killers that you want to be aware of:

Looking over your shoulder at your competition – You are where you are in your business. Hopefully, you have mapped out a strategy for the next 3-6 months that will provide a guide for you. (If not, please email me asap and let’s set up a time to chat!) There will always be competitors, and there will always be other formats, techniques, tricks that others are doing that you are not. Should I be starting to podcast? Why aren’t I doing a weekly Facebook Live? Should I start a YouTube channel? What are they doing that I should be/could be doing? The list can be endless.

As my fabulous son, Sam says. “You be you, mom.” So often this is a lack of confidence in the road that you have chosen for your business. Or you have not clarified what makes your business stand out from the others.

If you are haunted by your competition, I highly recommend the book Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing – Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth by Kim and Mauborgne. The authors walk you thru the process of defining who you are and how you are different from all the others in your field. It’s a great read – not a distraction, I promise!

It’s not a bad idea to be aware of new ideas, formats, and channels. But save this for “info gathering or self-education” blocks on your calendar. And it’s just that. Not a signal to question what you are doing. Stay strong in your current strategic direction, but set aside possible tests for the NEXT planning cycle.

What are the latest trends? What’s newest that I could be incorporating into my biz model? This is a productivity killer, and I won’t spend too much time on this. Being on the bleeding edge is rarely good for revenue generation. It’s good for PR buzz, media attention, and distraction. Don’t be diverted by what is the newest and greatest. Even the newest iPhone has bugs and needs time to be tested out. Stay open, but not consumed by the latest trends.

Too much input – I find this is a BIG one for the entrepreneurs I work with. We are all inundated with too many emails, podcasts, YouTube videos, and ADVICE. My advice: Cut down the clutter to preserve your clarity. Be ruthless! Pick an hour to go thru your inbox and unsubscribe from any email newsletter that does not provide REAL value to you. Same with YouTube channels and Social Media connections. Pick a guru or two to follow, ignore the rest. Make a short list of e-newsletters, blogs, podcasts or YouTube channels that are really worth following. Unsub from the rest. Cut deep. You will be so happy not to have all those voices coming at you. (Coming soon, my list of favorite podcasts and books.)

As you get more traction in your focus, you will start to notice when you are getting distracted and it will get easier to pull yourself back on track.

I have blocks in my calendar to check email and social media 2x a day. But I notice that I slip back into checking more frequently if I’m doing something that is hard, or I don’t want to do, or I’m just plain bored with what’s on my desk. I find if I take a small break, even a short walk around the block, I can get back on track pretty quickly without the distraction of more thoughts coming into my brain.

Bottom Line: Cut back on all sources of distraction that you can control to maintain your focus on your business and the goals you have established. It’s not always easy, but with practice, we all get better.