4 Elements of Cold-Calling to Consider if You’re Starting a Business

One mistaken idea that’s floating around in entrepreneurial circles, and one that I believed for a while, is that cold-calling is dead. In fact, far from it — cold-calling represents an entrepreneur’s most successful sales technique. It also represents the scariest form of engagement known to man — or at least that’s what it feels like when you’re picking up the phone for the first time. If you’re just starting out, or even if you are experienced but thinking about this technique, here are a few points to consider.

1. Cold-calling is NOT telemarketing

The primary difference between the two is whether the person you’re calling (the lead) is qualified or not. With cold-calling, we’re trying to win over someone we believe is in our market because they’ve already been qualified by market research — they’re a marketing qualified lead, or MQL. As a beginner, rather than try a “hard sell,” concentrate on connecting to prospects that may actually be interested in what you are selling, instead of overcoming a long list of objections (a key element of telemarketing).

2. Your list quality is paramount

Given the technology and resources of the 21st century, you can compile or buy a quality targeted list of MQLs for your cold calls. If you’re bootstrapping and funds are tight, you can’t afford to hire a stable of great salespersons or buy extensive amounts of data, so you want to execute this well and use empirical evidence to make decisions. You also don’t want to burn yourself or your early team with calls that are never going to convert.

3. To script or not to script?

That is the question. Some say you must script your early calls, while other sage advisors recommend not doing so. My take is to start with the scripted approach for a given period of time, then try it on your own when you feel you’re ready. You can always write a new script when you have scaled your calling operation to include additional staff. Personally, I much prefer connecting and chatting with a prospect off the cuff, but without a script I might miss my cues or talk too much. If you lack this conversational discipline, use a script and then make cold-calling part of your regular routine.

4. Remember your follow-ups

Don’t just show up with a phone and a list. Have a strategy to work a lead until you get to the next phase, even if that’s just setting an appointment. That strategy is not just about calling — it’s about returning calls, repeat calls, sending supporting sales material, etc. For this reason, schedule less calls than you think you can initially complete, because you may underestimate the physical and mental drain this process can cause.

Having trouble getting started? Find a sales accountability group that can help keep you on schedule. Remember, as a solopreneur you don’t have to go it alone. Visit our community initiative at https://startupmeet.com for our NYC meetup groups on the topic.

3 Elements of Social Selling to Consider if You’re Just Starting Out

The two most common sales misconceptions I hear from fellow entrepreneurs are:

  1. The phone is dead; and
  2. Social selling isn’t worth it.

While these channels may not be the best fit for your primary sales strategy, they’re far from useless —especially social selling, which is roughly the use of social activity in your sales behaviors. Today this might take place on social media, via networks such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter, but it can actually occur either online or offline. It’s a “softer” way to interact directly with your prospects by offering relevant content and answering questions until the prospect is ready to commit to a purchase. Here are three recommendations to keep in mind when considering using social selling.

1. Focus on true social selling

“Social Selling” should not be confused with “Social Marketing,” in which marketing is used to effect social change, or “Social Media Marketing,” by which websites and social media networks are used to promote a service or product to large segments or groups. Rather, the goal of social selling is to nurture one-on-one relationships with individual prospects (instead of transmitting the same message to many prospects at the same time), supporting the prospect through the sales phases of Awareness, Consideration and Decision. Having said that, you should definitely make sure you are doing both social selling and social media marketing really well by providing timely, appropriate marketing content, then following those who read and/or comment on the content in order to cultivate relationships.

2. Pay attention to the health of your sales pipeline

The sales pipeline begins with a lead and ends with a paying customer by following a specific sequence of actions, beginning with Prospecting. This all-important first stage of the pipeline entails finding potential clients to move through the sales funnel in order to convert them into a customer who generates revenue for your business. When social prospecting, you search or monitor social networks to find customers who have expressed interest in your product or service, seem ready to buy, or appear to be qualified leads based on a pre-determined set of target buyer profiles. With practice, social media can really shine in the prospecting phase, especially since the alternatives — such as private databases — can be quite expensive.

3. Use at least two social networks

Social media platforms constantly tweak their rules, so it’s important to not depend entirely on just one. I witnessed many social sellers panic when Facebook changed their engagement rules and LinkedIn changed their group rules, so hedging your bets and focusing on multiple social networks is a good idea.

Ultimately, social selling should at least be evaluated for your new bootstrapped venture. The data from that evaluation may allow you to either double-down on that avenue or switch to a more old-fashioned approach. Regardless of your path, definitely conduct ample research to ensure you’re doing the right thing for your business, and reach out if you have any questions. We can help fill out the roles you’d like to delegate.

3 Ways to Deal With the Psychological Effects of Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship can be a tough, grueling endeavor that we often do alone, which brings up a topic we don’t spend a lot of time talking about but really should: Are there things we entrepreneurs should be considering related to our mental health? Inc. magazine has a good article on the topic, which explores how entrepreneurs can deal with traumatic events and setbacks when starting and running their own companies. Here are three steps that can help prepare you to face the psychological effects of entrepreneurship.

1. Take a self inventory

The issues we face have a lot to do with who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish, and are very personal. Ask yourself: In the past have you been resilient in uncertain times, or have they triggered an emotional reaction? How long does it take for a difficult issue to really get to you, and can you tell when you are reaching that point? If you identify weaknesses in your approach to stress, do you have a “mental toolbox” or plan to address it? If so, what’s in your toolbox? Personally, I like biking and physical activity, or just vegging out, binge-watching shows for a few days when things get tough.

2. Mentally prepare the people around you

It’s very hard to keep a healthy work/life balance as an entrepreneur. Keep in mind that this is hard for the people around you as well. Responsibilities at home that you should be managing may get less of your attention as you push your business ideas forward. Set rigid schedules and prioritize tasks; one way to do this is by using an “Eisenhower Matrix,” which classifies your do-to list into four categories: Important and Urgent, Important but not Urgent, Not Important but Urgent, and Not Important and Not Urgent.

3. Maintain your psychological health to prevent burnout

Being accountable and responsible for everything and everyone — and the continued stress that comes with it — can weigh down even the strongest individuals. Since this can creep up on you, don’t gauge how you’re doing only during the first few weeks or months. Remember: you’re running a marathon, not a sprint, so pace yourself that way. Try incorporating your stress release “mental toolbox” on a firm schedule from which you don’t deviate. You can also rely on your partner, spouse and friends to help detect your stress levels and keep you on track when they begin to rise.

Starting a business can be fun and exciting, as well as stressful and challenging. Plan ahead of time how you will address those challenges by being aware of your unique personality and how you deal with setbacks. Ask for the help of your support circle as well, and those setbacks will quickly be managed and turned into new opportunities. For additional assistance in this area, reach out to discuss how we can help.

4 Office Alternatives for the Solopreneur

Office space can be very expensive. And if you’re running a side-gig then you may not have time to use it, to begin with. So what can you do if you don’t have (or want) your own office? Here are four alternatives.

1. Co-working spaces

This is the obvious first choice. Co-working spaces can be inexpensive and flexible, with no leases and the ability to drop in rather than have set office hours. You can also network with other like-minded people who may eventually become customers or partners. A potential downside is that they may still be out of reach of your low budget, and your choices may be limited depending on where you live.

2. Coffee shops

For many years I worked out of Starbucks. It actually wasn’t bad — the staff was awesome and super-friendly, and many coffee shops share these positive characteristics — and the only cost is the price of the food and beverages you purchase. If you choose a chain, you’ll always know what you’ll get regardless of which city you’re in (not to mention the delicious desserts). Downsides include the fact that you may have a hard time working with audio on your computer; after a while you may have to leave to be courteous to the other customers; and the chairs and tables may not be comfortable or ergonomic.

3. Home office

A home office is the most cost-efficient option, though it does require some setup. Not having to commute is a plus for many entrepreneurs, and you can control the environment to your liking. Personally, it’s too quiet for me. I like human interaction during the day, and when I’m working long hours, it can be hard to resist the temptation to take a break, or even a nap.

4. “Bum” a desk

This is a bit of a wildcard, but ask your friends if they can lend you a space in their areas. I much prefer this to the library or another very public shared space. It may take some searching, but I’ve found that there are many very supportive entrepreneurs willing to help each other out, especially if you ask very nicely, have great rapport, and/or offer to trade services.

An office isn’t in everyone’s budget, especially when first starting out. Feel free to be creative and use a mixture of these alternatives to get by until you can afford a little place you can call your own. And remember, solopreneurs don’t have to be solo. We can help you fill out the roles you’d like to delegate.

3 Ideas From Business Process Management Your Lean Startup Should Implement

Business Process Management (BPM) is a broad discipline which, in essence, aims to improve corporate performance by discovering, modeling, analyzing, measuring, improving, optimizing and automating the business’s processes. Basically, we use a systematic approach to find out what works for our business, then endeavor to efficiently repeat this success.

Unfortunately, many popular current startup approaches abhor process, which is seen as overly bureaucratic and wasteful, and focus on quick and informal (though educated) decisions. The truth is, process takes time to research, design, implement and maintain, and above all, be repeatable — which, according to the book Repeatability by strategists from Bain & Co., is one of the most important traits of a business process. Entrepreneurs can learn from the BPM-related concepts here to begin to achieve that repeatability.

1. Design

The design phase includes determining what steps you should take to define your startup’s business processes, such as how to provide a service more cost-efficiently but still effectively, or how to hire new employees or contractors. These steps might include identifying the problem, researching solutions and gathering resources in order to put the entire system together. This is an important, formal phase many startups skip, only to end up with a business process that doesn’t quite meet their needs.

2. Create

This step, often labeled the Implementation or Execution phase, is the stage we all want to jump to because it entails actually completing the steps of the process. For example, if you’re selling shirts, you want to start printing and selling them to your customers. This step can be expensive, though, so do not start until you have completed the Design phase. Pay attention to the steps you are taking and document everything, because you (or someone else) will have to follow these steps later. Included in your documentation should be answers to question such as: What are the challenges you faced while executing? and How were they resolved?

3. Improve

After you’ve designed and implemented your process, you’ll want to ensure its repeatability by monitoring, optimizing and/or re-engineering the steps as needed. The goal is to continue improving by noting how the decisions we made while designing and creating have affected our service and product outputs using empirical observations, not just hunches.

This is a lot to take in, since BPM is usually associated with more established companies. But successful startups also need repeatable and profitable processes, and these ideas can help you begin to create your business plans and “recipes” while documenting and updating as you go along. Eventually you can use this experience to better your entire system by instituting structure and repeatability without expensive BPM software and formal processes. You can also improve your business process by incorporating ours — contact us to find out more.

The 4 Components of SWOT Analysis for the Novice Entrepreneur

SWOT (pronounced “swat”) analysis is one of the most useful theoretical business tools I know. I even use it for personal decision making, as well as for business. It quickly brings clarity to any decision I need to address.

What is SWOT analysis

SWOT analysis (or SWOT matrix) is a technique used in strategic planning to help identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of, or related to, the objective at hand, whether it be a specific project, product or service, or even the competition or marketplace. It also helps identify the internal and external factors that will impact achieving those objectives.

•    “Internal” probing questions address positive attributes (strengths) and negative attributes (weaknesses). For example, if you have decades of experience in the field in which you are starting a business, then that’s definitely a strength. But if you have no prior experience with your target market, then that’s a weakness.

•    “External” probing questions deal with our environment, and can be positive (opportunities) or negative (threats). For example, if you have a patent pending on a product, that’s an opportunity. But if your niche has a lot of established competition, that’s a threat.

Conducting SWOT analysis

On a whiteboard, flipchart, Google doc, etc., draw a box with four squares and label one quadrant Strengths, one Weaknesses, one Opportunities and one Threats. Then, with your objective in mind, consider each area carefully so you can get an honest “lay of the land” at the beginning of your decision making process. Ask a trusted colleague for his or her input as well to provide a different perspective.

How the 4 components can quickly help decision making

1. Forces the “rosy eyed” to acknowledge the negative

As entrepreneurs, we are emotionally connected to our ideas and shield ourselves from the inherent weaknesses in our plans, as well as the threats looming in the market. Facing those does not come naturally to me, as I’m too busy thinking through all the possibilities. But a quick SWOT analysis forces me to consider internal and external threats, preparing me to face the issues at the very core of my plans.

2. Sets you up to play to your strengths

The opposite is also true. A good startup plan can work best when we are intimately aware of our strengths and how to best play to them. Do you have subject matter expertise that few can match? Or is your market growing like wildfire? SWOT analysis helps you identify and prioritize these strengths.

3. Separates internal from external

We tend to have more control over internal attributes than external. Myself, I try to focus my energies on influencing internal factors while navigating external factors to the best of my ability. A SWOT analysis clarifies that dichotomy, helping me see what factors — good or bad — I can most influence.

4. Improves presentation of business ideas by proactively addressing nay-sayers

Personally, this is one of my favorite benefits of SWOT analysis. By addressing both positive and negative attributes of your pitch on your own terms, you get to frame the conversation more favorably. Doing so also improves your audience’s trust, as it shows you’re willing to address all issues, not just the things that make you look good.

So again, SWOT analysis does not have to be formal. I often simply jot down a quick quadrant with a list of attributes in each space, but the result is quite often clearer decision making and communication. Reach out for assistance with your SWOT analysis, or let us help fill out the roles you’d like to delegate.

3 Basic Marketing Segmentation Strategies for the Entrepreneur

In today’s digital world, your customers are being wooed by a multitude of offers for their attention. How do you stand out without spending your way into bankruptcy? One way to optimize your ad spend is by segmentation, or dividing your existing and potential customer base into sub-groups based on specific characteristics. By separating your prospects into segments by what makes them unique, you can market more effectively to those segments using the three strategies here.

1 Identify the segments

Your goal in segmenting your audience is to find those segments with the most potential for growth and/or profitability. Typically, you will segment based on demographics that are similar to those of your ideal or target customer. The most popular and useful demographic profiles include age, gender, occupation, marital status, family status, income, education, living situation and ethnicity, though you should use only those that are relevant to your product or service.

2 Select a focused or differentiated strategy

After creating your segments, decide if you will market to just one segment or to multiple ones. Pursuing only one narrow segment is a “focused” strategy that is excellent if you’re low on startup cash, because it allows you to really understand that market segment and maximize your precious marketing spend early on (when you need it). With the “differentiated” strategy, you target two or more market segments and develop separate offers for each segment. Personally, I prefer the differentiated approach because I can conduct A/B testing in order to gather more information and optimize spending, then use the results to revert to a focused strategy. Either works well, so it’s up to you to decide which is the best fit for your business.

3 Use social media tools to practice segmentation

One thing I’ve learned about social media platforms is that they can give you a wealth of detailed “segmentation bases,” or variables you can use to segment your market, together with a ton of instant feedback and real data — even if you don’t pay for it. These “bases” include demographic, geographic, lifestyle and behavioral information. For instance, I use Facebook Business Manager to experiment with target audiences, their demographics and their behaviors. After experimenting, I can run a small campaign to try out my theories.

Definitely experiment with your marketing segmentation. Worst case, you’ll have a lot better understanding of the people you sell to. Best case, you’ll find many more efficient ways to sell to them. And remember: solopreneurs don’t have to be solo. We can help fill out the roles you’d like to delegate.

What the 5 Components of Promotion Mean to Entrepreneurs

We previously talked about the 4 P’s of the Marketing Mix. One of the P’s, “Promotion,” is a fundamental prerequisite of your product or service offering: your prospective customer must find out about your offer. For most of us, that will happen by promoting ourselves or our offers using a variety of different avenues while giving customers a very consistent view of ourselves — consistency facilitates the credibility of the offer. Also providing credibility, as well as producing excellent results for entrepreneurs, is communicating your value proposition through these five components of the promotional mix.

Advertising

Advertising is the first place we tend to look for our promotion needs because of its potentially wide reach, but for that reason it’s also usually the most expensive option. This is especially true when advertising online and trying to win a keywords auction against large corporations with deep pockets and a high bid ceiling. The digital age has greatly expanded the number of advertising options and allows for nearly real-time testing and performance optimization, which are crucial to getting more bang for your advertising buck.

Personal selling

Personal selling is essentially selling directly to another person. It may incorporate elements of both marketing and sales and is very useful for large ticket items, but not so much so for low margin items. In my experience with personal selling, it helps to know and play into your own strengths, all while having needed knowledge of your prospect and your product. That’s why, before embarking on a personal selling campaign, it’s helpful to conduct research into your ideal prospect or a similar persona.

Sales promotion

Sales promotion is using a sense of urgency and enticement to let customers know about your offers. For small businesses, it’s important to build credibility before a sales promotion; otherwise, you’ll have to deal with that “too good to be true” feeling the prospect may have.

Public relations

Public relations is not normally associated with promotion, but the careful and consistent sculpting of your public image builds credibility, which is crucial for most small startups. Small, local news outlets and bloggers — who are always looking for new content — are great places to start executing your public relations strategy.

Direct marketing

Direct Marketing is often a four-letter word with your prospective customers, but businesses continue to use it because it works. Essentially an outbound channel, it includes direct mail, email and even phone sales, though the latter is objectionable for some. In my personal experience, I believe most small, underfunded startups should at least consider a direct marketing strategy, if the research bears it out.

You don’t have to use every possible manner of promotion, but definitely experiment to see what works best for you and your business. As a solopreneur, you don’t have to go solo. We can help fill out the roles you’d like to delegate.

3 Marketing Strategy and Mix Questions Entrepreneurs Should be Able to Answer

I’ll try not to put you to sleep too quickly with this one, but Marketing Strategy and Marketing Mix — and how they are related — are very important concepts that entrepreneurs need to understand when building startups.

Marketing Strategy is your long-term approach to how you plan to achieve and sustain your competitive advantage. It includes definitions of your ideal or target customer, your value proposition, and your key brand and marketing messages. Marketing Mix is also known as the 4 P’s (Price, Product, Place and Promotion) and is the foundation of marketing. They are related in that you will use the tactics in the marketing mix to implement and achieve your marketing strategy, adjusting as needed for different situations. Answering the three questions below will help ensure you’ve covered all necessary points in both your marketing strategy and marketing mix.

1. Do you have a set of long-term, high-level marketing strategy goals and a direction you’re committed to?

Don’t worry if you don’t have your complete marketing strategy in place yet, as it can change and evolve. But as long as you have the overall strategy in mind, you can more easily share it with teammates, partners and investors, for example. It helps to transfer our long-term entrepreneurial vision from our brain to others’.

If you need help formulating the strategy, you don’t need an MBA; a simple SWOT analysis will do. See our article on SWOT analysis if you need to know more.

2. Have you identified the 4 P’s for your business?

For example:

•    Price: What price point are you targeting and why?

•    Product: How is your product best described using common attributes?

•    Place: Where can your product be found? How easy is it to get to?

•    Promotion: How will your customers find out about your product or service?

Again, no one is holding your feet to the fire here if you don’t follow through, but the goal is to show intent and to focus your vision.

3. Can you connect your long-term marketing strategy from question one to the operating decisions in question two to come up with a seamless marketing plan?

Personally, I find this is a great question to answer if you’re unsure about your next marketing steps, or if you need to share with third parties such as partners or investors.

Understanding these basic terms and answering these questions can really help you focus and communicate your vision as an entrepreneur. Marketing and sales are crucial components of any startup, so it helps to use this structure to think about your marketing strategy early on. As a solopreneur, you don’t have to go solo. We can help fill out the roles you’d like to delegate.

3 Inexpensive Types of Market Research for Budget-Conscious Startups

As a startup, when you’re trying to determine the best market segment or niche to pursue, market research can be invaluable. Unfortunately, on a limited marketing budget, primary market data and research can be expensive to purchase, and even more expensive to undertake. Secondary research, which stems from available data, is also very useful and can be less expensive and more accessible. However, I have found that sometimes it’s worth it to just go out there and collect the data myself, especially if I need a very specific piece of information about a very specific demographic or behavioral segment, and third-party bids are prohibitively expensive. Here, then, are three types of inexpensive market research that you can conduct on a limited budget.

Surveys

Depending on how they are done, surveys can be inexpensive. You can use a free online survey service, such as Google or Office 365 forms, and use qualifying questions to filter out unfit respondents. If you haven’t collected your own customer contact data, the majority of your expenses may result from using clean, third-party or verifiable data to target your survey to the correct audience. Always include an incentive, but to be more cost effective, offer one large incentive via a drawing rather than a small incentive to everyone who participates. The downside to surveys is that the responses can be very subjective, since you’re often asking the respondent for their opinions or recollections of their behaviors, which can be biased. But you will still end up with more information than you had before.

Product/Service Testing or “Anchor Contracts”

Another option is to select a smaller target audience than a survey but conduct much more in-depth research. By offering your product or service to a select client or audience for free or at a discount, you can track customer demographics and behaviors against market conditions — and your own metrics — over an entire customer life cycle. This will provide real-time data which you can then apply when marketing to other potential customers.

Advertising Testing via Local Offers

Admittedly, while online advertising can start out as inexpensive, costs can quickly escalate, since it is often auction-based and costs-per-click skyrocket as soon as advertisers begin to see return on their investment. However, valuable awareness research can be done with a small testing budget on the appropriate platform. For example, ad testing on LinkedIn has been historically pricey, but you may be able to afford light testing of offers on Facebook or your local business paper. For this kind of research and testing to be inexpensive, it’s important to find an advertising platform that’s the right mix of effective targeting, available metrics for experiment design and cost.

Whatever primary research methods you choose, stick with them if you believe they will return long-term gains to your business. Research does get easier as you become more experienced, and we are always available to help. To continue the conversation, contact us for more information.