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It is often said “it is lonely at the top”. That statement is so very true for entrepreneurs. Their heart and soul is invested in their business, not just their money.

Finding the best source for effective support is hard.
Small business owners need to constantly keep their eye on the ball because they have everything on the line. Daily decisions are “make or break” and often there is no time to respond but only to react. Knee jerk decision making can cost a small business owner everything.

So what does a small business owner do when they need help? Do they call their CPA? Their Attorney? Their Psychiatrist? Their best friend? Spouse? Neighbor?

The spouse is tired of hearing about it. The neighbor will quit answering the door. Your friend will avoid your calls. The CPA, Attorney and Psychiatrist not only cost a lot, it is not their job to study and listen to the many areas of an entrepreneur’s business and personal challenges.

This reminds me of a situation I was in about 30 years ago when I owned a growing business software company. I was struggling with many challenges all at once. There were customers that I could not satisfy. There was an employee who was trying to leave and take my customers. Vendors were changing prices of our software we implemented.

I went to my CPA/Friend/Golf buddy. He had the privilege of hearing me complaining about all these issues and his response was “Roberts, you don’t need a CPA, you need a damn shrink”. I never forgot that moment. It has impacted me for years. He was right, I needed someone to talk to that could help me understand and direct me to solving my problems effectively.

Back then the term Business Coach was not even heard of. Today, it is common place for entrepreneurs, executives, and even CEOs of major corporations to hire a coach to become their mentor and source for solving challenges that come up every day.

Who Hires a Coach?

Some of the most powerful executives of major corporations have hired coaches. Examples are Steve Jobs (Apple CEO), Eric Schmidt (Google CEO) and Bill Gates (Microsoft Founder).

Coaches can be hired by any one in a position of ownership or leadership. The coach can serve as a mentor in many areas of management, finance, staffing, marketing, corporate morale, process and day to day operations.

If you look at the subject of leadership, most entrepreneurs are bad at managing, hiring and staying focused beyond today. Simply put, they started a business with a skill or trade without considering the full realm of skills required to be successful.

The reason someone hires a coach is to look for fresh perspectives and ways to accomplish their goals. A coach does not do your job for you, but can serve as an impartial voice of reason and help you work out a plan and keep you on course to achieve your objectives.

If you hire a consultant, their job is to do the work for you and bill by the hour until the job is complete. One might note that generally, the job never gets completed because they have an objective to bill by the hour until you have had enough.

How does coaching work? Most engagements start with a review of all the facets of the entrepreneur’s life… Yes I said life. After all, the business becomes part of you. You cannot separate the two if you are like most.

A coach will help you change your perspective and habits that stops you from getting where and what you want in life. You will learn how to become self-aware, in control and forward thinking.

A coach will develop an honest evaluation that you have total input toward. The coach accomplishes this by asking probing questions to help you as the client to discover limiting factors that keep you from getting where you want.

You work together to develop a strategy, task and timelines that help accomplish a successful experience for both your business and personal life.

Below are actual examples of coaching clients:
• Someone who wanted to retire and needed help preparing an exit strategy
• A middle aged executive who had many years’ experience in his field but had never owned a business and did not anticipate the skills and commitment required as an entrepreneur
• A family business who needed help in transitioning ownership to a son
• A successful entrepreneur who was acquiring a competitor and needed help blending cultures
• A long time business owner who could not separate from his business long enough to take a vacation and needed to learn how to “compartmentalize” and improve performance

What does coaching cost?

It doesn’t! Bold statement you say. If you look at spending money on anything in business you have to look at it in terms of an investment.

Companies that have used professional coaching for business reasons have seen a median return on their investment of 7 times their initial investment, according to a study commissioned by ICF, and conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Association Resource Centre Inc. (ICF Global Coaching Client Study)
A study commissioned by a professional services firm, and performed by MatrixGlobal showed that the ROI on coaching was 6.8x the initial investment. (The Business Impact of Leadership Coaching at a Professional Services Firm, Merrill C. Anderson, PhD)

A Manchester survey of 100 executives from Fortune 1000 companies found that the average ROI (return on investment) was 5.7 times the initial investment in a typical executive coaching assignment. The study found the benefits to companies that provided coaching to executives were improvements in:
• Productivity (reported by 53% of executives)
• Quality (48%)
• Organizational strength (48%)
• Customer service (39%)
• Reducing customer complaints (34%)
• Retaining executives who received coaching (32%)
• Cost reductions (23%)
• Bottom-line profitability (22%)
• Working relationships with direct reports (reported by 77% of executives)
• Working relationships with immediate supervisors (71%)
• Teamwork (67%)
• Working relationships with peers (63%)
• Job satisfaction (61%)
• Conflict reduction (52%)
• Organizational commitment (44%)
• Working relationships with clients (37%)

The commitment is straight forward and cost effective. Most engagements require a half day upfront and a one hour weekly or bi-weekly meeting (usually done over the phone). The average cost is $450 to $750 per month.

Anyone who has an open mind can benefit from hiring a coach. Look at a business coach like you would a personal trainer. You know how to do pushups and setups, but a trainer will help you do more than you would on your own.

The beauty of working with a coach, he or she has your best interest in mind. The coach not only helps you to see through the challenges but once you start making progress, he will celebrate the victories with you and be your cheerleader.

The right coach has walked in your shoes and has been an experienced and successful business owner. This experience transfers to the highest degree of value and effectiveness of the service provided.

A coach will empower you and help you grow and perform at a much higher level of performance.

A coach will help you identify your weaknesses and help turn those weaknesses into strengths.

The right business coach should be strong in the owner’s weaknesses and become a mentor, a friend, a coach, a cheerleader and someone to turn to when everything seems to be failing.

Hiring a business coach can been one of the greatest investments that a small-business owner can make.

Sometimes it is the difference between immense success and closing the business doors.

What is important about your brand when you are a small business owner?  Who cares, right?  Everyone cares and you should care the most.

Brand is defined by Wikipedia as follows: “A brand is often the most valuable asset of a Corporation.  Brand owners manage their brands carefully to create shareholder value, and brand valuation is an important management technique that ascribes a money value to a brand and allows marketing investment to be managed (e.g.: prioritized across a portfolio of brands) to maximize shareholder value. Although only acquired brands appear on a company’s balance sheet, the notion of putting a value on a brand forces marketing leaders to be focused on long term stewardship of the brand and managing for value.”

The word “brand” is often used as a metonym, referring to the company that is strongly identified with a brand.

When you hear the name Coke… What goes through your mind?  The taste, the color of the can, the type of containers you drink it from or maybe the last commercial you saw.  Coca Cola has probably one the most recognized brands in the World and has for decades.

Now, let’s put things in perspective and relevant terms for your business.  Think about local businesses in your city.  The leading air conditioner service is a good example since they are generally not a franchised business.  Here are some good subjective questions to evaluate your view of that company and its brand:

  • When did you see their last commercial, billboard ad or perhaps their truck driving down the road?
  • Do their vehicles and signage look professional?  Do you readily recognize their logo?
  • Do their employees dress in professional uniforms?
  • Maybe you have used them before.  What was your experience with them?  What have you heard other say?
  • Do you know the face of the owner(s)?
  • Have you called upon them more than once?  Was the experience consistent in quality of delivery of their service?  Was the price reasonable?

Creating a brand should be an obsession.  A good brand is the most valuable asset your company can have.  You want a favorable impression by everyone that comes in contact with your company.  After all, the experience anyone has with your company is a measurement of what will be expected in future business interaction.

What does your Brand look like?

It is not often enough that we ask ourselves “Why do customers pick my business?”   It is not enough to simply ask the customer how they found you.  Digging deeper gives you more of what you need in order to assess and make changes where needed.

Let’s look at a scenario.  Your phone rings, the prospective customer asks for a quote.  You ask “How did you find us?”   He says “on the internet”.  You say great and proceed to give him a quote.

In this example, he chose you because you were ranked high on the web search.  Think about it, you were there with half a dozen other companies in your same line of business.  He called you.  If you got the business, was it because you were cheaper or ranked higher in the search engine?  It could have been either, but not every customer makes their decision because the chosen business was cheaper or easier to find on the internet.

What customers say about your company is more important than any single factor in your business.  If someone is making a decision based upon price and you have a bad reputation, you probably are not going to get their business.  Your competition can probably match your price and if they have a good reputation, they are as likely as you to get the business.

Keep the term “Customer Experience” on the forefront of your mind.  According to Wikipedia:

Customer experience (CX) is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. From awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy. It can also be used to mean an individual experience over one transaction; the distinction is usually clear in context.

Here are a few things I have seen work to improve the customer experience:

  1. Talk to your customers when they are at your place.  Get to know them.  Thank them for coming.  Make them feel like they are the only customer you had today.  It works!
  2. Use customer satisfaction surveys.  Have some preprinted cards with a 1 to 10 rating system relating to 4 to 6 questions.  Place these cards in your lobby.  Post the results on your website and staple the cards on a wall where customers can see them.   The customer will be instantly transformed into a positive frame of mine and feel like they came to the right place.
  3. Ask customers to post a comment or review on Google Places, Bing, Yahoo or any other popular search engines.  Make sure that you ask your happy customers to do this.  If an unhappy customer submits a review, they can do irreparable damage.  This becomes viral.  People will start telling you, “did you know that you were the only ****** business with all 5 star reviews.  I have personal witness that this does happen.
  4. Call your customers and ask them if you met their expectations.  Do this within 24 hours of delivering the service or product.  After 24 hours, a call is not near as effective.  When is the last time you received a call from someone you just did business with.  How would you feel about that company after receiving that call.  Service companies .. you better pay close attention to this one.
  5. Post comments and survey results on your website.  Be sure to ask permission to use names of customers if you chose to do this.  Search engines find this stuff and it works.

Building a good reputation is not an occasional project or campaign.  It is an ongoing effort that builds a solid foundation.  Growing a business organically (naturally) is the best and least expensive way to build it.   News travels fast and can be viral.. Make sure the news about your company is good news.

Did you ever think that the customer experience can increase your profit margins?  I have found that if a business has a good reputation, their margins are actually better because they do not attract only “price shoppers”.  Price shoppers often are the hardest people to please.  If you are providing quality products and services, you can demand higher prices because you can afford to deliver consistently high quality.  I am not sure about you but I really like good customers that do not try to beat me up on price.  Those who appreciate me usually get more than they expected in quality of service provided.

Don’t waste your money on advertising until you assess and improve your customer experience.   All your advertising dollars may as well be thrown out the window if customers you have serviced are marginally satisfied.

Start building your Customer Experience today!  Schedule 30 minutes with me here.