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Tuesday
Apr262016

Why did you get up this morning?

Question for you… why did you get up this morning? Maybe you’re heading into the office. Perhaps you’re going on holiday. But why? 

It is a flippant question and yes, I’m trying to provoke you. But really, how easily can you answer the question? And I wonder, how often do you actually ask yourself that question? 

I don’t mean it in the depressing sense of the phrase. What I’m trying to do is to get us thinking about a topic that’s relevant in business as well as the rest of our lives… purpose

It will seem like common sense, however if you have a straight forward and confident answer to why you get up each morning, you’ll probably do more. You’ll probably find decision making easier and your ‘retirement’ will probably be just as exciting and busy as your working life. 

I know what you’re thinking, yes of course being focused makes us more effective. Many people from Stephen Covey to Alice whilst she was holidaying in Wonderland, have talked about useful goals are. 

Do not make the mistake however of confusing purpose and goals. Purpose sits higher up the chain than a goal. It’s what helps us decide on how we set our goals, how strong our convictions are and how we go about achieving them. Purpose is something really personal, it sits at the core of everything we do, and it is the context for our lives. 

The leaders that I have worked with who have achieved great things in their lives so far, have a very good understanding of their purpose; why they as individuals exist. It enables them to make things happen, and not be passengers in their own lives. 

A great way to test this, is to look back and think about regrets or bad decisions you’ve made. Whether from work or at home, write them down (and writing them down is very important). It is good to have a mix here. When you have a half dozen or so, review them. Notice any patterns, or themes? I’d bet you’ll find any decisions you regret don’t match up with your purpose. You might not be able to describe why, but you’ll feel it in your gut. Something wasn’t right. 

Knowing why we do what we do, is a key part of the journey in business and life. And make no mistake, they are both one and the same. 

Define your purpose, and then choosing a vision becomes a much simpler task. Vision leads to goals, and as we all know, goals lead to accomplishment. 

p.s. the image for this post I took half way up the South Pillar of Mt Stetind in Norway. My purpose in life led me to start rock climbing. Climbing ultimately led me to the Arctic Circle to complete one of the proudest challenges of my life. 

David Milton

Sunday
Apr242016

Make it easy for people to buy your services

I was having a catch up with a friend the other day he owns a professional services firm and he shared with me the challenge his business has in attracting new clients. Not an uncommon story so I thought it worth writing this article on the conversation we had to share with my online network of friends. 

He told me that all the sales staff have a fairly healthy pipeline and an abundance of opportunities that should turn into business but he was concerned that a lot of the enquiries were just window shopping and therefore not closing in sufficient volume or speed for his ambitious growth plans. Some of the opportunities had been in the system for quite some time and now the energy in closing them has seemed to wane. 

He recalled to me a story of a recent new engagement which in the end took it’s business elsewhere. They had been quite excited about the new enquiry; it was a perfect job for them and with a client at the top end of their normal client base. They had added the opportunity to the pipeline in November last year and since then had been building a healthy relationship with the potential client; everything appeared to be on track for them to become a client. During the period of November and December the dialogue was once a week, they came to events at Christmas, but in January February and March it went a little cold and in April the business was awarded to a competitor, they never got to proposal stage. 

I asked him what he had learned from this outcome, which to be fair is not an uncommon one. He felt that they were never going to buy and were just using them as a sounding board to compare and make sure they had some leverage over their chosen supplier. I told him this was a convenient excuse for losing the business, one that is done to mask failure, typically human beings we find it hard to admit that something that went wrong was of our own making, when in reality it is all of our own making. Only by admitting to ourselves our failures can we learn from them and improve, masking our failures through excuses and blaming someone or something else means we will continue to make the same mistakes. 

The top and bottom of it here is the business failed to close the new prospect so it is important to use that as a learning opportunity. I explained to him that your clients are not experts in what you do so how could you help them make it easy to buy from you.  He mused for a while and then asked what do you mean “Make it easy to buy?” 

We so often make it hard for people to buy because we confuse the prospect, they like the idea of engaging but fear if the investment will be worthwhile, how much time it will take and if you and your business are any good at what you do. It all seems a little difficult so in a situation where time is a very precious commodity the prospect will often do nothing rather than do something no matter how compelling the argument is. 

I answered his question about making it easy for people to buy his products as follows. Be clear what the client is buying, whom it is designed for, be clear on the investment, be clear on the process and be clear on the outcomes. It doesn’t need to be war and peace, but does need to be easy for them to understand so that the prospect can easily make an informed decision.  

Of course I told my friend you will have to be brave, making a commitment on investment required means sharing with your competitors some of your pricing structure so there will be a tendency to offer deals. Remember though if you want to attract the right kind of clients they will be ok paying you the right amount for your services. If they are the wrong kind of clients (previous article on the subject) they will qualify themselves out, so be ok to let them do so. 

I then explained to him how we package some of our products at Shirlaws to give him an example of how he might approach the task. As you know we have a full range of business advisory services we take to market to help people grow, fund and exit their business. To explain them all would take hours, so to make it easy we have taken some of those products and packaged them in a way to make it easy for people to buy. We have three products that we currently talk to businesses about one for the Business Leader, one for the Management team and one for the business as a whole. I then wrote down the following for him:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He said “you make it really easy for me to understand”, I promised to send him a data sheet on the chosen product he asked most questions about containing some more details and of course my dear friend is now a client. As is often the case when I drew these options he decided to start with his management team. 

The point of this article is that if you run a services business help your prospects understand “Why” they should engage, “What” they are getting and “How” it works, make it easy for them to buy.

Wednesday
Apr202016

Creative pricing for professional services 

Do you find yourself winning business on price rather than on value? Wouldn’t it be good to have a different way of pricing your services so that you stand out from the competition rather than compete with them? 

In this article I will explain an alternative approach to pricing that is not for those of you who like to stay within your comfort zone, it is only for those who are prepared to make a decision to think differently about how you might price a deal in professional services. 

If we put into physical terms it will be like skiing a black run for the first time, it’s a bit scary but the more you do it the more comfortable it will be, although it will never be easy or without some risk. This article is for those of you who get on the black run as soon as it is possible to do so, those of you who get there at the end of a one weeks tuition, those of you who are prepared to challenge yourself to do something exceptional. If that is not you read no further. 

Most professional services firms charge by hourly or daily rates, in fact a lot of solicitors still tack time by 6 minute blocks to calculate billings for clients. This has a tendency to bring pricing into the engagement conversation as it gives the client something to compare, they will look at what they pay per hour and think they can get the same service elsewhere cheaper. This is a system that is based upon the time you spend delivering and the value you place on your expertise rather than the value you bring to the client. 

Now I hear you all say “well our service is different, it is all about relationships”, true. But as you know from your own experience when you shop in most cases you will buy something elsewhere if you know you can get the same product cheaper. Despite all the marketing, and advertising messaging if you are buying accounting you are buying accounting, if you are buying IT support you are buying IT support. If your product has become a commodity then price does come into the equation when someone is making a buying decision. 

I meet so many businesses who think they are different, their service is better but when you get under the skin of the business they do the same and say the same as everyone else. Here is a simple exercise to prove the point:

Do you see any patterns? Ow do the same exercise with your own website and compare yours against the others. My expectation is that if you are honest with yourself they will be very similar. 

Of course if you have been referred into a business this will mean you are in most cases in a non-competitive situation but price still becomes a factor if you give the prospect an opportunity to look elsewhere because you priced it too high. 

So here is how a recent conversation with a prospect went and the offer I put on the table for him. The business was a £1M turnover services business making 35% GM, there vision was to get to £5M turnover and then look at options to continue or find a buyer so they could spend more time with the family or pursue other interests. We had spent time with them following a Strategic Business Review explaining how we could support them in achieving this outcome when the subject of “How much” came up. 

I explained to them using the following diagram:

 

I explained to him that the only thing he needed to decide was the speed in which he wanted to get to the £5M turnover. 

So here is how the calculation “works”, understand the value you will bring to the client, get them to understand the outcomes for them from engaging you and put some skin in the game. The only variable left to decide is the timescale. 

Price on value first, then time. 

In this case he choose to run the project over 3 years meaning his investment to achieve an increase in profit of £1.4M was just over £3k per month, not a bad return. 

In summary challenge yourself to be different use how you price to differentiate your business and in turn win more business and longer-term engagements. Step outside of your comfort zone the more time you do the bigger your comfort zone will become. 

If you found this article useful please let me know; it will encourage me to keep writing.

Thursday
Feb182016

The bottom line of active listening

The value of this piece is increasing your self-awareness when you are listening and responding to others. 

We spend a lot of our days talking. How much time do we spend listening? We all know listening is a great skill to have but how do we increase our capability in this area? 

Have you every responded to a request negatively when in fact it was perfectly reasonable? Was it the content that prompted your reaction, or the way the question was asked? 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Feb122016

On the role of the Warrior in business

In my last post I wrote about being a facilitator. I'm fascinated by the various roles each of us plays in business.  The obvious next step would be to write about the role of a leader or an entrepreneur, but… who wants to read yet another post on that? 

On that basis I began to look for the more unusual roles and remembered in my early 20s reading a book by Carlos Castaneda which described the four qualities of a Warrior. 

Click to read more ...