Business Skills Development Series

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Everywhere you turn, it seems like there’s someone who wants to give you some type of business advice. They want to tell you what product or service you should use, how you should use them and how you will benefit. But in most cases, their knowledge is limited to their product or service, and that’s it. When you get advice from someone who doesn’t have experience and skills in your specific industry, they can’t possibly be efficient in fixing your problems or building strategies to take advantage of your particular opportunities.  And be vary wary of any coach or consultant where the only business they’ve ever been successful at is their consulting business.  You’ve got real-world issues, and you need someone working with you that can lend real-world skills and experience.  That’s what you get with us.  Successful owners and executives of thriving businesses other than this one, who have been “in your chair” and grown businesses of all types and sizes.  Simply stated, we can help you with things you’re dealing with in your specific business.  With the Breakout team in your corner, you won’t just get a fish, you will learn how to fish. You see, Business Coaches have a vested interest in seeing you succeed, because if you don’t succeed, neither do they.

To give you an idea of how we can help, we regularly publish articles to our Business Skills Development Series to help owners and executives like you in dealing with a cross-section of issues and skills that will help you move your business forward.  Please take some time and read through the articles that deal with your biggest issues, and let us know if we can answer any questions…

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Your Customers Are Looking Online For You…But Who Will They Find?

The digital age is in full swing, but many small business owners still don’t “get it” Most small businesses still don’t have a website. Usually it’s the perceived cost of registering a domain name, setting up hosting, developing the website and then maintaining it that keeps them from taking advantage of the most powerful marketing medium ever invented. What they don’t know is how inexpensive it really is, and more importantly — what NOT making this small investment in their business is actually costing them. In today’s marketplace, customers are looking online and are far more likely to start their buying process there than anywhere else. In the eyes of that buyer, you not having a website pretty much takes you out of the equation. When they Google™ your product or service, all they see is your competitors. Sure there might be some local business or review sites where you are listed, but you really can’t control that content like you can on your own website. And you can’t be dynamic in leading the marketing race for your product or service, or react effectively to the efforts of your competitors. Having a professionally designed, user friendly and functional website is part of today’s measure of how successful your business is. So to those business owners that have gone the route of the free (or way too cheap) “cookie-cutter” template website, ask yourself this: “Would I print out that website and hand it to my customers like a brochure?” Of course you wouldn’t. When you create print media for your company you use professional resources to create a polished look for your brand. Or at least, you should. So where is the sense in allowing the public face of your business on the most customer trafficked medium there is look like your 8 year old nephew threw it together? If you haven’t done so, it’s time you took the importance of a great online presence seriously. Businesses without a website — or with a cheap looking and non-functional one — can have the effect of making potential customers think that you’re not making enough money to afford a good one and they might wonder if doing business with you puts them at risk. In today’s competitive market that could mean the difference between losing money again next quarter, and becoming the fastest growing source for your product or service. Of course

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The Customer Is Always Right, Right? Wrong…

So, let’s get this straight. You’ve told your employees that no matter what the customer does, no matter how rude, unreasonable and petty they might be, that they are to treat that customer as through they’re the best one you have? You’ve sent a clear signal to your staff that under no circumstances is your loyalty and concern with them – your faithful and diligent employees – but that you only care about the customer and that your desire is that employees take all the abuse and mistreatment a customer can dish out, and do it with a smile on their face? And you think THAT is the formula for great customer service?  Think again. Let’s use as an example an anecdote I once heard about a Southwest Airlines passenger who consistently shared her displeasure with the fact that they didn’t have assigned seats, nor a first class cabin, that she hated their boarding procedure, the flight attendant’s uniforms and the casual atmosphere aboard the plane. After a series of complaint letters from the same passenger, Southwest’s customer relations department “kicked it upstairs” and the file made it all the way to the CEO’s desk. When they received the file back a few days later, they were surprised to find a copy of a hand-written note from CEO Herb Kelleher to the customer: The note simply said “Dear Mrs. Smith, We will miss you.  Herb.” Now, is that a true story? Who knows? But who cares? The fact of the matter is that it sounds like something an intelligent CEO of a major corporation should and would have the presence of mind to do in such a circumstance. The phrase “The Customer Is Always Right” was originated by Selfridge’s Department Store in London in the early 1900’s. To this day it is used by companies to try and convince customers that they will receive great service, and to promote a high level of customer service from employees. But an increasing number of businesses are moving away from that mantra, because they’ve learned that in fact what it does is decrease the level of customer service, and customer satisfaction. It causes problems on the “front line” by lowering employee morale when they are forced to deal pleasantly with customers who are determined to intentionally cause problems. It also serves to give those intentional troublemakers an unfair advantage over your staff, and

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What Is The Plan If You Do Not Show Up For Work Tomorrow?

Think about the last time you were unexpectedly out of the office for the day. No matter the reason, you weren’t there and one of two things happened: Either your mobile phone rang all day long with issues at the office, or it didn’t ring at all, leaving you to wonder what the heck (if anything) was going on. In either case it was a huge headache for you, in addition to whatever it was that kept you out that day in the first place. Now, what if that day became days, or weeks? What would happen to your business if fate reared its ugly head and you were out for a month, or longer? For a day, your staff could probably “wing it” and get by. But any longer and there are sure to be meetings to reschedule, projects to postpone, employee issues to handle, payroll and bookkeeping issues to be dealt with and so on.  Most or all of that simply won’t get done without a business contingency plan.  So take a moment and consider…what is the plan if you do not show up for work tomorrow?  Who is going to do everything that you do if you’re not there? Don’t feel too bad if you don’t have the answer, because the fact is that most companies don’t either. It’s not by design, but most companies will be forced to “wing it” if the owner or key executive is suddenly sidelined. So if you’re in that situation you shouldn’t feel bad because you’re not the only one, but now that you’ve read this and are aware that you’re at risk — you should certainly feel bad if you fail to do anything to prevent it. So, what to do? Create a business contingency plan. Just like everything else you accomplish in your business, this issue needs a solid plan in place to manage you through it. Develop a strategy that covers everything you do for the business, whether that means having someone else do it temporarily or a system that allows you to delay certain responsibilities until your return. The simplest way to come up with your list is to keep a journal of everything you do each day, for a least a week — perhaps longer depending on your particular business. Then, go through your list and figure out who can do what in your absence, what

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Three Things Customers Are Not Telling You…

Customers lie. They do it all the time. They don’t do it to hurt your feelings, rather they do it to protect your feelings and avoid confrontation with you. Have you ever thought all was well with a client, and even asked them how things were going and had them tell you “great”…and then, without any reason or warning, they were gone? That customer didn’t tell you there was a problem, but there were warning signs that you missed. There always are, and identifying the things customers are not telling you is critical to your success with them. Here are three examples of what your customers really want, but will never tell you: They want to know that you UNDERSTAND their business. When you pitch a new client, is your first statement “I’d like to know more about your business”? If not, you’ve just significantly reduced your chances of getting that sale. Most salespeople start by immediately talking about their product or service and how well it performs, not understanding that they just offended the client because they didn’t make the effort to learn about them first. Customers want to know that you understand their business before they’ll listen to how your product or service is good for them. But they won’t tell you that, they just won’t hire you or buy from you. When you go in and start with you, it’s just another sales pitch and it doesn’t matter what you’re selling. Instead, start by demonstrating that you’re interested in knowing more about their business and their needs, and then relate how your product or service serves that need. They won’t tell you, but what they want is for you to focus on them, instead of you. Do that, and everything you say afterward becomes more important. They want to know that you VALUE their business. Always say “thank you”, and make sure your staff does as well. More customers will tell people that they’re happy with your company because of the kindness and gratitude you show them than they ever will about their satisfaction with your product or service. Always treating them with an outward showing of how much you appreciate their business will solidify their loyalty and make it far less likely that a competitor will steal them away, even at a cheaper price. Take the time to send notes or make “thank you” calls, and make

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Is it the Economy, or is it YOU?

Do you think your sales & marketing results are terrible simply because of a poor economy? If so, think again. Many companies are achieving better results now than ever before.   The Winners and Losers Those organizations that are investing in improving their sales & marketing skills are seeing a significant return on their investment. They’re the winners. So it should come as no surprise that those that are cutting development budgets and staff members due to the ‘poor economy’ are the ones who are seeing declining results — the losers. Is your organization a winner or a loser? How to Become a Winner Here are some ways to increase your sales & marketing results, no matter what the economy is doing: More Business Is Out There, But You Have To Go Get It Are you sitting at your desk waiting for the phone to ring with a customer on the other end? This strategy may have worked five years ago, but now it’s the companies that are skillfully churning out new prospects — and asking for more business from the clients they already have — that are reaping the rewards. How many new prospects have you contacted this month? Be Grateful and Responsive Are you properly thanking your customers? Are you sending thank you letters (not just receipts), making thank you calls, thanking them personally? Doing so lets them know how important their business is to you. This is so important in terms of receiving future business from your clients that it cannot be overstated. Do you have a formal program in place to achieve this? Build Lasting Relationships Are you regularly receiving contact from new clients that were referred by existing ones? What are you doing to foster and build relationships with your customers that will lead them to suggest your product or service to others? When you build strong, lasting relationships with your clients, you create a social framework for years of future referrals. How many raving fans have you created for your business this year? Invest in your Skills Have you increased or decreased your training budget this year? Are you even providing training for your staff? When was the last time you personally attended training? It’s crucial to continually invest in skills and strategy improvement for you and your staff.   For more information or to discuss your particular needs in this area with an

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Seven Strategies to Keep Cash Flowing

Cash flow is the lifeblood of every business. All too often though, business owners fail to pay enough attention to bringing cash into the company as quickly as possible. Next thing they know, there is not enough money on hand to pay staff, suppliers and vendors. There are several key things business owners can do to try and make sure this never happens to them. The idea is to be consistent with your approach to cash management, and keep the business in the best financial condition possible at all times. Strategy # 1 – Only Deal with Quality Customers It’s essential to deal only with quality customers who appreciate the value of your product or service, and are willing and able to pay promptly in return. A business with a cash flow crunch almost always fits into the 80/20 rule where only 20% of sales are coming from the 80% of customers who are the most difficult to deal with. Strategy # 2 – Get Paid Up-Front Whenever Possible Ask for payment up-front, or even C.O.D. Too many businesses offer terms automatically, when the fact is that many of their customers are more than willing to pay up-front. Strategy # 3 – When you Offer Terms, Be Selective Don’t offer payment terms to just anybody. Reserve terms for selected clients who genuinely need and deserve them, and are willing (and likely) to pay on time. Instead of terms, offer incentives to pay up-front. Given the fact that most companies that offer terms carry an A/R balance that is a significant percentage of their annual gross, a 5% (sometimes even 10%) discount for payment in advance can be a very wise exchange. Strategy # 4 – Tighten Up Your Terms Although many businesses offer 30-day terms as a matter of course, this delays the time it takes for the business to receive the money it is owed. Instead, when it’s necessary to offer terms – reduce them to 7 or 14 days max and follow up with overdue accounts promptly. Give customers a reasonable amount of time to pay, and don’t compromise your company’s financial health by volunteering to be your customer’s overdraft line. Strategy # 5 – Negotiate Scheduled Payments Another way to bring cash into the business faster is to break up payments for larger jobs into a down-payment and progress payments at specified intervals during the project. You

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Are You Focusing on the Right Things?

During the start-up phase it’s called ‘boot strapping’ and it is essential.  Resources are usually pretty tight.  Once established, the desire to do it all stems from the feeling that no one else can do it as well.  Likewise, a general lack of planning and discipline and focus on business issues can have you holding the bag more often than you’d like. Business is a continuum.  Time waits for no one and you are either moving forward or you are losing ground.  In either case, a lack of focus can inhibit one and accelerate the other.  It’s not a matter of having more time to get everything done…it’s a matter of doing the right things at the right time.  If focus has been a battle for you, here are six of the most common reasons why business owners don’t stay focused – and what to do about that so you can actually achieve the results you’re looking for. 1.  Lack of a Clear Vision: Neurologically, focus is a contest between your conscious and subconscious mind.  The conscious mind is in charge of communication, logic and decision making.  It controls about 6% of your total brain activity.  The subconscious, on the other hand, controls all of your bodily functions, your feelings, emotions, thoughts, behaviors and habits which make up the remaining 94% of your brain.  Everything you have experienced in your life is stored in your subconscious just waiting to be recalled as a recognizable experience shows up. For this reason, having a clear, complete vision of what you want your business to be is essential to keeping your mind focused on activities that lead to that end result.  If you do not have a vision statement with all the relevant specifics (time frames, revenue levels, profits, brand, identity, facility and staff needs and size of client base, etc) you are allowing your focus to be swayed by a multitude of distractions and false opportunities.  Once you write out your vision, create a bulleted list in large letters and display it everywhere you work.  Seeing it on a regular basis trains your subconscious to start looking for things that support good focus habits. 2. ‘Screaming Baby’ Syndrome- A Constant State of Overwhelm: Overwhelm stems from two things:  Not knowing what to do, and having too many things demanding your attention.  It’s one of the most arresting feelings known to man and if

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Four Communication Drivers that will Transform Your Business

A primary responsibility of running your own business is developing, improving and executing a strong communication strategy with your employees. Branding your business as a great place to work has significant benefits and your reputation as an effective leader will attract top talent to your organization. While identifying the traits that make a good leader may be easy, developing those characteristics is often a difficult undertaking. In some cases leadership comes naturally, but for most it’s a process of learning those skills, understanding their importance to the success of your business, and developing a strategy that constantly refines communication within your organization.There is a common list of traits that describe a good leader: vision, passion, inspiration, dedication, accountability etc. Those characteristics define a good leader, but how do you develop a reputation with your staff that includes those labels?Ask yourself these questions: • Do you have a strategy that guides all of your internal communication? • Do you know exactly what you want employees to understand, think about and do in response to your communication? • Is your message consistently aligned with the vision, values and objectives of your company? • Is communication a two-way process in your business? • Do you measure the effectiveness of your communication? • Do you use the results of previous initiatives to improve future communication? • Have you taken the time to learn how your staff prefers to receive communication? (e.g. face-to-face, email, intranet) • Have you delegated responsibility for communication to your top-level staff? • Are all members of your leadership team delivering a consistent message? And finally, • Does your communication strategy consistently incorporate the four communication drivers: Inform, Involve, Listen, Lead ? Communication is by definition a two-way process. Your communication strategy must evolve and adapt over time, and to shape a strategy that is meaningful and effective you must incorporate each of the four communication drivers as appropriate to each situation. Inform Sharing your vision for the business with your employees empowers them to make decisions that are in line with company objectives. You should be as transparent as possible with respect to the goals of your organization so that your staff feels “ownership” of improvements that occur as a result of their efforts. In addition, if you consistently avoid talking about negatives in the workplace, your staff will grow complacent. But when you freely discuss potential pitfalls, employees will come to respect you more and work harder to prevent those issues from occurring

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How (and Why) to Clearly Define your Target Market

Need more customers?  Ask yourself: “Who am I marketing to?” Simple question, right? Perhaps not. Answering that question significantly narrows the field from the entire universe to your actual target audience. If you need more customers, the trick is to define your target market so effectively that you can describe an ideal customer in specific detail. “Men aged 25-40” is simply too broad a group as it includes both a recent immigrant just learning English, and the CEO of the most successful internet company on earth. Apart from obvious age, sex, education and income categories, you may also need to consider factors such as your ideal customer’s lifestyle, where they live, what they drive, where they shop etc. Bring your ideal prospect to life in your imagination, get to know them by examining their habits as they relate to your unique value proposition. If you want to be successful in business, nearly everything you do should ultimately be about serving that ideal prospect. Targeting a specific market does not mean that you have to exclude people that do not precisely fit your criteria. Rather, targeting allows you to focus your marketing dollars and brand message on a specific market that is more likely to buy from you than your competitors. This is a much more affordable, efficient and effective way to reach more customers and generate more business. Here are some tips for drilling down to find who you should really be marketing to: • Think about the potential customer’s current relationship with your brand. What do they think when they think of you? Do they currently think of you at all? What do they “feel” when they consider your product or service? Are they likely to be impressed? And if so, do they relate that feeling to their personal use, or think that your product is great – but only for others who have a specific need for it? (e.g. “Great looking dress, if only I were 20 years younger.”) • Research whether your prospect currently uses a competing brand, or another type of product altogether to satisfy the need you intend to serve. For example, do they use a competitor’s zip-lock plastic bags because they perceive them to be better, or do they avoid plastic bags altogether for environmental reasons and instead use re-usable containers? • Write out a list of each feature of your product or service.

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Build a Successful Business in Four Key Steps

There are many excuses made by business owners who fail to build a successful business: • Not enough capital • Too much competition • Hard to find good employees • Internet competitors And the big favorite… • The economy However in reality – the two most prevalent, valid causes of business failure are: 1. The business owners are unclear about their goals, or have lost sight of the goals they set when they first started the business 2. The business owners don’t really know what is going on in their business We used to be surprised at the “deer-in-the-headlights” stare when we ask business owners why they chose the business they are in. After some thought, many say that they wanted the freedom that owning your own successful business brings. For others it is primarily the financial reward they were looking for. But too often the reality is that what they ended up with is a situation that finds them working incredibly long hours for very little return, and a feeling of being trapped in a job rather than owning a business. Like little hamsters on a wheel, they run faster and faster and yet seem to go nowhere. Not knowing what’s going on in the business is extremely common. When you’re not keeping track of your KPI’s (key performance indicators), you can’t even begin to manage the growth of your business. For example: • How many prospects you have to connect with to get enough into your sales funnel. • Getting the right percentage of those to actually buy from you. • Having enough of them become loyal repeat clients that also generate an acceptable amount of referral business for you. If you don’t have a strategic plan in place to make all of that happen, you’re likely to end up a statistic in the business failure rate. STEP NUMBER ONE – Know Where You Are Now It sounds simple, but you must ALWAYS know where you’re at in your business. You need to be able to identify your strengths and weaknesses, know when you need help, and have the courage and conviction to get it. You have to know how much money you have, and how long it will last. In short, you have to be intimately aware of your current reality rather than getting trapped in the belief that it’s magically going to get better when the

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