5 Things You Need to Know About Things You Need to Know Lists

I have to be honest, I’m not sure what to think of the “online list” craze. But I have to admit that people sure do love them. Every website is full of lists. They’re everywhere… and they make us want to click to find out what’s number one.

Professional WomanWhile these lists can be fun and easy to consume, keep in mind they my not be as useful as they seem at first glance. In a world where you can “google” anything don’t fall into the trap of thinking information is knowledge. Lists can be useful, but they can also give you a false sense that you are learning more than you really are. They are the cliff’s notes of learning, so treat them with care.

In my business, business training and coaching, these lists are particularly popular. It seems like every magazine, blog or social media site is full of articles that include numbers. Not just research numbers or financial numbers… list numbers. Expert’s top 10 this, and 6 hot ways to do that. You can find lists to tell you about how to find a job, what to say in an interview, how to close a sale, or the tips for networking.

I assume you’re going to continue to click on the lists… frankly, so am I. So to help you out I’ve compiled my own Top 5 List. Here are some things to keep in mind as you consume those enticing lists. While you’re clicking through them think about how you might really use the information they provide you. Again, lists are not good or bad. Just be thoughtful about what you’re truly getting.

  1. Lists are going to be pretty basic. They are lists, not chapters. Let’s face it you can only say so much in a 600 to 1000 word article anyway. As writers we are taught to use bullet points to draw your eye down the page. That’s a big purpose of those lists. It makes an article faster and easier to read. As attention spans dwindle it’s a way to keep you, the reader, engaged so you don’t click off the page. It also means you won’t be given anything too in depth. Bullet points are by nature short and sweet. So they will also only deliver the basic information about a subject. There isn’t time to do much more.
  2. The list may not really help you unless you already know something about the topic. I first noticed this when I was researching my “Network with Ease” course. There are many lists that give you pointers on how to network. But I found that it was a bit like learning to ride a bike. When someone is on the bike for the first time if you tell them to “balance”, “pedal faster to stay up” or “lean to turn” they may yell at you in a panic. Those tips are meaningless to them at that point. They sound like gibberish. However, once they get a feel for the bike and actually experience some of those things, like balancing, your suggestions will start to make sense. They need to know something about riding before  your instructions for riding really make sense. Online lists can be similar.
  3. Lists can help get you started but rarely fill in the details. This follows #2. Lists may tell you “what” you need to do, but that is only half the story. You also need to know “how” to do those things for the list to have any true meaning. It’s the bike riding thing again. It I tell you that you shouldn’t just talk to people you already know when you network, but you are totally anxious about introducing yourself to strangers is that tip really helpful? Sure, you now know you need to do it… but without the “how” you’re still stuck feeling anxious. Without the how, the what is only marginally helpful. It can actually be discouraging.
  4. Anyone can come up with a list by googling any topic. Full disclosure: I’ve used this one myself (and probably will again). Now, in my defense I only do that to find examples or quotes about a topic I’m writing about. But that’s not the case for everyone. It’s easy to grab a couple of info-bites online and throw a post together around them when you’re on a deadline. I see this happen all the time. People reuse each others information all over the Internet. I know, it’s not always a bad thing. Just please keep in mind that if you’re looking for in depth information you’re probably going to have to read more than a glorified David Letterman Top 10 List. Having the headline is not going to help you discuss the story in depth with someone. So watch out thinking you’re an expert on what’s going on after you read a list. Check the source for this particular list before you pull out the information to a client or your boss.
  5. Usually lists are a way to get you to keep reading. Lists and bullet points are designed to keep you on a page so you see the click through ads on a page. It’s what allows a sites advertisers to have viewers… it’s about eyeballs. This is just the way of the Internet. I use it, HuffPo uses it, as do all the leading news and entertainment t sites. I’m not saying you can’t get some interesting and useful information in a “List Post” (hopefully this post is an example). If you’re looking for tidbits to use in a conversation then have at it. Be careful relying on the information too much though. If you expect to get any depth of information you’ll need to move beyond that top 7 list. People who really know a subject can see through you if you try to pass off that list info as real experience or knowledge.

Please use those “listacles” responsibly in business conversation. Keep these tips in mind and you should get more out of your list surfing. And yes, I’m aware of the irony of saying this in a “5 things” list post. I didn’t say they don’t work. You’re here reading it aren’t you? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Why fight the rising tide. Maybe my next post should be “The 10 reasons I should write more 10 reasons posts”.

Feel free to connect with me directly at www.linkedin.com/in/ericbyrd.

What do I do with all these cards?

30 Second Networking Tip #59

Dealing with a stack of business cards you collect can be enough to make you not want to network. Having a system is the key to keeping your sanity.


Please leave a comment below and tell me what you think…

The Temptation of Incentives

When you’re looking for clients in your business are you a long term thinker or a short term thinker?

I know, this is a fuzzy question. In reality, as a business owner you have to do both. However, I find that focusing too much on short term selling can actually hurt your business… and you may not even realize it.
Here’s why I say that. We are all under pressure to sell. Whether we like to call it sales or not, we must get people to buy from us. If we don’t, we don’t stay in business. The question is really ‘how do we get customers to come in the door and stay’. Yes, I’m talking about repeat customers.

 

There are lots of ways to attract potential clients or customers. Many of these methods are focused on bringing in short term customers. They aren’t designed to help you keep the repeat or long term customer. I’m not saying don’t use incentives to draw in customers, I’m saying be careful how you use incentives. Try and make them match your long term customer interests.
Incentives are tempting things. They usually work quickly. And they do work. The problem is that focusing on the short term sale can sometimes distract us from the long term customer. Here’s what I mean.

 

If I have a sale, I may see an increase in revenue the week of that sale. Which is, in and of itself, a good thing (as long as the profit margin is held and we don’t lose money). The question is, can you sustain that business once the sale week is over? Will the customers drawn in by the offer of saving money going to come back when there is no discount?
Why is this an important thing to consider? The reality is that it’s our long term customers that enable us grow our business. Short term sales may help with cash flow, but you usually give something up to draw someone in the door. Often what you give up is profit. The ‘short term’ buyers are not usually as profitable. Lower profit sales can not be sustain as long as high margin sales. It’s just math.

 

Special OfferAdd to that the fact that it takes a lot of money to draw in a new customer. If that customer doesn’t come back and buy again they are potentially costing you more than they’re worth. Again, not a reason not to have a sale, just something to consider. It is often useful to ask yourself what kind of customer your trying to attract. The short term sale or the long term repeat client.

 

Incentives can be very powerful. Discounts, bonus products, giveaways… these are all examples of incentives that cost you something. They do draw people in, there is no doubt. This is what makes them such a tempting tactic. They create traffic. But ask yourself what are people really coming in for? The basic logic behind incentives is that someone comes in to check you out because of the specials, and then they stay. Or, that you draw in enough volume with the incentive that it outweighs the cost (both of the marketing and of the reduced profit). But that isn’t always what happens.

 

Here are a couple of questions to ask before you buy into this logic completely:
  1. If they were willing to come to you for a special deal, what’s going to prevent them from going to someone else’s ‘deal’ next week?
  2. What happens if they like the sound of your special, but their experience buying from you doesn’t match their expectations?
  3. Would it be money and time well spent if most of the people you draw in with an incentive don’t stay?

 

Mull those questions over and you will be able to make a more informed decision about whether an incentive is likely to work for your business in the long run.
Be careful using incentives. They can be a path to the bottom if you’re not careful. Especially in industries where there is a lot of competition. It’s tempting to try and underbid your competition. That’s fine as an idea, but where does it really get you? What if they ‘discount’ back?

 

Can you sustain a fare war, similar to what we have seen in the airline industry in years past? The war that has resulted in low air fares, but also created rising fees for lots of other things we used to take for granted.

 

A friend of mine just took a trip to Florida for a long weekend. She got a low price on the ticket and was very pleased. Until she went to check in online. It was then that she found that it would be $20 to get a window seat and $35 per bag, including her rolling carry-on, to take any luggage with her on the trip. Suddenly that low fare didn’t look so low any more. And what was worse, she didn’t know this information until AFTER she had purchased the ticket. So her expectation of a low cost flight was not sustained through her experience of taking the actual trip.

 

This is dangerous because while she did buy, she was not happy. Her experience did not match her expectation for the long run. In this case the extra fees charged after the initial ticket have caused her to rethink what airline she will fly with on her next trip. So a “sale” can actually backfire on you if the experience of your customer doesn’t match the expectation your incentive creates.

 

It’s customers having predictable, positive experiences over time that really makes your business grow. Creating long term relationships with customers is what really powers you to the next level.

 

So be careful when you’re considering incentives. Think about who your ideal clients really are and whether they really need 10% off to buy from you… or if your giveaway will just bring in a lot of people who want to get a free iPad.

Leave a comment below and tell us what you think.

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You can follow Eric @pitchforsuccess on Twitter or on Facebook at PitchforSuccess

To get information on sharing this article or having Eric speak to your group email questions@pitchforsuccess.com

Where the heck do I go now?

Where the heck do I go now?

Got 30 seconds?

I’ll give you a tip to make your professional networking more productive.

 

Have a plan for your networking activities. It doesn’t have to be something super elaborate. As professional business people we all make plans and have strategy to do most things in our business. Marketing plans. Sales plans. Growth plans. Product development plans. Why wouldn’t you have a networking plan too? You improve what you pay attention to so understanding who you want to meet and why is a vital part of doing business in the 21st century. The more aware you are of where you want to go, the more likely you are to get yourself there.

Got 30 seconds? I’ll give you a tip to make your professional networking more productive.

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You can follow Eric @pitchforsuccess on Twitter or on Facebook at PitchforSuccess

To get information on sharing this article or having Eric speak to your group email questions@pitchforsuccess.com

Building a business is a lot like Legos

Mason and Grampa
Mason showing Grampa how to have fun.

My grandson, Mason, is 3 1/2 years old and he loves to play with Legos.

When he comes over for a visit that’s usually the first thing out of the toy box. Needless to say Mason is getting more Legos this year as his present from Grampa. I’m looking forward to sitting on the floor and watching his imagination unfold later this week.

As I play with Mason on the floor I am struck by the similarities in our play and what I do every day in running my business. Both activities involve lots of creativity. Playing with Legos may be lower stakes, but the process is very similar to the way I solve issues on the job. Building a business is not so very different than building a space ship or castle.

First on the list of similarities is that you have to decide what you want to build.

Here is where Mason and I differ in style. I like to just start putting things together and see what ideas spring to mind. The creation evolves as I go. Mason likes to decide in advance what he’s making. “This is where the beanstalk goes,” he stated not long ago, clearing all the bricks from a spot on the carpet. He then proceeded to build a towering edifice reaching into his imaginary sky. Then the boy figurine, named Raphael after his beloved Ninja Turtles, climbed up to the giant’s castle, “to fight bad guys,” as Mason informed me. And he kicked some serious butt too.

As with bad guy butt kicking it is important to understand what business we want to build. Whether you began your business with intention, knowing what you wanted it to look like, or whether you began doing what you loved and “found yourself” in business is not really important. Businesses change over time. Many people find that the business they started out with is not the business they currently run. The key is to understand what business you are really in and to be intentional about how you build it moving forward.

That requires you to understand your business model (the why, what, how and who of your company… that I call your “Authentic Identity”). You also need to be able to define your best customers, even if you don’t have any yet. I’m not just talking about someone with money looking to buy what you sell… but the customer who is the best all around fit for what you do and how you do it. Once you know that it’s important to know what sets you apart from your competitors… your unique value proposition… and you need to know how to articulate it to the world. These become the building blocks of your company.

The second similarity is this… you have to know what resources are available to you when you build.

When Mason and I play we have a limited number of bricks and pieces to work with. This means if we want to build an airplane we must fashion the fuselage, wings and the tail from what we have. It makes for some interesting aircraft I assure you. The advantage we have on the living room floor is that they all fly flawlessly around the room and land anywhere. Imagination does have some advantages after all.

In business we likewise must work with what we have. Many times limited resources prevent us from doing what we’d like to do with our company. More capital, more people, more equipment or more time would always be welcomed. However, it is sometimes the lack of resources that drives innovation. Not having something that would easily solve a problem creates a need for us to think outside the box, to improvise.

Like Mason’s Lego planes we often must do what we do with the pieces parts on hand. Take heart though, some of the most ingenious innovation has happened under just such limitations. Ask any successful entrepreneur and you will almost certainly find they had to tweak some things along the way. Flexibility is crucial in running a business. This is why understanding your business is so important. You need to know what pieces you do have… so you can figure out new and exciting ways to put them together to achieve your goals.

The third similarity is this… sometimes you need a little help.

I have a bit more experience in building with Legos than Mason does (at least 40 years… give or take). So I am less likely to get stuck, and frustrated when things don’t go according to plan. He is still at the age where structural engineering skills are being learned. Case in point, the train that was far too wide to stay upright, the building that was way too tall and skinny not to break in half.Even those two pesky bricks that don’t seem to want to stay together can thwart his building projects.

These are times when Mason turns to me to lend a hand. I  ask some questions about the intent of the project, size up the dilemma, evaluate the approach and offer suggestions. I become his co-creator. Taking my lead from him I assist him to build whatever his imagination dreams up. And all is right with the world again.

There are times in running a business when it’s prudent to bring in someone with a bit more experience. To hire someone to help you figure out a better way to do something can help you out of a jam… even if that jam is how to continue growing when things appear good. Knowing when it is time to call in the cavalry can be tricky, but eventually almost all successful business owners get help. The key is to know what kind of help you really need. Knowing your business inside and out can help this.

This is something I have struggled with too. My answer was to develop the Authentic Identity and Perfect Client Profile to help me see exactly where my business was now, and who I needed to be reaching in order to grow. It was by doing that work that I determined I needed marketing help… specifically someone who understands public relations.

So, I hired Elysa Leonard of Splash Communications, a marketing expert who specialized in PR, to help me out. Maybe you’ve seen the results recently. If not, you will. This is just a part of an entire strategy I’ve built to grow my business. You can do the same. It’s all about intentional action. Sometimes you need to have someone with a fresh set of eyes and the right experience or skills to help you figure out what you need to do next.

Hopefully you will be able to spend some time unplugged from your everyday business life during the holidays. I also hope that you will get the chance to play… and maybe, just maybe, that can help you when you dive back in to build some beanstalks of your own.

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You can follow Eric @pitchforsuccess on Twitter or on Facebook at PitchforSuccess

To get information on sharing this article or having Eric speak to your group email questions@pitchforsuccess.com