5 Ways to Improve Your New Year Business Plans: Inspired by Listener Questions
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Transcript, edited for reading:
It’s that time of year! Time to make your business plans for the new year.
It’s time to assess what’s worked in your business this year and make plans to make more money, take more time off, and grow your influence in the market next year.
Now, if you’re like me, you’ll be taking time away from the inner workings of your business over the next eight weeks to make those plans. In this special episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., I’ve got five ways you can improve on your plans.
Now, that’s no matter what planning system or strategy you’re planning to use. Plus, these tips have all been inspired by listener questions.
You ready? Here we go.
The first question comes from Aerie North, who you can find at Skillshare.com/AerieNorth.
She says, “I’m never 100% sure if adding a new product or service to my business will confuse my existing clients. I’m an artist and art teacher, and as an art teacher, I know how to create in many mediums. I sell art prints and coloring books online, and I also make crochet sculptures for art galleries. I’d like to add teaching crochet sculptures in my online classroom, but I already have several different art modalities represented in my online classroom. Will adding new and different types of art classes turn off my existing students?“
This is a really great question, and it’s something that I hear from listeners and readers no matter what market they’re in. Aerie is in art and art education, but of course, I hear very similar questions from life coaches and designers and photographers, consultants, all types of businesses, and this is also a really common question at this time of the year.
Because the end of the year or even the beginning of the next poses some really special challenges for business owners, and the most insidious of those challenges is, of course, the temptation to try new things, whether that’s new products or new list-building tactics, new messages, new packages.
And… I get it…
Trying new things is fun, it’s exciting, and it could be a huge opportunity, which is exactly what Aerie is wondering about: is this a big opportunity, or is it potentially a distraction or worse? Because any time you add something new, it could be great, or it could completely dilute what’s already working.
As Mike Michalowicz says in The Pumpkin Plan, there is always a “direct correlation between diluted focus and a diluted bank account.“
That’s pretty clear, and I completely agree with Mike on this, and I’m sure that you’ve probably experienced this in the past as well. Or you might be able to look at your business right now, and say, “Oh, yeah, my diluted bank account is coming from my diluted focus,” and so we want to avoid this when we’re planning for the new year.
So the first way that you can improve your new year business plans is to double down on your positioning.
1. Double Down on Your Positioning
Now, what’s positioning? Before I get into the rest of the answer to this question, let’s talk a little bit about what I mean specifically by positioning.
Positioning is where your business sits in the market. It’s the stories that your customers tell about your business. It’s the message that you put out. It’s how you do what you do differently. It’s the price you set, it’s the packages or offers that you make, it’s how you show up in the market, and all those things come together to give you your positioning. In other words, where you sit in the market.
Now, if you’re tempted to start something new, to add to your offerings, expand your audience, take a step back. Does what you’re creating reinforce your brand? The story it tells about your customers, the value you have to offer, or does it dilute your focus?
Now, for Aerie, that means taking a look at how she wants to be positioned in the market, what she wants to be known for, how she wants her customers to talk or think about her business, and what message she wants to lead with, and then determine if those new classes will reinforce that positioning or dilute it. And the key here really is in the answers to those specific questions, and I’ll come back to that in just a minute.
But Aeries’s positioning may not be based on the particular art method she’s teaching. It might be based on the particular value she’s offering through art, or maybe it’s based on who she’s helping her customers become.
Her positioning could be based on lots of different things, not necessarily the modality or the method in which she’s teaching, and that’s so important here, because to know whether it’s a distraction or not, to know whether it’s confusing or not, to know whether it’s going to interrupt what’s already working and dilute her focus when it comes to her brand, we need to know what that specific positioning is. We need to know where it comes from and what she wants it to be, and so that here really is the key, because until she knows exactly what that positioning is, she can’t know for sure whether she’ll confuse customers with a new offering and slow the growth of her business.
So for Aerie and for everyone listening, you need to be able to answer these three questions:
First, when people talk about your business, what do you want them to say?
This question’s really important because we tend to think about positioning as something that’s sort of inherited, it’s something that is done to us, it’s a place that we are put in the market, but positioning isn’t like that.
We get to choose where we’re positioned, how we’re positioned in the market in regards both to our own business and in relation to other people’s businesses, so you get to decide what you want people to say about your business by the types of offers that you put out, by the messages that you use, by the types of marketing that you engage in, the prices that you set, all of those different pieces there tell a story that lets you position your business specifically. So you’ve got to be able to answer that question to know whether a new offer or a new tactic is going to help you or hurt you.
The second question is what’s different about what you’re offering than what others are offering?
Positioning isn’t just based on your business, it’s based on your business in relation to the rest of the market, in relation to other businesses.
Now, I know the temptation here is to kind of fall into some, you know, competition spiral, where you worry about what other people are doing, but this is really an opportunity to take control of that, to break yourself out of that competition downward spiral, and instead, really focus on what you can do to actively position your business relative to other businesses, and to do that, you do have to be paying attention.
You’ve got to look at what other people are doing so you can do things differently.
Then the third question is what story does your business tell about your customers?
What story does your business tell about your customers? A lot of times, with branding and with marketing, you’re focused on the story that you want to tell. Your story. The story of your business. Why you do what you do, how you got here, what kind of interesting things have happened in your life or your work experience that have led you to this place, but that is the least important part of the story that your business is telling.
The most important part of the story your business is telling is the story where your customers are the hero. The part where your customers are the star. So your business has to actively tell a story where your customers get to be the hero, and the clearer you are about that story, the more upfront you are about with that story, the more it affects your positioning, and the clearer your positioning becomes. So with every decision you make about the next year, make sure you’re reinforcing those answers, and then doubling down on your positioning.
Aerie, for you, that could mean that those new classes go one way or the other, but you won’t be able to figure that out until you have the answers to those three questions.
Now, our next question comes from Jody Riddick of JustJodieLeigh.com.
She asks, “How do you get the most out of mastermind?”
Now, I love this question, and it leads me to the second way you can improve your business plans for the new year, which is to get support from diverse sources.
2. Get Support From Diverse Sources
I named 2016 the Year of the Mastermind for me, and it’s proven to be an extremely helpful strategy. I have taken part in three different masterminds over the course of this year, you know, where I am a participant, and I’ve also led two different masterminds over the course of this year, where I’m working with clients in a mastermind group, and I have seen and felt the power of masterminds firsthand all year long.
I can tell you in also watching what is so powerful about masterminds that there are three ways that people most often go wrong with masterminds, and there are then three ways, of course, that you can improve on what your past experience with masterminds might have been.
So the first thing is that people seek out mastermind partners who are kind of going at the same pace they are, which might be slow to non-existent, and so the first way that you can get the most out of a mastermind is to actually…
Seek out people who are moving at a faster pace than you.
You want the people that you’re masterminding with, as a business owner, to actually push you, to challenge you, to inspire you to get a little more uncomfortable, to do things a little more outside of your comfort zone, and really use that to propel your business forward. So that might mean that you have to introduce yourself to some new people to put a really effective mastermind together. Or it might mean you need to revisit some contacts that have gone stale, because those people have been moving at a faster pace than you’ve been.
This also means that you’ve got to be willing to say no to masterminding with people who could hold you back, and I know that that is something that gives people butterflies in their stomach, it makes them feel bad, and I know, I’ve totally been there, too, but this is something that really will make or break your mastermind experience.
So as you are building a mastermind for next year, and I really, really hope that you do, do seek out people who are moving at a faster pace, who are trying new things, who are setting bigger goals than you, and I think very, very quickly, you’ll find that you’re getting more and more out of those interactions.
The second thing that people do wrong with masterminds is that they put together groups of people with very similar businesses, people who run in the same circles as they do, and of course, you can fix this one simply by…
Putting together a mastermind with people who have different types of businesses from yours, and people who run and move in different circles of influence from you.
So you guys don’t all want to have the same mentors. You don’t want to all have the same influencers. You don’t want to all be reading the same blogs or listening to the same podcasts. You want to put together a mastermind group of people who are getting information and ideas and inspiration from different sources, and you want to put together a mastermind group of people who are operating different businesses than yours. Or at the very least, operating their business very differently from yours.
The problem with putting together kind of a really homogenous mastermind group is that there’s a lot of confirmation bias that happens there, and you end up kind of doubling down on strategies that are just what you’re already doing. They’re already the things that don’t seem really to quite be working, but if instead, you know, if you’re a life coach and you mastermind with a photographer and a website designer and a B2B business consultant, you’re going to see opportunities in what they’re doing that you would have never considered as part of your kind of life coach-y business brain way of thinking.
It’s not that things in the life coach business sphere are bad or that things in the photography business sphere are bad or that things in the B2B consulting space is bad, it’s just that there is more creative ideas out there, if only you would break out of your sphere of influence and into someone else’s, and masterminds are perfect for this.
You’re going to find out what’s working in other industries, you’re going to find out what’s working in other business models, and you’re going to be able to get creative about what to do with that in your own business simply because you’re not going to be so close to that idea, so close to that tactic, so close to that strategy that you can only think in terms of what you’ve already done or what’s already worked or what you already know. So that’s the second thing that you can do to get the most out of a mastermind.
Another reason masterminds go wrong is because they’re unstructured. If you want to get more out of your mastermind group next year…
Use a structure.
Make sure there is an agenda to every meeting. Prepare for each meeting. Know what you’re going to share.
In most of my masterminds, it’s some variation on a very simple structure, and I have Jaime Masters from The Eventual Millionaire Podcast to thank for this in a couple of different forms, but in most of my mastermind groups, the structure is simply having a round-robin group share at the beginning. That can be around challenges, it can be around victories, it can be around what you accomplished over the last week productivity-wise, and then spending the rest of the time focused on one person or one issue or one goal in the group.
And simply by breaking up time like that, everyone gets heard, everyone has an opportunity to speak up, to share something, and then everyone also has the opportunity to focus on just one thing, and this really has been the difference between, again, mastermind groups that make it and mastermind groups that get broken.
So make sure you’re using a structure, and it’s going to feel a little weird at first. It’s going to feel awkward, I promise you that, so just be prepared for it. If you’re the person kind of imposing the structure on your group, it will feel strange, but that strangeness will wear off over time as people just come to know what the expectation is week in and week out, and that structure, again, will give everyone a chance to kind of relax and focus and get the most out of the mastermind group.
But above all of those things, regardless of what’s going to work for you, or you know, what you’re want to take or leave from what I just offered there, I do hope that you set a goal to create and meet with a mastermind group next year, whether that’s monthly or biweekly or weekly. Most of my groups meet weekly, and I highly recommend it. Even if not everyone can meet each, you know, week in and week out, that’s okay, but that weekly structure, it keeps the pace moving. It keeps people on topic. It means there’s less catch-up time every time you meet, and so I find that weekly frequency really, really helpful.
Our next listener question comes from Leslie at MischaLee Jewelry. She says, “How do you manage your time when there are a lot of really different business tasks that have to be done? I feel pulled in so many directions sometimes.”
Of course, the answer to this question is the third way you can improve your business planning for the new year, and that is to know your top priority at any given time.
3. Know Your Top Priority At Any Given Time
Now, one of the biggest benefits of planning ahead, whether it’s for the month, the quarter, or the year, is that it becomes easier to spot your top priorities.
These priorities will show themselves as specific goals. So if you look, at your next year’s plans or your next quarter’s plans, you’ll see some specific goals, hopefully, that you’ve set for yourself. The more specific, the easier it will be to know what’s important for you and your team to be focused on.
But underlying your specific goals, the things that are really important to you at any given time, there’s going to be three currents. Think of them as ocean currents, so no matter what direction your ship is traveling in, you’ll get influenced by the current that you are currently in. You need to take that current into account, and adjust for it as you go.
Now, the first current is bringing in revenue…
and this is maybe the current that most of us are in most of the time, and it’s also the most powerful current, because if you don’t feel like you have this taken care of, if you don’t know where the money is coming from, you really can’t focus on anything else. Most specific goals can serve this current, which is a really good thing.
If this is where you’re going to be a lot of the time, you need to know how any of your specific goals can help you bring in revenue so that you’re going in the direction that you want to be going in.
So if you’re building your list, make sure you’re making offers to new people who join your community, making money off of that specific goal of growing your audience.
If you’re aiming for a book deal, make sure you know what that advance from the publisher needs to be to keep your business running, so you know that when you sign that contract, there’s going to be an amount of money coming in that leaves you comfortable, that leaves you, again, steering that ship in the right direction.
If you’re growing your team as your specific goal, make sure that you know how each new team member will allow for new revenue to come in. So again, each time you hire, you’re not feeling like, ech, that expense of paying them every week or every month, instead, you’re saying, ooh, I get to bring in this new team member, and they’re going to bring in this many thousands of dollars to my bottom line every month. That’s a much better way to look at that, and it’s going to keep you a lot more focused.
Now, the second current is building your base or filling your pipeline…
and you can’t ever really ignore the need to know where your next lead is coming from, but sometimes, this is the biggest priority.
Maybe things have tapered off, or you know that you really need to accelerate building your audience, filling your pipeline in order to get to that next place that you want to be in your business. Now, again, if this is a need for your business right now, or you know that it will be sometime over the next three, six, or twelve months, look at how you can leverage specific goals. Maybe like a big launch, a speaking gig, or a media campaign to grow your audience and fill your pipeline. Look at the things that you want to accomplish next year, and figure out how you can use them to steer your business in this current of building your base.
The third current is optimizing internal systems.
Now, as my good friend, Natasha Vorompiova from SystemsRock.com would tell you, every business has systems. It’s just that some of us pay attention to those systems, and some of us don’t, and so at any given time, you might feel a priority in your business for focusing and paying more attention to those internal systems. Your specific goals can be used to focus on optimizing these systems. Making them work smoother, delegating more of their pieces, or codifying them as part of your operations.
So if you want to know how to manage your time, know what your priority is right now by knowing what specific goal you’re working toward and how the current you’re in is affecting how you approach that goal.
Just about any goal that you see in your plans over the next three, six, or twelve months can be leveraged within one of those three currents, so that you’re not feeling conflicted, but instead, you are moving in the direction you want to be moving in. So instead of balancing, you know, going after that book deal and bringing in money, you see how those two things can work together. Or instead of, you know, managing a big launch and having that conflict with optimizing internal systems, you can see how those two things work together.
Now, the next question, and this is a very popular one, is from Kay at The Happiness Detective. She says, “How can I improve my sales technique? I have the shop, I have the products, I’m out there promoting the best I can, but so far, only crickets.”
Now, the answer to this one, is the fourth way, of course, that you can improve your business plans for the new year, and that is to separate your marketing plans from your sales plans.
4. Separate Your Marketing Plans From Your Sales Plans
Separate your marketing plans from your sales plans. I want you to make sure that you have campaigns in place that serve two different, though related, purposes.
One, building awareness of your business and your brand, and two, converting sales.
Way too often, especially in online business circles, but this is pretty much in every business circle, I see these two objectives overlapping, and it makes each of them less effective. So if you’re overlapping building awareness with converting sales, you’re probably not building as much awareness as you’d like to be doing, and you’re probably converting sales less than you would like to be doing, and no small business owner wants to be in that situation.
We want to know that our base, our audience is growing all the time at a pace that’s going to allow us to grow our revenue, too, and of course, we want to know that the sales are coming in. We want to know when they’re coming in, and so this is kind of a, maybe a counterintuitive against trend recommendation, but based on what I see going on in the small business marketplace right now, I want to encourage you to, on some level, separate your marketing plans from your sales plans, and that means that you are focused on, you know, whatever blog post is going out, whatever podcast episode is going out, whatever emails you’re sending, whatever list-building campaigns you’re engaged in, you know what the main goal is.
Is the goal of this tactic or strategy to build awareness about your brand? To grow your base? To build your audience? Or is it to convert people who know about you into buyers? Which is it?
Now, I’m not going to say across the board that campaigns can’t do both, but if you find yourself struggling in this area, I think this is one of the most effective things that you can do, and I think that that’s where most of our listeners find themselves in, and even if you’re finding that you are marketing well and you are selling well, I think that drawing attention to this and looking at these two different opportunities can help you do even better with that as well.
Any time you are marketing and selling, or promoting as Kay said, for your business, make sure that you know whether you are focused on building your audience or converting your audience into buyers.
Now, the biggest opportunity here is really to give other people an opportunity and a reason to say yes right now whenever you’re looking for sales. It’s really hard to do that when you’re focused on building your audience. Building your audience gets people excited, it gets people engaged, it gets people sharing, it gets people commenting, liking, opening emails, clicking on things, right? But it doesn’t generally get people buying.
The kind of mechanisms at play there are pretty different.
When you want to shift gears and focus on sales, when you want to get people to buy, you really have to be focused on giving people a reason to say yes right now, and so that means first and foremost giving them a clear call to action.
You’re not just posting pictures of the work that you create, you’re not just talking about the service that you offer, but you’re actually asking them to buy. You’re asking them to set up an initial consultation. You’re asking them to register now for a workshop. Make that call to action really, really clear, and then back that call to action up with natural urgency.
Natural urgency is simply the answer to why buying now is more important to your customers, or potential customers, than putting off, and why it’s important now has to do with them. It’s a situation that’s happening in their life. It’s a way that they feel. It’s a goal that they’re working toward. It’s a problem that they keep bumping into. An obstacle that they can’t overcome. So think about what that is. Be as specific as possible, create that call to action, then back it up with that piece of natural urgency. If you can do that, and at the same time, separate out those things that are just there to build awareness, just there to build your audience, I think you’re going to get a much better return on your time and your energy when it comes to sales.
Now, the final way that you can improve on your plans for next year is inspired by my friend Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin from The Gaia Project for Women’s Leadership.
She says, “Talk to me about how to handle the emotional transition from solo to CEO. Releasing task responsibility, delegating without fear has been my challenge for about the last six months,” and I know a lot of our listeners are in a very similar position here.
So the fifth and final way that you can improve on your business plans for the next year is to make a plan to step back while letting your business grow.
5. Make a Plan to Step Back While Letting Your Business Grow
Now, a lot of people are going to put delegation and team-building on their new year business plans, but it’s not enough to just hire people to ease your workload. As my friend, Peter Lang, from the Uhuru Network marketing agency, told me in regards to myself and my own business, you have to offload responsibility, too.
This is where so many small business owners go wrong, myself included, from time to time.
Now, when I say responsibility, I don’t mean the responsibility for whether a task has been done properly. Whether the blog post gets uploaded, whether Facebook posts go out on time, whether the customer service emails get answered, etc. What I mean is responsibility for important indicators in the business, important metrics, the things that really make our businesses tick.
In other words, if you’re really looking to step into your CEO role and give yourself some space in your business, you need to be able to say, “I have a marketing person who does more than post to social media and plan my email marketing. They’re in charge of making sure my subscriber count goes up month by month. They’re also in charge of insuring our conversion rates during launches maintain a certain benchmark.”
Or maybe for your business, you need to be able to say, “I have a customer service manager who isn’t just in charge of answering email. She also looks for ways to improve our net promoter score and owns our customer retention efforts.”
See the difference there? It’s not just about the individual tasks that need to get done, getting individual activities off of your plate as you delegate. It’s also about delegating a higher level of responsibility. Responsibility for something that is key to the way the business runs.
In the first example, it was about conversion rates and subscriber counts. In the second example, it was about net promotor score and customer retention.
Now, when you plan for that type of team management, you’re not just offloading tasks. You’re not allowing yourself to continue to be the bottleneck for decision-making and strategy.
You’re actually creating a team that knows how to create value for your organization, and they actually have the space and capability and responsibility to do that, even without your direction. That then allows you to step back and still watch your business grow. And so to that end, for next year, don’t just plan to make changes in your team. Don’t just plan to add new team members or delegate tasks that should have been delegated a long time ago.
I also want you to plan for time off. Plan for time off such that your business continues to grow. Plan for time off in your quarterly or annual plans, and don’t allow yourself to make this time that the whole business is taking off.
This isn’t just time that you can afford to step away because the business doesn’t need to grow during that time. Make this time that the company is growing without you, and if you can delegate that level of responsibility, if you can assign that level of responsibility and let people take charge of those important indicators, those important metrics for your business, the important strategy-level decisions, you’re going to be able to do just that.
So again, let’s go over those five ways that you can improve on your business plans for next year so that you can get the most out of what is a beautiful new opportunity, which is starting fresh, whether that’s in January or April or July or September. You can start over again with your business at any time of the year.
The first way you can improve on your plans is to double down on your positioning, making sure that every decision you make for your business reinforces the story that you want to tell about your business and its relationship to the rest of the market.
The second way you can improve on your plans is to get support from diverse sources. Put together a mastermind group. Seek out people who are moving at the same or faster pace to you. Seek out people who have different types of businesses, and use a structure to make sure that those meetings are as productive as possible.
The third way you can improve on your plans for next year is to know your top priority at any given time. Know both what your specific goal is for any week, month, quarter, or for the year, and at the same time, pay attention to the current of your business. Do you need to bring in revenue? Do you need to build your base? Do you need to optimize your internal systems? And allow your specific goal to become leverage for getting those things done as well.
Fourth, separate your marketing plans from your sales plans, and in doing so, make sure that when you are actually selling, you’re making a clear call to action, and you’re giving people a good reason, an urgent reason to say, “Yes,” right now.
And finally, make a plan to step back and let your business grow. So as you’re looking at opportunities to build your team in your business plans for the next year, use it also as an opportunity to give people responsibility over important indicators and metrics in your business, so that you really can step away and continue to see the business grow without you.
Want me to answer your busines question in an upcoming epside? Leave a comment here or–better yet–use your phone or computer to record yourself asking your question (plus who you are, what you do, and where we can find you online) and email the file to email@example.com.
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