Tool Kit

5 Components of an Unforgettable Elevator Pitch

Author Aimee Dunne Published October 17, 2018
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Thanks to Shark Tank and Kickstarter, we’re all familiar with the “elevator pitch.” But did you know that this startup tool can be just as helpful in building your network and personal brand?

 

Elevator Pitch

 

The goal of any good elevator pitch is to get the next conversation. An effective pitch must give enough information to generate interest while also being concise enough to remember. There are five components to an unforgettable personal pitch, all of which come together to make you stand out.

 

Here are the five elements that will make you unforgettable:

 

1. Your intro. Introduce yourself, and highlight a few things the person should know about you. Depending on the circumstance and your goal, this might be your title, your education or a project you’re working on.

 

2. Your skills. People can only remember two to three things, so mention a few skills that you’ve developed in your current position or hope to use in the future. What are you best at?

 

3. Your benefit. This is the “So what?” part of your pitch. People understand benefits, especially when something benefits them. Be able to translate the skills you describe in terms of how they make a difference to organizations and people.

 

4. Your goal. Especially when you are pitching as an individual, people can connect best when they understand where you’re going. Be able to speak to your near-term goals, such as reaching a fundraising goal or getting your product on shelves.

 

5. Your ask. If you’ve gotten this far, don’t miss the opportunity to let people know how they can help you. This isn’t the time to ask for a big introduction, but be able to mention the types of people you’d like to meet, organizations you’d like to get involved with, or things you know you need to learn. If all else fails, asking a question like “What are you reading?” will show your interest and help you learn something new.

 

Of course, you will never meet someone, shake their hand and say, “Hold it right there while I give you my pitch!” but knowing what you want to say, and being able to say it in a clear and concise manner, makes all the difference in networking. Your goal is to tell your story in a way that is brief enough to illustrate who you are and where you’re going. Being memorable allows those in your network to connect you to the resources you need to be successful.

 

Looking to connect with your fellow female entrepreneurs? Consider becoming a Brazen Member. 

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Tool Kit

How Do You Build Your Network?

Author Aimee Dunne Published September 26, 2018
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As an entrepreneur, you’ve heard about the importance of networking. Whether you’re finding your way in a new community, looking for volunteer opportunities or mapping your growth path, building your network will be instrumental. But how do you actually do it?

 

The short answer – a lot of coffee. But how you get to that coffee meeting and what you say when you’re there can make the difference between building a strong network and wasting a lot of time and $5 lattes. There are two outdated misconceptions that stop people from networking – the ick factor and the perfectionist’s dilemma.

 

Networking for Entrepreneurs

 

The ick factor 

For too long, networking has been associated with building your client list and collecting business cards. While this is still important in some fields, networking has become much less formal and… icky. Think of networking as an opportunity to talk about what is important to you, connect with others who share your interests and learn something you don’t know. Yes, you’re looking for something (an ally, a volunteer, a mentor, a client) but so are they, and you might as well do it together.

 

 

“Your best networking happens when you’re not talking.”

 

The perfectionist’s dilemma. 

There is no need to perfect your pitch before you start networking. If you try to wordsmith each sentence, you’ll just come out sounding like a robot, which is never a good thing. Instead, have a few main points about yourself in mind, set a goal for the event or interaction, and just talk. Networking is an excellent way to get feedback on your idea, growth path, even the story you’re telling. No robots allowed!

 

As you think about networking, you may realize you’re doing it already – when introducing yourself at the start of a meeting, at a conference, chatting with your neighbor and yes, at a networking event. Here are a few tips to make sure you’re doing it well:

 

– Give context. Help someone understand why you’re there (“I’m really interested in the program on technology and education”) and what your goal is (“I hope to form a board of advisors soon”).

 

– Ask questions. It is true that your best networking happens when you’re not talking. Ask about someone’s career path, what they love about their job, what they’re looking forward to in the coming year – and just learn.

 

– Be confident, but not arrogant. We know the difference, right? Be confident in your skills and in delivering your message, but watch the namedropping and other things that might make it seem like you don’t need anything at all.

 

– Know what you need. Building on the tip above, you should be asking for something. Not a million dollars for your business or a big introduction – those might come later. But have in mind something you’d like to learn, an organization you’d like to get involved in, or the types of people you’d like to meet.

 

– Passion and authenticity trumps all else. If you forget your pitch and everything you’ve practiced goes right out of your head, just be you. Most people respond to authenticity and passion, so talking about your interests and asking questions is always a good thing. You’ll do better the next time!

 

Networking allows you to tell your story in a way that connects you with others so that you can find the resources you need to move forward. No matter your goal, a good story will help you be remembered. So work on the details, hone the pitch, and consider the ask, but overall, tell your story.

 

Looking to connect with your fellow female entrepreneurs? Consider becoming a Brazen Member. 

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Tool Kit

Do You Know Your Business Superpower?

Author Parissa Behnia Published September 12, 2018
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What’s your superpower? What’s the magic that you bring to the table that makes your customers come back again and again?

 

It turns out that your business superpower is your value proposition. For definitional purposes, let’s establish what is and isn’t your Superpower.

 

What Is Your Business Super Power?

 

YOUR SUPERPOWER IS:

The connective tissue of your business. Your value proposition plays a key strategic role in the life and health of your business.

 

Your strategy’s GPS. I like to use Google Maps because I know it tells me the most efficient route to my destination. If traffic should change mid-route, it gives me a heads up and the choice to course correct based on what it sees in the environment. Similarly, your value proposition always tells you the best, most efficient route to achieve your business objectives.

 

Your backbone. There’s an expression that goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Your value proposition helps your business stand firmly in its power.

 

YOUR SUPERPOWER IS NOT:

Your elevator pitch. Nope, it’s not. But, you can wordsmith your value proposition to be your elevator pitch. I do it and so do many others.

 

Your brand nor your brand essence. This would be like mixing apples and oranges. Your value proposition infuses the brand but it is not the same as the brand.

 

Your sales and marketing messaging. Your value proposition lives at a broader, more strategic level of your business whereas sales and marketing are more execution oriented. If you were to mix them or equate them, you would miss the forest for the trees.

 

HOW DO I WRITE ONE?

This is all well and good, you might be thinking. But, what are the ingredients of a value proposition such that it really is that Superpower? It has four:

 

– A keen understanding of your customer(s). A crystal clear picture of your customer segment(s) is a great first step in creating a solid value proposition that you can have for the long haul.

 

– A solid grasp of their pains. This is hyper critical. Some pains are headaches and yet others are migraines. People have more emotional attachment and willingness to solve the migraines and not the headaches. Make certain that what you have diagnosed is the migraine.

 

– A core solution that is the reliever of the pains. Baby aspirin won’t fix a migraine. Make sure you’ve developed the right painkiller for that migraine.

 

– A solid belief in how you are the best choice. This is about knowing your competition and knowing what and how your offering is superior to theirs.

 

AND, WHY DOES IT MATTER SO?

And, companies who have a solid lock on their value proposition tend to stick around for the long haul. Why is this so? Well, your Superpower infuses and influences every single part of your business model as depicted in this image. It’s why I call it the connective tissue and the spine of your business.

 

Parissa Behnia

 

Companies that execute their business strategies in alignment with their Superpower are everywhere. Target, Apple, Costco, Amazon and Toms are good examples. There are any number of other good examples that you can think of, too.

 

And, yes, there are really good examples of companies that suffer because they don’t live up to their Superpower potential or maybe their Superpower is weak or missing. Sears is one such example and Uber is another.

 

HOW DO I KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR?

There are some easy to spot symptoms of a missing or a weak Superpower. A company typically needs to shore up, fix or redevelop a Superpower if it is experiencing the following :

 

– Flat or lower revenues

– Fewer sales leads

– Qualifying the wrong sales leads

– Can’t close sales

– Customers aren’t coming back

– Stiffer competition

– Tepid investor interest

– Low employee morale

– Rising costs

– Poor margins / profits

– Shopping cart abandon

– Higher site bounce rate

– Poor brand reputation

– And many others

 

A word to the wise: there may be a temptation to treat a symptom as the main business problem only. Do yourself (and your business) a favor by resisting that urge and doing the work to discover the root cause of the symptom – typically a missing or weak Superpower.

 

HOW LONG DOES THIS TAKE?

Some of you may be wondering how long it may take to draft a Superpower statement that really does a great job of including those four ingredients highlighted above. It may take a few times to arrive at one that really knocks it out of the park not only in terms of how factual it is but also how authentic it may feel for you.

 

In other words, it’s an agile and iterative process not unlike how you may have adopted agile and iterative methods to build and grow your business. Take your time to make it right for you, your business and your customer.

 

CEOs of funded startups and growth stage companies use Parissa as their secret strategic weapon when they are ready to accomplish some pretty heady goals: new customers, beating back the competition, better customer retention, etc. They are often at a strategic crossroads and are tired of running their businesses with a series of individual plays as opposed to a gameplan. Parissa offers strategy coaching and consulting services and work side by side to help them set and conquer goals to drive to their definition of success.

 

Looking for more expert resources? Check out Brazen Power Hours.

Brazen Power Hours

Tool Kit

Five Tips to Choose SMART Marketing Strategies

Author Published September 5, 2018
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Sharell Weeams is a marketing coach and Founding Committee Member with Brazen DFW. Through her business, Sharell Weeams Coaching, she helps small business owners, like coaches, consultants and service professionals, get big business marketing results—without hustling 80+ hours to do it—by using SMART marketing strategies.

 

Sharell Weeams Coaching

 

Let’s face it, one of the hardest parts of launching and scaling a small business is the balancing act between finding time to market your business and actually completing client work.

 

Since current clients SHOULD always come first—plus that’s your zone of genius (not marketing)—marketing always tends to fall by the wayside.

 

Honestly, the same happens to us “professional marketers.” We’re often so busy taking care of clients that we neglect our own businesses. (I’m guilty as charged. Can you relate?)

 

It’s critical to implement SMART marketing strategies to get the most bang out of your buck and time.

 

SYSTEM

The key to CONSISTENTLY attracting new leads and clients is having a systematic, step-by-step marketing process to follow.

 

Without it, you’ll find yourself either not doing anything or trying to do everything, both of which tend to lead to the same result—NOT MUCH!

 

The key here is to make a conscious choice and decide which marketing activities will get the most leverage for your business and then map out the exact steps you need to take to achieve your desired result.

 

MEASURE

This is an often-overlooked part of the marketing process. The only way to effectively market your business is to have a way to measure your progress and track your results. It’s impossible to know if what you are doing is working or not, or to be able to identify the areas that need improvement, if you aren’t measuring your results.

 

Your marketing process is simply a series of steps that lead people to a desired result that you want them to take. This is called a marketing funnel. And almost every step in the marketing funnel can be measured.

 

Understanding your desired result for each step and how to measure it is necessary in order to truly scale your marketing efforts.

 

ACTION

Every piece of marketing that you do should have a direct “call to action” that leads potential clients to a clear next step you want them to take.

 

This is the key difference between what most people do (just throwing content out, hoping that someone catches it) and what effective marketers do (consciously directing your audience and leading them through each step of your marketing funnel).

 

With each piece of content you create, always begin with the end in mind. Shape your content based on the end game—the desired action that you want people to take … whether it’s to open an email, click on a link, schedule a phone call, view a sales page, purchase an offer, etc.

 

REPEAT

There are certain tasks that you will do in your business that are constantly repeated—either throughout your marketing, sales or client onboarding processes.

 

Most tasks that are consistently repeated and completed manually can be automated. For instance, you can automate marketing emails, new client onboarding communications and scheduling sales conversations.

 

Automate as much of your business as possible to free your time to work ON your business and not IN your business.

 

TRANSFORM

This step saves small business owners the most time and money. It allows you to truly “get it all done.” And it’s one of the most important factors to consider when deciding which marketing strategies to implement.

 

You want to implement strategies that you can transform and repurpose, so you get the most leverage out of your efforts.

 

You should be able to transform your marketing content into different delivery models (i.e. turning a live webinar into an automated webinar, into an offline speaking presentation and then into an e-book).

 

You should also be able to transform your marketing content to be used on different platforms (i.e. turning a Facebook live into a YouTube video, then turning the YouTube video into a Vlog on your website, and then turning the Vlog into a written blog post).

 

And finally, you should be able to deliver your content to many people at one time (i.e. broadcasting a webinar, podcast or livestream interview, or speaking at a small or large in-person event).

 

SMART marketing strategies allow you to gain more time, freedom, leads and clients without having to do extra work. It also allows you to grow your list, market your business and build your community … all at the same time!

 

 

Sharell Weeams is on a mission to show you that you can have all the leads, clients and income you want—without limits.

 

She ditched a cushy corporate job to start her own business in 2013 and soon found herself steamrolled by the never-ending to-do list as a “solopreneur.” But instead of cracking under the pressure of a growing business, she decided to create innovative systems and structures, truly eliminating the road blocks, bottlenecks and full-on breakdowns that so many service providers face.

 

From her 12 years of in-the-field marketing experience to the astonishing $100 million in revenue she’s made for her clients, she’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that when your faith is big enough, you are truly limitless.

 

To learn more about how to implement SMART marketing strategies in your business, register for Sharell’s “Fill Your Calendar” masterclass here: http://bit.ly/fillyourcalendarmasterclass.

 

Looking for more expert resources? Check out Brazen Power Hours.

Brazen Power Hours

 

 

Tool Kit

How to Tell An Origin Story That Serves You and Your Business

Author Hillary Rea Published August 29, 2018
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When running your own company and representing your own brand, it’s important to tell a story. And so often the story told is too general or isn’t rooted in true experiences. These stories lack structure and aren’t actually about the person running the show. (Hint: That person is you.)

 

Before you can jump into a brand story or a customer story, it’s necessary for you to find a story that answers the question: How did you get to where you are now?

 

This is an Origin Story.

 

Hillary Rea Brazen

 

In the world of comic books, this phrase is used time and time again to let the reader know how a particular character (a superhero) gained their super powers. It’s a hero’s journey where the listener can learn about all of the obstacles and adventures that happened along the way.

 

Despite the “How To” in the title of this article, there is no template for telling a great story. The good news: Beyond it needing a beginning, middle, and end, great stories take all shapes and forms. Stories can be physical, bizarre, visceral, uncomfortable, long, grounded, and hilarious. Give yourself permission to tell it however you want to tell it, so long as you are speaking your truth.

 

Hillary Rea Origin Story

Photo by Joanna Nowak

 

Here are some tips for finding and sharing the life experiences that have impacted you personally and professionally.

 

Dare to share. There’s a natural inclination to separate the personal and professional. Don’t be afraid to share the parts of yourself that go beyond the blazer. Recently, when working with a client on the Origin Story of her consulting business, she shared that she spent a year living in a convent and a year in beauty school. Both of these things came up casually in tangential conversations. However, when we explored the stories that went along with those life experiences, they ended up playing a huge role in how she got to where she is now. The more we can communicate the full, 360 degree version of ourselves, the more our audience will be able to connect.

 

This is not your entire life story. Your Origin Story is not every moment of every day from the moment you were born until now. Find the small moments that transform into big stories. Think back to a time when everything started to make sense for you. Or a moment where everything went horribly wrong and it forced you to set off on a new path. The stories that stick with us are usually the best ones to share.

 

Work backwards. If you are feeling overwhelmed while brainstorming your Origin Story, break the story prompt into two parts: Where are you now? How did you get there? You might have more than one answer to each of these questions. That’s OK. Think of it as Choose Your Own Adventure. You might have two different stories that take you to the same ending. Play with both and find the one that resonates with you the most.

 

Showcase your Superpowers. It’s easy to doubt our stories and downplay our accomplishments. There is the worry that if we share too much of ourselves, including what we’ve achieved, we run the risk of sounding like we are bragging. In an Origin Story, our superpowers usually arise from action or conflict (whether internal or external). If you bring your audience along for the ride and share both the positive and negative moments that led you to your great feats, then the risk of judgement and assumption dissipates. Storytelling is a path to understanding.  

 

Have fun. Tell the stories that you want to tell. If you find you are answering the story prompt in ways that make you feel less than or nervous to share your story, then continue the search. You should never tell a story that you aren’t proud of. There might be real life moments within the story that you aren’t proud of, but usually we tell those stories because we love who we are when the story ends. You can also have fun by playing with your story structure and digging in to the humor of everyday life.

 

Be the main character of your story. Brené Brown says, “When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling.” Your business’ story begins with you. If you are in business with other people, each person should have their own Origin Story. This will only strengthen the mission, vision, and values of your whole company.  

 

Hillary is the founder of Tell Me A Story, a company that supports you and your stories through artistic guidance and educational practice. She is also the producer and host of the narrative storytelling podcast Rashomon

 

Looking for more expert resources? Check out Brazen Power Hours.

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Tool Kit

Making the Most of LinkedIn as a Marketing Resource

Author Brazen Global Published August 15, 2018
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It’s no secret that social media should be a vital part of your marketing strategy, but while Facebook, Instagram and Twitter seem to reign supreme, you may be overlooking what LinkedIn can do for your business. Sure, it’s a great place to look for a job, but LinkedIn also offers the opportunity for you to make the most of your personal network and take advantage of your connections for the benefit of your business. As an entrepreneur and business owner, it’s also an excellent platform to establish your own thought leadership.

 

LinkedIn Marketing Image

 

In this post, we’ve rounded up the LinkedIn basics and best practices. And before you continue reading, be sure to follow the Brazen Global LinkedIn page to see these recommendations in action.

 

Status Updates

LinkedIn status updates are for short content (maximum character count for updates is 600, but the ideal length of an update is only 100 characters). Status updates are broadcast to your personal network. If someone in your network likes your update, your status update is then shared with their network as well. The more likes you get, the more eyeballs on your update.

 

So how do you write a status update that gets lots of likes? It’s all about engagement! Here are some suggestions on how to engage your readers:

 

Directly mention and tag people (use the @symbol to do this)

Include rich media such as photos and/or videos in addition to text

Ask for responses and feedback in your status update

Add hashtags to topic tag your posts

Add commentary to your post to engage viewers and start conversations

 

As you craft your status update, is important to remember that LinkedIn is a professional network. Take advantage of it but don’t abuse it. Here are some things to avoid:

 

Getting too personal

Being spammy / posting too often

Talking about sensitive or controversial topics

Being too commercial – this is not the place to constantly pitch

Posting outside of work hours (generally, the best time to post are the working hours of your industry)

 

Hashtags can also be helpful for driving engagement on your status update. Consider three categories of hashtag to increase your update’s visibility – hashtags related to the topic at hand, hashtags related to your industry and hashtags related to your company’s brand. Using a mix of these hashtags will help your post be seen by people outside of your network, but with similar interests.

 

Long Form Article

 If you have something more to say than will fit in a status update, consider publishing a long form article. Publishing an article allows you to further establish your professional identity by expressing your opinions and sharing your experiences. Articles are likely to get higher engagement because your connections will often get a dedicated notification alerting them to the publication of your article.

 

What happens when you publish a long form article on LinkedIn?

 

Your original content becomes part of your professional profile. It is displayed on the “Articles” section of your LinkedIn profile.

It’s shared with your connections and followers in their news feeds, and sometimes through notifications.

Members that aren’t in your network can follow you from your article, so that your next article will be surfaced in their feeds.

 

Your article may be searchable both on and off LinkedIn, depending on your profile settings. Having your public profile visibility set to “everyone” will distribute your articles publicly.

 

Because articles are more often shared, followed, and searched than status updates, there are many benefits to publishing on LinkedIn. First, you’re sharing with your target audience. Considering the majority of your connections are like-minded professionals, it’s easy select topics that will resonate. This type of shared interest provides an opportunity to create a two-way dialogue where everyone is sharing their expertise and strengthening their relationships. You also get those eyeballs because every post you write and publish prompts a notification for your connections. Lastly, articles can increase your following. If your connections like your content enough to like it or share it, that can open doors to a whole new audience. And if your connection’s network sees your posts and finds value, there’s a chance they will follow you to keep up with your contributions.

 

If you are interested in publishing long form articles on LinkedIn, check out these 4 easy steps to get started.  Don’t forget to check out LinkedIn’s Publishing Platform Guidelines to make sure your article follows the guidelines in place on LinkedIn. Most importantly, make sure you have the right to any content you publish and that you’re not using any infringed content.

 

As you look to grow your business through social media, don’t neglect LinkedIn. This powerful network could be just what you need to break through with fellow professionals.

 

Looking for more marketing resources? Check out the events on the Brazen calendar. 

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Tool Kit

Data Collection — No Longer Legally Creepy

Author Sarah Abboreno Corbin Published June 11, 2018
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For the past year, as part of counseling my clients on best social media practice, I have been asking them to install and use Facebook’s Pixel. In my social media advertising presentations I have described this as an “adorable” little Facebook code that allows the brand or business to track and store each FB user who clicks through to their website. FB uses the code installed on that website to store the exact FB user ID’s so that when a brand or business creates FB advertising they can create a re-targeted campaign to those exact consumers. When a pixel audience is large enough, businesses can even use those demographics to create look-a like audiences and generally get a deeper understanding of who their average consumer is.

 

Sara Corbin Quote

 

Before this Spring and the data scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, many of my small business clients were surprised that we could harness this type of data through social media platforms. The fact that each FB user who visited a website deposited a bit of their personal information and their exact user ID, it just wasn’t something that most individuals had thought through personally.

 

Other website based data companies have done just this same thing for years. Cookie technology has been boosting brands’ advertising success since 1994 and Netscape. Website shopping cart technology has improved enough that companies can now not only send emails to remind a customer they left an item behind in their cart, but that same customer can get a pop up ad across their computer screen, or even a text letting them know the same.

 

Data harnessing and harvesting was not a new concept for these small business owners. But, they just hadn’t formulated what that meant for their own personal social media accounts.

 

As a marketing professional I get a bit geeky about the amount of information you can grab. I love the idea of digging deep and finding that niche customer so you can save a few dollars and target your marketing outreach appropriately. Generally though, users have had the impression that social media accounts are a kind of extension of a personal telephone call or friendly address book of friends and neighbors. Because social media is fairly new and something we’ve grown into culturally, users generally have overlooked the implication that as a digital platform, the data collection users were familiar with through their web browsing habits, existed in their personal social media accounts.

 

So, as I began counseling small businesses to use and install that bit of code to help them track and save some advertising dollars, many of them cringed. More than one of my clients said, “Well isn’t that kind of creepy?” And the answer, even just a few months ago was, “Well it certainly can be.” In terms of data collection, websites and businesses were allowed to “sneak off” with consumer information. Creepy.

 

Thanks to the European Union and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) privacy statements and notifications are now required to remove the “creep” factor out of all of that data collection. Brands or corporations are no longer allowed to collect data unless they disclose it. When small businesses gobble up those great breadcrumbs consumers leave behind for the purposes of a re-targeting campaign that action has to be disclosed right up front before they snag a consumer’s data. A cookie can no longer be a secret.

 

We can argue that it never should have been a secret. Most small businesses with integrity would have been more up front about that data collection, but just didn’t have the right language to say so. In addition, a small business who might have been one of a few to disclose digital data collection, had the burden of global education on their shoulders.

 

Now, its all been done.

 

The GDPR requires more from us globally. The EU has provided some examples of disclosure statements and even provided code anyone can install to offer a privacy statement popup. Due to the regulation and threat of possible fines businesses and global corporations are following through and this disclosure is common practice. Finally, education about data collection is no longer an individual burden.

 

Data harvesting is no longer creepy, thankfully. It might still give some consumers the creeps, but at least, everyone is required to be more transparent.

 

Need quick access to GDPR cookie policy, language and FB policies and practices? Here you go:

 

Facebook : Use Facebook Pixel

Facebook: Cookies Policy

Facebook: Data Policy

European Commission: Information Providers Guide

European Commission: Cookies Guide

Facebook for Developers: Consent and Your Site Visitors

 

 

Sarah Abboreno Corbin is the founder of Free Fly Marketing and recently spoke at the Brazen Chicago Roundtable, Social & Successful – Best Practices for Social Media. This was piece was re-posted from Medium, with the author’s permission.

 

Tool Kit

Market Research on a Budget

Author Jennifer Ehlen Published May 15, 2018
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We’ve previously debunked all of the reasons you are telling yourself that you don’t have the time or money to embark on market research. Consider a few budget-friendly market research methods that you CAN and SHOULD use to define and validate your target market. 

 

These are primary research tactics to validate that you are pursuing the appropriate market, and with a product or service that effectively addresses the pain point that you are trying to solve. These suggestions are not methodologies to define the size of your total or addressable market. 

 

Even if it feels like everyone is telling you to go from idea to  launch in 24 hours, consider completing these strategies prior to your public launch (even public beta). It’s OK to take some time as long as you are making the best of it. Doing research  will help you in the long run. So instead of a startup weekend, you might have a startup month or two. It’s ok. The entrepreneurial ecosystem Gods won’t judge you. Well, not too much anyway. 

 

1)  Electronic surveys – With numerous free-to-inexpensive online survey tools available, you could foreseeably generate some cheap initial market research in a matter of minutes. Check out SurveyMonkey, Pollfish, and even Twitter Surveys are excellent tools for gathering qualitative feedback in volume on your product, as well as valuable quantitative data on actual propensity to use it and whether they will pay. Our opinion is that the best surveys are no more than 10 questions long and take less than 5 minutes to fill out. As you attempt to identify your best customer market, you could send the same survey out to three targeted industry groups and require participants to self-identify. The comparison data between the groups and which ones need your offerings the most and/or are willing to pay the highest price for your product or service will be extremely interesting to you and potential investors.

 

2)  Focus groups – Because of the amount of time and resources required to successfully host a focus group, you are not going to obtain large quantities of data here. However, if facilitated correctly, and with the right constituents, the organic, verbal feedback you receive could be invaluable. Think about a focus group this way: even small information sessions can serve as informal focus groups and provide valuable insights. Discussions at an event, exit surveys, and follow-up questions can all give you the same information that a formal focus group might provide.

 

3)  Industry conferences / personal interviews – It’s time to speak to as many industry professionals as you can to determine if there is true demand for your product outside of your personal connections in the space. So how do you find these professionals, aside from purchasing an expensive list?  Pack your bags and head to some trade shows. Better yet, head to a few trade shows in a few different industries. No travel budget you say?  You may find that there are some local professional chapters with monthly meetings that you could attend.

 

This is a great primary market research technique – it is essentially the equivalent of a survey + focus group in one. Load a tablet with a demo of your product, prepare a 30-second elevator speech, and memorize  four questions you want to ask each person you meet.  Bring college interns with you and walk up and down the aisles pitching to attendees and asking questions. Then document their answers, one by one. If you are lucky, you could speak to more than 100 professionals in one day. That’s real market research to bring back to your product team, your sales team, your future customers and your investors. 

 

Hopefully these few ideas help you to brainstorm even more ways to gather market research on a bootstrap budget. A couple of additional tips to remember as you embark on this worthwhile endeavor

 

The quality of your results will only be as good as the quality of the tool used to gather it. If you ask the wrong questions, you could steer your company in the wrong direction based on the results.

 

Be selective in who you invite to participate in your market research. Your initial customers may be friends, family, and close connections. They are only piloting your product because they love you. Not because their company actually needs your product. If you want valid market find professionals outside of your network to participate.

 

Next steps? Put a plan together to embark on a few strategies to gather market research over the next 3-4 weeks. Resist the urge to steer your company toward the next shiny ball. Ask the hard questions. And then listen to the answers.  You may find that your product is beyond perfection and your initial hunch at a target market was spot on. Or you might not. No matter what you find, you will feel more confident taking next steps to grow your business.

Tool Kit

5 Tips to Create a Solid Financial Foundation for Your New Business

Author Kristin Thompson Published April 17, 2018
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When making the transition from working for someone else to working for yourself, the things that may get overlooked the most are the details, particularly the details needed to ensure the financial stability of your business moving forward. You want to make sure you have a strong financial foundation from the start. With that in mind, here are some ideas and mistakes to avoid as your business gets off the ground. At the end of the day, these items should not deter you from going out on your own or have an impact your skill set. Remember, only you can make your business thrive.

Kristin Thompson, Certified Financial Planner with Renaissance Financial

 

Define your business

Your business will soon start to generate revenue. However, it is important to remember that your business creating revenue is different than you, the individual, making money. Therefore, you will need to define your business structure and name. The options for this include Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), S Corp, and C Corp. When making this choice, you need to consider the following:

 

— How many people are involved in the business? – Only you? You and your spouse? A Partner? Investors?

— Based on your revenue, which structure will be the most efficient for taxes? – Do you sell products or services? Depending on the accounting and tax method you use, there could be a preferred business structure.

— What structure will easily lend itself to company growth / expansion? – Namely adding partners, a board, employees, things to be discussed further later.

 

You can set up your business by filing out the necessary forms and paying a fee.

 

Keep it separate

Once your business is set up, business and personal transactions need to stay separate. To accomplish this, you will need a business bank account to hold all business revenue received. It will also help to maintain all receipts from business expenses and keep them separate from the receipts you receive for personal items. For instance, whenever you make a Target run you will need to have the clerk ring you out twice: once for office supplies and a second time for the household toiletries you just bought.

 

Know when to hire help

When is the right time to hire an accountant or CPA? If your income is W2, services like Credit Karma or Turbo Tax can easily help you manage your affairs. When you have both W2 and 1099 income, or only 1099 income, it could be helpful to hire an accountant or CPA for the following reasons:

 

— This individual can run comparisons on the deductions and expenses that will be better for you to take.

— This individual will have a superior knowledge of the tax code (even changes) as well as what write offs you can and cannot take.

— This individual can sign off on your return

 

You’re making a profit and the IRS knows

It is common for a business to not make a profit in the beginning. Even if cash flow is positive, based on the expenses in the first few years, it’s possible that net income is 0. However, as your business begins to make money, you will want to begin taking extra deductions (and you’ll want to save this money). W2 employees should be familiar with a 401/403b, which are both retirement plans offered by the employer where the employee can put money away pre-tax. Under these plans, the employee receives a tax deduction today while the money is invested, and grows tax deferred. As a business owner, you may be able to set up a similarly functioning account using the following options:

 

— SIMPLIFIED EMPLOYEE PENSION (SEP IRA)

— SAVINGS INCENTIVE MATCH PLAN for EMPLOYEES (SIMPLE IRA)

— Solo K

 

As with other decisions, the best strategy depends on business structure, accounting and tax method, and goals for company growth. Conversation with an accountant and financial advisor can help guide this decision.

 

Cautiously and cost effectively grow the team

As your business starts taking off, be aware of how to most efficiently use your time. No one can do what you do for your business, but someone else can do the paperwork, or manage your calendar, or order supplies. As your company grows, the team working for you will naturally need to grow as well. Be sure you know when to make this choice. Additionally, as you bring on more individuals, you will probably want to ensure that your company is a competitive employer in the marketplace, which means offering insurance benefits and retirement plans to your future employees. Also keep in mind that when making these decisions, it may help to ask for assistance from experts in these fields.

 

Kristin Thompson, is a CFP ® with Renaissance Financial Corporation. The driving force behind Kristin’s excellent service to her clients is strong relationships. Together, they create a strategy that reflects each individual’s unique goals and dreams, while helping to relieve the stress and anxiety that often surrounds money. She works with a diverse group of clients, but especially enjoys guiding women in their financial journey, helping them learn how to manage, save, invest and protect their money.

 

Kristin grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and is proud to still call St. Louis home. She stays active in her community. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Wyman Center, which allows her to inspire the next generation and help them stay on track for success.

 

Financial Advisors do not provide specific tax/legal advice and this information should not be considered as such.  You should always consult your tax/legal advisor regarding your own specific tax/legal situation.  Registered Representative and Investment Advisor Representative, Securian Financial Services, Inc. Securities and investment advisory services offered through Securian Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Renaissance Financial is independently owned and operated. 5700 Oakland Avenue, Ste. 400, St. Louis, MO 63110. 2081690 DOFU 04/2018

Tool Kit

No More Excuses, It’s Time To Do Your Market Research

Author Jennifer Ehlen Published April 10, 2018
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Determining a target market, particularly for products and services that have a broad potential customer base, is extremely difficult. Even if you firmly believe that your product or service could be used by any company in any industry at any stage, that’s likely not the case. This is why it’s imperative to do your market research.

 

 

The reality is that everyone will NOT use your product or service. And there is a good chance that what you have developed might not even meet the needs of your customers as perfectly as you imagined.

 

You may have convinced yourself that you don’t need to complete market research for a variety of reasons, and we’re here today to debunk every single one. We’re going to prove to you that investing some time into market research is a worthwhile investment in the success of your business.

 

-I don’t have time or money. This is true. As any CEO will tell you, time and money are your most precious resources. But let’s look at the balance of resource consumption: Imagine a founder of a software business that spent 6-9 months in pursuit of the financial services market simply because they had a few connections there, only to find that there was no true demand for their product in this space. The founder was surprised to find that the sales cycles were 3 times longer than they thought they would be. By the time the founder realized they were heading the business in the wrong direction, the business ran out of money and now the company doesn’t exist. Now the founder has all the time in the world, right?

 

-We have so many inquiries flooding our inboxes and a few initial contracts! We don’t need to do any market research to validate that they are real customers. Those inbound emails of excitement for your product are more than likely shiny balls that generally distract you from more important work at hand. They are a fools’ paradise. Remember that the “friends & family” round we all hear about in early stage capital conversations also applies to the first round of customers. They sign up because they love you. Not because they necessarily believe in you or need your product.  Use these referrals to gather market research before your big launch. But don’t assume they actually ARE your target customer. 

 

-I don’t know how to do market research. And lots of people also don’t know how to code software. But you figured it out. Or you found people on your team who could figure it out. This business function is equally critical to your success. Try harder.

 

-I just want to get started. You have a great product and you just can’t wait to get it out to the market. You’re talking to potential investors who want to see some traction, preferably in the form of contracts and revenue.  The last thing you want to do is pause for 3 months for market research purposes. But really, you are succumbing to the pressure to act in an effort to find certainty. Even certainty that is potentially going to send you in the wrong direction and bankrupt your business. Uncertainty is hard. Certainty is easier. Warren Buffet famously said “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” Resist the temptation to chase after those shiny balls. Sit in the discomfort of not knowing immediately who your target market is so that you can do the necessary work to figure it out.

 

-And here’s the biggest reason we bet you haven’t done it yet: I don’t want to know the results. Let’s face it. It’s hard to put your baby out there and ask for opinions. It’s uncomfortable. Vulnerable. It is easier to launch said baby on a website and sit in the sanctuary of disconnected business development email correspondence with your fingers crossed, hoping that those who stumble upon your website and sign up to try the software will be enough to sustain you through the next year. That is a risky game of entrepreneurial Russian roulette to play because you are afraid of what you might find out if you ask some hard questions. This is entrepreneurship. It is not for the faint of heart. Grow some thicker skin and get out there.