Getting Back To Basics – 5 Steps To Strengthen Your Business Foundation And Become More Profitable

One of the most important lessons I learned in my business early on, was how important it is to have and maintain a strong foundation in your business. In order to support our growth and efforts to achieve our goals, our business needs a solid infrastructure on which we can build. If this infrastructure is not in place, you could find yourself in a position where you are growing too fast too soon and not serving your clients nearly as well as you should be. This in turn will create unnecessary stress and frustration, which equals a not so happy Virtual Assistant who is working harder and making less money than she should.

So, it’s important to take stock of your business periodically and see how your foundation is holding up and what improvements you need to make. And if you’re just starting out, you’ll do yourself a HUGE favor by setting up a strong business foundation from day one. This is the perfect time of year to consider these points, as we are heading into fall and the final quarter of 2009. If you set aside time now to analyze your business operations and start making adjustments, you’ll be primed and ready to jump into 2010, while most everyone else is still trying to wrap their heads around their New Year’s resolutions!

Following are my top five tips for assessing your business and strengthening your foundation:

1) Review and revise your business plan – Many times business owners create a business plan when they are first starting out, get excited about it, but then file it away and never look at it again. Sometimes new entrepreneurs don’t even take the time to develop a simple business plan. This is a BIG mistake! Going through the steps to create a business plan is a terrific way to get all of your ideas out on paper and to create a roadmap to follow to grow your business. Its easy to think one can keep all of their ideas, goals and strategies locked safely in their memory. But there are two things wrong with that. 1) You absolutely can’t remember all of the details and 2) you’ll have a more difficult time working towards them because you haven’t committed your thoughts to paper. So schedule time on your calendar NOW to review and revise your business plan. (Or if you’re just starting out, to create one – which we will help you with in our “Get A Strong Start” class). Think about all that you’ve accomplished thus far in 2009 and map out your goals for 2010 and then how you’ll achieve them.

2) Take stock of your financial situation – For some this can be the least “exciting” part of running a business. That is having to deal with all of the “number stuff”. But, most of us start our companies to make a profit and support our families – not to unintentionally be running a non-profit organization where we work for free. You won’t know which category you fall into if you aren’t clear on the financial state of your business. If you are not already doing so, ask your accountant or bookkeeper to start running monthly reports of your expenses and income so you can see how profitable you REALLY are. You may be surprised to find out which of your services is actually most profitable and then start focusing more attention on those. Also, you’ll see clearly how your expenses are affecting your bottom line and what adjustments need to be made.

3) Review your business standards to see if they are still working for you – One of the things my coach helped me to do when I was first starting out was to create a set of standards for my business. This included the hours I would work, my fee structure, how I would handle different clients situations, illness/vacation, etc. – basically ALL of the details of how I would run my business. I highly recommend that you take the time to outline your standards as well. It’s your business, so the way you work and operate your business should be reflective of and work for you. After doing this you’ll be clear about your boundaries and can then easily (and tactfully) share them with your clients to ensure that you are supported and protected to do your best work.

4) Fine tune your marketing systems – Some Virtual Assistants have a bad habit of only marketing their business when they need a new client. That is a big no-no! As a business owner, you should only be spending your time on two things – 1) serving your clients and 2) marketing your business. If you don’t have a marketing system in place – meaning a strategic plan for how to consistently present your services/solutions to your ideal clients and enroll them in your practice, then now is the time to implement one. You should be regularly attending networking events where your ideal clients hang out, following up on leads, engaging in social media and pursuing other effective marketing strategies. Map out a plan of how you will market your business for the remainder of 2009 and then commit blocks of time on your calendar to work on your marketing efforts. Marketing your business will be a lot easier (and much more effective) if you consistently and comfortable share what you have to offer instead of operating from panic mode because you need a new client.

5) Start implementing systems in your business – You likely do some of the same tasks over and over again in serving your clients. At the very least, each week/month you’re doing bookkeeping, marketing, reporting to your clients on project progress, etc. As such you should be developing systems for every aspect of your business. A system is simple a list of guidelines or instructions about how to handle a particular task or project. It’s way for you to implement quality control into your Virtual Assistant practice so that you consistently deliver high quality results for yourself and your clients. It’s a way to save time, because you won’t have to think about or try and remember how to handle a particular project. And it’s a way to make more money. “How so?”, you may ask. Because you can easily delegate certain tasks to someone else, freeing up your time and mental energy to pursue your high-payoff activities. The more you systematize your business the more organized and profitable you will be. So, start today in outlining the steps you take to operate your business and serve your clients. Compile the instructions into one central document or binder and create your own operations manual. As you continue to grow you’ll have all of the information you need to run your business right at your fingertips.

Likely, you set out to be a Virtual Assistant because you wanted to pursue a career that would give you more control over your schedule and earning potential. So make it easier on yourself to achieve your goals, by taking steps to tighten up your foundation and get clear on your goals. Running a successful business obviously takes effort and dedication. And having a strong infrastructure and a solid plan to follow will ensure that you are spending your time and energy on the activities that will get you the results you want!

Your action plan for this week:

1) Pull out your business plan and schedule time to review and revise it by October 31st. (If you’re just starting out, set aside time to create your plan by the same date).
2) Pull year-to-date reports on your financial situation and review them with your bookkeeper or accountant to see what adjustments may need to be made.
3) Outline the details of how you will run your business so that it is working for YOU, not the other way around.
4) Review the strategies that have been most effective in marketing your business and then create a plan around how you will consistently implement these tactics to attract new business.
5) Start creating systems for EVERYTHING you do in your business and compile the information in one central location.

Your Business Foundation – Where the Right Results Start

As a solo business owner, you are like one of those specialty performers: A plate spinner keeping a whole row of dishes on sticks whirling like tops. You get lots of things in motion at the same time, and then spend a lot of time and energy making sure everything keeps spinning.

If you are like most solopreneurs, your plates started spinning on Day 1 and you’ve been keeping them going ever since. You have had very little opportunity to step back and consider the strategic foundation upon which your business needs to stand. Unfortunately, this means that you are probably wasting a lot of your resources spinning the wrong plates; in other words, you are not making the progress that you should.

“What do you do?” So many of the solopreneurs I work with have a problem answering this question with elegance. They stutter and stammer, talk on and on, leave the listener confused and nodding politely. They find it hard to answer this question because they haven’t spent the time needed to lay the foundation for their businesses. Without this foundation business growth can’t reach the levels they seek.

Your business foundation also supports marketing and sales activities. A clear understanding of your target market and what you do to serve its members allows you to create on-target marketing messages and to sell offerings that fit their needs and objectives. If you aren’t clear on the foundational elements of your business, you risk overspending, putting energy in the wrong places, and having the sensation of wheel spinning.

As soon as possible, sit down at your computer or with a pen and paper and go through these three exercises:

  • Fine tune your target market. This may be counterintuitive – as solo business owners, we should spread our nets wide, right? Wrong. The more specific you are in defining your target market, the more focused and effective your sales sphere and marketing will be.
  • Walk in your customers’ shoes. What keeps them up at night? What challenges or obstacles do they face that you can help them with? What are their goals and objectives? What are the right results that they need to produce?
  • List the benefits customers get from working with you. What issues, challenges, or problems do you help them solve? What goals or objectives do you help them achieve? Be specific; the more specific you can be with this list, the better focused your marketing message will be.

The results of these exercises will give you the “raw material” you need to create the right offerings and build the right marketing program for your market. The sooner you stand back from those spinning plates, the sooner you can get rid of the ones that you don’t need.

Laying Your Business Foundation – Outstanding Customer Service – Part Three

In this series we will talk about the importance of providing outstanding Customer Service. Again, if you have not read the previous series I encourage you stop what you are doing and review the articles NOW!

Customer service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase. Have you ever shopped at a store and you could not find anyone for assistance? Did you wonder through the store looking for a particular item and could not locate it? I would confidently say 8 out of 10 stores do not offer outstanding customer service.

Furthermore, in order to offer outstanding customer service the business owners must have a well-trained staff to demonstrate outstanding customer service to every customer; regardless if they are making a purchase or inquiring about an item it is the staff responsibility to know about the product or service, if not the staff need to know where to find the product or service.

Customer service is the pivot point that will either increase the company bottom line or shutdown. If the merchant sells to the general public they should have employees that are trained and ready to demonstrate outstanding customer service.

Customers are the most precious assets to any company and without them businesses would not exist. Not only are the customers assets to a business but they add value to the business by referring friends, neighbors, family and others to your business. The following steps will help you start and organize an outstanding Customer Service training program for your business.

Steps To Provide Outstanding Customer Service

Step 1: Greet the customer with a friendly smile then a firm handshake. It is customary to greet each customer with a pleasant smile and or handshake to establish a business relationship between both parties. The initially step sets the tone to demonstrate outstanding customer service.

Step 2: Ask the customer if you can be of assistance then give them your undivided attention. Never assume you know what the customer needs or want. They came into your business for a particular service or product; therefore, they know you have the solution to their problem, which the reason they came to you verses going to your competitor.

Step 3: Answer every question accurately. The customer will know if you can or cannot help them by listening to your response. They will draw a conclusion by listening to your voice tonality, observing your body language and if you’ve been attentive to them since the greeting. Customers are keenly aware of you sincere or not.

Step 4: Explain to them how you can or cannot help them. Observe their request from all angles to find a solution. Just because someone else had a similar problem does not determine the same outcome. Going the extra mile builds trust. This will keep your company in the customer mind when they encounter another problem.

Step 5: Deliver timely results. Do not make any promises you cannot deliver. Do exactly what you agreed to provide at the specified time and price. Be mindful of any changes between both parties; however, if there are changes provide the changes in writing at least 24 hours before the deadline. This will give both parties the opportunity to clarify any misunderstanding.

Step 6: Close the deal. In business deals are always being made. Up to this point you’ve been establishing a relationship with the customer to win them over to do business with you. Now it’s time to either capture them or they will go to your competitors. Closing the deal can be challenging but so was learning to walk, run or ride a bicycle. First, recap what transpired between you and the customer. If you can recall the customers’ interest either verbally or body language this is a good indication that they are interested in your product or service and looking for you to immediately close the deal.

Until Next Time! Stay tuned to “Laying Your Business Foundation.”

These steps will help you start or revise a Customer Service training program for your business. Research and study other programs by searching the internet or visit several merchants in your locale. The topic of discussion for the next article of “Laying Your Business Foundation – Part 4: Professional Telephone Etiquette.

Building a Business Foundation

Perhaps you are new, or you are just getting started with your internet or retail or other business. There is no difference. It can be very scary. I know that I was scared when I started 7 years ago. It was March 2003. I was close to $200,000 in debt. Even my ex husband choose to leave me for another woman. It was scary But I drew strength from my belief in beginning with a solid foundation. The term foundation means your mindset and contact list. These are the only assets that you have to build a firm, solid foundation which able to let you to develop a building where the sky is really the limit.

There is so much to say about mindset which take years to talk about it and understand all that we should.

There is two quotes of mindset. ” Great Spirits have always encountered violent opposition from medicine minds” by Albert Einstein. ” A wise man is a master of his mind and a fool is a slave to it” by unknown author.When this two quotes added up it becomes if you resolved to succeed, you will. You must be focused. You have to put the blinders on. You have to steer clear of all the garbage advice that you get from the naysayers and the dream stealers.

We all get “NO” and “Dollar store guidance” from our relatives or friends, but those who can stay focused are the ones who succeed. Think of Columbus, everyone told him to sail off a cliff, or Colonel sanders who got 1009 “No” before he got financing. Those guys certainly had mindset and focus. They never let the dream stealers get in their way.

Your mindset sets your course which establishes your attitude, habits, work ethic and drive. It is the thing that makes your press for the closing sales for your business. Is your mind set on you treating this work like a hobby ( you know, kind of doing it here and there, sticking your tow in the water and seeing it works) or is your mind set on you making this be the last business that you will ever have to be build( you are going to reach your goals no matter what obstacles you face)

The other part of foundation is contact list. This will be congruent with your mindset. If you are going to treat this like a hobby, you will come up with a few names to add to your contact list. If this is going to be the last business you will ever build you are going to write down everyone you have ever known.

Are you clairvoyant? Do you really know what is going on in their lives? So do not be a fortune teller. Do not presume what is in their mind before you contact them about your business opportunity. By the way, if you have a strong mindset and you are going to treat this like a business, you will be willing to contact everyone you know. Every time you leave someone off your list or miss someone that you know, you potentially leaving millions of dollars behind. You also must do follow up with those that have done business with you.