7 Secrets my clients learned last year

As Director of Engagement at Excite Media I have one of the best roles in the world. Every week I have the privilege to sit down with hard working business owners, managers and entrepreneurs. Some have created their empire, others have bought into a great idea and the there are those brave souls who have taken a bad business or situation and because of their vision are building it back up through blood, sweat and tears.

What is clear in all these cases is that my clients are intelligent, creative and focused people. Sometimes I meet them at a stage where their focus is on the goal and other times I’ve caught them in the ‘dip’ where their eyes are on the problem. With focus can come the potential for tunnel vision. “I’m going to keep doing this till it works” or “This problem is the reason we’re going out of business”. This strength of focus can also be the reason that they are stalled or spinning their wheels on the way to success.

A great business operator knows the value of taking a step back, reviewing the scenario and looking outside of their circle of influence to find new ways of tackling the goal or the problem. Some refer to it as the “30,000ft view” or the “Helicopter view”.

Here I want to share with you seven secrets from last year that were shared in our strategy meetings with our clients. These were the light bulb moments where our clients were able to release themselves to do something fresh and innovative that can put them ahead of their competition or the moments where they again could see their potential.

1.   Try something new

Let’s start with an over-riding thought that should be on the wall of your office, stuck on your bathroom mirror or painted on the bedroom ceiling. “Try something new”. We know that the definition of insanity is to keep trying the same thing and expect a different result.

When a business comes in to an digital marketing agency like Excite Media, through initiative or desperation they are looking for direction. One of my regular complaints shared by clients is when they go to an agency who only is able to offer “What do you want us to do?”.  That’s not the reason they are in your meeting room. The business owner is wanting advice, direction and ideas to consider within the framework of their business.

On our side of the conversation we want to work with you to discover the ‘real issue’ and then present innovative solutions. The responsibility for you as a business operator is to be willing to keep ‘trying something new’. Never lose sight of innovation. The ability to keep your products, processes, marketing or work environment fresh, will instil morale in employees and excitement in customers.

Not to mention, it will help remind you of your first passion for why you are in business in the first place.

2.   Review your position

It’s too late to test the water depth when you can’t see the lifeboats! Put in place regular calendar items for frequent reviews of your business. Don’t be driven by the bank manager or accountant asking “how did we get here?”.

From websites and staff reviews to marketing results and assessments of the competition, we should have some form of review whether verbal or in writing to ensure we haven’t had our heads down for too long.

Speak to the people closest to the subject and set in place reviews that can give you the temperature of the situation quickly. If the review process is arduous it probably won’t get done so be considerate of the request for your or your staff’s time when compared to the value the review process will yield.

Better to have a five question staff review every quarter than a 30 question quiz each year that looks like a tax form. Look to have a live online marketing results dashboard available that you can check weekly rather than a monthly five page paper emailed to you that you haven’t read in years. And keep refining your measurement KPIs and reports to include only ‘what matters’.

3.   Look under your feet

One of the aspects of my job I enjoy the most is “mining for gold”. My clients will normally have a ‘symptom’ they want to address. It’s often problem related. They see the issue and think fixing it returns everything to status quo, normal!

What I like to do is show them is the pile of gold they are already sitting on. Many have lost track of existing customers as a house keeping headache that the admin and IT people should solve. What has been lost in the ‘busyness’ of ‘business’ is that they have accumulated hundreds or thousands of customer contacts that are now ignored. With even a conservative happiness satisfaction rating of 75% across past customers they have people they could be reselling to, upgrading or utilising as referral business with a little attention.

When it comes to digital marketing I very often find my clients don’t know how to measure the customer attraction of their business online. They may have the free Google Analytics installed but haven’t reviewed it in months or years.

Near the end of last year I dealt with a Brisbane based family business who didn’t have Google Analytics installed but through their web hosting account we were able to tell they had 2400 visits a month to their website. Not only was that good news but we also found 73% of the website traffic was directly to one of their top most profitable products on their website based on specific searches in Google for suppliers in their area. With only around 20 phone calls a month, they had lost vision on the fact their website had become a bottleneck or blockage to new business trying to open the door.

It’s time to put your helmet on and mine or uncover the gold your business is built on.

4.   Coordinate your strategy

Many of the people I meet are busy. And I mean all hours, no lunch or dinner busy. They are trying to get results from their business and they take seriously the responsibility for the lives and the employment of the people who work for them.

In the madness that ensues they often are trying anything that comes along but don’t have the time to evaluate if this a good idea or just ‘an idea’. And sadly these ‘ideas’ just keep building up. Now you may be thinking, “You just told us to try something new”. You’re right, but it has to still fit into an overall plan.

All marketing should be connected and interdependent. Some ideas develop attraction, others are designed to convert browsers to buyers and there are marketing strategies to nurture new customer leads as well as existing customer development programs.
Without a coordinated strategy your offline activity like billboards and radio cant be measured against the activity on your website to see how people responded. If your reception team aren’t taking notes on how new customers heard about you, then you don’t know if that door to door voucher program you paid for has acquired any meaningful results.

One of the common problems we help bring sanity to for new clients is the business that has marketing expense money going out every 6 or 12 months to papers, magazines, directories and local community sponsorship that has never been coordinated or measured.

They may or may not be great ideas for a particular business but you can’t be a leaky boat of marketing activity and expenses without a plan.

5.   Test the theory

One of the current topics flowing in a number of books on the top seller lists is habits. We have them and our customers definitely do. You probably remember the great shampoo instructions encourage us to wash, shampoo, soak, rinse and repeat. Not only does it get results but you use more shampoo and become consumer of the year. The trouble with habits is they can be good or bad and the answer is all in the testing.

When it comes to anything within your business from a new customer on-boarding process to your new email marketing program, we need to test the theory and the process. Some ideas are truly based on too much pizza the night before. Its something in the cheese.

As you embark on a new marketing program its important to sit down and plan the program, consider the actions and outcomes in order to see if you can catch any possible problem ahead of the game. Bottom line is you won’t, but you can minimise the fallout, particularly if you have assigned roles to your team for who is responsible whether an arising problem should be dealt with internally, for example an IT issue or is an external aspect like dealing with a confused customer.

The mantra should always come back to Do, Review, Adjust and Repeat. Even the best of results can be improved with time away from the process and coming back with fresh eyes.

Without the Review and Adjust stages you just have a habit.

6.   Discover the potential

Earlier we talked about mining for gold and our focus was on the potential right under your feet. Sometimes you think you’re just sitting on a hill watching the clouds go by. You need someone with a different set of eyes, or an expert who knows the ‘geology’ of your business to recognise that that ‘hill’ is actually an outcrop that has all the characteristics of a gold deposit.

Take that thought further and you can start to look for potential new customers from outside your business at your suburb, city or the community at large thanks to the online access we enjoy. Today we have more information and profile data on customers, markets, products and seasons than ever before.

You shouldn’t feel that it is your responsibility to know all aspects of how the weather forms or what is coming tomorrow or in a weeks time. That’s for the meteorologist to decipher and deliver. And while we joke about the weatherman getting it wrong, the reality is they get it right more often than not.

That’s why our clients are discovering the power we can bring to their marketing initiatives when we provide the research and data to show where new potential customer audiences can be found. We can show definitive volume of new clients as they search, while they engage in the community of social networks and as they go about their daily business absorbing content.

As our internet experience grows into voice based search and home automation, we will be able to answer the questions customers ask and provide the information they need at the time and place its relevant. Keeping in touch with your digital ‘weatherman’ will allow your business to be strategically in front of these potential new customers for your  business.

7.   Keep the balls in the air

Now this last secret may sound counter-intuitive to everything you’ve been told about running a business. “You’re too busy – take time out.”  “Don’t overwork yourself, it’ll be there when you get back.”

It’s true! If last year, you were near burn out, didn’t take time for yourself or family, then please slice out the days and weeks for the coming year that you will give back to you this year.

In fact if you recognise from the previous ideas in this discussion that you have run out of ‘new ideas’ or the steam coming from your nostrils was from frustration and not passion. Then stop now, book a holiday, an apartment by a lake or beach and go.

You need You!

The key to this closing secret isn’t about the ‘balancing plates’ on sticks metaphor. In that picture it all comes crashing down and that’s no fun unless you’re Greek.

What we want you to have as a focus is that keeping balls in the air can be fun. Dropping them hurts no one. Trying again will develop your skills and most of all its about always having a fresh approach to your business and marketing.

The website you develop for your business and don’t touch for 3, 4 or 6 years is worse than the cracked paint on the outside of your shop or the customer counter not cleaned for six months. It can be a reflection of you, your business and the business mindset you have in place at this time.

Don’t put the balls in a box. Keep the business live and your ideas moving!

Today, decide to be objective and adventurous.

The secrets we’ve talked about today aren’t that secret are they? But like the Wizard of OZ, who was hiding behind the curtain, there was a lot of truth and advice that you may have forgotten about or just needed a bit of ‘New Year’ objectivity to consider.

Take a step back to look at the bigger picture or ask someone who has the ability to see the potential in you and your business to come alongside you.

I would love to hear back from you on which of the 7 secrets had the most value or was an ‘AHA’ moment that will help you dive into this year with more optimism.

Solid Resolutions like a Log Cabin

You’ve probably stepped into the New Year with a fresh determination to do things differently. You may have made resolutions or just a mental list of the things you want to see differently. Similar to a wife giving her husband the house repair list, you’re hopeful that some of it will be done by the end of the year. Good on you for recognising that today is a great day to change.

Sometimes we wander from day to day accepting that this is our ‘norm’. As I asked friends for input on what they want to see affected by change, some looked at the physical transformations, while others were dealing with learning aspirations or simply reading to accumulate more wisdom.

A few were concentrating on the spiritual and wanting to see their relationship with God enhanced by either drawing close to Him or learning more of Him . In this quick post I want to give you five tips for keeping determined on those key areas you want to be a focus this year. I was reading Michael Hyatt’s blog a couple of days ago when he gave this illustration.

A young man once asked a wise old woman, “When is the best time to plant an oak tree?” She answered: “Twenty years ago.” He then asked, “When is the second best time?” She answered, Today.

One of my favourite leaders has always been Abraham Lincoln. His determination through both personal, external and national adversity are a tribute to the strength and persistence he endeared. His wife Mary was also a lady who showed great character as together they lost children at an early age yet when on to lead a nation while espousing great love for family.

Not only is Lincoln famous for how he led the nation of America through the Civil War and also effect a change to the American Constitution in order to abolish slavery, but on a personal front he faced rejection from his political party on many occasions as he sought office a long time before becoming President. Even his start in life wasn’t born without hardship as His inheritance was bought out of adversity as his father and grandfather fought and sacrificed for the family’s future.

Today you may have a personal goal, a dream to be realised or simply like one of my friends, you may want to kick an addiction like energy drinks. The key to the goal is focus and determination but how can you keep the main thing the main thing?

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.
– Abraham Lincoln

Five Steps for Keeping Resolutions

Also useful for Building Log Cabins

1. Keep It Simple

Often we don’t achieve a plan because it is too complicated. What began as a simple idea like ‘lose weight’, became a scientific expedition through Calorie City to Exercise Eden. Like a Log Cabin keep it to a kitchen, bedroom, loft and dining family area. Don’t design the mansion when your simple outcome has a simple solution. If it takes you more than an hour to sit down and write out what you want to achieve and three ways you could make that happen then you’re investing your time in a management plan not a solution.

2. Stick to the Plan

The biggest fault with any goal is straying from the plan. In project planning it is called ‘creep’ because you don’t realise it has snuck up behind you and grabbed the reins of your project. So if you’re building a log cabin, don’t let the idea of planting a vege patch or a barn take you off your focus. Keep your simple plan in front of you as a reminder of what is the main thing. If its not in front of you on your bathroom mirror or the ceiling of your bedroom then other projects will compete for attention. Don’t let them justify their position. Shout them down with a poster of your ‘Log Cabin’ everywhere you look. Make your plan desirable to you. Make it bold, visual and real.

3. Connect with other Builders

One of the strengths of a log cabin is how the tree trunks interlink at the corners providing a solid framework for the rest of the house. Be willing to share your building plans with other ‘builders’. Your connections will build solidity. As you connect with other people who have the same goals as yourself, you will gain three strengths that won’t happen if you build alone. First you will find Wisdom from those who have been down the track before. Second, there will be the Strength of numbers as you lean on each other. Life is about seasons which bring growth and cleansing, death and healing. As you are there for other builders in their season, they will be there in your time of need. Finally the Momentum of friends is a powerful ally that will roll you to your goal faster than a lone walk down destiny lane.

4. SMART

One of the greatest compliments given to Abraham Lincoln was that he was an ‘intelligent’, ‘astute’ politician. He was SMART and this is a great place to introduce this acronym for your resolution plan.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time Bound

The idea of the SMART plan is to keep your steps and plan in a format where it will work. There’s no point putting a jet engine in a Mini Cooper in order to get to work quicker and save on fuel.

The whole plan needs to be cohesive. As you look at the goal and steps you have in place, ask yourself if they match these criteria. Is the goal specific so that rather than say ‘Get Fit’, you want to be able to walk 5kms a day, four days a week without falling over in a heap. Like the idea of walking, a goal to lose weight should be measurable and achievable. Don’t say that you want to lose 20kgs in two months before school starts when losing a kilogram a week would be an admirable and achievable goal. Making your steps relevant is also poignant. For someone wanting to improve their relationship with God they may feel reading more Christian books will do the trick when simple prayerful time out of the rat-race in prayer would be more relevant.

5. Dream Bigger

In our second point we encouraged you to think carefully about sticking to the plan. Distractions are the curse of every goal. Its not that these distractions are inherently bad but as they are ‘tangents’ they take us off course, we lose momentum and so the thing we hope to achieve is further away from our original goal.

While we need to be careful of putting distractions in front of us, incentives are another area altogether. I think that when Abraham Lincoln moved into his first log cabin, he was already dreaming about a bigger one. When he went into his first mansion he may have even be thinking of redecorating the White House. Keep dreams and incentives that are in line with your original goal and resolution as these are the right reward for fulfilment of a goal and the completion of a project.

For God and Country

Pro Aris et Focis is a latin phrase (meaning For God and Country) that is used by the American Legion and many family’s and nations before. I think that a higher calling than personal satisfaction under girded Abraham Lincoln’s success. Maybe one aspect of evaluating your next resolution is to ask ‘Who am I doing this for?’

The famous preacher Jonathan Edwards can have the last word on the issue of resolutions. Many of us are familiar with the sarcastic set of rules found in businesses and homes. They often go “Rule 1: The Boss is always right, Rule 2: if the Boss is wrong, refer to Rule 1”. As Edwards was looking at his life, its endeavours and all he had to live for he took a more resolute position. He determined that if he was to succeed in life he needed the sustenance and direction of the creator.

A number of years ago a friend gave me this verse, Ephesians 1:11 scrawled on a napkin at a conference we were both attending. I’ve held on to that napkin for over a decade as the enormity of the verse is still a challenge and a hope.

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
Ephesians 1:11-12 (The Message)

Lets see how Jonathan Edwards was able to encapsulate those thoughts in his resolution. As you do, consider that both the greatest and smallest of endeavours are best resolved in partnership with our God and Creator.

Resolution 1: I will live for God
Resolution 2: If no one else does, I still will.
– Jonathan Edwards

Thank you for reading this post. I love hearing about the blog posts being shared so please post it on Facebook and Twitter. If you have the time to write a short comment on how you have dealt with resolutions and what worked or didn’t work for you I’d be grateful.

Facing a Fresh Future – 2013 New Year’s Day

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.

– Albert Einstein

Last week the New Year was knocking on the front door and casually pressing the door bell but today its got the SWAT team out and they’re about to knock down the door to our lives with a battering ram.

The good news is with the New Year upon us, the fresh calendar is like a cleared field ready for ploughing and planting. Don’t look at the next twelve months as a pioneer looks at the uncleared wilderness, rather change your gaze to be like a developer looking at the land his investment has purchased on the most expensive piece of real estate in Manhatten. Today’s the day you take possession and the future is all yours. The year ahead is clear of bush and rocks providing you with flat fertile soil for the planter and a pristine plot for the builder.

Your years before today have bought the land. The time in your pocket and wrinkles on your brow have decided the purpose of the plan. This is a year to transform dreams to blueprints so that the sand of time become concrete for tomorrow. Its definitely a change of mind that can take the same ingredients and decide whether flour and water produces cookies or glue. So what do you plan to do with your next 365 days that we wrap up and call 2013? Have you already written it off as ‘just another year’ or do you plan to fix it on day one with a two line resolution posted to Facebook and call it quits?

“Your Merry Christmas may depend on what others do for you … but your Happy New Year depends on what you do for others.”
 – Unknown

The truth is that like any farmer taking that field and planting for a his bumper crop, you will have seasons and strategy to get the right result. For the builder, an architect helps coordinate a plan, the project or site manager arranges the contractors and there will be a master builder making sure the structure is plumb and true to be a lasting legacy for a family or owner. So start thinking about it and writing down the steps that you can see being the process of your future.

One line doesn’t make a novel so be willing to write the chapters that will set the plot, introduce the characters, create the suspense and celebrate the finish. Pour your heart into this dream but make sure it has substance by committing it to paper. A New Year’s resolution is only a pithy statement lost in the dust of one month’s days. Instead be willing to record a travel diary of what happens by journalling your way through the year and making notes, ideas and comments about the sights seen and experiences absorbed.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Romans 12:1

A key to any building project is to start with a fresh approach. Be willing to walk on to the site with clean sharp tools. Leave the past behind and instead walk out of a period of preparation with new vigor, a strong stance and refreshed body and spirit. Have a look at some of the old attitudes and jaded ideas and ask yourself this question; “If they didn’t work last year, what makes me think they will work in the next?” It should be a wake-up to the old adage that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Don’t be tied down by stakes of dispair and bitterness. Those roots should be removed from your field or building site. They don’t provide foundations, instead they’re a barrier to growth and a stumbling block for your tools.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32

One of the benefits of a fresh field is you can plow it anyway you like, until you plant in it. On a new building plot you can align the floorplan in any direction it fits until the foundations go down. Be willing to step into a new paradigm and do things in a way you’ve never tried before. Innovation breeds creativity while survival can grow success from seeds of desperation. Get some sleep to allow the brain to be clear and the heart settled. Clear the heart and physical hoarding areas of your life so that you don’t have distractions, obstacles or the trophies of past hurt and failure haunting you. Instead of being slowed down considering the past, replace those memories on the wall with grander plans of the dreams to be built, the places to travel and victories to be won.

If you plan to conquer Everest,
hoist a Flag not a Tea-towel.
– a Pitchford Passing Thought

The purpose of building is to learn through the process so that each structure that comes after it is grander, sturdier and more suited to its purpose than the last. In doing so you move from apprentice to builder and then on from being someone who builds from plans to someone who creates from dreams. As we look at the next year, its an opportunity to learn, to love and to live. The next twelve months aren’t an end in themselves. If your ‘building’ or ‘crop’ project takes one, two or five years to create, then go the distance. Be willing to journey through  and face the future with a glint not a glare.

Have a healthy sparkle of optimism knowing that even if a storm delays your planting or  the rain stops you putting the proverbial roof on your plan, that still you have a dream written down, a journal of memories accumulated and a host of friends who shared your journey. Take a look at the future and see its freshness, the morning dew on your opportunity and feel the crispness in the air that calls out to you like a morning bird call saying “Your time is now”!

Here’s a toast to the future, A toast to the past, And a toast to our friends, far and near. May the future be pleasant; The past a bright dream; May our friends remain faithful and dear.
– Irish Toast (by Anonymous)

At the close of 2011 I wrote about looking at the year through a rear vision mirror. Like a skipper, the navigation through life is best done by knowing where your starting marker is. While our trail of experience gives us the strength, wisdom and hopefully a greater sense of gratefulness, we won’t have momentum for the future unless our eyes are facing straight ahead, lifted to the horizon and looking for land.

Thank you for reading this post. It means a lot. Please click on the options on the side to share it in places like Facebook and Twitter. I read the comments so please write your thoughts below and I will respond.