Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Change the marketing language

In my conversations with company owners, executives and entrepreneurs about marketing, these are the words that they use most: 

  • Social media
  • Website
  • Content
  • Cost
  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Views
  • Data
  • Logo
  • Leads
  • Time
  • Effort

This vocabulary reflects a desperate search for results through activities. It corners marketing into the expense column of the income statement and fills any senior manager or owner with dread - "where must I spend my money?".

However, after paying careful attention to the way the client describes their requirements, I try and introduce a new set of words:
  • Market share
  • Customer value
  • Brand reputation
  • Objectives
  • Messaging
  • Meaning
  • Effectiveness
  • Efficiency
  • Timelines
  • Budget
  • Resources
  • Results

These words shift the conversation from "marketing as the colouring-in department" to "marketing as a growth facilitator". It moves the mindset from expenses to investments, from tactical activities to strategic momentum.

I recently bought a house and was amazed at how poorly most homes are maintained and expanded over the years. It's just a patchwork of rooms, showers, kitchens, patios and fireplaces added to old structures without much coherent thought of the impact on the overall flow. In a desperate attempt to advertise a place as having three bedrooms; two bathrooms (one en-suite), people take old homes and convert them as cheaply as possible. They skip the architect and go straight for the builder. Hardly any plan or oversight. This is also how most marketing departments inside SMEs look - unplanned.

All business functions must ultimately be an investment. Your accountant must help you save money; HR should ensure the best people stay, and the rest leave; logistics and operations must ensure efficient allocation of resources and product quality. The same is true for marketing - it must not be an expense, even though that's how it's accounted for. 

By using language that ties marketing into business performance, the conversation naturally lifts out of a valley of despair and onto heights where new horizons open.

 

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Don't let your business get old with you

Many business owners and entrepreneurs try to build their companies overnight in an era of promising quick success. Most of them are still trying decades later.

Two things that strike me:

  • just how long it takes to build a healthy business,
  • you can never do it by yourself.

The problem is that so few entrepreneurial types believe in getting help. They are so possessive of their idea and determined to succeed that they often "go it alone, forever." The result is many a promising business stuck in adolescence.

These "stunted" businesses go around in circles because the owner refuses to reach out for help. They get more determined as the business increasingly loses more momentum. The website starts to look stale. Price discounting becomes the norm, and razor-thin margins suffocate progress. Customers start to bully the business. Competitors copy it and eventually outperform it. Sometimes even the office building itself starts to look like a museum.

Inside these businesses, staff get old with the company. There's little fresh blood at the senior level. No one truly challenges the (ageing) owner, who by now is so fixed in their ways that they are impenetrable. Everyone is old and hanging onto a sinking ship. 

A special case is the family business usually run by the male “head of the household” and often staffed by family members ill-equipped for their role in growing the business. They won’t challenge his ideas, and he won’t let others into his domain.


What is often the main source of business, the owner’s network, also ages and eventually retires or dies, drying up the sales pipeline.


I'm talking from first-hand experience here. I regularly encounter these businesses - they often reach out to me in a desperate attempt for some marketing magic. These owners get a shock when I call it as I see it and tell them their companies lack strategic direction, making any marketing campaign useless.

You can't successfully promote a stale business.

My view is that many more entrepreneurs should find ways to actively challenge their thinking and bring new ideas into the business from early on. They need to make themselves much more vulnerable and allow both outsiders and insiders to challenge them. Entrepreneurs could find a confidant or coach whose only interest is the success of their business and then schedule a regular “straight-talking” session to discuss all or any aspect of their venture right from the start.

I'll repeat it - way too many owners are going it alone and treat their business like sacred soil at the expense of unlocking its potential.


___________________________

This post is written in partnership with Cedric de Beer, a strategy and leadership consultant and coach. You will find his LinkedIn profile here.


Sunday, 8 August 2021

Beautiful actions

Where does excellence start? Surely it begins by knowing the fundamentals and then incorporating them into your decisions before executing with discipline?

Beautiful actions = [understand the fundamentals] + [incorporate into decision-making] + [execute with discipline]

I want to live a life filled with beautiful actions. Actions that are rooted in the fundamentals. It's also frustrating that it often feels like we live in a world where things are ungrounded.

Take South Africa, for example. It is so unstable, without a foundation. Debt levels are too high; basic education is a mess; infrastructure is outdated, absent, or broken. We're fundamentally an uncompetitive country. Half the population have no hope. We're in trouble.

Another area where things are often baseless is in marketing and branding - mostly, businesses behave randomly. The equivalent of ugly actions. A mess. There's no link between operational capability, brand positioning, marketing activity and sales prospecting. The chain link is broken, and the revenue is unstable. 

I recently decided not to replace my car after I had to sell it. My wife and I now make do with one vehicle. After investigating the local car market, I found the fundamentals are not there. South Africa is a dump-yard for second class engines and old technology by international vehicle manufacturers desperate to squeeze the last value from their internal combustion engine plants whilst pivoting towards electric for the first world. How can I buy old technology for my future car? It makes no sense. 

We should ask ourselves more often what the fundamentals are surrounding our circumstances. What can you do, and what can't you do? What makes sense, and what doesn't? What are the laws dictating your chances of success? Can you even win, as per my previous blog?

Of course, I'm not perfect or this great decision-maker. I do many things that make no sense. I'm a massive hypochondriac, so most of my decisions around my body are clouded with extreme emotion, often baseless. Foundation-less. 

We all make stupid decisions. We all act ugly. 

But more than ever, in these times of so much uncertainty, we should aim to get back to basics regarding how we decide and act - take a bottom-up approach. 

Maybe it's a worthy goal to act beautifully today.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Are you wasting time trying to succeed?

Three things determine business success at a macro level:
  • Market opportunity - is there a large, buoyant market for what you sell? Most small/medium companies over-estimate market size - they think they swim in an ocean of opportunity when really, they play in the kiddies pool.
  • Awareness - do enough people, or prospective customers, know of you? Not knowing you exist is a major inhibitor to growth. 
  • Message clarity - if customers don't know what you offer them, they cannot take action. You'll be surprised how few businesses are crystal clear about what they sell and why you should use them.

Each of these points has underlying factors; for example, market size depends on volume and value and how many already serve the market. You might be in an ocean of opportunity but crowded out by competitors. 

Awareness is not merely a case of raising it through advertising, but also how vast your network is. Most entrepreneurs that succeed do so on the back of others that give them a foothold. 

Message clarity is not only about how you promote but also what you know about yourself. It's about the business being clear on what it sells, why it sells it, and why it's valuable.

You can't build a successful business on bad fundamentals. Like a bird in a cage, you are bound by certain meta factors. 

The other meta factor is time. It takes an enormous amount of time to build a profitable company. Either you need to be highly patient, very lucky or hugely resourceful to cut corners. 

Too many entrepreneurs and companies think they can win when they can't because, in reality, the macro fundamentals are against them, and they are too arrogant, or stupid, or determined, to recognise this.

Taking a strategic view of one's business requires looking at it from the outside in. The picture is often a horror show. No wonder so many doesn't do it and waste their time trying to succeed. 






Saturday, 29 May 2021

What to pay a consultant?

How do you know that a consulting project will deliver results? 

The short answer is that you don't just like you can not guarantee the successful outcome of most things in life. You don't know if your marriage will work - you believe it will; you have confidence that it will - but you cannot guarantee it. Chances are 99.99% that your next flight will land safely, but it is not 100% guaranteed. Again, you have confidence that all will be fine. 

There is no certainty anywhere in life, yet we pay for things despite this uncertainty because we are confident it will deliver. The same applies to paying a consultant.

Pay for value, not time

A consultant adds expertise to a project that will add outsized long-term returns to a business. The value of the consultant is the role they play in unlocking this long term value creation. 

In his book, Value-Based fees, Alan Weiss clarifies what the consultant brings to an engagement and, therefore, why you pay them. You pay them for the long-term value their involvement will unlock in your business. Take note that this value creation has nothing to do with the time the consultant spends on the project - it is purely based on the long-term impact they will have. 

Think about it: if a consultant spends 100 hours on a project at a fee of $1,000 / hour, they get $100,000 as a fee. But let's say the work they do help you, the client, grow revenue from $10 million to $20 million. What should they then charge? Still $100,000?

The primary value the consultant brings today is not their time today but the future impact of their expertise on your business. Suppose a project will have a significant positive effect on your business, and the consultant will have a considerable impact on the project's success. In that case, they should charge a substantial amount of money as a percentage of future values.

The elements of value

You should pay a consultant based on the scarcity of their skills and the potential impact on the future of your business. So let's look at each of these factors:
  • Scarcity - how unique is the consultant's skills? Are they a social media consultant, for example, of which many exist, or the only technical expert that understands a particular process in your business? Are what they know in short supply? The scarcer, the higher the fee.
  • Potential - how good is the consultant? Do they have a track record of working on similar projects before? The more experienced a consultant is, the more significant the potential impact of their involvement and the higher fee. 
  • Impact - the significance of the project that the consultant is working on. What will the effect of the project be if it all works out? Will you double your revenue or only save you a bit of effort? The more critical the project, the higher the consultant's fee should be.
Scarce skills x High potential impact x Significant project impact = High consultant's fee

Note that nowhere in this equation does time play a part. It is irrelevant.

Finding the good deal

Ultimately, both consultant and client need to get "a good deal", as Weiss talks about in his book. A good deal is when the consultant feels handsomely rewarded for their expertise - not their time - and the client feels richly rewarded for their investment - a substantial impact on the company's future success. Weiss uses a factor of at least 10 to estimate a good deal, meaning whatever the consultant makes; the client should feel they can earn at least ten times more in eventual benefits. 

However, getting to a good deal takes time - you don't arrive at it through a quick phone call followed by a proposal. No. The good deal is the culmination of a process where the consultant and client genuinely understand each other, the scope of the work, the desired outcomes, and agree on the approach to follow. This process of truly understanding each other takes time. In short, a relationship needs to develop between consultant and client before presenting a proposal. 

Any good deal ends with a proposal but doesn't start with it. Most proposals are generated far too soon and tend to reflect a bad deal, either for the consultant, who gets the work but ends up poorly remunerated, or the client, who works with the wrong person and does not see results. Without a thorough discussion and a deep mutual understanding of what needs to happen and the desired outcome, there can be no good joint deal.

It's all about confidence

So what if the project comes to nothing or ends up in a dismal failure? Should this not impact how you pay the consultant? Not at all.

It is for you as the client to decide if a project is worth taking and what you believe the likely outcome will be. Also, it is for you to determine if the outside expert is needed and how important their role will be. You must be confident in the impact of the project and that of the people you involve. 

Let's say I'm a tennis player, and I feel I could play at Wimbledon if I received the right coaching, then it is my job to find that coach and pay them "whatever it takes" to get me to Wimbledon. The commitment from both player and coach is to ignore time and effort and focus purely on the outcome - let's get to Wimbledon. 

But let's say I end up not getting to Wimbledon? Is that then the coach's fault? It might be - at least partially. Or maybe you're just not good enough. It is at this point that you decide whether to continue with the coach or not. But while they are involved, you aim for Wimbledon, pay for Wimbledon, and generally "do what it takes" - from both sides. 

Success is measured

Ultimately, the consultant's impact is during their involvement and their fee based on the eventual effect on the business. Throughout the project, it's a case of client and consultant working together to track success and continuously assess confidence. Do you, as the client, still feel confident that the consultant can deliver on your expectations? Is the consultant still convinced that they can work with you as the client and deliver on promises? No consultant can afford to work on a failure! It's a case of jointly keeping eyes on the stars and feet on the ground. 

Agreeing on how to measure progress during the engagement needs to happen before the project starts. The consultant and client should be on the same page regarding the eventual desired outcome, the consultant's approach and how to progress - only then should the engagement start. There are no surprises, and both parties work together to assess impact and outcome. Indeed, no one waits to the end to say, "it's not working". 

The bottom-line? Contrary to current practice, consultants should mostly bill for value and not for time, and clients should pay for outcomes, not input. In the lead-up to a project, the client and consultant should spend enough time to get a thorough understanding of each other, expectations and then arrive at a good deal. Neither party should walk away poorer from an engagement - both should feel handsomely rewarded.

The best consultants choose their assignments carefully and ensure their impact will be significant. They then charge accordingly. The best clients who benefit most from outside expertise can look beyond time and materials to see the real pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and then agree to a fair deal. 

Monday, 1 March 2021

Living in uncertain times

We live in uncertain times, but maybe the world has always been like this? Maybe things are just as uncertain today as they've always been? Maybe uncertainty is a constant, not a variable? The fact is, we simply don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. Uncertainty is constantly uncertain. But practically, what does this mean?





Maybe it means that, in reality, we all sit with questions and anxieties that is linked to uncertainty, yet uncertainty will never disappear - it's always there. Questions such as: should I change jobs, am I living in the right country, where should I send my kids to school, and will I have enough money are all just some of the common questions linked to uncertainty.

In truth, I believe no one knows the answers to these questions because it is simply uncertain.


Uncertainty is the same for everyone.

Although I believe the level of uncertainty we face hardly moves up or down, essentially making it a constant in our lives, I am intrigued by the question of whether someone like Bill Gates faces a different level of uncertainty than me? Does he fundamentally sit with lower levels of uncertainty because of his wealth? I don't think so.

At the end of the day, no one knows what's going to happen tomorrow, no matter their wealth. Money does not buy you more certainty in the bigger scheme of things.





Sure, Bill Gates worries about vastly different things than me, but remember, we are not talking about worry, which is simply an emotion. I am talking about the real levels of uncertainty in our lives. Bottom-line, no-one knows what's coming. Life is uncertain for everyone.


Perceived uncertainty fluctuates

Of course, how we perceive uncertainty fluctuates as we live our lives. We may feel less uncertain in a car than in a plane or with our money in property than in the stock market. I think perceived uncertainty is our greatest enemy because it fools us to think things are sometimes much better than what they really are and other times much worse.





We either live in a state of euphoria or anxiety. Perceived uncertainty dictates our emotions and isn't based on the facts. We either stress too much or too little.


Perceived uncertainty doesn't care who you are

It doesn't matter if you are stinking rich or dirt poor - your perception of uncertainty can be sky high or rock bottom. In fact, one could argue that the beggar on the side of the road feels much less exposed to uncertainty because, in his mind, he knows exactly what's going to happen tomorrow: he will be back here, begging. He has nothing to lose and quite a predictable life. This leads me to plot the possible perception of uncertainty between myself and Bill Gates like this:





On any given day, either Bill or I might have a higher sense of perceived uncertainty. We often hear Hollywood stars struggle with anxiety, and I believe some of this proves that uncertainty can feel overwhelming to you no matter who you are.


Don't let the news fool you.

It's easy to let the news "get to you", but I believe we should resist this. The news is hardly ever the full version of the truth, and secondly, whatever the news, it does not impact your amount of uncertainty, which is a constant - like gravity. Simply put, the news does not actually impact the real amount of uncertainty you face - it just makes you aware of (certain) parts of it by putting a spotlight on it. No matter how good or bad the news, your level of uncertainty stays unchanged. 


Make bold decisions to significantly reduce your risk.

Given that uncertainty is always there and always the same, no matter who you are, I believe we should stop trying to manage uncertainty and rather focus our energies elsewhere - on dealing with risk. 

To really reduce your risk and make us much more capable of dealing with uncertainty requires what I'd like to think of as bold "power moves". These moves are really, really difficult to make, but if you can, you take a quantum leap in the direction of reducing your risk. One such power move is living within your means and not incurring debt - especially consumer debt. By have no debt, you instantly boost your range of options and significantly drop your risk.

Another such power move is working for yourself. If you work for someone else, building up such a significant investment portfolio that you are, in effect, able to sustain yourself. Doing this, which takes significant sacrifice - whether to start your own business or put a large amount of your salary away into investments - will significantly reduce your risk. 

Other power moves include daily exercise, continuous personal development, maximising mobility through the acquisition of second passports or even as extreme as deciding not to have children or, in case you have them, limiting how many you have to maximise your ability to invest in each child's development. 

The bottom line, you don't make a dent in your risk by making small incremental moves but rather bold, principled decisions that require significant sacrifice. 



Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Premium pricing as commercial muscle-flexing.

Charge more. That's the most un-sexy but best business advice you can give to almost anyone. Price is to a business, what altitude is to an aeroplane - the higher it goes, the safer you are. A plane at 30,000 feet has many more options than one at 500 feet. 

The higher your price goes, the more the rest falls into place (pun intended). Selling your offerings for more forces every part of the business to perform better. Suddenly quality must be higher, products more innovative, sharper service delivery, staff more motivated and sales less driven by those easy deals. Charging more is the ultimate performance metric for a business. It's a raw measure of strength. 

Investors often prefer companies with strong brands, but this is not because of the brands themselves, but what they allow the business to do - charge more. Brands command premiums which lead to profits which in turn fuels the business. Money creates money, and suddenly everything starts to make sense. 


Saturday, 23 January 2021

What does winning look like in your business?

What does winning look like in your business?

It's a serious question, and too few entrepreneurs know the answer.

The answer can't be "making money". That's like a runner saying he wants to run. Running isn't winning; it's participating. 

Like this book I'm reading says "Are you playing to play, or playing to win?" 

The ultimate definition of winning can't be an internal measure, of any kind—branch growth, employee count, revenue...even profit. These are all participatory numbers, like a speed dial, rev counter and fuel gauge in a car merely says it's moving. But is it ahead of the others? 

Winning is about serving customers brilliantly, and either you are doing it successfully, meaning you're winning, or you're not, meaning you survive for another day. 

But is making money not a reflection of customer satisfaction, I hear you say. I don't think so.

Revenue is a poor indicator of customer perception—it's simply a sign of what happened yesterday in your bank account. Making money today does not mean you're going to make more money tomorrow. Money does not tell you what happens at the front end of your business. 

Winning means you're crossing the finish line first, and in business that can't be anything other than a satisfied customer. It's not a number in your bank account.

Do you know if your customers are happy with you?

Winning is not a financial measure. It's a customer satisfaction measure. The only way a growing company stands a chance to mature is defining its offering in terms of what it aims to do for customers and whether it manages to execute on it. 

Firejuice aims to help entrepreneurial companies do better marketing and will only be successful if customers say that we've indeed done so, for them. It means they'll pay today, and come back tomorrow. 

Do you know what winning looks like for your business?

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Business confidence as a pillar to effective marketing

Small/medium companies often struggle with marketing because the business suffers from a lack of self-confidence.
"We don't really know who our customer is. We're not sure who we compete against. We don't know how the customer makes purchase decisions. We don't know if our pricing is right. We don't know if our products and services are optimally bundled. We have doubts about whether we're meeting expectations."

"We don't know, to be honest." 

This is often the true answer to many marketing strategy questions that underpin effective marketing. The result is ineffective marketing activities and a waste of money. "Marketing" gets blamed as "not working" whereas the real problem is that the leadership suffers from a dire lack of confidence in what it is they are trying to promote. 

It's like saying the car can't drive properly; meanwhile, you haven't learned how to drive. 

As a business, gaining self-confidence in what you offer requires old fashioned market research, experimentation and testing. It is about deliberate interactions with customers and intentionally gaining feedback that then informs decision-making. It is about going beyond simply engaging customers for sales and turning it into a learning exercise.

Far too many companies don't run such customer experiments. They just keep bulldozing ahead and blame "marketing" when sales falter. Of course, it is easy to blame marketing! After all, it is the one function not completely under the owner's control because it inevitably involves a bit of magic in the form of creativity, communication and plain-old human behaviour.

Running a successful business requires constant fine-tuning. This fine-tuning is primarily the role of marketing (or market) strategy. It is about constantly evaluating customer needs, competing offerings and value propositions, refining one's own message to customers to punch through the noise and kickstart a series of actions that eventually lead to a sale. 

Effective marketing starts with a clear understanding of the customer and "their world" which then informs the development of marketing campaigns. Too many marketing activities fail because this is not in place. 

You first need to be confident in what you are selling before marketing activity can work. It's the pillar on which promotional success rests. 

Monday, 30 November 2020

Why I treat marketing problems as urgent

When a business brings a marketing problem to me, it usually presents as a big stinky commercial pooh. It's nasty. It's an emergency.

Let's face it; you don't call a strategic marketing consultant unless you have a gun against your business brain. 

Problems typically show up in various ways, but it all comes down to sales. We want it now (and we're tired of trying). Understandably, I typically get these problems when it's terminal. 

My approach to dealing with these marketing emergencies have evolved over the years to tackle them more aggressively - more up-front - like the emergencies they are. Less general practitioner (come and sit on the bed; take a deep breath) and more paramedic (surgical gloves and cardiac massages). 

In short, I jump in and check vitals. 

Is there a clear value proposition - the equivalent of a marketing pulse? Are marketing materials attractive, or does it look bland - like a shallow, fading breath? What marketing tools are being used, and are they sharply aimed at a particular objective or spilling attention like a bleeding wound?

I don't treat marketing jobs with kid gloves, but with surgical gloves. 

Once the patient is stabilised, I move onto less urgent issues, like how often to post to social media. 

The reason many marketing agencies struggle to work with owner-managed companies is that they approach the job with too much care. To slow; too scared to challenge the owner; too focused on costs instead of adding value.

At my business, Firejuice, we act as a marketing ER room. We immediately jab you with a steroid of no-nonsense feedback. We quickly identify the key issues and rapidly sort them into not-urgent and critical categories. We aim our attention to where the most significant short-term impact will be. We deliberately don't sweat the small stuff and intentionally stay away from pursuing perfection. 

It's partly why Firejuice is called Firejuice. We genuinely aim to make an outsized impact quickly.

When companies are small; in a high-growth phase, or up against strong competitors, there's no time to fiddle around. Every second counts!