Does this growth strategy apply to my business? 10 questions to ask yourself

From seminars to books to online gurus, there’s no shortage of advice out there on growing your business. However, it’s important to recall that no two companies are identical in their circumstances, offerings and goals.

Not every growth strategy applies to every business, and taking a blanket approach without consideration may not work out the way you’d like it to. To determine if a growth tactic is a fit for your unique situation, ask yourself these 10 important questions, as recommended by the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust.

The Business Journals

1. ‘What is typical for our industry?’
First, be realistic about your business and others like it. What is typical for your industry? Not all businesses can scale — ask yourself if you even want to scale. While the internet has leveled the playing field for digital services and allowed companies in that sector to grow very fast, those that require physical labor may require a more creative structure and financial support if they’re prepared to scale. Think of companies such as Uber, Lyft and so on. – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA

2. ‘How does this match up with our organization’s goals?’
Before adopting any major change, including a growth strategy, leadership needs to revisit the organization’s goals and priorities. When these are clearly identified and articulated, you can then test a potential growth strategy against them. Ask, “Will this strategy get us to where we want to go, or will it lead somewhere else?” Understanding your endpoint will help you build the roadmap to get there. – Daniel Serfaty, Aptima, Inc.

3. ‘What is our risk factor?’
One factor to assess when deciding if a particular growth strategy is applicable to your business is your risk factor. If you are comfortable with pushing all of your chips to the center and betting it all, you can likely go with a more aggressive strategy. If your risk tolerance is lower, a slower or more proven route may be the better strategy. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

4. ‘Will this impact our culture or change our brand identity?’
Be honest with yourself. What is the mission of your company? If you are the owner, what is the vision? “Success” may not be growth in revenue and employees — it may be about impact. How many organizations or lives can you help improve? Ask yourself, “Will growth impact our culture? Will growth change our brand identity?” Design your metrics and actions to support your goals, not others’ definition of success. – Aviva Ajmera, SoLVE KC

5. ‘Will it help diversify our business?’
Every business needs to grow, but not always for the same reasons. Some businesses are stagnant or may even be realizing declining revenues, while others are growing slowly in markets that are growing more quickly — and losing share. Most often businesses need growth to diversify and to avoid concentration. A good growth approach (such as horizon growth) can help you to define future opportunities. – Mark Coronna, Chief Outsiders

6. ‘Is it a challenge for us?’
We have stopped saying, “What if” — rather, we ask, “How does this challenge provide growth to another level?” We have to take risks, good or bad; a decision is needed to see how far we can go. We believe in pivots and always try to be a step ahead. Isn’t this what makes us who we are? – Gene Yoo, Resecurity, Inc.

7. ‘Does this strategy have elements that have supported past growth?’
If the strategy being considered has any elements that have supported growth in the past, it has a high likelihood of being successful. What has worked in the past will likely work in the future. Being crystal-clear about specifics for growth will give you the advantage to surgically analyze every opportunity. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

8. ‘Do we have a clear offering and resources in place?’
Many businesses are trying to grow prematurely, and it’s a big mistake. To ensure consistent growth, you need to have the right people and enough resources to execute. You also need a clear product or service offering. Finally, you must have all the processes in place, functioning like clockwork. It doesn’t make sense to start growing if you haven’t covered those basics. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

9. ‘Can we fail fast?’
Set up a trial run and test it. Failure is not fatal, and when done well — and fast — it helps build the foundation for future success. Set up measurable tests and have the discipline to see them through and respond accordingly. Falling in love with one approach and not believing the data can be costly. – Jon Schram, The Purple Guys

10. ‘Does it align with my exit strategy?’
You’ll sell your business to a strategic buyer, a financial buyer, family, employees or partners. You might want to go public or close it down. If you don’t have an exit strategy, start there and work backward to see if your growth strategy fits the long-term exit strategy. – Josephine Firat, Firat Education

15 effective ways to keep your teams on track while they’re working from home

Many business leaders who shifted their teams to remote work at the start of the pandemic didn’t expect it to be a permanent change. Now, as more employers and employees are realizing the benefits of flexible work arrangements, it’s clear that, for many, working from home at least some of the time is here to stay. The problem is, it’s not always easy for leaders to stay on top of employees’ productivity when they’re not in the office.

The Business Journals

Leaders need to find ways to ensure their teams stay on track no matter where they’re working. Below, 15 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust offer their best advice to help you maintain employee productivity and oversight while they’re not physically in the office.

1. Develop clear objectives and accountability.
Leaders must make sure their teams have clear objectives, accountability and autonomy in delivering them, and the tools to help them move fast. And don’t forget the basics: Employees need fast internet and tech enablers to stay connected. – Kevin Neher, McKinsey & Company

2. Leverage a centralized task management system.
A centralized task management system is one way to ensure employees’ productivity while they’re working remotely. Leaders will be able to track who is doing what, how much they are doing and how they are performing. Having a centralized task management system gives leaders a better level of comfort seeing that work is being done and employees are staying on track. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting

3. Take care of your employees’ well-being.
Ensuring that employees stay on track while working from home means taking care of the employee first. Address barriers to working from home such as technology, space and so on. Be aware that some may need more flexibility than others. People are also productive when they’re accountable, so check in with them more often to make sure everything is on track. Implement a system for visibility if you haven’t already. – Jay Feitlinger, StringCan Interactive

4. Have a tailored communication plan for each employee.
Leaders can help employees working from home stay on track through a strong communications plan that’s tailored for each person — their personality, their projects and their processes. Leaders should listen more, talk less and take notes during conversations. Encourage employees to ask questions. If a leader does not know the answer to a question, they can follow up later with the information. – Rolly Dessert, Academy Leadership

5. Set mutually agreed-upon goals.
Jointly agreeing on goals is the key. Dependable performers can be trusted to get the work done however and wherever they are. If you both track to jointly set goals, responsibilities and accountabilities, it works much more often than not. – Mark Coronna, Chief Outsiders

6. Hold team members accountable.
As a leader, it is your role to ensure your team members have clear expectations on what they need to focus on and what the outcome should be. It is a lot easier to stay on track at home with clear priorities. Hold your team members accountable for advancing those projects and achieving the required milestones. – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting

7. Hold a daily stand-up meeting.
We use agile development principles and have daily stand-ups. Every day starts with each team member stating what they completed yesterday, what they are doing today and if there’s anything that’s blocking their progress. This approach applies to any job function with clear action-oriented goals. It lets us track progress, hold each other accountable and address anything preventing progress to goals. – Matthew Johnston, Design Interactive Inc.

8. Track time spent on tasks.
Activity tracking allows leadership to have insight into how much time is spent on each task and/or a project as a whole. Simply analyzing how your team manages time is not only a smart way to create pricing and invoices, but it also helps you predict your team’s workloads and improve your business. – Scott Scully, Abstrakt Marketing Group

9. Set up cross-departmental support.
Evaluating the physical work delivered is very important with virtual work. If there is a slowdown in work or productivity, find projects in other departments in the company — those that may have an overflow of work — that the employee can support. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

10. Implement dashboards with clear key performance indicators.
Dashboards with clearly communicated and measured KPIs create freedom no matter where you are doing your work. It helps each team member know if they are winning and keeps all the teams and management in alignment on daily progress. The hard part is picking the right KPIs and then clearly communicating expectations. – Jon Schram, The Purple Guys

11. Encourage employees to block off their calendars for family obligations.
With many people balancing childcare and remote work today, our calendars are more important than ever. Rather than trying to do both at the same time, block off your calendar when you must attend to family. If you’re making up those hours in the evening, put those into your calendar as well. Your coworkers will appreciate seeing when you’re available and having your full attention when you are. – Daniel Serfaty, Aptima, Inc.

12. Set aside micromanagement.
Set a reasonable timeline with a clearly defined deadline and an expected output. The concept of a remote workforce has been around for decades. We all need to be mature about letting everyone do their jobs while focusing on management, not micromanagement. – Gene Yoo, Resecurity, Inc.

13. Overcommunicate about projects.
Communication is more important than ever. We make a point to overcommunicate so projects stay on task, deadlines are met and employees remain productive. We’ve implemented “virtual commutes” three times a week where employees use the 15 minutes before business hours to connect and go over actionable items they must accomplish. Meeting quickly and often allows employees to collaborate and raise red flags. – William Balderaz, Futurety

14. Use collaborative, cloud-based tools for full transparency.
My team of 10 has 30% working remotely and 70% in the office. We have an all-hands meeting at 9 a.m. each weekday. We are all connected via a WIP (Work In Progress) Google Sheet that shows all the projects we are each working on. Full transparency and accountability have been key in keeping us on track. Some days the only communication with our remote team is on our Zoom call. Stay connected. – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA

15. Have iterative deadlines and reviews.
Iterative deadlines and reviews are a great way to ensure targets are being met. If there are goals that need to be reviewed along the way and these deadlines are clearly communicated, reviewed and discussed, it is easy to ensure team members are staying on track. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

10 critical factors you can’t overlook in a shareholder or partnership agreement

The devil is often in the details when it comes to business arrangements, especially when you’re crafting a shareholder or partnership agreement. Every piece of information needs to be carefully discussed and agreed upon. Both sides have to believe the terms and conditions are mutually beneficial; otherwise, they may view it as unfair and grow to resent the agreement.

But how can you ensure all the details are squared away and thoroughly accounted for? Below, 10 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust discuss the factors that shouldn’t be overlooked when drafting a shareholder or partnership agreement.

The Business Journals

1. A provision for the divorce of a partner
I would have a provision for partners who get divorced that requires mandatory redemption and explicitly defines the valuation methodology. The last thing you want is a new partner who’s the ex-spouse of a current partner. If the partner owns less than 50%, I would require a written provision for a 40% haircut for lack of marketability and control. – Joseph Gordon, Gordon Asset Management, LLC

2. A ‘failed state’ analysis
You need to answer two questions: What are the possible reasons the partnership may fail, and how will you handle each situation? Also, discuss the specifics of your roles upfront — not just titles, but the actual work you will do. Agree upon the frequency of basic conversations on financials, employees, clients and anything else that is important to each of you. – Aviva Ajmera, SoLVE KC

3. A plan for the worst-case scenario
The shareholder or partnership agreement must account for unplanned developments. Financial obligations, labor division, sale decisions, market changes and even mortality must be considered when constructing the agreement. While it can be uncomfortable in a new partnership to discuss such matters, failure to do so can be destructive to your business. – Jeffrey Bartel, Hamptons Group, LLC

4. Share valuation
Consider the valuation part of the contract. If you have to execute the agreement, how will the shares be valued? It can quickly turn a simple agreement into something more complex and is something that should carefully be considered in the early stages. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

5. Operational control
Avoid a 50/50 partnership if possible. Every company needs accountability, and there needs to be someone with operational control. As someone who started my company with a partner, I know that partners often have a different vision for the direction of the company, and a 50-50 split will result in no action being taken. Eventually, resentment builds, which often leads to a dissolution of the venture. – Matthew Halle, Lead2Growth

6. The desired result
What is the targeted result of the agreement? If the document is drafted with the result in mind, devilish details can be considered and constructed in a way that benefits the ultimate goal and all parties involved. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

7. The buy-sell agreement
The buy-sell agreement is a document that identifies the value of the business and includes predefined milestones that are agreed upon by both parties. It allows you to not have to worry about things that you don’t want to think about while you’re still actively engaged in a partnership. You should begin with the end in mind. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting

8. Net versus gross revenue calculations
Net versus gross revenue calculations can be a critical component within partnership agreements. These details could be overlooked if the agreement is not clear on how revenue is calculated. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

9. Disability coverage
Just a few of the details you need to include are rules and responsibilities, exit clauses, voting power, insurances, agreements, and corporate structure. What happens if one of you becomes disabled and cannot work? Do you have key man insurance to cover that, bring in a replacement and pay for both their salary and yours while you’re disabled? What if your partner wants to sell to someone else — is that allowed? – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA

10. An exit strategy
Often when entering a partnership we focus on how things will go if everything goes to plan. Entrepreneurs are optimistic by nature. Consider how you will handle the partnership if things do not go according to plan. Exit strategies will give you confidence — you’ll know that while you’re going to work your hearts out, if things do not go according to plan you still have a pathway forward. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

Seven essential steps for developing a smart resource plan for your business

Even the largest companies have limited resources. The careful allocation of those resources is vital for a business to reliably provide its goods or services to the market. From staff numbers to equipment purchases to budget dollars, business leaders must decide how to leverage finite resources wisely.

The Business Journals

This is often easier said than done, though, and resource planning can quickly become a challenge for any leader. To help, seven members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share how a leader can develop a well-functioning resource plan for their company.

1. First determine actual resource availability.
We often underestimate the actual level of effort by people who are doing their day jobs on top of projects. The key step is a validation of actual resource availability and time commitment. – Gene Yoo, Resecurity, Inc.

2. Catalog what’s needed for optimal performance.
Identify your most valuable resources and account for their distribution. It is difficult to develop a plan when you are unaware of the parts of the plan. Taking a moment to catalog what your business requires for optimal performance is key. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

3. Follow a SWOT analysis with research.
Conduct a SWOT analysis. You can also look to industry publications and webinars on this topic — many people are willing to share what has worked and what has not worked in their businesses. I look toward other cities and even our local organizations for interviews with business owners who share successes and failures. You may be pleasantly surprised by how open people are with information nowadays. – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA

4. Prioritize what will move you forward.
Look at goals and tasks from a business perspective first. Will it move your business or your client’s business forward? Prioritize resources and individual tasks with this in mind. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

5. Take a look at your current team’s workload.
Understanding how your existing team is utilized is crucial. Develop reports that show how your team members are currently utilized, where are they spending their time and who might have some bandwidth. Understanding resourcing needs and availability will be your first steps in developing a resource plan. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

6. Measure results and adjust accordingly.
We are a service business, and time is one resource we can’t manufacture. Using our time wisely is more important now than ever before. Scheduling and budgeting activities are critical to making sure everything gets done. Measuring results and adjusting budgets as you move forward is critical to staying ahead of demand. Response time is the No. 1 factor contributing to customer satisfaction in our world. – Jon Schram, The Purple Guys

7. Commit to making changes as needed.
One step to developing a well-functioning resource plan is to be open to making revisions and to not be so focused on the pre-planning stage. No plan fully survives contact with the execution. The art of planning is vital to any business’s success and is important to prepare you for disaster. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting

10 ways business leaders can make in-office work more appealing

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses switched to remote work to protect their team members. While some initially struggled with the change, many companies and professionals have embraced the flexibility. Still, some leaders would prefer to bring their employees back into the office to take advantage of the culture-building and productivity-boosting aspects of in-office camaraderie.

However, employers may struggle to convince employees that a return to the office is the right move. Below, 10 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust offer tips for making in-office work more attractive and workable for employees who’ve become accustomed to working from home.

The Business Journals

1. Address their safety concerns.
Implement requirements for wearing masks. Hand-washing stations and temperature checks should be available upon arrival for both office visitors and employees. Introduce new supplies, technologies and capabilities throughout the office to ensure the minimal transmission of bacteria and viruses — for example, you might introduce no- or low-touch fixtures (faucets, door handles, buttons and so on) throughout the office. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

2. Know and communicate the ‘why.’
As leaders, if we are asking our teams to return to the office when they believe it may not be necessary and prefer working at home, there should be a compelling and valuable reason. Don’t use the in-office time for the same work that can be done at home. Consider a hybrid of at-home and in-office work to maximize the benefits of each. – Natalie Ruiz, AnswerConnect

3. Capitalize on the factors they can’t get at home.
Consider the factors that you have in the workplace — factors that a worker won’t have at home — and capitalize on them. Covid-19 has proven that many people greatly prefer in-person interaction. Offer ways for employees to safely interact in a more relaxed setting. – Toshiyasu Abe, OPAS

4. Incentivize in-person collaboration sessions.
This is something we’re all thinking about. I think it will be important to give workers the flexibility to determine how often they come to the office. At the same time, we will want to take care to maximize the benefits of the times when we all do convene together. Incentivize ways to collaborate with coworkers — take lunch together and hold brainstorming sessions. – Jenn Kenning, Align Impact

5. Let employees weigh in on office design.
Encouraging employees to participate in the office design is key. Whether that involves flexible days/hours, great snack options, child care or updated office amenities, including the staff in the decision-making process is fundamental to buy-in. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

6. Consider a flexible work model.
You may have employees who are very effective when working from home and others who are more effective when working in the office. Develop a results-focused culture — rather than fixating on the traditional office workplace model, consider what conditions will lead to employees being the most productive and effective according to their individual strengths. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

7. Give them the best of both worlds.
There have been news stories showing that it’s not that employees don’t want to return to the office — what they want is to keep the flexibility they have now. It’s a good time to experiment with new hybrid models of work as we transition back to the office. Enabling employees to keep some of the flexibility of working from home as we bring back in-office operations could give staff and managers the best of both worlds. – Daniel Serfaty, Aptima, Inc.

8. Let your team members design their schedules.
There is a pride that comes from walking into an office and being part of a great organization. Still, more often than not, we waste so much time commuting, in meetings and so on that it can actually be counterproductive — and of course, there are distractions. The key is to make coming to work more flexible and to allow people to start building their own schedules. – Gene Yoo, Resecurity, Inc.

9. Include everyone in your decisions.
Include all of your people in the decision-making process. Ensure their voices are heard during this transition, or you are at risk of losing great talent. Ask, “What did you enjoy most, and least, about being remote? Would you prefer your schedule to be fully remote, a blend or mostly in the office with the occasional opportunity to work remotely? What has been most productive and least productive about remote work?” – Mike Sipple, Centennial Talent Strategy and Executive Search

10. Blend in-office work and social gatherings with remote work.
Blending in-office, collaborative work sessions and social gatherings with remote work creates a good balance and ensures people are still connected to each other and to the business’s goals. This also ensures that communication continues to flow throughout a company. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

15 ways to become a more transparent leader (and better inspire your team)

The role of a leader isn’t simply to drive profit and give orders to subordinates. A strong leader can inspire enthusiasm and loyalty in their teams, driving passion for the company’s product or service.

However, this inspiration can rarely grow in the dark; rather, a leader must make a point of working and communicating with transparency. To help, the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share 15 concrete steps you can take to become a more transparent leader.

1. Get to know your staff as individuals.
Get to know your staff. Talk to them. Learn about their needs and desires regarding their careers. These are the individuals who are working hard every day to make your company successful. If they feel connected to you, they will usually feel like you are a transparent leader. – Karen Barbee, Renaissance Wellness Services, LLC

2. Share video messages.
During this time of remote work, I’ve added regular “Happy Friday” videos to my communication routine. Seeing my face and hearing my voice with an update on the week and specifics about what is happening has kept the team connected. It has helped to reinforce stability and consistency in a world that has been lacking both this last year. – Jon Schram, The Purple Guys

3. Create a safe space for sharing.
It’s important to create a safe space for employees to share about themselves. I like to share with my team, too, about the coaching and leadership development I’m doing. It’s a way to foster a culture of constant growth and vulnerability. – Jenn Kenning, Align Impact

4. Seek your team’s help with reaching specific goals.
Share your goals and your progress toward them. Succinctly and directly describe the information or help that you seek, and ask if the team can assist. Make sure your team members understand how they connect to your goals. This not only improves transparency but also makes a more direct connection between you and your team. – Matthew Johnston, Design Interactive Inc.

5. Discuss both business issues and personal milestones in regular meetings.
Within our monthly meetings, we very candidly discuss the health of the business. If there are problems, we talk about them during these meetings because it takes everyone to contribute. In these monthly meetings we also feature employee awards, new clients, birthdays and work anniversaries. Additionally, we hold quarterly meetings — we call these vision meetings, and they’re in a Q&A style. – Scott Scully, Abstrakt Marketing Group

6. Hold a debriefing session after major projects.
Gather input from all participants. Celebrate the successes and commit to making changes, if warranted, in the future. I feel that by doing this we all have the closure we need and are ready to tackle the next project that comes along. – Jim Lane, Lane Technology Solutions

7. Admit it when you fail.
From the outside, many corporate leaders seem as if they can do no wrong. Bring in the human emotion. The experience of sharing failure opens the connection between leadership and staff and encourages everyone to always strive for the best, knowing things may not always go to plan. People always see (or assume) success; they rarely get to know about what didn’t go according to plan. – Joseph Princz, Wrecking Ball

8. Share the whole truth.
Some senior management staff can’t seem to let go of the thought that star team members bail at the first indication of trouble. They are wrong. Do you know who actually bails on a struggling company? Star performers who feel misled, lied to or powerless to know what is really going on. Good leaders understand that. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

9. Let people know who you really are.
There is a lot of talk about being vulnerable, which I translate to people really knowing who you are as a leader. Too often in business, we try to project an image of something we are not — or aren’t yet — and it comes across as either inauthentic or intimidating. If you are open with your employees on what challenges you and the company are facing, they will return the favor in kind. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

10. Share the projects you’re working on.
I and all my team members share all of our projects via a shared document. We all know what each person is accountable for and what projects they’re working on. We are working partly remotely and partly in the office, so we have a 9 a.m. Zoom meeting each weekday. We go down our list of what we are working on to keep everybody in the loop on progress. – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA

11. Respect your team’s competency and capabilities.
Sharing goals, progress and results with your team will allow them to better support the business’s success. Communication on how projects are progressing, whether verbal or through reports and a dashboard, lets the team know you trust them to move the business forward. – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting

12. Encourage cross-departmental meetings.
Invite team members from different departments to sit in on one another’s meetings. It showcases what everyone is working on and how their work plays a role in overall company goals. It also alleviates doubts about each other’s competency and shows support for different departments. This kind of interactivity not only creates camaraderie between silos but also eliminates companywide rumors and gossip. – Jeffrey Bartel, Hamptons Group, LLC

13. Discuss yearly or quarterly goals, then report on progress.
Transparency in sharing upfront goals for the year or quarter and reporting back on progress at the end of the timeline shows that the executive team is accountable. Further, it encourages employees to adopt that same behavior. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

14. Never sugarcoat the state of the company.
A step to becoming a more transparent leader is to not have secrets and to not sugarcoat the state of the organization. Keeping your employees informed and aware of your company’s situation will allow them to be well-prepared and not surprised by situations. This will make them more likely to be helpful problem-solvers. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting

15. Share your calendars.
This may seem trivial, but my entire team shares all the details of their calendars with the entire team. We share when we are working out, going to the dentist or getting a manicure — it’s important for my team to see me as a real human and to see each other as spouses, friends and mothers. I expect my team to take care of themselves, and I lead by example. – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners

15 business leaders share smart strategies for conducting a scenario analysis

After the events of 2020, every business leader is focused on being better prepared for the unexpected. One effective way to do this is to conduct a scenario analysis, a useful planning tool in which businesses create an action plan for the “what-ifs” they may encounter.

The Business Journals

Effective scenario analysis can help your organization evaluate the efficiency of current systems while also helping to mitigate against risk and minimize negative impact. Not sure where to begin? Follow this advice from the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust.

1. Study how you responded to difficult scenarios in the past year.
A good first step in conducting a scenario analysis is to evaluate the scenarios you faced over the past year and how you responded. Take the Covid-19 element out of the discussion and evaluate based on the factors it influenced, such as where you could work, how you could do the work and the change in demand for your product or service. What would you do differently, and what are the options for next time? – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting

2. Start with a SWOT analysis.
A simple SWOT analysis can be a good starting point. Be honest about your weaknesses and threats. Do you have a client concentration problem? Are you over-reliant on one supply partner? Have you failed to differentiate your brand or services? Imagine these weaknesses leading to unpleasant outcomes and then create mitigation — or better yet, plan to prevent the outcome. – Karen Albritton, Thinc Strategy, Inc.

3. Be honest about the future of your product or service.
Re-analyze whether your product or service has a future. In times like these, there is no use in being adventurous or dreamy; it’s time to be conservative. Take advantage of what people already know how to do and move forward. – Roberto Malpica, M&T Consulting Group

4. Review your largest revenue accounts.
Step one is to review your largest revenue accounts. If one, two or even three of them went away tomorrow, for whatever reason, how would you respond? Will you trim costs? If so, where? What is your plan to replace the revenue? How quickly can you make that happen? – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners

5. Diversify your customer acquisition processes.
The first step to making sure your business is ready for anything 2021 throws your way is to diversify the way you acquire customers. Have multiple front-end offers, multiple marketing channels and multiple entry points. This way if something is impacted you have more ways to generate new customers. Without new customers, you don’t have a business, so customer acquisition must be a priority. – Greg Rollett, Ambitious Media Group

6. Consider what you would do if one part of your business was shut down.
At the most basic level, most businesses have an operations side (e.g., the kitchen) and a service delivery channel (e.g., the dining room). Think about these two main areas of your business and assume one of them is shut down for various time frames (24 hours, 48 hours, two weeks and so on). What could you do to operate in those circumstances? Then assume the other side is closed and develop alternatives for it. – Ryan Morris, First State Bank

7. Don’t disregard the ‘unimaginable.’
Every business must spend more time picturing and thinking about the “unimaginable.” Organizations often rush through the threats when setting their short- and long-term strategies and creating their annual operating plans. The events of 2020 have taught us not to just “glance over” the unimaginable — your business could be open one day, following all the rules and regulations, and shut down the next through no fault of your own. – Mike Sipple, Centennial Talent Strategy and Executive Search

8. Look at the macro factors.
Always be cautiously aware of macro-environmental factors that can affect not only your business but also your clients’ businesses, and prepare in advance for any scenario. Make sure the core business and operations are stable and that employees feel that stability when there is uncertainty in the world around them. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

9. Ask these five questions.
I ask five questions when doing a scenario analysis. “Where am I at now? What do I want to happen? What will it take to make it happen? What barriers/blocks/challenges will I need to overcome? How will I overcome them?” Armed with these answers, I set the new course and move forward. – Linda Bishop, Thought Transformation

10. Account for possible circumstances beyond your control.
In times of crisis, companies must blend historical information with plausible outcomes to determine ramifications for all parts of an organization. Scenario plans give leaders breathing room to slow down and evaluate environmental, political and economic factors. Those prioritized factors are an important part of crisis scenarios. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

11. Go in with a flexible mindset.
The first step is to ensure current clients’ needs are met. Maintaining the business of business comes first. The next step can be determined based on the depth of the unexpected. Can a derivation work or is a pivot required? As elaborate as what-ifs may be, having a flexible mindset and culture is key for any unexpected scenario. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

12. Look ahead to where you’re going.
Action plans need to be flexible. I learned to drive at 15; now, in my 30s, I’ve evolved my technique, my skill, my braking time and so on. Action plans need to meet your team where they are and flex when needed to meet where you are going. If you do not have the time and commitment in your action planning to be flexible, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. – Crystal Lazar, Habitat for Humanity East & Central Pasco County

13. Attend industry webinars on this topic.
Industry organizations and the Small Business Administration have webinars that address this with examples shared by other business leaders. Log on to your local organization and you will find an abundance of resources and video interviews addressing these exact topics. Take what’s relevant and apply it to your business. There are more resources available now than ever before. – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA

14. Identify who can do each of your company’s essential jobs.
Aside from keeping our business continuity plan current, it is critical to identify trusted team members who can do your job and the other essential jobs throughout the company. – Robert Antes, TradeTrans Corp.

15. Think outside the box.
When conducting a scenario analysis, you should be creative and be able to utilize out-of-the-box thinking. Come up with other scenarios that may impact your business. You should allow other concepts to exist so that you can expand your preparations to less-likely occurrences. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting

14 trust-breaking mistakes that can damage your company’s brand

Companies that are transparent about their values and practices build long-term relationships with customers, employees and investors. Conversely, businesses that lose the trust of stakeholders can quickly fail — especially in today’s digital-first marketplace, where finding new options is easier and faster than ever before.

The Business Journals

Even business leaders with the best intentions may unwittingly engage in practices that undermine trust and damage their brand. To help your company avoid the same fate, the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share 14 common trust-breaking mistakes they have seen businesses make and what should be done instead.

1. Not following through on promises
Businesses often make statements or promises but don’t follow through or keep the promise. To me, this is the biggest trust eroder. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t say you’ll do something that you later don’t do. And if you make a statement or promise, then, by all means, don’t break it. Keep your word. – Toshiyasu Abe, OPAS

2. Not addressing problems head-on
When a problem arises with a customer or client — which is inevitable — businesses that address it head-on, admit their mistake and remedy it will gain trust. With the abundance of review platforms online, such as Yelp, Google and Facebook, potential clients can get a feel of what it’s like to work with you and what to expect if something goes wrong. We love second chances. – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA

3. Saying what your customer wants to hear
A common mistake that can lead to the erosion of trust at the very beginning of a customer relationship is overpromising. Business owners must ensure they aren’t simply saying what the customer wants to hear. If what’s being said in the marketplace isn’t reflecting what your business is executing day in and day out, your words don’t hold any weight and trust will be greatly diminished. – Stacy McCall, ServiceMaster by Stratos

4. Being afraid to grant trust
Don’t be afraid of intimacy and granting trust as a means of accelerating mutual understanding. It is this understanding that allows you to build and sustain trust. Once you have trust, you must honor and respect it, never compromising your integrity. A brand is how someone experiences your culture. Set and enforce standards, top to bottom, or you’ll suffer in the long run. – Craig Parisot, ATA, LLC

5. Not being open to client feedback
Caring about your customer and their opinion of your company matters. You must take the time to know your clients and care for them as individuals. Build the relationship so that they feel they can be honest with you. Be open to suggestions and listen to their recommendations. – Ana Rivero, Allied Property Group

6. Failing to communicate
You lose trust when you stop communicating and vanish from the frontlines. Today everyone has a voice, and when leaders and companies shy away from using that voice, they lose trust in the marketplace. Today’s leaders should stand tall, own up to mistakes and be transparent with their audience. Failure to do so means the market will move on to someone who is leading from the front. – Greg Rollett, Ambitious Media Group

7. Not being honest or transparent
People won’t trust you if you don’t show them trust. If you hold everything close to the vest, are evasive or leave key details out, people will see right through you. Business relationships, like personal relationships, require risk and the vulnerability that comes along with it. If you are taking on something with someone, it will never be successful if all parties can’t be 100% honest. – Brent Foley, TRIAD Architects

8. Ignoring negative comments
It’s upsetting to discover negative comments on digital channels, but ignoring them is a sure-fire way to completely lose customer confidence. If customers need service, promptly answer them. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

9. Sharing ‘off-brand’ messaging
Ensure that all public messages — even social messages, which can be put together quickly — emulate the brand’s position. This position should be carefully crafted and aligned with the customer demographic. Don’t let the need for posting social media content encourage your creators to post “off-brand” messaging that will erode customer trust. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

10. Not considering the optics of your actions
Customers are human and slow to trust — and they can lose it instantly. A brand is valuable only if it is synonymous with the truth. Businesses often err by walking a thin reputational line. The optics of an action matter more than the action. If something looks wrong — even if it’s technically correct — it will hurt the business and the value of the brand. In short, avoid even a remote appearance of impropriety. – George Befeler, The Befeler Group

11. Trying to ‘fix’ things behind the scenes
Too often, businesses want to “fix the client problem” behind the scenes rather than just embracing reality and dealing with it. Clients are much more amenable if you are upfront and honest. In a world of short-burst communications, we have lost some of the skill of thoughtful communication. – Russell Benaroya, Stride

12. Not sharing progress reports
Poorly managing expectations is a fast track to eroding trust. Studies show that buyers’ monetary cost increases as information increases, suggesting that sellers might profit from the exchange of information and, indirectly, from trust. Continuous communication of progress toward the target will reinforce the customer’s or stakeholder’s interest and their trust in your company and brand to deliver. – Scott Young, PennComp Outsourced IT

13. Focusing on fees instead of client needs
Stop focusing on your bottom line instead of your clients. Take great care of clients and they will take care of you. Avoid the nickel-and-dime fees and focus on growing, helping and developing your clients and customers. – Carter Keith, 31,000 FT.

14. Failing to build internal trust
More than ever, the trust and authenticity of a brand must be right internally to be right externally. Consumers and stakeholders see right through this. Add in social media, and the word spreads like wildfire. – Keri Higgins-Bigelow, livingHR, Inc.

Midsize companies: Avoid these 15 sales-stifling marketing mistakes

Middle-market companies are in a unique position when it comes to seeking growth. While these companies may not have the immediate brand recognition of an industry giant, they often have the resources to run a multichannel marketing campaign. However, all the ad money in the world won’t drive growth if a company isn’t using the right strategies.

The Business Journals

Below, the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share 15 common marketing mistakes midsize companies make that might be inhibiting their sales and growth — and what they should be doing instead.

1. Talking about what you do rather than the problem you solve
A common mistake is creating marketing content that sells what you do versus talking about the problems you solve for your customers. It’s easy to write content that details the services you provide. It requires much more time and research to understand how your clients experience your service and the impact that it has on their day-to-day operations. – Tim Tiller, MyTek Technology Solutions

2. Cutting the marketing budget too soon
One big mistake is to cut back on marketing spending when positive results appear. I would argue that a growth-oriented company needs to let its marketing budget grow with revenue rather than thinking, “It worked!” at the first small result. – Beth Waterfall, Beth Waterfall Creative

3. Not being bold about your story
Many middle-market brands are afraid to present their stories in a bold, differentiated way. They are humble — sometimes even deferential — to the behemoths in their category. Own your story and stand out! – Lauren Parker, FrazierHeiby

4. Being too focused on short-term goals
Middle-market companies tend to prioritize short-term objectives, which often results in paid advertising campaigns. The mistake is a failure to invest in long-term marketing strategies such as search engine optimization. Companies that can balance short-term objectives with long-term marketing investments can build a strong and sustainable sales and growth engine. – Brett Farmiloe, Markitors

5. Not catering to each stage of the buying process
One mistake is not using the right resources for the unique stages of the customer’s buying process. This includes creating awareness about the firm’s very differentiated product, getting customers interested enough to try the product and then purchase it, and setting the repurchasing cycle. Depending on products and markets, firms need unique, effective resources for success in each stage as well as a way to hand off from one stage to another. – Pradeep Anand, Seeta Resources

6. Failing to identify and measure success metrics
Marketing needs to deliver a concrete return on investment. Many mid-market companies get tricked into expensive marketing programs without identifying the success metrics and return in advance. Any marketing program that doesn’t deliver results in 90 days should be scrutinized very carefully. – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners

7. Creating a too-short marketing communications plan
Sales cycles can stretch out for months. One common marketing mistake of mid-market companies is creating a tactical marketing communications plan that’s too short for the cycle. When the communication flow dries up before the lead is ready to take the next step, you miss opportunities. To fix it, look at the cycle length and your communication flow. If they are not in sync, adjust. – Linda Bishop, Thought Transformation

8. Thinking marketing is a waste of money
First and foremost, a middle-market company needs to understand the importance of marketing to know it’s a necessary expense to grow a brand. They should also understand that marketing can and should have ROI associated with it so they don’t think it will be wasted money — just part of the overall business investment. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

9. Turning efforts on and off
A common mistake is turning marketing on and off, whether that be a focus on SEO, advertising or anything else. Too often companies are reactionary and don’t stay the course. It’s important to react if something isn’t working or push further when something is working, but you also have to cultivate your marketing, just as you do any other part of your business. – Eric Moraczewski, NMBL Strategies

10. Not integrating sales and marketing efforts
The biggest growth-inhibiting mistake I’ve seen mid-market companies make is not integrating sales and marketing efforts. I’ve worked with more than a thousand clients over my career, and time and again I see sales and marketing teams that are siloed and do not talk. Even if the technology is shared or integrated, the company culture can create barriers to success. – Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc.

11. Not keeping up with the times
Common mistakes in creating and deploying effective marketing strategies include failure to set and measure performance and return on investment targets and not keeping up with the times. Engagement, reactions and SEO-related analytics should be measured by channel and/or medium. Similarly, if your target audience is on TikTok or MeWe, you may need to add those channels. – Joey Johnsen, Zeevo Group LLC

12. Not concentrating resources
Some companies neglect to plan out their marketing efforts. Before investing money, you need to have clear goals for results. Don’t try to market to everyone, because your message could get lost. Concentrate your resources to have the greatest impact. Know your target customers’ needs, the way they consume information and how they make purchasing decisions. – Chris Friel, VoDaVi Technologies

13. Measuring ROI based on short-term results
A big mistake is to measure marketing investments based on immediate, short-term results. Yes, it’s important to monitor and adjust as needed, but often marketing investments are better measured over a longer horizon, which can be months or years. – Russell Harrell, SFB IDEAS – a Strategic Marketing firm

14. Assuming you don’t have to market yourself
Avoid the mistake of assuming you do not have to market yourself! The best thing to do for your business includes knowing how you will deal with excess business when you do not yet have the business or once you are in a slump. If you wait until you have an overabundance of business to begin considering this, you will be too late. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

15. Not having the right partner
Just like buying a house or a car, when marketing it’s important to find the right partner who understands and has the reference to walk you through what you are trying to do. Let them provide their vision. This also means you need to let go of control and let the experts do it. – Gene Yoo, Resecurity, Inc.

15 tips for making a great first impression on a new partner or client

First impressions are incredibly important — and are also made incredibly quickly. Studies have shown that we make judgments about new people in a matter of seconds. A good first impression can make the difference between landing that great opportunity and having it pass you by. So how can you make sure that people perceive you positively off the bat?
The Business Journals

We asked the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust how to make a great first impression with a potential new business partner or client. Their best answers are below.

1. Offer specific solutions upfront.
One thing I appreciate when someone is pitching me is when they’ve done the work already and come to me with what they would do specifically to help me and my company. Don’t give me a list of what you offer — tell me where I’m missing the mark and how you specifically can help me fix it. – Betsy Hauser, Tech Talent South

2. Make it all about them.
Talk about them, not you! Pro tip: People like to be noticed and asked about themselves, so use this to your advantage. In turn, people will get the impression you are a good listener, which is the best foundation you can make for a healthy relationship. – Madeleine Nguyen, Talentdrop

3. Be open, honest and sincere.
The best way to make a great first impression is to be open, honest and sincere. Do not try to be someone you are not. As a representative for my company, I also try to relay very quickly the corporate culture of our company. It is easy to make a good impression when you are not trying to close a deal or make a sale. Simply connect on a personal level. – Corey Recla, Agynbyte LLC

4. Prepare thoroughly.
Be prepared. People appreciate those who are thoughtful and have done their research before a meeting. Spend at least as much time preparing to meet as you plan to meet. Conduct a LinkedIn and Google search on both them and their company. Find out if they or their company have been in the news or had any recent achievements. No one will be offended or think that you prepared too much. – Matt Rosen, Allata

5. Start with a compliment.
Do your research before meeting the person — look at their social posts, articles, podcasts, etc. Then pick a topic the person is passionate about and start by letting him or her know that you just heard the podcast and loved the unique perspective and tips. It shows you’ve taken the time to learn about the person. It will also help tailor your conversation. – Parna Sarkar-Basu, Brand and Buzz Marketing

6. Be genuine.
People hate being “sold,” and nobody likes being manipulated or misled, but people love to learn and think for themselves. We’ve always found success in making good first impressions by being completely upfront with our goals while providing as much information as possible. We like our relationships to be symbiotic, and we want our clients to come to the decision that they want to work with us. – Josh Green, Software Verde, LLC

7. Check your inflection.
Voice inflection separates the best from the rest. Use your voice as a tool to communicate and sell. The tone of your voice and words, whether you are meeting in person or over the phone, matters. Think about it like this: You wouldn’t buy something from someone who doesn’t sound like he or she believes in his or her product, right? – Scott Scully, Abstrakt Marketing Group

8. Show kindness.
Be kind. The late actor John Wayne once said of the word “kind” that “This one word would stop wars and erase hatreds. But it’s like your bicycle. It’s just no good unless you get out and use it.” In today’s world kindness is in short supply. Give all you can. You’ll be surprised at how people respond. – Keith Woods, KB Woods Public Relations

9. Ask how you can help.
Always start by asking how you can help. Solving problems for others is a sure way to make a great first impression, help add value and lead with your expertise. No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

10. Learn everything you can about their approach to business.
Preparation decreases anxiety and helps show authority. If you conduct your research, you will have a huge advantage over the competition. Before a critical meeting, learn everything possible about your prospective client and their approach to business. Get familiar with the industry in which you will be working, and study current events. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

11. Arrange for a video call.
Making a great first impression can be challenging today as we are conducting business virtually. Whenever possible, arrange for on-camera calls with new business partners or clients so that you can make eye contact and offer a warm, inviting smile. Be curious and respectful of new people and perspectives, and take the time to get to know people on a personal level by asking genuine questions. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

12. Don’t try too hard.
The No. 1 tip for making a great first impression is to stop trying to make a great first impression. It really is a matter of seconds anyway. Just remember that trying too hard presumes a certain degree of pretending, and you’ll have to work with that person if you hit it off. So don’t overthink it, and be yourself. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

13. Have a plan for your introduction.
Making a good first impression is vastly different during Covid-19. Now a smile is invisible. When you meet someone new, have a plan for an introduction. Don’t do an awkward, “Are you elbow bumping?” Be confident in your approach, and wave. Make eye contact. Be sure you can be heard — the mask muffles a lot, so enunciate and speak clearly. Your words matter more. Choose your words well and with purpose. – Jay Feitlinger, StringCan Interactive

14. Don’t speak unless you’re asking questions.
As a rule, we don’t speak until the potential client or partner asks us a question — unless it’s to ask questions ourselves. Let them talk as much as they like. You can guide the conversation, but don’t be too fast to tell your tales and sell yourself until it is appropriate. Ask yourself: Do you listen or do you wait to speak? Most people wait to speak. Try listening first. – Paul Weber, EAG Advertising & Marketing

15. Be yourself.
It sounds like a cliché, but if you bring your true, authentic, professional self in the way you dress and carry yourself, in the way you approach the subject being discussed, and in the way you build rapport, the potential new business partner or client will not have to question what they’ll get when working with you. If it isn’t a good match, you’ll know early and not waste anyone’s time. – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting