Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Are you starting a business? Don't forget your SWOT Analysis!

I seem to be running into a lot of people in the process of starting a business. I've met a start-up technology entrepreneur, a pet sitting/groomer entrepreneur, and a brand new CPA, all during the past week. One thing they have in common is a burning desire for FREEDOM through owning their own business.

Several themes developed in my conversations with these aspiring entrepreneurs. What did they need to do to be successful each of them asked? What roadblocks would they possibly run into? What key activity do they need to perform consistently?

First of all, many entrepreneurs fail to do adequate research into their business idea. Is there actually a need for their product or service in the geographic area they have chosen? Who is the competition? Who are they competing against and what do they need to work on to improve their chances of success?

One often-overlooked way to accurately determine if you're on the right track is to perform a SWOT Analysis. Creating a SWOT will help you determine your market position.

1. What are the company’s STRENGTHS?

What unique advantages does your company have?
What do customers rave about?
What unique resources do you have access to?
What do others see as your strengths?

2. What are the company’s WEAKNESSES?

What could you improve?
What should you avoid?
What do others see as your weaknesses?
What do customers complain about the most?

3. What are the company’s greatest OPPORTUNITIES?

What opportunities are you not taking advantage of? Go on, admit you have opportunities you haven't taken advantage of. Most of my clients learn to leverage opportunities they were either too afraid to pursue or were consciously unaware of. This is one of the greatest keys to success.
What trends could you leverage?
How can you turn your weaknesses into opportunities?

4. What are the company’s greatest THREATS?

What trends could harm you? Is there a technology or new service that could come along and wipe you out?
What obstacles do you face?
What is your competition doing?
Are the required specifications for your job, products or services changing?
Do you have bad debt or cash-flow problems?
Could any of your weaknesses seriously threaten your business?

A SWOT Analysis is not only key for start-ups but for established businesses that haven't taken a good look at their competitive position lately. Could you benefit from this exercise?

Grow Your Business and Prosper!
Suzanne Muusers
Business Coach for Entrepreneurs and Financial Advisors

Monday, November 19, 2007

Want to be a better Networker? 5 Key Questions to Start a Conversation

I network a lot. I meet interesting people from all walks of life. Entrepreneurs starting businesses, independent professionals looking for leads, and established business owners taking time out of their busy schedules to meet new people.

One thing many networkers have in common is that they find conversing with new contacts awkward. They're never quite sure what to say. Do they ask about their prospect's business? Do they ask about their family? They may find themselves bumbling through a series of questions that don't add value until they walk away thinking "Get me out of here."

My goal for this post is to help you feel more comfortable when networking. If you are more at ease, you'll be more likely to have fun, meet interesting people, and promote your business at the same time.

First a few DON’T's
Don't expect to attend an event once and get tons of business.
Don't talk about yourself. Turn the conversation back to the other party even if they ask about you.
Don't be a poor listener. This means you should show that you are listening by nodding agreement, adding a few words of encouragement, and asking more questions.
Don't look around for greener pastures. Give the person in front of you your full attention.

The truth is networking doesn't have to be difficult. The key to networking success is getting to know people and being helpful, likeable, and sincere. You remember the old saying "People do business with those they know, like, and trust."

So the question is: How do you handle the networking conversation so that you become someone who is likeable and sincere?

You ask questions about the other person! Here are five questions you can memorize to keep the conversation moving:

1. How did you get into this line of work?
2. What do you like most about what you do?
3. Tell me about your Ideal Client.
4. So, describe what a good lead would be for you?
5. What's the most challenging part of your business?

Memorize these five questions. Use them when you network. You'll never feel awkward again. For more  helpful tips, here's an article I wrote Four Ways to Be a Better Networker.

Here's to your networking success!

Suzanne Muusers
Business Coach for Entrepreneurs and Financial Advisors

Monday, November 12, 2007

Entrepreneurial Vision - What's Yours?

I attended the 2nd Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference in Phoenix Thursday November 8th, 2007. I LOVE being in the company of business owners with entrepreneurial minds!! Conferences like this are very motivating and can reignite the passion for why we started our business in the first place.

Pat Sullivan, former ACT CEO, opened the conference with a fantastic talk about how to raise money for a start up venture. He also spoke about having great entrepreneurial vision. In fact, it seemed that many of the break out session panelists spoke about vision.

I loved the lunch keynote speaker Dan Morrison's talk about Lessons Learned and how there's no set path or set of rules on how to be successful with your business. He also talked about the difference between an Entrepreneurial CEO and an Outside CEO. No one but the Entrepreneurial CEO truly understands the Company Vision.

It's surprising to me that while most of the conference speakers included something about the importance of Entrepreneurial Vison in their talks, 90% of my clients don't have a vision when they start working with me.

Here are 3 Easy Steps to Creating a Vision:

1. Craft your Company Values Statement. What is important to the organization? Have everyone in your company list values. Examples: Integrity, safety, beneficial client relationships, quality work, consistent follow-up, open lines of communication, cutting edge technology, work-life balance, and personal excellence. Your Values Statement should start out something like: As a company and as individuals we value:

2. Ask three to four people in your organization to come up with a Vision Statement based on your values. Get them to complete the following sentence: It is five years from today, where are we? What are we doing? Who are we serving? What’s different about the company?

3. Take the Vision Statement, break into small groups of three to five and brainstorm to perfect the ideas it contains. Use the questions above to guide you. All groups should share their ideas to finalize the Vision.

Staying Power
Once you’ve come up with a Vision Statement, don’t put it away in a drawer to be forgotten. Use your Vision in your company marketing materials, your website, and in your Human Resources office so that it is always present in the company culture.

Grow Your Business and Prosper!
Suzanne Muusers
Business Coach for Entrepreneurs and Financial Advisors

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Competitive Advantage – How Do You Get Yours?

I've just come back from my industry's annual conference in Long Beach, California. The ICF (International Coach Federation) put on a great conference this year with wonderful keynote speakers and inspiring break out sessions. On my way home I reminisced about why I take time out of my schedule to make the annual pilgrimage: COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE!

As a coach to entrepreneurs, I want to make sure I am offering the most knowledge and value to my clients so that they will blossom and grow. If I'm not out there exposing myself to new situations and knowledge, then I might be limiting my ability to learn more and add value.

Many in the coaching profession not only don't attend the annual conference; they are not even members of the ICF and are not interested in certification. Being that coaching is an infant profession with only 10 – 12 years of formal organization, it is important to me to belong to an organization with ethics and professionalism. At this conference I learned that I am one of 3200 certified coaches worldwide! This is certainly a competitive advantage.

Here are my top tips to creating your own competitive advantage:

1. Get certified in your area of expertise
2. Join your industry's flagship organization
3. Attend conferences in your field
4. Take seminars and workshops to improve your skills
5. Read at least one business book per month – to see a list of suggestions, click here Suggested Reading for Entrepreneurs

Grow Your Business and Prosper!
Suzanne Muusers
Business Coach for Entrepreneurs and Financial Advisors