Business Networking Graphic

Four Places to Start Your Business Networking

Business Networking GraphicYou might have shrugged when someone first told you, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” But as you start developing your business you realize quickly that saying isn’t a hoax, it’s a reality.

Business networking is a must for any company, whether you sell to other businesses or to consumers at large, who you know can mean the difference between success and failure.

So, how do you get plugged in with other business owners and managers in your area? The answer is far from simple. Walking door to door is not an economical solution. What you need is guidance and a helping hand to get you pushed into the right circles.

Those guardian angels are out there, but they need you to step up and make the first move. So to help you get out there and start building those relationships, here are four great networking organizations that you can connect with in your local area.

1 Million Cups

1 Million Cups is a weekly get-together that allows two start-ups or innovative companies to present their business model and receive feedback that helps better their business. Each presentation is six minutes long and is followed by a 20 minute Q&A session for the attendees to learn more about your business and give you recommendations. However, you don’t have to present to get value out of attending. It is still a room filled with potential partners or mentors always willing to lend a hand.

There are over 73 different chapters across the United States, spanning from Portland to Orlando and many cities in between. They meet in the morning on Wednesdays every week and require no registration to attend.

To learn more about this group, visit the 1 Million Cups website or check out this quick 30 second promo video.

Small Business Association

The Small Business Association does more than provide loans and grants. They also offer a wealth of knowledge both online and locally. They have offices, called Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), across the U.S. to help get your business on the right track.

They offer free consulting in areas like human resources, marketing, and finance, as well as low-cost training to help you learn valuable skills. Most SBDCs are also well connected with established businesses in the area and will be happy to connect you with other business owners.

To find a SBDC in your local area, visit the SBA Local Assistance page.

SCORE

SCORE is another small business organization, but differs from the SBA in a very unique way. Instead of training you in specific areas, SCORE provides long-term assistance. As a SCORE “client” you have access to one or more mentors that have extensive real-world business experience. These mentors stick with you throughout the entirety of your business and give you coaching every step of the way.

From building a business plan to selling your company, SCORE mentors will guide you through the pitfalls that entrepreneurs face every day and help you achieve success faster. They also offer classes taught by professionals in different fields and have a wealth of knowledge on the national website ready to be accessed at any time.

Head over to the SCORE website to learn more about finding a mentor near you.

Meetup

Meetup is an online platform that can be accessed for free anywhere and directs you to groups that meet in your local area. By searching for industry keywords, or under the Career and Business section, you should be able to find a number of different business networking groups easily. Meetup also allows those groups to send you email reminders of upcoming meetings and gives you recommendations on other groups you may want to join.

Check out Meetup.com and start searching for groups that fit your business.

The Power of Networking

Networking is about more than just finding potential clients. It can open the door to lucrative partnerships, sponsorship opportunities, and incredible mentoring relationships. Whether you think of yourself as a social butterfly or a homebody, there is too much to be gained from making connections in your community to pass on it.

These organizations will put you on the right course to gain all of these benefits and more. All you have to do is reach out.

Business Scaling Photo

How Scaling Your Business Grows Creativity

Business Scaling PhotoMost business ideas start small and grow as demand occurs. However, you can also unlock the potential of your idea by scaling it. When an idea is enlarged, it often exposes part of the idea that may affect you in ways unimaginable under traditional planning.

As an example, imagine if you were baking two peach pies for a family reunion, but your recipe only provides the instructions for baking just one pie. There’s an easy solution; You simply double the recipe ingredients and go to the grocery store to pick them up, just as you would for only one pie. However, if you were to make enough pies to serve fifty thousand people at a convention, it is not simply a matter of multiplying the recipe. The larger-scale process might involve buying the peaches on the commodity market, hiring a trucking firm to deliver them, and renting huge ovens, chairs, and tents for the guests. You get the message.

When you scale your idea to enormous proportions, issues come up that were never part of the original idea. These issues may very well make the difference between you and your other competitors on the market.

How can you scale your business idea to unlock your creativity?

 

This article was originally published as Unlock Creativity by Scaling Ideas at Steve Imke’s Business Blog. To see more articles by Steve visit Steve’s Business Blog.

What is Lead Nurturing? And Why Are You Not Doing it?

Lead Nurturing on Red Road Sign.
Buyers are smarter than ever. They have more options, more leeway, and more leverage than any other time in human history. But maybe most disturbing is their ability to simply say “No”. And once they do, good luck getting them back.

How can any sales team hope to be effective in this kind of environment? Well, having a great product is a start, but to truly inspire people to buy-in your company needs to get with the times. It’s time to change from the hard sell to the soft touch of lead nurturing.

So, what is lead nurturing?

Lead nurturing is the process of engaging your potential customers authentically along every step of the buying cycle. It takes into account specific actions taken by each prospect to ensure they are receiving high-quality content that helps them make an educated decision about their upcoming purchase.

Notice in that definition that outright selling is not included. That is because the hard sell has a very limited role in the lead nurturing model. Nurturing a lead requires a more subtle form of selling. It is about persuading a customer to buy by displaying your company’s unique selling proposition and benefits over the competition in a genuine way, not just in a sales pitch.

How does it work?

To create a successful lead nurturing system you need to have a thorough understanding of your customer and their decision making process. Where do they search for product choices? What social platforms do they use, and how do they use them to communicate with brands? What kind of offers (ebooks, whitepapers, infographics) do they consume before they feel educated enough to make a purchase decision?

These questions, and many more, have to be scrutinized and addressed in order to create an effective lead nurturing model. Once you have that information you need to have a system in place to analyze incoming leads and follow them along the sales cycle. That way you can track each lead as it develops and use what you know about your customers to send relevant content to the platforms they use.

It is important to note that lead nurturing is not drip marketing. Sending mass emails or generic promotional content out at predetermined intervals will not achieve the same result as following each unique lead through to the end. To effectively nurture a lead you have to understand the prospect’s unique needs and publish content that is right for them, not what you think is right for everyone.

Why do I need Lead Nurturing?

The beautiful thing about lead nurturing is that it does more than just sell your product. It generates highly educated customers who understand the worth you provide to them. That lends itself particularly well to the conversion from customer to brand advocate. But if having a legion of dedicated fans is not enough to persuade you, check out these 3 facts about lead nurturing:

  • Lead nurturing companies sell 50% more product for 33% less than competitors (Marketo Research)
  • Nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases (Annuitas Group)
  • On average, lead nurturing companies see a 45% lift in lead generation ROI – (MarketingSherpa)

Who Can Use Lead Nurturing?

Any company can implement lead nurturing techniques to great effect, but it lends itself heavily to the Business-to-Business space. That is because most B2B transactions include large sums of money and personal responsibility on the part of the purchaser to make the right call.

That is why it so important to bring these people into your circle. Instruct them on what to look for in a good product, how your company compares with competitors, and how you can help them in the long term. By being a friend, instead of a salesperson, you will have more than customers. You will have life-long supporters of your business.

Adapt

Three C’s to Your Digital Business Model Success – Why You Need to Adapt or Perish

AdaptAt the Center for Business Modeling, we sometimes travel around the world to find business thinkers that underscore our philosophy for business models. This time, a Professor at New Zealand’s Massey School of Business, Leslie Warren, was the visionary that caught our eye. Listen:

  • “Businesses must reward experimentation…and create a safe space for failure.”
  • “We have to get over the idea that entrepreneurs are born that way.”
  • “Businesses must foster a culture where enterprising behaviors are rewarded.”

Very perceptive, professor!

Mistakes Matter

You’ve seen us weigh in on business models that are iterative and adaptive in the sense that they respond to customer needs and marketplace pressures. The companies that can build innovation into their business models are those who allow their strategists to “learn to learn from failure,” as Professor Massey urges in her video.

In a recent article in the Economic Times, writer Priyanka Sangani asserts: “The digital economy has resulted in a fundamental shift in how organisations operate, with the focus moving from products and services to experiences and outcomes. Organisations no longer control the conversation and if they don’t keep up with this peer-to-peer economy they risk being left behind.”

“C” Your Way Clear

Melding Professor Warren’s vision with the pressures of the new, digital economy that Sangani warns us of can seem a tall order. But if you focus on three main “Cs” of the new digital economy when building a business model to compete, you will be well on your way to achieving the flexibility you’ll need to win.

Competitors. Watch out because your competitors can turn into partners if you’re wise enough to build a business model that encourages “open innovation.” Professor Warren talks about such collaborations as the next wave of business partnerships—when the new imperatives of this “experience and outcome” economy require us to make friends of former enemies. If a partnerships not in the cards, then be sure to create a plan for regularly reviewing your competitors’ offerings and keeping track of their external presence in the digital space. We’re not saying you have to be a “me too” reactive marketer—just be sure you keep an eye on the other guy and learn from their mistakes—and successes. Use CBM’s SWOT analysis template to begin.

Customers. There’s no excuse—and I mean none—for not knowing your customer these days. What’s got them grinding their teeth in their sleep? What product tweaks can you make to anticipate not today’s pain points—but the pain points of tomorrow? (Everyone else can call these innovations, I’m fine with it.) If you don’t have a good CRM system or processes in place to get your sales teams’ feedback into the marketing strategists’ offices at least once a quarter—you’re missing the signals that can send your profits soaring.

In Sangani’s article, he interviews R. “Ray” Wang, author of the new book, Disrupting Digital Business and the founder chairman of the Silicon Valley based Constellation Research. Wang says that “the toughest shift is focusing on the new business model when the company is comfortable with life as it is. Most companies start with a new team and then try to integrate them back to the core after the first set of successes.” I would suggest a cross-functional team dedicated to the “Customer Experience” so that your business model can benefit from the brainpower of the entire organization. Fast tracking these projects will put you in a good place to compete now and win more customers later. Team members then can start intra-functional, customer-facing projects on this start-up “incubator” model.

Community. I know we are all a little tired of hearing about the differences between “engagement” and “awareness” in our online communities. Sorry, though, my friends: the numbers don’t lie: according to Demand Metric, content marketing generates three times as many leads as traditional outbound marketing, but will cost a company 62% less money.

Content marketing has proven to be a sure fire way to build communities—of suspects, prospects and dare we say, even “brand champions.” A solid program of content can move the needle on community engagement and awareness—if you know where your most impactful communities “hang out.” Do the research, plan on measuring the ROI and get started. As always, you need to be purposeful yet flexible enough to change course if your strategy fizzles. Use CBM’s Business Planning Framework to plan your community engagement projects—just pick a “tile” and get started.

Sangani’s Economic Times article is entitled, “Digital Darwinism is unkind to those who wait—you will be out of business if you wait too long.” I think that’s a little bit too dire of a prediction, because I think most businesses are awake to the possibilities—and perils—of our new world. I think we’re smart enough to “evolve and adapt” before bankruptcy looms. But one thing I do know—things are changing so fast in this digital, uber-connected world—if your business model isn’t able to change with them, it may be in very serious trouble.