Seven questions business owners are asking right now

(…and my honest answers)

A few weeks back, I was delighted to be the guest expert for a Q&A with members of The Business Culture Hull. I thought I’d share my answers here as I’m sure other business owners will have similar questions and concerns to those that attended the event…

How would you prospect for new business in the current climate?

Start with being clear about your audience. Your audience or their challenges might have changed, and you’ve got to understand what they need from you right now.

So, speak to them. Call them up, send out a survey, look at what they are sharing on social media – listen to them. Then tailor your messaging to their current problems and frustrations. Maybe that means changing your offering and how it is delivered.

Focus on the way you approach the structure of your calls or your marketing. Instead of outright pitching, ask for input to an idea. Tell people that you’re looking at building some new products, you’re looking to gain some insight, or you’re looking at developing some new services or routes to market. Explain that you value their opinion on what they think is the right route.

Make it a consultative conversation, rather than a sales pitch. And if you’re talking to the right audience, they’re going to say, “that sounds interesting for me – can I have more information?”

How do I get people engaged on social media?

There’s a lot of noise on social media at the moment – a lot of people are more active because of reduced workloads. The challenge is not being vanilla – not just blending in with the crowd.

If you’re saying the same as everybody else and agreeing with the same things as everybody else, then you’re not going to stand out. My approach is to challenge the status quo. It’s not about being liked by everybody. It’s about being true to what you believe in and how you do it.  You have to create a brand that resonates with your audience.

Do something a little bit quirky, a little bit different. But it’s got to be genuine; don’t try and do something that isn’t you.

What will naturally happen is the audience that doesn’t resonate with you will fall away. And those that are left are the ones you will have a degree of authority with.  They will refer you, help you magnify your message and be ready to buy when the time is right for them.

A lot of businesses have suffered dramatic losses during this time; how long do you think it will take to get back to some semblance of normality?

The reality is there’s still going to be a ripple effect from this scenario for at least two years. But not all the business losses will be attributed to COVID-19, even if their failure is a result of what is happening now.

Look at the hospitality sector as an example. They’re talking about a phased return to business by only allowing a limited number of customers at a time. But most bars and restaurants need a certain level of revenue to survive. And if we’re talking about reducing capacity to 75% or 50%, is that a sustainable model?

Some sectors will be operating at a low profit, no profit or a loss for some time to come and it will really challenge cash-flow.

If you then also look at the number of businesses that have lost revenue but not their operating costs, their cash reserves are going to be eaten up very quickly. And they can take payment holidays or secure loans, but the reality is that for a business that wasn’t healthy enough in the first place, these ‘solutions’ are just exacerbating the problem.

Payment holidays will come to an end. Loans have to be paid back. So, a lot of businesses are just going to delay the inevitable problems or create new ones if they don’t plan accordingly.

If the business world keeps sending out the message that it’s going to take a long time to recover, are people going to be more cautious with their spending post COVID?

We need to be realistic; some businesses will take a long time to recover if at all. But some are still thriving. So, you’ve got to make the right decisions for you and your business.

You can only penny-pinch to a point. If you’ve got salaries, dividends and other overheads to pay, there’s only so much cost saving you can do. And then you’ve got to generate revenue. To do that, you’ve got to invest in marketing, business systems, mentoring, whatever you need to start to rebuild.

There will be some that continue to spend frivolously, and it’s going to bite them on the backside. Others will be naturally more cautious now they’ve had their fingers burnt – they’re not going to spend as much as they might have previously. And then there are those that probably won’t spend at all.

If you were relying on that spend (say you are a marketing company and your clients have cut their marketing spend), you are going to suffer as a result. So now it’s about finding or creating products in your business model to suit that reduced spend and find new clients that are going to spend.

How can you remain focused while working from home?

You’ve got to be disciplined. Otherwise, what happens is that somebody rings you, and you take the phone call. Or you see a notification pop up on Facebook or LinkedIn and check it straight away. And it’s those small distractions that prevent you from getting the important stuff done. Schedule everything – social media, calls, admin tasks, breaks, even exercise.

The second thing you’ve got to do is use your time effectively. I’ve got a simple 4D tool process that I swear by.

Put every single task on your to-do list into one of four boxes. If it’s urgent and important, Do it today. If it’s important but not urgent, Diarise it for a time when it becomes urgent. If it’s urgent but not important, Delegate it. If it is neither urgent nor important, Delete it or Delay it.  You can access the tool here

The other trick I use is to set rewards and penalties for achieving or not achieving goals. Let’s say I set myself the task of writing a blog post between two and three o’clock. I’ll tell myself that if I do it, I’ll reward myself with a coffee. If I don’t do it, I don’t get the coffee. 

It can also help to have a good accountability partner. Because if you say to an accountability partner, I’m going to have this blog written by three o’clock on Thursday, they’re going to be on your case if you don’t do it.

Sharing a goal with somebody means you’re more likely to get it done. So, whether it’s a business mentor, a coach, your next-door neighbour, a friend, a relative or a spouse, find someone that’s going to hold you to account.

We have to do more meetings via call or video call now – how can we manage this effectively?

Keep the meetings concise.

Time is the most precious commodity and we cannot afford to waste it.

A lot of people just schedule an hour for meetings because that’s what we’re accustomed to. But when you meet somebody face to face, you usually spend the first 20 minutes chatting about football, Coronation Street, the weather, or whatever. On Zoom, people want to get down to business straightaway. What might have traditionally been an hour-long meeting, can now be cut to forty minutes or less.  

Set a strict agenda. Have clear objectives. Reconfirm how long the meeting will last.  And when you’ve got five minutes left, rather than carry on chatting, wrap it up. It’s about respecting their time as much as your own.

When you’ve got multiple people on a call, mute everybody unless they are speaking. Otherwise, you get the sound of creaking doors, dogs barking or keyboard tapping which is distracting for everyone.

It can be harder to concentrate on a screen than when you’re face to face. So, if the call involves a lot of information, make sure you record it so you can go back and check you have understood everything correctly.

And don’t have back to back Zoom calls all day because it gets tiring. Three or four half-hour calls or one or two longer ones in a day is plenty.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about working with a mentor or coach?

Firstly, leave your ego at the door.

A mentee with a big ego is not open to challenge, is not open to being told that their idea or approach is not quite right and is not open to getting a kick up the backside when they need it.

My role sometimes is to have a different perspective and to be honest – sometimes that means I have to tell you your ideas won’t work without some tweaks. So, you’ve got to be prepared to be told that your ‘baby’ is ugly. It’s a bit like when Simon Cowell tells people on X-Factor they can’t sing.

But why would you pay someone to pat you on the head and tell you how great you are anyway? It might feel good, but it won’t help you build the business you want.

So you’ve got to know where you want to go, you’ve got to be able to learn, you’ve got to be able to listen, and more importantly, you’ve got to be able to take action. If you have those four ingredients, there is a strong likelihood that you will get value from the right expert.

Running a business is tough and without the right plan, the right support and the right focus, it’s easy to become trapped.  When you get to this stage, you often feel overwhelmed, stuck or uncertain as a business owner. Discover which one of four areas of your business is trapping you and how you can achieve the freedom to choose where, when and how you work. Take our Business Trap Diagnosis test here: