Calima: Marketing through the Uncertainty …

While holidaying on Lanzarote recently, we experienced the conditions called Calima. For those of you not familiar with it, a calima is where they have dust & sand particles in the air, which not only restricts your vision (or at least how far you can see) but it also makes it far more uncomfortable for people.

Your restricted vision takes the form of nearby islands being totally obscured, with some of the less distant hillsides, mountains and so on, fuzzy in the murk. And as for the horizon, forget it, that’s just a hazy blur!

The second aspect, the less comfortable conditions come about by the blanket effect of the sand and dust particles in the atmosphere almost acting like a magnifying glass, but certainly acting as an insulation layer holding one day’s heat in overnight so that it then rebuilds the following day, because every day has nice bright sunshine at this time of year. The good news from a personal perspective was that they did not have the most extreme conditions known as a Sirocco, where it is a wind blowing Sahara desert dust across, so it’s a hot wind in the first place, with far more thicker cloud, murk, call it what you will, acting as the insulation blanket, thus making it the most uncomfortable situation imaginable. Overnight is way too oppressive to sleep well!

I thought that this was, in a way, quite comparable to our existing UK situation when it comes to running our businesses, as the economic outlook is almost suffering a calima, where through Brexit negotiations and government uncertainty we are unable to see that far ahead, which restricts our forward planning. Likewise, that inability to see that far forward, to have any certainty as to what is going to happen in the coming months, let alone years, is also a very uncomfortable situation and turns up the heat on us as decision takers.

Now I’m going to bang the same drum that I’ve banged before, namely that business owners tend to fall into two camps and I’m hoping that those of you who listen and/or read this will fall into the camp of action takers. I believe you should be taking action based on what little information you can be sure of, and shaping your future regardless of what else is going on, because you know what, there are all too many others out there, and in particular the vast majority of your direct competitors who are going to sit tight and do nothing until they know for sure. If you ramp up your marketing now, you will steal a march on them, not only now but downstream too because having stepped up your marketing campaigns and efforts now, you will be that much stronger, you will have more certainty about what strategies are working for you, and you will be able to implement them even better, having trialled them through these uncertain times. There will also be the added benefit that whatever you do now is going to raise your profile far more than those who do nothing and just sit on their hands, and thus, come the better days, you will be a better known supplier of the goods or services you provide.

How do you see forward through these murky hazy conditions? Crystal ball gazing has always been a bit of a black art and more luck than judgement; politics, wars, terrorist activities, natural disasters, all unforeseeable events and uncontrollable by we business owners. So we can never plan with 100% confidence and certainty. Many of us have realised this, have got used to it and just work with the best available intell we have, make certain assumptions where we don’t have hard knowledge, hard facts, and we base everything around that. Yes, sometimes we need to be a little bit more, what’s the word, nimble, agile, to be prepared to make changes if an assumption is proven wrong, but I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Let’s face it, if you were to set off in a car from London heading towards Newcastle, your satellite navigation system is not working, you don’t have any roadmaps. If you started by saying, well, Newcastle is somewhere north so you started going up the M1, by the time you reached the junction with the M6, so you’re pretty much level with Birmingham, if you then realise that you might be better off further east, at least you are some 70 miles (?) closer to your destination than if you’d stayed in London waiting for perfect knowledge before starting your journey. Yes, you are perhaps on a slight detour, but you’re still closer to your objective than you otherwise would have been. Even if you then took the decision to branch off and follow the M6 which took you a lot closer to Manchester, it’s no big deal, you’re still closer to Newcastle than London is, and it is a recoverable situation via the M62, which will bring you across to a point where you can pick up the A1, which is I believe the preferred route to take. So you see, starting with imperfect knowledge is not a total disaster, it does not prevent you from achieving your objectives, reaching your destination.

That’s just one very simple analogy, so I urge you enjoy these times, recognise the discomfiture of your competitors, seek out the best intell you can, and then take action, positive action that is going to shape the future of your business come the day when this economic political calima comes to an end for us here in the UK. You will be that far further ahead than your competitors, and you’ll look back at this time and be grateful that you took action rather than sitting on your hands.

In short, never mind the Calima, get busy marketing through the uncertainty!

Now if you would like to raise your game further, by implementing Strategic Marketing which mitigates the other uncertainties, let’s have a conversation about what that looks like in your business.

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Pause for Thought

Crabapple Tree in Autumn

When is your best thinking time? There’s a question isn’t it! How many of us actually allow ourselves time to think about the bigger picture for our business?

I find going for a brisk walk works wonders for me. As I write this, walking alongside a local reservoir, some of the sounds I hear are geese taking flight for their migration for the winter. As they take flight, so does my imagination, and I get ideas flying around inside my head. It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this. Communing with nature while exercising my legs is a great way for me to get away from the computer screen, the day-to-day activity, the hurly-burly of the office, and just think freely about the bigger picture. Does it always work? No, but it works more often than not, probably due to the improved physiognomy.

I would suggest that if you find what works for you, with regular training you too can make sure that your brain gets used to it. You can make this a habitual exercise of your brain, to switch on the creative juices whenever you are doing that activity. When might work for you? For some it could be to strap a dictation microphone onto their head when they’re exercising in the gym. (I know other people who use that time to learn, by listening to podcasts and so on, or the audio track of a webinar. That’s fine, it’s more productive use of their time rather than just mindless music. However, maybe that is the appropriate opportunity for you to think.) Perhaps you don’t regularly exercise in the gym, but I would certainly recommend you not only discover what works to help your creative juices flow, but I’d also recommend you do this in relative privacy.

I know that walking along the track around the reservoir is not deserted. While there are other people, they are used to people seemingly talking to themselves, using mobile ‘phone headsets with a microphone dangling down somewhere. So it doesn’t seem so very strange to them, and in any case they’ve gone past in next to no time, so that’s never a problem. Whereas sat in the middle of a crowded commuter train may not be ideal, apart from which capturing your thoughts and ideas may be more of a challenge above the general background noise, mechanical noises and/or announcements that break-in every so often.

Why should you take time out to think like this? If you don’t, how else will you create that space. How else will you have these revelationary insights, about what you should be doing with your business, the goals you wish to set? It doesn’t matter how, if these sessions give you the desired outcome, so you get what you want to see achieved recorded, in some way, shape or form. Refer back to these records/recordings, allow your subconscious mind to work on it and help you find solutions; if only by identifying that someone you meet can help you achieve that desired outcome, because they have a skill set that you don’t, but which, when harnessed with your thinking and your internal know-how will create a positive, lasting result for your business.

Many of us imbued with a strong work ethic may struggle to overcome Presentism, the state of mind which regards being at our place of work for every nominal working hour as mandatory. If that’s you, consider the case of visiting a key customer; you’re away from your desk, in working hours, but that’s alright. It’s not wrong to use the golf course as a sales occasion, during working hours, is it? So why not allow yourself the licence to think up potentially more important opportunities, off-site during working hours?

I’ll tell you what, this thinking lark has a lot going for it. It might be you come up with creative ideas for promotion of your business, or you get ideas for a blog like I just did. Get it recorded, note it, examine it later to assess its value. Sometimes you’ll come up with such off the wall ideas it’s never going to work. Okay, some you win some you lose. But it might just be that the totally off the wall idea today becomes your next major revenue stream in three years time. Wouldn’t that be good? So please don’t dismiss anything; log it, monitor it and then measure it and assess it.

Well now, if we are going to have these thinking sessions, I bring you back to my first question: Where and when do you do your thinking? It does make you think, doesn’t it!

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Premium pricing … priceless?

While thinking about premium pricing, and why many business owners and decision takers shy away from this, it seemed to me that either they aren’t even considering it, or they’re just not thinking it through properly. It never ceases to amaze me how many times people query Value Pricing, as opposed to the Cost Plus basis, or even worse “the market price” cop-out!

I then remembered an experience from many years ago, which illustrates this very well. Do you remember that iconic French car, the Citroen 2CV? Very few Brits remained neutral about them; fans adored them while the majority mocked. Those who drove them for any length of time learned of the gearbox Achilles heel. One of the gear cogs or pinions unscrewed itself from it’s intended location, under certain conditions (the consensus view was that reversing too rapidly caused this).

Please remember two points here; the majority of owners of these cars were keen to DIY maintain their pride & joy out of economic necessity, and garage service rates were about £20 to £25 per hour at the time of this story. The choice was stark when this gearbox issue arose. Allow at least one full day to strip down and rebuild the gearbox yourself, or pay a garage to spend a day doing so for you, at a cost of maybe £120 to £150. Or at least that was it, until a local specialist innovated a quick fix.

Now there’s the key. Innovation. That specialist service centre devised a process which allowed them to fix this very problem in just half an hour! They set a price of £50 for this. That’s a premium of between 4 and 5 times the ‘going rate’ for labour!

This did two things for their business; it yielded additional profit from their unique ability, but it also generated additional work because they were then perceived as the only true experts. So why would owners prepared to pay for servicing take they’re vehicles anywhere else?

Premium pricing for products is more to do with placement and reputation, but if you are a service business, what process(es) have you devised that save(s) the client/customer time and aggravation? Have you priced it/them accordingly?

Consistency demands that I apply this too. And I do have a dramatically quicker proprietary process for resolving Strategy. This not only clears certain ‘road blocks’ out of their way, but means the client business can confidently plan and implement those ideas to grow their profits much sooner. This innovation saves my client their own input time, which is often overlooked, yet is a significant cost (especially the opportunity cost, meaning what else they could achieve if not diverted unnecessarily). Thus it represents great value.

So I urge you to review your business operations, to identify where you have innovated, or could innovate, a process improvement that your clients/customers will value more highly.

To higher profits …

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Growth Voucher Scheme

This quick video introduces how to get your Marketing Strategy right, but with funded support, meaning you save money on it from day one :

This government programme helps small businesses get strategic business advice on:

  • finance and cash flow
  • recruiting and developing staff
  • improving leadership and management skills
  • marketing, attracting and keeping customers
  • making the most of digital technology

Some businesses will be randomly chosen to get a voucher of up to £2,000 to help finance strategic business advice.

The voucher can pay for up to half of the cost of the advice. You or the consultant will claim this money back, depending on your agreement.

As an approved Advisor for Marketing Strategy, please get in touch for more information, on 01788 812050.

For the full story, and to apply for a Growth Voucher, please visit www.gov.uk/apply-growth-vouchers

 

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Rural Growth Network

Businesses in rural Warwickshire, as defined by post code, can now access some free help with their quest for growth, thanks to the Rural Growth Network. This scheme is trialling in 5 counties around the UK, and I am delighted to help some different businesses on my doorstep in this way.

The greatest challenge appears to be lack of awareness about this project. The first business I contacted said “Thank you so much for bringing this to us. We hadn’t heard about it before.” So please spread the word to your friends around the county!

The scheme provides 12 hours fully funded assistance, through a combination of coaching and 3 hour workshops. Although geared to established businesses, there is an associated scheme to support rural start-ups.

Qualifying businesses include non-agricultural diversification businesses located on a working farm, as well as industrial premises outside of the main county towns.

To find out more, including if you are eligible, please get in touch with me, on 01788 812050

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How clear is your vision?

Do you remember those weird picture puzzles, the ones that look like a random abstract mess of colours at first glance? Some people were able to focus their sight in such a way as to see through that mess and enjoy the ‘hidden’ picture image behind it all.

These are highly relevant questions, because all too many of us don’t actually take the time to consider what our business ought to look like. Many more cannot see through the jumble of surface blobs and data to what the outside world sees of them. Which is most unhelpful if you wish to portray yourselves as a pride of lions, but the world at large sees a pack of hyenas!

So what’s the solution you ask? Well to my mind, it is in part that old adage that we should spend more time working on our businesses, rather than in them. That time would be well spent focussing upon what image you wish to portray, and how to then share that image first with your staff &/or support network, and then with your market place.

You will have noted that I said in part; this is because some of us have no idea what our business looks like to others, through all the confusing imagery and fluff around us. Honing the ability to focus our vision through those distractions to see the image behind will reap dividends.

But there are other aspects of vision on my mind at this moment. Clarity of how well your business is performing being one. Assuming that you are on top of Cash, and periodic Management Accounts, are you also monitoring those vital “pulse points” that are better predictors of future results? ( I deliberately apply the analogy of “pulse points” rather than the term Key Performance Indicators, because just as health workers monitor our vital signs when we are ill or injured, in order to take appropriate action if we decline, so should we do the same for our businesses, and take remedial action to ensure ongoing success.)

The other form of vision some of us lack is the ability to spot genuine opportunities. How frustrating it is when competitors grasp with both hands those opportunities that we overlook. Worse still for many, is wasting time, money and energy on perceived opportunities that aren’t real!

A visit to an optician helps many of us to read better. So why put up with impaired business vision? There are ways to sharpen up those skills, so vital for sustained success. If you would like to discuss how, please get in touch.

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