Tag Archives: Customer Experience

CRM Revisited (Again): It Should be Your #1 2018 Priority

I’ve been harping on the importance of CRM programs for about a decade now (here’s the last time), yet it still hasn’t caught on the way it should. This is the year that changes. Like with most technology, competition, economies of scale, and innovation have driven costs down significantly. Not only are they cheaper, but the functionality and value has simultaneously increased dramatically. Now, you can even get basic versions of a CRM program for free. It’s why acquiring and implementing a CRM program is my #1 recommendation for every business, regardless of industry or target market, if you’re looking to increase revenue.

Whether you work for a large and complex company, or if you’re an independent freelancer, or if you’re a sales mercenary who is compensated by getting to “eat what you kill,” there is a CRM program out there for you. Regardless of your budget (or lack thereof), you can customize the level of sophistication of your CRM program, as they all have various subscription levels. Further, there was recently an absolutely game changing announcement from one of my CRM platform preferences (and the one I personally use for my business).

Zoho One – An Operating System for Business

“Zoho One is a broad and cohesive set of applications that work collectively to run an entire business on the cloud. It includes more than 35 web applications and an equal number of mobile apps—under a single sign-on, with centralized administration and provisioning—making it a true operating system for any business. While each application punches above its weight against the competition, collectively they deliver a knockout punch.

With Zoho One, we’ve put together all the applications a company needs to acquire and serve its customers (marketing, sales, and support apps); run its operations (finance, recruiting, and HR apps); and provide all the tools for its employees to work collaboratively and get their work done (office suite, mail, personal productivity, and collaboration apps). Almost any company has these same needs. With Creator, our drag-and-drop app builder, customers can even build custom apps for unique business needs—like logistics scheduling—and put them under the same umbrella that forms the single operating system for their business.

Zoho One is available at $30 a month—or just about a dollar a day, per employee. ($35 if you pay on a month-to-month basis).”

While WIMS, Inc. is platform agnostic (we work with all of them, including Salesforce, HubSpot, Microsoft Dynamics, and Insightly among others) it’s getting more difficult not to refer my clients and prospects straight to Zoho right now. There are of course exceptions, but they’ve built something special, particularly for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Now, back to the more general CRM theme.

They all integrate with your email provider of choice, along with most social media channels, so tracking communications is easy (and automated). There are an incredible number of third-party add-ons you can incorporate depending on how robust your operations processes are to add additional functionality too.

Most importantly however, is that the ROI (return on investment) will more than make up for the expense.

CRMs help you automate your sales process. The more automated your sales cycle and follow up efforts can be, the greater volume of deals your business will be able to close. Further, the more accurate data you have about your sales cycle, the more deeply you can analyze it to gain insight that will not only help increase revenue, but ultimately help you improve:

  • Close rates,
  • Customer service and retention,
  • Length of sales cycle, and
  • Forecasting efforts and projections.

While implementing a CRM program can be a significant commitment initially, if you do it right, the benefit to your business is invaluable. With just over two months left in 2017, now is the perfect time to start planning and conduct your due diligence to start 2018 with yet another New Year’s resolution.

We’re here to help if you need it!

WIMS Client Spotlight: Custom Consortium

Custom Consortium is an e-commerce, and soon brick-and-mortar retail company as well, operating out of New York and Los Angeles. The company curates the world’s finest bespoke and customizable fashion brands so that individuals can discover and design them to create their own style. Their tagline is “Empower Your Individuality Through Our World of Customization.”

It works like this. You can discover products in their growing collection of brands. Next you design your favorite fashion items to express your individual tastes and needs. Then your products are custom-made and shipped to your door.

Their current brands include:

  • Saintly – Fully customizable, highly functional, and gorgeous leather weekenders and fine goods handmade in the heart of New York City.
  • Impish Lee – A sister-owned, NY-made lingerie brand that enables women to design their own intimate and lounge apparel online.
  • Awl & Sundry – Handcrafted custom shoes.
  • Black Lapel Custom Clothiers – Flawlessly fitting suits, shirts and blazers crafted individually to perfection.
  • Martenero – Customized mechanical watches.

They’ve recently partnered with Share a Sale to launch one of the highest commission affiliate programs in the fashion space. Plus, they also created an innovative twist via their Custom Style Ambassador program which allows you to create design collaborations with their customizable brands to generate a long-term revenue stream from them. They are looking to partner with influencers to help spread the word.

Take a look at the site and let us know what you think, we’d appreciate the feedback! If you see something you like, use promo code “DesignMyOwnStyle” to take 10% off your first order.

The Industries of the PRESENT

How many times have you seen articles about the industries of the future recently? Probably more than you can remember. This is especially true if you’re a futurist nerd like myself that loves researching trends, innovative ideas, and thinking of all the potential practical applications these ideas/realities are going to have on our day-to-day lives.

Therefore, I’d like to take a slightly different approach to this one. These industries aren’t abstract concepts that are in the distant future any longer. These things are going to disrupt, improve, and turn our lives upside down within the next few years. These aren’t industries to just keep an eye on, they’re industries that I highly recommend hustling and scratching and clawing your way into immediately, before another gold mine passes you by.

If I have to listen to another person say, “If I only invested in Amazon/Google/Apple back in the day…” I’m going to lose it. Here’s your last call. Take action, or regret it later.

 

CRM – Big Data / Data Analytics – Marketing Automation

This one is a much more mature market than the other but still extremely early in the cycle of what it’s going to evolve into. I know many of you despise Salesforce.com/Microsoft Dynamics/Insert other CRM program here from a user perspective. Well I suggest getting over it, take the time to learn how to use them effectively and embrace this technology as CRM, Big Data/Data Analytics/Marketing Automation are going to continue to get more deeply involved in your day to day operations if you want to survive and thrive as a company whether you like it or not.

Nowadays it’s crucial to be able to turn vast amounts of data into insights and competitive advantages, while simultaneously improving customer service. CRM systems can increase sales by improving lead generation activities, help you design better products and services, and reduce supply chain costs. It will improve your decision-making by identifying new markets opportunities, and by improving your business processes and communication throughout your company.

You’ve had your head stuck under the sand long enough now, it’s not going away so get on board. (*Yes, my company provides these services and is partially why I started here, the other reason is that this has been around for a decade already).

 

Augmented Reality – Virtual Reality – Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning – Internet of Things

Notice how I listed AR first? Don’t get me wrong I do think there is a huge place in the market for VR and 360 videos, etc. That place is just dwarfed by the market impact that AR is going to have however. Again, industries are CURRENTLY being disrupted, and consumer/professional products and services are on the brink of mass adoption. I also lumped these together as they’re all related in a variety of ways and will supplement each other going forward.

Industries such as health care, real estate, education, military, public service, entertainment are about to be severely disrupted. Keep thinking these are all just entertainment gimmicks/Pokémon games if you must, but you’re going to wake up in a brave new world wondering what happened before you know it.

I am personally and professionally deep in this industry. I am a partner/co-founder of a company called Eolian which is a software/content development firm and systems integrator. We specialize in Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI). We’re currently focused on helping government and large enterprise organizations utilize these technologies for critical applications. We are also launching a product called ARRE (Augmented Reality Real Estate) this week which will blow people’s minds.

To say we’re growing like crazy would be an understatement. This industry is the next wave of computing. Think personal computers, mobile phones, and tablets, now this could, and will, easily trump them all.

 

Block Chain – Crypto Currency – Bitcoin – Ethereum – “Smart Contracts”

Many of you likely don’t really understand what these things are. I’ll give you a brief definition of each. Blockchain is a complete record of every smart contract transaction executed, all of which are stored in a public ledger (the Blockchain) created by collaborating online computers. Bitcoin is a digital currency that was the first algorithm to utilize blockchain technology and encryption techniques to generate units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, independent of any central bank. Ethereum is a public blockchain platform that powers smart contracts via apps created by developers around the globe.

Essentially these technologies will allow for cross border commerce, enable complete transparency and trust between parties in a transaction, as well as prevent currency manipulation. They aren’t just ways to buy illegal contraband via “The Silk Road 2.0” like you’ve probably read about and think is the purpose. It goes much further than that.

This is another industry I’m putting my time and money where my mouth is as I’m a partner and equity holder with a company called GNEISS. Essentially, we act as your ultimate security companion in a free market transaction. You can create, transfer, mint, burn, exchange, tax, or pay dividends to any crypto-asset or smart contract on our decentralized blockchain-powered trading platform. And this is just the beginning. Check it out and register to take a look yourself.

 

Others:

Cannabis – Marijuana

I’m sure you’re much more aware of this one as its been getting a ton of mainstream attention these days. It’s another that’s already been growing like gangbusters. I’m not fully “in” the industry just yet but working on it by helping my friends on the team of The Kush Life/Kush House get funding to continue building out their luxury retail space and product line. They’re also developing technology to help others in the space operate more efficiently and transparently. They’re based in Maine and quickly growing a reputation as New England’s leading cannabis authority.

Renewable Energy: I.e. Solar, Water, and Geothermal

While I don’t have a meaningful equity stake in a company in the solar industry (other than owning a rather insignificant couple hundred shares of a public company) I would love to get more involved in this industry from each angle. Yes, I understand the current administration isn’t a huge advocate, but it’s all about the long game.

3D Printing

This is one where I have 0 stake in currently, but will be hunting down a way to get involved in 2017. Not only will the manufacturing and distribution industries be disrupted like crazy, but also retail, and likely countless others.

 

This was a long one, but if you made it this far hopefully you will be grateful you did one day. I’ve been so deep in thought, as well as taking action to get more involved in these industries that I easily could’ve written another 10 pages.

There are plenty other industries that intrigue me as well of course, but what others are YOU excited about and going all in on? Do you disagree with any of my predictions? What steps have you taken and/or are planning to take? Would love to hear your perspective!

WIMS: Where is Mike Simmons?!

To say that the 1st quarter plus of 2016 has been intense would be an understatement! WIMS Consulting has been in full-on hyper growth mode with lots of incredible new clients and projects currently underway and several others in the pipeline as well. While I’m extremely grateful and would never complain about that, one downside has been that The WIMS Guide has fallen off a bit.

Luckily, thanks to lessons learned from Tim Ferris and The 4-Hour Workweek this will no longer be the case due to a technique called “batching.” Essentially that means that I’ve been writing several posts simultaneously so that I can build up an inventory in advance to keep them going regularly. Between my personal posts and the stacked roster of diverse guest writers I’ve been recruiting there is going to be a lot of great content coming your way.

Now, back to my original question of “Where is Mike Simmons?!”

Over the past few months I’ve been extremely focused on growing the business. Landing new clients in my home base of Charlotte has been a significant priority, and so far this year has already been exceeding expectations as I’m now working with companies here varying from startups to multi-billion dollar entities and everything in between.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be able to do quite a bit of traveling, my business trip to Miami last month was very successful as it remains a key component of my growth strategy. Maintaining my footprint there means a great deal to me and fortunately my existing relationships continue to bring new opportunities.

The California trip was primarily for vacation, however expanding the business there is another 2016 goal of mine and it looks very promising. In addition, as New York remains the holy grail of markets, I’m thrilled to have landed an amazing client there too, which I will elaborate on further when the time is right.

While some of the current projects remain confidential, I at least wanted to share some details about a few of them.

Nimbus – A payment processing platform based in Charlotte. It’s currently available online, via iOS mobile application (soon on Android as well), and it’s compatible with PC/Mac. You can process credit card payments on your phone by taking a picture so a swiper is no longer needed, it also processes ACH, Apple/Android Pay and other alternative methods as well. Rates start at 2.25% (best rates available) and will decrease automatically based on transaction volume. It also has an open API, allowing other applications and platforms to integrate it into their own systems to process payments. Pretty cool stuff and that’s just the beginning of what it can offer.

SalesFuel – This is a really interesting concept that I’m excited about collaborating on. I recently partnered with a South Florida based company called On the Ball/SalesFuel which is a business development firm that works with organizations’ sales team to get them meetings with the C-Level suite. We’re building a team that will span across the country and already beginning to work with some amazing companies.

Golf Squad – In a business world where sales and lead generation strategies are rapidly evolving, one approach continues to remain extremely effective: the game of golf. The Golf Squad Corporate Program was created to pursue the mission of formally blending the golf and business worlds together. Each program is led by a PGA professional and operations currently exist in over a dozen states and counting.

Ok, that’s enough of the shameless plugs for now but I wanted to provide some additional insight into what I’ve been up to, along with a snapshot of some of the companies I’ve been working with.

I will start wrapping up with a lesson I’m currently learning the hard way. Most of the talk about being an entrepreneur focuses on how difficult it is to get new clients and business. That is certainly true, but what seems to be discussed less often is the great challenge it is to service them and implement afterwards which is at least as equally important. To be frank the balancing act is a full on struggle and I’ve certainly been experiencing growing pains. Because of that I’ve been working on building the team, so any referrals in that regard would be greatly appreciated.

Lastly, as always I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, insights, etc. so please feel free to reach out and let me know what you think!

The BEST Approach to get Media Coverage for Your Business

Most entrepreneurs and small businesses do not have the budget to shell out high dollars for paid advertisements to promote their services. Instead, they need to rely on cost effective or free ways to get their message out. The same is true for public relations professionals who are tasked with gaining publicity and raising awareness for their organization. While their marketing and advertising colleagues often have a nice chunk of change to spend on ads or partnerships that promise coverage, the majority of the publicity the public relations team brings in is done with little or no cost.

I’d like to share what I have found to be one of the most successful methods of getting a news outlet to talk about your work and demonstrate how you can do the same for your business. It all comes down to identifying a great story and crafting the perfect pitch. Media with CHS 2

  1. Make your pitch a story and not a commercial

My first tip is the most important. Do NOT make your pitch a commercial. No one is interested in how wonderful and intelligent your product is. If your pitch goes on and on about why everyone needs to buy this product or how great of a business person you are, it will get thrown in the trash, along with your reputation.

The best way to promote your business is to dig a little deeper and find a real life example that clearly illustrates why something is news worthy. This will take more effort on your part but it will make all the difference in whether or not you get coverage, and ultimately, the story that comes out will resonate with your target audience much better than an expensive commercial.

  1. Find the essential “characters” for your pitch

Your pitch needs to focus around the main character. This should be someone who is not affiliated with your business; such as a customer or a client. If you are promoting a product or a service, find someone who uses it on their own (meaning they are not getting paid to do so) and who genuinely has a positive experience with it. Your pitch will highlight their experience and what led them to use your service/product and the difference it has made on their life.

Secondly, you need an expert; whether it’s yourself or a designated spokesperson for your company.   This role is to discuss how the service or product benefitted your main character. They should also discuss what they personally did to help this person and what their work means to the community. This role does not include showing off, gloating or trying to steal the spotlight.

  1. Is there a conflict and resolution?

In order to have a story, your main character needs to have a conflict that your expert has solved by his/her service or product. In addition, you need to make the case that this is something that can help all of the reporter’s audience as well. It can’t be something that will only benefit one person.

Once you have your two main characters, the conflict and the resolution, you can plug your information into a simple format. I’m going to coach you through this format using a recent story I worked on that resulted in coverage for one of my clients, Dr. Oleg Tcheremissine. Claire and the Oosterhuis's

  • Introduction of main character

Example: Peter Oosterhuis, a former golf pro and CBS sports commentator, is incredibly popular and respected among his peers, fans, and family. He has a long and storied career in golf and is known best for defeating golf legends such as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

  • Describe the Conflict

Recently, Peter and his wife began to notice lapses in his memory and professionalism. He struggled with everyday tasks and was growing increasingly frustrated with the mental changes he was experiencing.

  • Introduction of your expert

Peter went to go see a doctor in Texas. The doctor diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s disease; and suggested that he go to Charlotte where the experts there would be the best to treat him. Peter went to Charlotte where he began seeing Dr. Oleg Tcheremissine, who enrolled him in a groundbreaking clinical trial.

  • Resolution

While we don’t know if Peter is receiving the actual drug or a placebo in the trial, he and his wife are on a mission to raise awareness and funding for the treatment and research of Alzheimer’s disease. They want to let others know that this trial is significant for the development of a drug that may ultimately lead to a cure for this devastating disease.

  • Impact- Why should anyone care?

Alzheimer’s can happen to anyone- even the greatest athletes like Peter. The more we talk about this disease, the better the chances of finding a cure. Everyone in Charlotte would appreciate that the world’s best doctors and researchers are located in their backyard and should they or a loved one ever need treatment for Alzheimer’s, they won’t have to go anywhere else.

Results:

WCNC, the NBC affiliate in Charlotte, covered this story and ran it during their nightly news cast.

The Alzheimer’s Association shared this story as a message of hope and education for all of the patients and caregivers that follow their YouTube Channel.

Peter’s story remains one of the most viewed on the Carolinas HealthCare System’s Daily Dose blog, which is followed by thousands of people in North and South Carolina.

The Charlotte Observer did an in depth piece on Peter and his wife and describes the clinical trial that has the potential to delay the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

  1. B-Roll Media with CHS

To provide an additional incentive to reporters, you must find b-roll to support your story. According to the Content Marketing Institute, b-roll is the extra footage captured to enrich the story you’re telling. Instead of featuring only talking heads on video, you want to include additional video footage, still photographs, animation or other graphic elements.

In the case of Peter’s story, we reached out to the Quail Hollow Golf Course who allowed us access to film Peter playing golf there, we supplied reporters with old photographs of Peter and his wife and coordinated with Dr. Tcheremissine at the neurology clinic to film a checkup with Peter. Those visuals really made the story come to life and allowed the viewer to see what it was like to experience what Peter was going through.

  1. Fact Sheet

If you are pitching a story idea to the media, it is your responsibility to know your topic inside and out and you must be able to teach the reporter about it. Often times, the expert may be so advanced they don’t break down the information in an easy to understand way; so the reporter will often rely on you to explain it to them. Or if you are doing the interview yourself, you must absolutely be prepared for every potential question they can ask you. Plus, reporters are on tight deadlines so they don’t often have the time to research each topic. This is where you can be a huge help to them. I like to supply reporters with a fact sheet before and after each interview with suggested questions, key messages, and data. You can even go as far as to write the story for them and supply quotes, photos and links for more information.

Recently I worked on a story about a young woman who got married in her father’s hospital room just days before he passed away. A reporter with People Magazine was at the airport so couldn’t be there in person- so I took photos for her and provided as much information as I could so she could write her story.

  1. Share and Follow Up

Now that you put in all that work to get your story in the spotlight, it’s time to share it! Post the link on social media, your company’s YouTube page, and email your family, friends, and contacts. When the share the coverage with their networks, it gets even more exposure! Plus, it’s a great way to build relationships with everyone involved and if the experience was positive, it will be that much easier to work with that reporter on another story in the future. When reporter Lena Sun with The Washington Post covered the behavioral health integration model, we shared the link and connected with Lena on Twitter to immediately to promote the story, which resulted in greater exposure of the report and our behavioral health team.

Conclusion

According to research done by Paul Zak and his team at the University of California, Berkeley, stories “shape our brains, tie strangers together and move us to be more empathic and generous.” These are all the emotions we should try to evoke when reaching out to our target audiences. Anything less than that and they will change the channel, skip over the story, and stop engaging with you. I encourage you to put on your own reporter hat and ask questions to find that great story that will resonate with reporters and audiences to ultimately help you achieve your goal- showcasing the great work of you/your company and getting your audience to respond and connect with you.

—-

Claire Simmons is with the clinical public relations team at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, N.C. She is responsible for developing strategic communications initiatives and coordinating public relations activities for women and children’s services, behavioral health and neurosciences. Claire develops and manages annual communications plans that promote new programs, facilities, services and other activities for her various clinical specialties. As a former news producer and reporter, Claire’s favorite aspect of her work revolves around telling stories that connect with the community while promoting her clients. Connect with Claire on LinkedIn or email her at Claire.Simmons@carolinashealthcare.org.

Marketing Process Outsourcing

The New WIMS Inc: Putting In-House Marketing Departments on Notice

Unlike my typical blog posts, this one is certainly going to piss people off, including current and former colleagues, friends, clients, and prospects. While I usually try to avoid that, I can’t any longer as some things just need to be said. Change can be a scary and complicated thing, but there’s just a better way to do business and it’s nothing personal.

Now, the trend of outsourcing is far from a new or innovative concept. Yet companies like professional services firms continue to allocate extremely high budgets of $500,000-$1,000,000 and often much more to their in-house marketing departments. They do this despite the fact that they could spend a fraction of the cost while simultaneously getting significantly better service and results.

Regardless if you prefer to keep your team in house or to use a consulting firm, one thing is constant in either case, you need to DEMAND to see ROI. There are some advantages to keeping the team in-house I’ll admit that, but you should at least be able to make an apples to apples comparison between both approaches.

The way to do that is ROI, the objective metric that evens out all playing fields. I’ve seen many CMO’s apply the “smoke and mirrors” strategy year after year. They avoid accountability by overlooking past failures while waving the amazing, shiny new “marketing strategy” that they’re going to deploy this year. This is often just the old strategy repackaged to appear new however. CEO’s looking to avoid conflict accept it as a cost of doing business and then proceed to kick the can further down the road.

Now while there are plenty of exceptions, as there always are when dealing with people, there’s something I’ve often observed in the corporate world, I call it the “comfort theory.” Essentially, when you’re paying someone a predictable and stable salary it inherently allows most people to start cutting corners and reducing the quality of their work because they can get away with it. Not only is there a reduced quality of work, but why subsidize employee’s internet browsing time and social media addiction when you can just pay for the work that’s actually done. Besides, I doubt they’re going to give you a cut of their fantasy football winnings despite squandering hours a week of your time managing their team.

Don’t just take my word for it, conduct your own experiment and see for yourself. The next time you’re in a meeting with your marketing department demand more out of them or suggest changes, and watch the level of pushback, reluctance, and resistance you get. On the contrary call a consultant about a new project idea and watch them passionately geek out about all the possibilities.

I understand the comfort of familiarity and the status quo believe me, but is it really worth spending $50,000-100,000 on a salary for someone to just write an occasional blog post or article, blankly stare at a twitter feed, or create an occasional ad. You can get the same result or better for a tenth of the cost in many cases.

As another experiment, this Friday afternoon say around 3pm, take a walk around your building and see how empty the offices and cubicles are. The mentality of being an employee and working for your boss vs. being a client and working for your business partner can’t be compared. Working with independent contractors that need your business takes the quality of work to another level. They are mini-CEOs trying to better their lives, they’re not just punching a clock while desperately waiting to leave the office early on Friday afternoon. They’re the ones working at midnight on a Saturday because they’re hungry and ambitious.

You create the best work when you absolutely need to, like when writing a paper the night before it’s due. There’s something about having your life depending on it that generates this hyper-focus of productivity. Imagine having a team of people producing this kind of work every day because that’s how they approach their live, very deliberately.

Typical counter-arguments for in-house departments include things like, “oh but we know the brand so well,” or “what if someone urgently needs a brochure for a sales call?” It may not be a popular sentiment, but people are easily replaceable. We work with various brand guidelines all the time and pick them up very quickly. Also, I’ve seen countless desks with stacks of brochures piled high collecting dust, as much as marketers may try to convince you otherwise, your beautiful brochure is not what’s going to win you new business, relationships are.

Perhaps this post is like that old “Magician’s Greatest Secrets Revealed” show where the masked magician showed you how the tricks were really done and made a lot of magicians extremely angry. If you’re feeling that way right now I hope you take this opportunity to step your game up and prove me wrong.

Changing a decades long mindset of keeping marketing teams in-house is going to require evolution and a rebuilding process, but there’s definitely hope. It will force people to BE BETTER. Think about the Golden State Warriors a few years ago. They were very bad, but they had some decent and promising players, they stuck to their long-term plan to build their team, make a few strategic moves and then a few years later they won a championship. The metaphor is very relative in business as well.

For the sake of full transparency, this long-winded blog post has the additional goal of announcing the new WIMS, Inc. We now offer a complete suite of marketing, CRM, and business development services that are provided for literally a fraction of the total cost you’re paying for your entire marketing department. By leveraging strategic partnerships and a deep team of independent contractors we are now able to offer literally any marketing service, and to any size firm in any industry. If you’re interested in video, we can develop the content, build an entire distribution network, and even create your own online channel. If audio is your thing, we can help with the creation, publishing, and promotion of your own radio show and/or podcast. If you need a website, an ad campaign, online content creation, or social media network, whatever it is you’re looking for, we can help facilitate.

Give us a call or send us an email and we’ll be happy to provide you with a FREE consultation to see if our companies would be a good fit to work together. Part of building strong long-term relationships includes occasionally offering some free advice, which we do happily. What do you have to lose by at least evaluating whether it’s worth pursuing a potential 6-figure a year cost reduction in your marketing expenses?

cut your teeth

Cut Your Teeth

Little did I know when I first heard this rather graphic and cringe-worthy phrase how literal it could be. If you haven’t heard it before, this will explain it for you.

But first to quickly digress, after receiving such positive and encouraging feedback from my post last week (if you haven’t read it yet, you can check it out here) I figured why not tell another embarrassing and self-depreciating yet important lesson learned story. That being said, if you want more of these types of posts please let me know, and on the contrary if you’d rather me go back to providing more practical marketing/entrepreneurial advice I can accommodate that as well, regardless I’d love to hear your thoughts! Now back to the story.

A couple months ago on a Friday evening, I had just arrived to Miami for a business trip. I had driven about 11 hours straight on limited sleep as it is after a few late nights working. Needless to say, I was extremely relieved to arrive at my best friend’s place where I was staying that first night and immediately poured a glass of wine after walking through the door. I didn’t even make it through the first glass before getting up to walk to the bathroom. But on the way, disaster struck!

Somehow out of nowhere I fainted, falling face first into his granite sink and literally cut my tooth in half, while chipping several others, and bit through my lip. To add insult to injury my limp body subsequently collapsed into a kitty litter box, which thankfully at least had recently been cleaned out. I came to a few minutes later laying in the litter box, and lots of blood all over me. For full disclosure’s sake, the picture above is not of me, my accident looked much worse.

Luckily my friend and his girlfriend were there to help clean me up, and get me back to the couch where I promptly received 1950’s era medical treatment, i.e. a towel, a bag of ice, and aspirin. Of course I didn’t have health insurance at the time (nor dental) so I essentially had to just suck it up. That’s one of the trade-offs you have to sometimes make when going from a corporate gig to becoming an entrepreneur.

I spent the rest of the weekend sleeping, recovering, and mulling over whether or not to just head home with my tail between my legs and finish recovering with my fiancé in the comforts of my own home. Considering I can be a little vain, and didn’t want people to see me looking like that, I came very close to making that decision. Not to mention I had a feeling my reputation as a partier would generally be considered the culprit for my accident, and I wanted to avoid the condescending, “uh huh, sure that’s how it happened…” comments that would likely ensue.

Obviously, I didn’t make what in hindsight would’ve been a very poor decision or I wouldn’t be telling you this story now. Come Monday morning I decided that despite how much pain I was in, and how bad my face looked, I needed to rally and make the best of the trip.

As an entrepreneur you don’t have the luxury of taking a paid sick day. I knew I desperately needed to close business while I was there so I mustered all the courage I could, bought a BIG bottle of ibuprofen, and got to work.

An hour after making this decision I got a call about an opportunity I hadn’t even anticipated with a potential dream client. Since I was still in town I was able to make some moves, and ended up landing it! That client then led to another big opportunity with another client in Miami as well. Not to mention I was still able to attend the HYPE Awards with an interesting yet lisp-y story to tell.

Not only does being an entrepreneur, or any professional for that matter, require skill, intelligence, and hard work, but it also requires a little grit and relentless determination as well. The easier and comfortable decision is always to give up and call it a day, but that’s not what’s going to make you successful. Sometimes you have to learn by figuratively cutting your teeth, and sometimes it takes literally cutting them to learn what you’re capable of.

WIMS Client Spotlight: B.home Interior Design

B.home is an online shop and blog, designed to showcase beautiful and unique objects and design. They focus on providing a presence that motivates you to live a lovely life, whatever your passions. They are available to provide you with suggestions, ideas, inspirations and products to help you live well and “B” thankful for the simple things in life.

B. present

Brianna Conrad started B.home to bring together her many loves and passions and translate them into a business. She’s an interior designer, writer, wanderer, sun and sea lover, faithful red wine drinker and hostess with a creative spirit and an old soul.

Brianna Conrad

Brianna Conrad

B. inspired and inspiring

B.home is a “lifestyle” online shop – focusing on and embracing all things that make life lovely – home design, hospitality, art, books, furniture, candles and gifts. These are B.home’s loves. They live with them daily. They make time for them. They share them with others.

They search for items around the world with character and timeless beauty, give them a little love when needed, and provide an opportunity for you to purchase these one-of-a-kind pieces to add charm to your own home.

B. intentional

We believe in living intentionally, making plans and making memories, and we are serious about and committed to helping others do the same. We don’t think your house has to be sparkling clean or fully furnished to invite guests in for tea. We don’t think you have to be a wine expert to appreciate a spicy Malbec or a tawny port. We don’t think you have to be a gourmet chef to throw a fabulous dinner party. Life isn’t perfect and waiting for the “perfect” moment or putting pressure on oneself for things to always be something more than they already are will result in missing out on living well in the meantime.

B.home focuses on the following products and services:

  • Interior design consulting
  • Home furnishings, accessories and gifts – from favorite flea market finds to custom candles
  • Party planning for small and intimate gatherings
  • Dinner clubs
  • Book clubs
  • Wine tastings
  • Bridal showers
  • Baby showers
  • Candlelight garden parties
  • Afternoon tea parties

B. in touch

If you’re interested in learning more about B.home and following along with Brianna’s journey as a budding entrepreneur you can visit her website here. She is also an avid writer and her blog is not only uplifting and insightful, but also a pleasure to read, if you’re interested in interior design (or for exterior for that matter) please make sure to subscribe.

B.home is based out of Charlotte, NC but operates in a variety of other states and locations as well. To reach out to Brianna and her company B.home for more information, you can email her at: brianna@bhomecharlotte.com.

CRM

CRM Revisited: It Should be Your #1 Priority Heading into 2015

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs aren’t only the future of business; they’re the present. And they aren’t just for Fortune 500 companies anymore either. Like with most technology, competition, economies of scale, and innovation have driven costs down significantly. Now, you can even get a basic version of a CRM program for free. Without a doubt, acquiring and implementing a CRM program is my #1 recommendation for businesses of all kinds looking to grow and increase revenue.

Whether you’re an independent freelancer, a sales mercenary who is compensated by getting to “eat what you kill,” or a large and complex company, there is a CRM program out there for you. Regardless of your budget (or even a lack thereof), you can customize the level of sophistication of your CRM program as they all have various subscription levels. Most integrate with your email provider of choice and have a mobile app too. Additionally there are an incredible amount of third-party add-ons you can incorporate depending on how robust your operations processes are.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like building a CRM program is a cheap and easy task, far from it in fact. So keep in mind when considering which CRM program is best for you that the cost typically exceeds that of the user license fee. They require a significant amount of time and commitment, especially in the beginning when you’re just getting started. Don’t let that deter you however, as the ROI (while seemingly intangible at first) will more than make up for it, assuming it’s implemented correctly. In fact, the average ROI of a CRM system is $5.60 for every $1 spent.

CRM systems allow you to track and store vast amounts of data about your customers and prospects. The more data you have about your sales cycle that is accurate and relevant, the more deeply you can analyze that information to gain insight that will not only help increase revenue, but ultimately help you improve:

  • Close rates,
  • Customer service and retention,
  • Length of sales cycle, and
  • Forecasting efforts and projections.

Just as important, CRMs also help you automate your sales process. The more automated your sales cycle and follow up efforts can be, the greater volume of deals your business will be able to close as opportunities will be less likely to slip between the cracks.

By now you are probably either thrilled by the amazing potential a CRM program can provide, or perhaps you’re overwhelmed by the thought of endless amounts of data. If you’re like me and skew towards the former, below is a list of the necessary things to consider before rushing into it, along with some things to keep in mind after you’re fully operational.

  1. Conduct an “audit” of existing processes and database.
  2. Clean up your existing data to avoid the dreaded trap of “garbage in/garbage out.”
  3. Code your database to more easily identify priority contacts, “ABC”.
  4. Perform a sales cycle analysis, what are the typical steps involved and the time frame?
  5. Customize CRM pages, fields, and layouts with your appropriate specifications.
  6. Training of users/administrators.
  7. Import your database and start beta testing.
  8. Integrate with your existing systems, i.e. email, QuickBooks, etc.
  9. Reporting and sales forecasting.
  10. Ongoing maintenance, monitoring, updates, and improvements.

While implementing a CRM program can be relatively time‐consuming and expensive, if you do it right, the benefit to your business is invaluable. Don’t dismiss CRMs and cloud‐computing as trends that will soon go away, otherwise your competition may have already long passed you by the time you’re ready to get on board. With just over a month left in 2014, now is the perfect time to start planning and conduct your due diligence to start 2015 with yet another resolution.

Bootstrappin'

Bootstrappin’: How to Launch Your Business on a Barebones Budget

Starting a business today is far easier than anytime in history. The caveat is that it depends on what type of business however, thus I’m primarily referring to professional service businesses (i.e. consulting, accounting, real estate, photography, legal, etc.). The type that don’t have the overbearing regulations attached to them or endless red tape to acquire permits and licenses, on the contrary those probably have more hurdles than ever (particularly in the US). But if you’re like me, and want to start a consulting or other service business, you can do it quicker and cheaper than ever, not to mention minimize overhead so you can compete with larger competition.

Before I begin, I want to emphasize that every single business is different and has various requirements, so while I’m speaking from a more general manner, please make sure to do the appropriate research regarding your specific industry and niche to make sure everything is legitimate.

Establishing Your Entity: My attorney friends may not be too happy to read this, but you don’t necessarily need one to establish your business. You don’t always need an automated service like Legal Zoom either. If you’re certain of the structure you want to use and don’t plan on having partners (which require more complex operating agreements, etc.) than in most instances you can go directly to the source and bypass additional fees (they can range anywhere from $150 to $1,000+). In my case, WIMS, Inc. was established in Coral Gables, FL so I used Sunbiz and set it all up for around $75. I will say that in most instances seeking counsel from an attorney is invaluable and worth the cost, however.

Website: Nowadays you can create your own website for free, using sites like Wix and 1and1. They have many elaborate templates to choose from so that you don’t have to start from scratch or learn to write code. You can simply swap out generic text for your own as well as graphics to completely customize it. It even ads easy to incorporate SEO (Search Engine Optimization) functionality. The catch of using these for free is that you can’t use your own domain name (they include theirs in the free versions) and there may be some ads. However, it’s quite affordable to create your own domain name (costs typically around $15 a month) if you’d prefer to go that route.

Email: By now it’s no great revelation that you can get great email service for free using Gmail. In most cases businesses can even get away with solely using a Gmail account (not to mention you get the added benefit of the also free Google Docs). However if you want to step up the professionalism a notch and create an email account using your domain name it’s relatively affordable to do so. For example, when I registered my domain name with GoDaddy, it also allowed me to leverage a custom email account via Office365 for about $10 a month. I find both to be well worth the cost.

Blog: Another one that is far from a novel idea, but you can start a blog for free using sites like WordPress (my personal preference) or Blogger. This is a great marketing tool that when coupled with social media can be very powerful, and all it costs is time. Providing thought leadership type content to your network demonstrates your expertise and adds value to the services you provide. Of course, there are upgrades to the service as well that are both affordable and worth it as your blog’s following begins to grow.

Marketing: I’m going to keep this section short and sweet as most of you know the usual suspects that can help market your business for free (yes, I’m referring to social media). My personal favorites: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+. If what you’re selling is more visual (photography, hairstyling, tattoo artist) consider Pinterest too. There are plenty others as well.

CRM: CRM programs used to be thought of as these overly expensive and overly complicated Big Brother like programs that only the big boys could afford. Not anymore. Now you can get access to simpler CRM programs for free. My favorite is Insightly, it has a web based version coupled with a free app. Can’t beat it for the price!

Financing: If you need to raise money and aren’t able to get financing from a bank (you can’t show “2 years worth of income” when you just started, HELLO silly bankers!) consider crowd funding. Kickstarter is a good one, as is GoFundMe, which leverages your social media accounts to spread awareness. They’re “free” to start but make money by taxing 5% per donation or so (but hey 95% of something is better than 100% of nothing)! Although I’ll admit, I’ve recently set one up without much success yet.

Freelance Income: As you’re getting started you may need to build up some short term income with smaller projects as you build your network. Consider sites like Elance (I use it and love it so far) or others like Fiverr and Freelancer. There are million of projects searchable by expertise that you can do online or in person depending on location. Typically you get paid using PayPal (you do have PayPal right?), which is great, if you don’t have a fancy credit card machine. Although one solution I’m evaluating now is Square as I’ve heard good things.

Loose Ends: Just wanted to touch on some other things to consider in this paragraph. For one, you can get free digital storage space at either (or all if you’re a true hustler) Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box. For business cards, (which some people don’t even use anymore, although I advocate for them still) check out either Vista Print or Moo. Lastly, office space, this can be one of the hugest overhead expenses around. Do you really need to pay a ton of money each month in rent? I advocate a mix of home office, Starbucks, or local library (free internet!). But if you need tangible office space you can look at some of the shared office spaces from places such as Regus, or if you’re in Miami, Pipeline Brickell.

So there you have it, just some of the ways to start your business on the cheap. There are plenty others of course but I wanted to hit on some of the main ones to help get your started (if you have others please share in the comments!) Keeping low overhead is one of the ways to remain competitive with larger competition, so be relentless about every dollar you spend and you’re business will stick around long enough to start being profitable. Good luck!