Reflecting back over the last year, we’ve seen a number of local businesses close their doors and countless more struggle. It hasn’t been an easy year for us either.
Through tough times come some of the most valuable business lessons. The biggest one is to avoid facing tough times whenever you can. In my opinion, it is far better to be struggling with growth challenges.
Part of being in business for 17 years is making the time you need to sit back once in a while and reflect on where you’ve been, your mistakes, and your successes. It also means you need to decide where you need to take the business in the future – the competitive landscape and your business are not static.
Business success is about finding a market and serving it well in a way that produces a profit. So our reflections always come back to how we help our clients achieve their goals and success.
At the end of this post you can apply our reflections to your business.
A Year of Reflections – 2017
Back in 2016, we decided to focus on two critical services for businesses: online marketing and business software solutions. Later in the year, we refined our ideal client to be Small to Mid-Sized Businesses (SMBs) for both lines of business.
We learned a lot about the problems businesses face and how to solve them while building our Manifast product and then providing training, workshops, and consulting for business owners and entrepreneurs. To go from a small business to one that can thrive and grow sustainably, you need to solve a few significant problems with scaling the business.
We decided to focus on two solutions where we saw the most potential for creating value based on our experience and passion.
The Revenue Engine
Your revenue engine is your ability to attract leads and convert them into happy customers. In the language of HubSpot this looks like:
Regarding business functions this includes:
- Product and Service Fulfillment
- Customer Service
We entered the year becoming HubSpot Certified Agency Partners. We then got selected and completed the Inbound Prospecting Bootcamp with Dan Tyre. This training was followed in the fall with the Sales Skills Bootcamp with David Weinhaus.
From my experience, both of these courses were world class and highly practical to selling marketing agency and sales enablement services including:
- Prospecting the Inbound way
- Running a Connect Call
- Running an exploratory or discovery meeting
- Conducting a goal setting and planning session
- Moving to a close that sets you up for delivery success and a happy client.
The skills we learned are also transferrable to other product and services. So our service delivery suite now includes Inbound Marketing and Sales Enablement – attracting leads to getting customers.
I also attended Inbound 2017, including the Partner Day and gained enormous insight into the future of the marketing, sales, and customers service experience.
The Innovation Engine
I don’t look at building software as a technical issue. Sure there is a significant technological component to it.
The primary reason to build software is to innovate. You are either doing what everyone else is doing, you are behind, or you are ahead of your competition.
We want our clients to be ahead.
There are two ways to innovate in business. You can create something entirely new, or you can do something more efficiently or effectively.
First, we looked back over the last 17 years at the hundreds of software products we had built for a lot of different business problems. We looked at where our strengths are. We looked at what our target market (SMBs) needs.
From this, we ended up creating a forms and workflow framework that is customizable but allows us to build a prototype much more quickly (at less cost) than what it would take in the past. This innovation puts these applications on the table for SMBs that could not have afforded custom development in the past. It allows us to go after long-tail opportunities and build applications for a wide range of market segments.
Data comes in from another system or form, it goes through a workflow, at some point there may be a need for complex or batch calculations using Excel on a server, and then the output goes to a person or another system.
We’ve already built two applications on this framework for:
- Accounting Firms – Personal tax checklist forms automation
- A Services Firm – Bulk contractor onboarding tool
Shining a Light on 2018
I am not sure of the future. So far the Alberta economy seems like it will expand in 2018 and that will likely flow down to small and mid-sized businesses in the coming months. Even if it doesn’t take off, the big lesson from 2017 was to build a robust organization that doesn’t depend on a single client or market segment.
On the revenue engine side, we’ll continue to hone our skills, build out our processes, add to the team and look for better ways to serve clients with marketing and sales services.
On the innovation side, we are watching emerging trends including artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies and look for ways we can use them to make ourselves and clients more innovative and secure.
Ultimately those companies that continue to innovate, market, and sell best will tend to perform better long-term. Sometimes that involves shifting the business – creating a start-up while supporting your existing services and products.
And the immediate task for 2018 is to catch our marketing materials up with our new direction. Over the last year of change, we confused a few people. Sometimes you get too busy serving your clients that the shoemaker’s children don’t get new shoes. In 2018 our goal is to make sure our children get the shoes and attention they deserve. This self-improvement will mean moving toward a growth-driven design for our websites so that change is less time-consuming to implement.
Back to You
No business is perfect so I can’t let you off the hook. Here is a short exercise to reflect and set you up for sustainable growth in 2018:
- What have you learned in 2017?
- Where are you headed in 2018?
- Can you grow your revenue engine reliably?
- Where will you innovate?
All the best in 2018!