7 Networking Tips I Don’t Always Agree With, Explained

Improve Your Networking Skills — Right Now

Networking is everything – it helps your chances of employment, increases your contacts and can help improve your business. Here are some tips and tricks to help improve your networking skills. Read More….

Well, I guess I stretched it a little bit when I said I don’t agree with all 7 of the networking tips.  The reality is I agree with every one of them, I just don’t think they go far enough.

Get off your computer – I don’t believe computers is the place to network.  Networking is about building relationships.  While the computer can be a useful tool, it is not an optimum medium for relationship building.  On the other hand, it is a great tool for research and I think that is important to your networking efforts.  Computers can help you target your networking.

• Figuring out who do you want to meet

• What events give you the best opportunity to meet them

Forget that you’re working – I agree; once you meet the person you came to meet.  Then you want to get to know them and give them a chance to know you. Your objective is to be able to meet with them again and that will have more to do with how they feel about you then it does how they feel about your product/service.

Set goals – If you do your research, a goal of meeting one of two key people can have a significant impact on your business.  That is where the preparation really pays off.

Mind your manners – Keep remembering, we have two ears and one mouth.  If you can listen twice as much as you speak, you will always make a great impression, and you will walk away knowing the person you just met that much better.

Elevator pitches still matter – Now I really don’t know if I strongly agree with this one. I’m from the school of “they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  I think in most networking situations, most people are trying so hard to be heard that they usually aren’t listening. So no matter how good your elevator pitch, there’s a good chance it really won’t be heard. Make the most of the situation by being a great listener, learn what they do, what they want/need and how you can help them. That how you can open their door to you the next time.

Play to your weaknesses – the problem isn’t follow-up. The problem is building relationships is more that a 1 step process and most of us don’t have a step 2 and step 3 and so on. There’s nothing to follow up until all the steps have been completed. When you meet someone, during the conversation decide what step 2 is, confirm and schedule it with them, then put that on your calendar. The probability of you taking that step is much greater.

Don’t hang on to business cards – I agree, I agree, I agree.  Stacks of business cards create a false sense of security.  Do something with them or throw them away. If you are targeting your networking, you are not going to come home with that many anyway.

7 Networking Tips I Don’t Always Agree With

This is a great article on Networking from Forbes Magazine.  I would like everyone to read through and take notes.  I don’t agree with all of them and next week I will be adding my 2 cents.

Bill Davis – Team Nimbus of North Carolina

Improve Your Networking Skills — Right Now

Networking is everything – it helps your chances of employment, increases your contacts and can help improve your business. Here are some tips and tricks to help improve your networking skills.

Get off your computer –  feels obvious at this point, but we’ll throw it out there: you can’t effectively network solely from your desk. Yes, email and social media can be a good way to make initial contact, but if you want to really initiate true forward momentum in the relationship, get them in the 3D world as soon as possible. Suggest going to lunch or coffee or accompanying one another to an interesting industry event. However you do it, taking a new professional relationship offline as early as possible is the single best way to set yourself apart from the constant flow of internet noise.

Forget you’re “working” – Whether you’ve just been introduced to someone at an industry event specifically for networking or you struck up a conversation while in line for coffee, once you’re engaged with someone in a professional conversation, allow yourself to become lost in the interaction. Thinking about how this new relationship might develop and become important to you and your business can distract you from the current moment…and being a distracted, dispassionate conversationalist is no way to lock someone into your network. It’s great to be strategic about meeting people, but once the interaction has been initiated, just talk. And listen. You know your business and your industry well enough to let the conversation happen organically. You’re almost assured to have a better time – and make a better, lasting impression – if you do.

Set goals – Don’t focus solely on your big picture goals. It’s important to set smaller, attainable goals that measure the success of each piece of your business, all of which feed the larger overall goals. “Landing two new clients this month” is not a networking goal. Even if that is your end game, set benchmarks relating directly to your networking efforts (like, “I will get 5 business cards at this luncheon”, or “I will set-up 2 coffee dates with new contacts for next week.”) Watch how, when applied to all branches of your business, these mini goals not only fuel your sense of constant accomplishment, but quickly add up to fulfilling those overarching goals.

Mind your manners – Networking might have it’s own additional set of rules and customs, but all of society’s normal, mannerly expectations still apply. Try to listen more than you talk, be thoughtful in your interactions and generous with your time when you can. Being perceived as professionally weak is something to avoid, but trust us – that never happens as a result of having good manners.

Elevator pitches still matter –There will always be a reason to sell what you do in a very short window of time. It will always play in your favor if you maintain the ability to do that in a way that manages to cover who you are, what you do, and why it’s relevant. Try to come off as casual, efficient, and not forced or pushy. Easy, right? We know it’s not, which is why you should practice ahead of time. In a mirror. Repeatedly. And, like a resume, elevator pitches need periodic updating.

Play to your weaknesses – Do you always mean to follow-up with people you meet, but by the time the appropriate follow-up window arrives, you’ve already moved on to something else? Factor this into your day-to-day organization. There are loads of apps and online/mobile tools that can bolster your networking arsenal. For example, if you know you’re prone to having a memory lapse about following up with new contacts, plan ahead. Set an alarm to go off the following week right when you first enter that person’s contact info into your mobile. And speaking of which…

Don’t hang onto business cards – As soon as you leave a networking event or meeting or walk away from a chance encounter with a promising contact, immediately enter their business card info into your mobile device. Nothing sadder than a misplaced business card. Well, perhaps print shops don’t think so.

10 Everyday Things Successful Entrepreneurs Say ‘No’ To That Skyrocket Success

10 Everyday Things Successful Entrepreneurs Say ‘No’ To That Skyrocket Success

A wonderful opportunity to learn from those that have figured it out. As is often the case, success is in a direction other than we think.  Click here to read

7 Reasons You Could Benefit From Having a Business Coach

Do you want your small business to be successful and sustainable?

Being a business owner requires a great deal of self discipline and motivation, especially if you have large goals that you would like to attain. One common thing that most small business owners will agree on is that starting up a business is not an easy feat. It takes a lot of outside support. Family and friends can really help a lot when it comes to getting inspiration and support, but sometimes it takes more than that. Professional support from a business coach can really be helpful.

Here are the top 7 benefits of having a business coach by your side every step of the way:

Benefit #1

A business coach will help you identify your long term goals. Setting goals for your business may seem easy, but that is not always the case. It is important to make sure that your goals are attainable. If you are in the beginning stages of starting your business, you may not be aware of the obstacles that can get in your way.  A coach will be able to help you set goals that are within reach, but still require hard work and determination.

They can also help you when it comes to staying focused and on the right direction toward meeting your goals.

Benefit #2

A business coach will be able to give you something that many of your family and friends are unable to – honesty. They don’t have to worry about whether or not what they have to say will hurt your feelings. They can assess your strengths and weaknesses and help you to have a better understanding of them.

Benefit #3

A business coach has been in your shoes. They know the ins and outs of starting up a small business, and they can pass that knowledge on to you. They have also coached many other entrepreneurs just like you and helped them to have successful businesses. Chances are they will be able to use that experience to help you improve your chances of success.

Benefit #4

A business coach will do more than just show you the way. They will work with you in each aspect of your business. Whether you need help with your general operations, training, sales or marketing, they will be able to find ways to improve your methods. They may also be able to give you some brand new ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. After all, two heads are usually better than one when it comes to critical thinking and business planning.

Benefit #5

A business coach can give you some excellent tips when it comes to time management. So many times, business owners will find themselves in the procrastination trap. When you procrastinate, you lose all sense of time management. This is never a good thing for anyone, but it can really be detrimental for an entrepreneur. They can help you to be more effective at managing your time, which can make your business much more productive.

Benefit #6

A business coach will be able to help you when it comes to your communication. They know the skills that are required to communicate effectively in the business world. While communication may be your strong point, there is always room for improvement. Business communication can vary from one industry to another, and the coach can give great communication tips no matter the industry.

Benefit #7

A business coach can help to take some of the load off of you. When you start a business, it can be very overwhelming. You feel like everything rests on your shoulders, and it can really lead to a lot of stress and frustration. When you have a business coach by your side, you no longer have to worry about doing everything by yourself. This lowers your stress, which in turn makes you happier and more productive.

As you can see, there are many benefits by working with a business coach. If you are thinking about starting up a new business, or you have already started one, you will want to take a look at what a business coach can do for you. The success of your business depends on many factors, and a coach will be able to help you ensure your overall business success.

My name is Bill Davis and I look forward to working with you.

Ten Reasons Winners Keep Winning, Aside from Skill

Whether the game involves competing every four years in the Olympics or every day in a business, winning brings advantages that make it easier to keep winning.

To understand sustainable success, I compared perpetual winners with long-term losers in professional and amateur sports and then matched the findings to business case studies for my book Confidence. The sports were a comprehensive mix including women’s soccer, men’s and women’s college basketball, major league baseball, U.S. football, international cricket, and North American ice hockey.

I found that winners gain ten important advantages as a result of victory — and that smart leaders can cultivate and build on these advantages to make the next success possible.

1. Good mood. Clearly everyone feels good about winning, while emotions sag at failure. Emotions affect performance. Positive moods produce physical energy and the resilience to persist after setbacks. While losers use any excuse to stop, winners sometimes play on even while injured, lifted by a kind of winners’ high. Moreover, psychologists find that moods are contagious. Winners’ exhilaration is infectious. Losers’ gloom can be toxic.

2. Attractive situation. Whether at children’s soccer games or in the office, losers go home early. Winners stick around. My studies show that there is less absenteeism or tardiness in organizations known for their successes. There is also more solidarity, because people spend more time together feeling good about what they can accomplish. More time together brings more chances for information-sharing and mentoring.

3. Learning. Losers get defensive and don’t want to hear about their many failings, so they avoid feedback. Winners are more likely to voluntarily discuss mistakes and accept negative feedback, because they are comfortable that they can win. Because they are confident about the possibility of winning, they see practicing as a route to a positive outcome, not as a punishment. For athletes, practice matters. Winning is often found in mastery of the details. As a former student found in studies of swimmers who did and didn’t qualify for the Olympics, excellence consists of examining and improving many small processes and routines.

4. Freedom to focus. As every golfer and tennis player knows, you must keep your eye on the ball. Losers often punish themselves in their heads. Winners have fewer distractions. Golf pro Tiger Woods won nearly every championship until hit with personal problems of his own making, which was followed by loses on the golf course.

5. Positive culture of mutual respect. For anyone who plays on a team, winning makes it easier to respect and listen to one another, because after all, if you win together, then the presumption is that everyone is a good player. Winners can maintain high aspirations and act generously toward others. Losers are more likely to blame others and disdain them as mediocre, creating a culture of finger-pointing and infighting.

6. Solid support system. Behind every high performance athlete or team is a cadre of coaches, friends, and fans that fuel motivation. Winning enlarges the circle of backers. Losing erodes support. For instance, the cheerleaders for one perpetually losing college football team used to leave the stadium at half-time. When even their cheerleaders feel they won’t win, how can athletes gear up for the next try?

7. Better press. It’s not just the buzz at time of victory that separates winners from losers, it’s also the more favorable story about the past and future. Winning provides a halo that makes everything seem to glow. Losing causes observers and analysts to probe for reasons in a rewritten version of the past that makes continuing losses seem inevitable.

8. Invitations to the best parties. Really. Winners get invited to the White House, Buckingham Palace, key conferences or exhibitions. They gain access to networks and relationships that confer benefits that maintain winners’ momentum, such as early information or better deals. Who invites the losers?

9. Self-determination. Winners have more control over their own destiny. “Why tamper with success?” we often say. Winners are left alone, getting a free pass on reviews (occasionally tragically, as at Penn State, where locker room abuse went uninvestigated). Losers get attention of the negative kind. They are encumbered with “help” — special committees, audits, reviews, frequent visitors. Enough of that, and losers spend their time in meetings instead of practicing and improving performance.

10. Continuity. Lose too often, and heads roll. New coaches, new strategies — like HP’s lurching between hardware and software or Yahoo’s parade of exiting CEOs. High turnover consumes time and attention. More time spent getting people on board leaves little time to fully execute any particular game plan. It’s hard to start winning again until the situation stabilizes. Winners have the luxury implementing long-term strategies and planning for orderly succession.

Winning streaks eventually end because winners can get over-confident, slipping into arrogance or complacency, or because the competition gets better. But leaders can build on the advantages of winners to encourage a positive spirit, disciplined focus, mutual respect, lots of practice on the details, and lasting support systems that can make successes and comebacks more likely.

Editors note: Tony Schwartz thinks our culture has an unhealthy obsession with winning. Do you agree? Read his post and let us know what you think.

This is the piece your business is missing!!!

Cultivating A Strong Business Relationship by T. J. Prieur

Doug White and Meade Stone became fast friends shortly after graduating from college.  While Stone worked in commercial real estate and White worked for a lobbying firm, the two developed a vision for working together.

Finally, an associate in property  management suggested they call a friend in Texas who was recapturing the market in landscaping.

The rest, is history.

White and Stone packed their bags and headed to Texas, where the two got a crash course in everything they needed to know to run a landscaping business.

“We wanted to secure something before we invested a lot of time and capital,” Stone explains.

So from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., the conversation continued about how to build a successful landscaping business in Hampton Roads.
“We came back and thought that this was something we could do, and we had the peace of mind of, ‘We should go after this,’” White says.

From there, the duo began pursuing contracts and bidding on a few projects. In the morning hours, White and Stone would mow grass and in the afternoon, the two doffed the yard work attire and cleaned up for an afternoon of sales and pursuing more work.

Today, their business, Town Scapes, is three crews strong and growing, focusing mainly on commercial jobs as far north as Baltimore, and as far south as Raleigh.

From left, Doug White and Meade Stone. Photo by Paul Chin, Jr.

“I think that within landscaping in Hampton roads, there is plenty of room in the pool for people to swim,” Stone says. “It’s a great market, and even though things have slowed, cities still require grass to be cut.”

Stone goes on to explain their strategy as aggressive, yet conservative, meaning the two are constantly searching for new leads, but are conservative enough to not take on more than they can handle, and handle well.

“This recession, fortunately or unfortunately has weeded out those that can’t compete,” Stone explains. “We have a natural ebb and flow, and we are not out selling every day while not servicing the needs we have now. We have a good foothold in this marketplace and a lot of people have given us great opportunities.”

While taking a one-step-at-a-time approach to growth, the Town Scapes owners spend a lot of time recruiting the right employees, partnering with firms that have helped them find the right people. By  compensating their employees better than average, Stone says,  people stay with them longer.

“One thing we’ve always been challenged with is attracting good clients and keeping them, but the same thing applies with employees,” White explains. “It’s fundamental to business. If you can narrow down how to do that, it helps productivity, and you’ll win more than you lose.”

Stone reflects: “We’re intense on management and scrutiny and the job getting done correctly and well, but give a lot of freedom to our employees to feel empowered so they don’t have to call on us all the time.”

White agrees. “Everyone is given a different gift set, and sometimes it’s never been cultivated. Sometimes, there are foundations there that you can cultivate, and that’s a diamond in a rough for an employer. You hear them out and, naturally, it grows itself.”
This seems to be a recipe for success. The two friends have a sound working relationship, and business is good.

“Our partnership has been an important piece,” White says. “Promoting each other’s gifts with each other has been important and crucial to success.”

When the two friends spend about 10 hours a day together, White admits “sometimes he has to carry the weight for me, and me for him” and that there are obviously times when issues arise, but picking up that piece is crucial.

Stone reflects: “It’s a nice partnership. There’s always someone in the wheel house, spending time with a client or future client. With a one-person operation, it’s hard to go on vacation, but it has been helpful to know if I am away for the weekend, everything is covered.”

The only problem, it seems, is semantics.

“We get called each other’s name a lot,” White says. “I’m Meade a lot. He’s Doug sometimes.  It’s fun though because we work with and for a lot of great people.”

The Fourth Stage Dilemna: Dancing Away from the Cliff by Art Radtke and Lorette Pruden

Take a moment.  Can you remember what it felt like when your business was still just a wisp of a thought…a dream that was getting ready to come true? Do you recall the energy,the inspiration, and the excitement as you began to imagine the possibilities?  All of these feelings are characteristic of the first of The Nine Stages of Small Business™.

It makes sense that the often-mystifying lifecycle of a small business can be measured in nine stages. There is something almost magical about the number nine.  Cats have nine lives.  Babies are born in nine months.  Golfers lament over the front versus the back nine. You can be “dressed to the nines.”  There is even mathematical magic to “Casting out Nines” as a shortcut method for checking multiplication and division.

Defining the stages of the business lifecycle is not new.  However, many descriptions have traditionally been presented from the large corporate point of view.  As any small businessperson will tell you, that view does not reflect their reality. It was in this void that Mort Murphy and John Heenan developed The Nine Stages of Small Business.™ Building on the foundation of traditional business models, we identified additional stages that directly “reflect the impact that the life of the business has on the life of the owners.”

In the first two stages, “concept” and “start-up,” the enthusiasm of creating vision lives.  First the very idea is energizing to you, the creator.  While supporting yourself in other ways, you pore over ideas and nurture thoughts of what the business could be in your free time.

When the  “idea” starts to become reality, you’re in start-up stage.  Here there may be a need for outside funds. A fear begins to whisper:  “We need to make an income.”  That fear will either energize or cripple the budding entrepreneur.

As you push through the 3rd or “survival” stage, quiet desperation begins to set in. Outside funds have dried up and the business needs to generate cash.  The euphoria of the earlier stages has all but evaporated.  You are faced with trying to pay next month’s bills while you hope your friends and family remember who you are.

It is at the next stage – the 4th or “stability” stage– where fear settles in and makes itself at home. As Heenan and friends put it, “It’s like sitting on a comfortable cliff edge – lucky to be there, hoping it won’t crumble, but afraid to get back up and start climbing again.”

Life is okay– not great, but okay enough to stifle further risk-taking.  “Let’s not rock the boat” competes with “Let’s get a move on.”  You’ve been doing too much yourself, and you don’t want to stagnate, or worse yet, lose what you’ve gained.  The business needs a burst of energy to keep pushing forward, yet it is just at this stage that you, the business owner are running out of energy.

The stability stage is extremely treacherous for a business owner who does not recognize the danger. You can be literally trapped in a chaotic fluctuation between survival and stability.  You are not sitting safely on your cliff–you are dancing on the edge.

So how do you resolve your dilemna and move on to stage five?  Get help.   Then work with that help, don’t just work them!

Though important throughout all stages, having the ability to encourage, inspire and incorporate other people into your vision is crucial to getting off the edge of that cliff. The problem is too many of us think we can do it on our own.

We box ourselves in and stifle the vitality of our business by believing the following set of rules, which keeps us perilously close to the edge:

Meathead Rule #1“No one can do the job as well as I can.” Which really means nobody will do it the same way.  We do not just want the work done–we want it done identically to the way we do it.  Guess what.  Not happening.  You just set up everyone to lose.

Meathead Rule #2“Employees are just more of a headache.” See rule #1.  Whether they are employees, independent contractors, strategic partners, or referral sources, you cannot do a business without other people.  Why do you think it is called a “company?”  People have the audacity to want to do things their own way.  Standards are necessary, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat, or stack a dishwasher!

Learning to work with other people will set you free. If you can get people working in your business, you have just bought yourself the freedom to work on it.  Imagine yourself letting go.  Engage other people (employees, vendors, strategic relationships) in the vision and operation of your company.

Your independence, your time freedom, and your financial freedom-your ability to move beyond stage four-depend absolutely on your ability to surround yourself with people willing to help, and then to let them. Invite them to the dance!

Managing Cash In Your Business – by Eric Brown

Sometimes business owners feel that if their company is profitable, all is well. Such an attitude may lead to a false sense of confidence, however, when the dynamic relationship between cash flow and profitability is misunderstood. Which is ultimately more important to the ongoing success and survival of a small business? Of course, profitability and cash flow are interdependent, so it is essential that business owners not get so focused on the profits that they neglect cash flow management.

In our current economy, even a profitable business could quickly find itself lacking cash on hand for necessary expenses. Imagine your business facing this scenario: Your customers have decided to renegotiate their payment terms and expect 45 days or more to pay on current invoices. At the same time, your vendors are now demanding you pay them on shorter payment terms. You pay employees bi-weekly, and it just happens to be one of those few months in the year during which there are three payroll cycles. In such challenging circumstances, a business owner that hasn’t properly managed cash flow may find it necessary to borrow money just to get through the month.

Owning a business myself, I have had to grapple with cash flow management decisions while striving to run a profitable company. To gain some insight into successfully navigating this tricky terrain, I spent time discussing these issues with some local CPAs and a commercial banker.

Joe Witt, Executive Vice President of Corporate Banking at Old Point National Bank, who is also a CPA with an MBA, has a unique perspective on this topic. Witt states simply, “Cash is king, and as we hit hard times, it becomes more relevant. Understanding how cash flows and turns in a company is critical.” He suggests using some metric tools such as “Days to Cash” to measure this activity. This approach examines three specific things on a balance sheet: receivables, payables, and inventory (if your business has this). Successful management of these areas of your business will reduce the need for working capital.

Witt offers the following suggestions:
• Speed up your billing process—invoice weekly
• Utilize remote deposit capture—scan checks and deposits from your own office
• Offer payment options via ACH or credit card
• Manage inventory efficiently—have less on hand for slower-moving items
• Get better payment terms with vendors—longer terms when possible

“Often business people are interested in the sale, but do not manage the process to collect it,” according to Witt. “There have been more businesses to go under because of lack of cash versus a lack of profit.”

Jeff Karr, CPA with Goodman & Company, describes profitability as the foundation of your cash flow, but he emphasizes that how cash is used is most important. Business owners must be strategic about how they reinvest cash in their businesses. Karr understands that some owners do not like to have debt and have decided to pay for new equipment (for long-term use) with cash, but such a company may be highly profitable, yet have no cash. Then comes time to pay taxes, but there is no cash to pay for them, which further compounds the problem.

To avoid finding your business in this situation, Karr suggests using financing to secure long-term assets instead. Karr asserts, “If business owners borrow the money for long term assets, their return on that investment is bigger than the interest expense they are paying because they can’t grow without that piece of equipment.”

Some recommendations from Jeff:
• Get discounts from vendors for early or prepayment
• Utilize sweep accounts when viable
• Know your customers’ ability to pay—if you have think twice whether to do business with them, don’t!
• Avoid taking work at or below cost just to keep your people busy.

Patrick Shuler, CPA with Goodman & Company, believes that if a business owner uses of a line of credit, it should be utilized for short-term cash needs and not long-term assets. Take a pulse of your business by matching up your assets to liabilities. Shuler asserts that your receivables, inventory, and cash on hand (current assets) should always be higher than your current payables and line of credit. Failure to keep these areas in the appropriate balance could result in a weaker financial position overall. “You don’t want to get flip-flopped where you are owing more than you’re generating,” Shuler says. A business may be profitable yet faced with trying to reduce debt from previous years’ activities, resulting in even more adverse consequences for tax planning and debt reduction strategies.

Another interesting perspective Shuler offers pertains to the cost of bringing in new business. He explains, “With new clients, you typically don’t have as high return on your investment as compared to your long-term clients because it takes time to recoup startup costs for new ones,” says Shuler. Businesses need new clients, but when working with mid- and long-term clients, you clearly must understand their pay cycles and what it really costs to handle their work.

Shuler’s recommendations on managing your business:
• Perform credit checks on potential clients
• Request advance or short payment terms for new business
• Focus on growing your business by developing the relationships you already have and   creating long-term client relationships

I believe it’s important to regularly evaluate the financial health of my business, and I have learned over the years that neither profitability nor cash flow alone is an effective measure. Instead, business owners must consider both of these factors as they relate to one another and use the information gathered to make judicious cash flow management choices.

Joe Witt may be contacted at jwitt@oldpoint.com

Jeff Karr is at jkarr@goodmanco.com

Patrick Shuler is at pshuler@goodmanco.com

ERIC BROWN, CEO of Mobile One Courier & Logistics, started his company 14 years ago as a same day courier service. Today in Hampton Roads, Mobile One has a staff of over 60 people. Diversified in providing total logistics solutions for businesses, Eric’s company specializes in providing distribution, warehousing, and fulfillment solutions. Eric hopes to help businesses grow more efficiently by leveraging their time through outsourcing. This can ultimately help companies to grow their top line and focus on their core business rather than their “backroom.”

From A to Z – Liberty Tax Owner John Hewitt Explains The Record Growth of Business By Al Moore

Google the phrase “tips for franchisors” and you’ll find about 45,700 pages. What will be difficult to find is meaningful information describing the most important factor in franchisor growth: long-term commitment to franchisee success.

In order to develop a better understanding of franchisor operations, SBI sat down with John Hewitt, founder and CEO of Liberty Tax Service. John’s accomplishments in the world of franchising are well known and tough to match.

The Liberty operation is consistently ranked at the very top of high performing franchising companies in the country. The awards that have been won by John and Liberty are too numerous to list.

Two characteristics contribute to this success: 41 years of experience in the tax preparation industry; and a commitment to franchisee success that goes to the finest level of detail on storefront operations.

Supporting these two characteristics was Hewitt’s clear vision of where he wanted his company to go. He wanted to run the Number One tax preparation business in the country.

After launching Jackson-Hewitt in mid-1986, and growing from six to twenty-one stores in four years, he said, “I quickly realized that, at this pace, I wasn’t going to live long enough to surpass H&R Block’s store count of thousands.”

He replaced the organic growth plan with a franchising strategy, turning Jackson-Hewitt into the fastest growing tax service in the country.

Jackson-Hewitt went public in 1994 and John departed in 1997. While waiting for his non-compete agreement to expire, Hewitt launched Liberty Tax in Canada, creating a platform from which he could expand into the U.S.

Liberty’s growth has been sensational, in both good times and bad. The store count is now over 3,500. Liberty even grew during the past two years, adding over 800 franchisees during the worst economic downturn in our lives.

Liberty’s commitment to franchisee (“Z” in Liberty jargon) success begins before an individual buys a Liberty franchise. Each potential Z is required to participate in a one-week training program. This orients them to the Liberty operation and begins exposure to the Liberty business model. Potential Zs are assessed and John Hewitt meets with each potential Z on an individual basis. John stated that one of the most important factors from the Z’s perspective is their willingness to execute the business model. “Not listening is human nature. Our model is based on 41 years of success. The number of people who would make an investment and not listen used to amaze me. Now I accept it for what it is. I even tell them during training that they probably won’t listen right away.”

Another aspect of the selection process is understanding why the potential Z wants to invest. As you would expect, John’s advice is much more specific than what you find on the Internet.

While most of the checklists advise franchisees to pick something they like to do (tuning cars, baking, lawn work), John says, “Enjoying being a leader is much more important. Being able to work through others and get things done is much more important than liking to prepare tax returns. If the franchisee wants to succeed, he or she will do the things needed to grow the business.”

The operational detail contained in the business model is astounding. It is so detailed that it is used to help the Z identify potential store locations and potential revenue.

Each location is evaluated and Liberty is able to tell the Z how many returns that location will prepare on each day of a typical tax season. From that basis, Liberty provides a pro-forma budget detailing the financial model for that specific location. If the model is followed, profits result.

When asked about support and guidance in specific operational areas such as staffing, technology, etc., Hewitt replied, “Think everything! The model is extremely complete.”

Yes. It even defines the different waving techniques to be used by Miss (or Mister) Liberty when folks drive by.

Hewitt also cited the dozens of conference calls he holds every day during the 105-day tax season. Each Z’s daily performance metrics are reviewed, with John and the more established Zs providing mentoring to the newer ones. “It consumes a lot of time, but it’s crucial to success,” says Hewitt. “The tax season is short and it’s important to review results each day and help the franchisee make adjustments.”

“I believed from the beginning that our success would result from our management systems being better than anyone’s,” says Hewitt. Naturally, the model is constantly evolving over time.

Changing technologies and other factors have required Liberty to continually increase the investment in support systems that enable the Zs to compete effectively.

The lesson for the potential franchisor is the importance of the commitment to franchisee success.

John Hewitt exemplifies the success of this approach, enabling him to bring over 4,000 individuals into his enterprise.

Strategy Before Tactics By Arthur Radtke

It’s Monday morning: the start of a new week and we need to make some sales now!

We quickly begin to run through all the tactics that we know looking for the silver bullet that will solve our problem the easiest and fastest way possible. The problem is, this is the same situation we have found ourselves every Monday as far back as we can remember. And the fact is, we are relying on tactics to carry the day when we haven’t developed our strategy enough to even choose the right tactics.

Strategy is the overall plan one is going to execute and tactics are the individual actions used to accomplish the strategy. In football, as an example, a team’s strategy might be to control the clock.  The tactic used to accomplish this might be a series of running plays or short passes. In business developments there are two parts of strategy: first, who are your most likely and best customers and, second, what is your unique value proposition to these customers.

Your best customers are usually not as obvious as we first think. One might think that the best customer is the biggest but this might not be the case. Our best customers are ones that are profitable and excited about our goods and services. These customers are both profitable and reasonably low maintenance. Many businesses don’t know what their profit is on individual customers and retain clients that are actually losing them money. There is a huge difference between revenue and profit. Resist the temptation to broaden your target market. The broader the target market is,the harder it is developing a compelling value proposition.

Once you are clear what the nature of your target market is, you then need to develop the value proposition which is critical to them. The value proposition needs to be one that answers a need of that target market. Example: if your client is a mid-size business that doesn’t have training resources, you might supply the training that they need.  Or if they are challenged to distribute their product, you could do this for them. You need to use the fact that you are an “expert” to your clients’ and prospects’ advantage. You aren’t looking to make a sale but to develop a true partnership with your clients.

With our strategy now in place, we are ready to develop the tactics needed to reach our prospects.  The tactics should take care of two initiatives: first, prospecting and second, converting the prospects we have.