The ability to prioritise. It can be a difficult skill to acquire, and an even harder one to execute, particularly when differing priorities compete for the little time you have. Trying to decide on what to do and when to do it can be frustrating, exhausting and overwhelming – yet another obstacle to be overcome on the way to achieving a goal that may increasingly feel unobtainable.
And yet – it doesn’t have to be this way. All it takes is the ability to recognise where you are in your process, and prioritise accordingly.
Take it from me, as someone who has ‘been there’ and ‘done that’. As someone who has thought that there is no other option than to do everything at once; that no one priority can take precedence over another; and that the mere thought of all the ‘urgent’ priorities needing my attention sapped all my drive and energy before I had even begun to action a single one.
I recall one particular example, right at the start of my transition from ‘corporate executive’ to ‘entrepreneur’. Despite being perfectly clear on where I wanted to head, I felt that there was so much to do that I couldn’t decide what should be first.
- Should I build my brand first? A website? A social media following?
- Should I be publishing content? If yes, where?
- Should I be building up a subscriber list? And if so, exactly what would they be subscribing to?
- Should I be networking? Writing a book? Developing a course?
You get the idea.
This thought ‘spiral’ got increasingly frantic. Because on top of all those questions, I was also grappling with the fundamental challenge in my mind – and that was how to balance the investment I was making in starting my business, with the need to a) prove I had something worth selling, b) find clients c) develop a product to sell and d) actually generate some income!
I know for a fact I am not alone in going through this. And a very real part of building a business is the need to balance several things at once.
It took me a while, but one day I had an epiphany. Yes, the need to build a ‘tribe’, a subscriber list and an audience on social media was important, but of more importance was the need to develop credibility; build a trusted brand and create value for my future clients. And this brings me back to my initial advice – remind yourself where you are in your process. For me, I realised that I was in the building phase – laying the foundations for long-term growth, and starting the lengthy process of building a trusted brand. Yes – it felt like I was doing a heap of work, and investing a ton of money, for not much return. And that’s exactly what I was doing. I was working hard, and wasn’t being inundated with my dream clients (or maybe any clients) just yet, but this became a lot easier to handle when I realised it was just a phase I was going through – and that it was exactly where I needed to be for the moment.
Think of the sales cycle as a pipeline, with different areas of focus and action items for different stages of the pipeline.
Once you identify what stage you are in, it becomes easier to prioritise what you need to be doing now in order to set yourself up to progress. Here’s how to identify the phase of the sales cycle you are in right now, and what your key areas of focus should be to get that pipeline humming:
Phase one: business development
Typically, this stage is characterised by having either no brand, or one that is yet to be established and you will be expending a lot of time and effort in creating valuable content, networking and getting your name out there.
One of the mistakes here is to expect customers to magically appear. Before you get downhearted or give up, you need to realistically expect to earn nothing in the first six months. If you manage your focus and expectations, it will probably happen sooner than that, but set out with this in mind.
During this time, think about the barriers you have to success, and how you might solve those:
1. No-one knows you or your brand.
One of the biggest challenges is starting to build a reputation for whatever it is that you want to be known for. An important priority here is to build a professional brand to be seen and assessed by potential clients – so spend good money on having a professional build you a website that will advertise you at your best. This is particularly important if you are in the business of selling something that isn’t immediately tangible, like professional services, that depend on your experience, reputation and credibility.
2. No-one knows how you can help them.
You are building credibility here, and the only way to do that is to consistently get your message and knowledge out there to the very best of your ability – with no expectation of getting paid. This is where you will need to get really clear on the right forums or platforms for you, and consistently produce high quality content – for free.
3. No-one knows what you are selling or how to buy it from you.
Spending countless hours in your office, developing, polishing and perfecting, is totally different to getting out there and telling people about your offer in an articulate and compelling way. Building on the content you are generating and the brand you are building, this is where you may need to think of different ways to attract eyeballs – this may be through paid social media, writing an e-book, doing some public speaking or a variety of different ways that will raise awareness and get interested and prospective clients to raise their hands. I’m not suggesting that everyone will become a key note speaker or an author - you need to pick a medium that will work for you. Regardless, if you are building a personal and business brand, you need to find ways to build your platform and get your name out there in the right way to the right audience.
• It may seem obvious but get 100% clear on what you are selling and who you are selling it to. Often the only way to do this is to put it out there and test with the market so you build confidence and keep refining.
• Figure out the different ways that you want to get your brand out there – this may be through publishing content, speaking at events, networking, joining professional groups etc. Again you will need to try what works for you, but the name of the game here is getting out there. A word to the wise – where content is concerned, whether it be a weekly blog or a daily Instagram post, you need to be consistent and show case high quality.
• Remember, that in this phase, you are courting your market – you haven’t even been on a first date yet! They need to get to know you before they will make a decision to get to know you more, and to then eventually go on a date with you. You can only do this through having a really consistent and high quality offering.
• With regard to networking, yes this takes time. You will drink litres of coffee and spend hours going to events, networking groups and coffee meetings. Whilst this will feel overwhelming and probably exhausting, at the start of your journey the more people you can meet and talk to (both about their business, and yours) the faster you will refine and test your own model. Don’t go into these meetings expecting an immediate business referral – you are building relationships here, and taking on feedback.
• Finally, embrace the thought of giving stuff away for free or at a heavily discounted rate. At the outset, the more people you can actually test your product and processes with, in exchange for feedback and a testimonial, the better. Chances are, these are the people that will start to tell others about you.
Phase two: order taking
This is where you have built some great brand positioning, and are starting to get somewhat established in terms of your brand and profile. This may be where you have a book, a reputation as a public speaker, and are relatively well known in your chosen market.
It takes a lot of effort, time and consistency to get to this phase but when you do, the benefits are high. By building that reputation and brand, you are giving other prospective clients social proof that you know what you are doing, and can help people like them.
By now, you will find that whilst you are still doing marketing, networking and promotional activity, more and more prospective clients will seek you out and when they do, they will have generally already made their buying decision. Unbeknownst to you, they have been watching and assessing and researching you – probably for several months – before you even know they are there. This is why professional branding (such as a website), consistency, authenticity and generation of real value is so critical. From a sales perspective, you are now starting to generate clients that have already decided they want what you have – which is a fantastic place to be and will generate even more momentum.
During this time you still need to keep an eye on the things that could trip you up and be barriers to sustained and future growth:
1. You start getting a steady flow of clients, so stop doing any business development
This is such a common trap. The consistency, presence and value that you worked on for little return in phase one, is responsible for you reaching phase two. This is the backbone of any business and you need to keep delivering this no matter how successful you become. The difference will be that as you get bigger and more profitable, you will have a team to assist, better systems in place and will re-shape where you spend your time, but stop doing business development at your peril – this is how the ‘boom and bust’ cycle starts – and finishes.
2. You can’t keep up with the balance of looking after both new clients and existing clients, and the experience starts to deteriorate.
This is a real danger zone, and many business owners fall prey to it. At this point, when the longed for growth starts to happen, any cracks in your foundations will start to show. This could manifest in a number of ways, but most common is that the owner of the business isn’t adapting to their changed circumstances. To be blunt, if you want to take advantage of your new found growth potential, then you had better adapt and change what you do, and how you do it – quickly.
This is where you need to prioritise process efficiency, automation, optimal team members and staying in your zone of genius, to avoid the ‘trying to do everything and failing it all’ trap.
Phase three: relationship manager
By now, your brand and reputation are very well known and you are sought after in your field. Attracting the right clients is no longer an issue – rather, the entire focus is on retaining and adding value to the clients that you have. This is a great place to be, and if you have made it here, then that means you have also adapted along the way so that you have enough time and energy to focus on what really matters, which is adding value to your clients and ensuring they are thrilled with the experience you provide.
So what can derail you here?
Make no mistake, retaining a client that will invest good money in your services over the medium to long term takes effort and commitment. This is entirely down to the value you add, how you keep them interested and wanting more. To do this, you need to be constantly developing new content, services and value.
Now that you have all these clients – make sure that you have created a profitable and sustainable business. What you are aiming for here is a business that generates recurring income so that you can shape a lifestyle around it. This is the perfect point to look at your business with fresh eyes, get objective advisers in and see what you can improve and tweak.
3. You stop doing any business development
Whilst you might think that you don’t need to do this anymore, you actually do. Whilst it might not have the frantic quality like when you started out, you need to keep that consistency, profile and value creation happening if you don’t want to be a one hit wonder.
• Understanding where you are in the process is a critical factor in managing your expectations, as well as your priorities.
• Whilst some priorities will change with the stages, some – like business development – will always remain key.
• Never fall into the trap of trying to ‘do everything’ – this is a short cut to stress, fatigue and burnout, not to mention dropping all those balls you have in the air.
• Priorities are never equal. There are always things that should take precedence over others – the trick is in recognising which.
If you need help –
• Recognising where you are in the sales pipeline;
• Working out where your priorities lie; and
• Understanding the different key areas of focus as you progress along your business journey –
Click on the link below to book in a free 15 minute Discovery Call with me!
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