If you believe Xero’s marketing all accounting is now simple and quick. I beg to differ, the fundamentals still very much apply in order to properly use the screens Xero provides. This is perhaps particularly true with the humble bank rec, which got a huge makeover. Here is a short video overview guide.
One of the symptoms
of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly
important. — Bertrand Russell
Finding New Customers
Accepted wisdom tells us it is far cheaper to sell old customers than find new customers, but – new sales are the lifeblood of business.
Naturally referrals may come from existing and happy customers, but still the vital area of entirely new business leads cannot be neglected, and should form part of business development plans.
It’s all about communicating with the customers you could have as well as those you’ve already got.
Where to start?
You could apply some logic and attack the challenge in 2 stages.
First take a look at overall market / product segments. This applies if your business is already established – for new startups see below, its all about acquiring the first 10 customers to get going.
Are you trying to sell existing products into new markets? Or new products into existing markets (ie developing current customers)? Or perhaps new products into entirely new markets ( the most risky)?
Options 1 and 2 are clearly going to be less risky and expensive, while option 3 , a greenfield of dreams, is the most risky.
Having a clear idea of the big picture from this analysis, you can move on to the nitty gritty – getting customised messages out to those who may be interested and profitable customers in each of the segments identified, and tailoring the sales process.
Dan Kennedy coined a term for this – split the work into 3 areas and address “MMM”:
- The market
- The medium
- The message
In this idea the whole picture is covered from the internet / social media to old school billboards. Simply break up the task into manageable parts and drill down to devise activities which are cost/effective in each area, rather than take on the whole thing at one go.
For new starts, developing opportunities from zero is the name of the game. What do customers really want, that they cannot find now, and how can you supply the demand at a profit?
To keep it simple ignore the threats and weaknesses in your fledgling idea, focus on the upside.
To start with you may have an idea, based on industry knowledge, but failing that you will start with some research and financial estimations to see what ideas may be profitable based on assumptions about pricing, distribution, and marketing/selling costs.
Almost everything in marketing research is expensive, but there are some free sources to try:
- Your own records
- Your competition
- Your suppliers
- Government trade assistance and statistical research
- Getting out and about with your eyes open – asking questions
- Trading platform reviews – look for solutions to compaints
Once a likely candidate product surfaces the work has only just started. All aspects need to be examined and somehow documented for assessment.
Then the key – find 10 customers by whatever means possible – to transform your idea into a real business with cashflow. The key will be actually talking, toe to toe, and the selling proposition.
Conclusion – Product succession
One thing is constant and that’s change.
Having one success is only the start, the process must be repeated and ongoing in order to stay up with trends and keep the new sales coming in.
The Number One first year tip – it’s ALL about finding customers and keeping them happy
Whether you are at the feasibility, seed, or launch stage, you need customers!
If someone is showing interest but is not asking about prices, then you may have a new hobby, which is nice, but not a business.
Ideas and plans are a dime a dozen. Cashflow is King. A potential customer is proof positive you may have found a genuine demand or gap in the market – but only when they start talking price.
A vision means squat without a plan for customers.
“A customer base equals capital”
Attracting investors will be much easier if they can see you are already generating a cashflow.
Also customers will attract people interested in working with you – and eventually you will need a team to go anywhere significant.
Having a few customers means you are not dreaming!
Don’t wait for qualifications
You could be forgiven for thinking that in the 2020’s you will need a string of qualifications and / or an MBA before making a move. It’s not the case. Examples abound and if necessary you can hire to cover the gaps. Rather, try to emphasise product, ideas and team.
Which book learning are we skipping over here? What are some of the nice to have’s you might defer?
In the initial stages of a business there are marketing skills – be content with seeing the original gap and creating a product to fit. Then finance skills – skip high finance and stick to the basic organisation of personal and business finance to cover risks, and finally time management skills where the essentials can be mastered quickly.
Later in the development phase we have operations – leadership, management, IT, property, culture/psychology, teamwork, loyalty, communications and regulations – the list goes on.
While it may seem heresy to some, the fact is there are many successes in business who started young with no management training and this is one of those perennial truths.
Starting out under the protection of a franchise is a seductive option. Beware! While it may be a way to start-up with less risk, pay particular attention to:
· The franchise sale
Franchise operators are very good marketers – of their franchises. Be wary that you are not sucked in too much by the promises and pictures. Seriously, it’s their job to sell you, just make sure they have a viable plan and you can sell their product.
· Your independence
The bottom line is that you have decided to become an entrepreneur, for reasons which quite likely include working for yourself, and by signing up with a franchise you have immediately given that independence away.
Will you be happy working for a head office? How much input to the business do you really have? Have you just bought yourself a job?
Take a real close look at your marketing plan
How are you going to find and reach customers? Your first job is to run like mad just to find them:
First, are you in an active sector and do you have a ready path to market? Where are you sourcing your leads – today?
Watch out for your own psychology. When starting out you may want to just go with the first half decent opportunity you come across. Relax; try to look at things objectively.
Beware of the “1% of the market is huge” syndrome. Yours may be a billion dollar market, but how do you get any of it? What do you think the competition is doing right now?
Any idea of the cost of acquisition of a new customer? Will your model develop repeat customers? If not you will be forever selling, and this is not a good place to be.
Most forms of marketing except word of mouth are very expensive. When starting out there is no doubt the best marketing model is word of mouth.
Branding. Despite the hype it’s nothing new. Don’t even think about mega-brand style exposure. A start-up is about a reputation, person to person sales and keeping a handful of customers happy.
What is the shelf life of your idea? How are you going to protect it in the internet age?
How smart is the business model?
A business model is the way we do things – how we find and reach customers, differentiate the business from the pack, price, sell and deliver our product.
But there is more. Other desirables include a residual structure, one that compounds growth, and which is leveraged either in time (employees) or money (loans).
Is it going to be a dynamic business or a dead end job?
Realistically – are your finances strong enough for the first year or two?
Being an entrepreneur is a gamble and you must be prepared for the worst if it happens. How do you view losing money? Perhaps try investing on small bets in the stock market and see how it feels before investing in your own ideas.
Don’t get into debt you cannot handle. We should be bold but not take risks. Avoid betting your lifestyle, limit the investment to what you can “afford to lose”, then do everything to make sure that does not happen.
Entrepreneurs should always have backup plans. Not everything will work by any stretch of imagination.
How many hours are you working?
Have you really planned your diary? How will you fit everything in? Not all of us can survive on 4 hours sleep per night.
Remember the rule – work hard and smart.
And if you do work all hours, what is your effective hourly rate? Planning any time off?
Do you have a good business partner?
If you aspire to anything other than a micro business, you will have to think “team”. The synergy gained outweighs potential downsides. While a committee of one gets things done, eventually you need others in your corner.
Are you ahead of trends?
No business can ignore trends. Try to have an eye on the picture three to five years ahead.
One thing small business owners do not want is more paperwork, but another is disputes over payments. When you give credit you are effectively becoming a banker, financing your customer’s business. Here is your new situation as credit provider:
- Your debtors are customers and all customers are valuable. You don’t want any misunderstandings
- They owe an amount of money in the future under terms of an agreed contract on which you have delivered
- You have agreed to defer payment on the sale
- Your customer has agreed to your credit policy
- You are in business and in business it is usually good business to write everything down
- Accuracy can save you thousands if it becomes a legal matter, it is important to get the words right
- You must protect your cashflow
So if you do offer credit, why not take steps to avoid conflict, go the extra mile and craft clearly worded customer agreements?
It is just good sense to document agreements in black and white, because, like them or loathe them, lawyers are necessary to grease the wheels of commerce and they love agreements in writing.
On the positive side, if you take the time to set up your agreements with precision and clarity, everybody wins – your customer / supplier will know exactly where you stand and any disagreements can be settled in less time, with less cost, and hopefully limited damage to relationships.
1. Setting up a new credit customer – due diligence
Take the time to examine the potential customer’s credit worthiness before credit terms are offered.
Have a standard new customer form. Document credit checks and customer details and amendments, and check tax status. Consider the credit checking agencies, company registry checks, and director’s credit records.
2. Wording of the credit agreement
Check the internet for free sample agreements and ensure you cover the obvious such as:
· the terms of the policy – how much credit will be offered, when, to whom, and for how long
· a procedure to track the timing and collection of payments
· a procedure to deal with disputes
· payment methods acceptable to you
Where possible stipulate terms in contracts for all your customers.
3. Take a risk management approach
A bank will not expose itself unduly to any one customer – neither should your business. Diversification is the name of the game, and if your customer list allows it, spread risk as widely as you can.
4. Clarify pricing
Detail any special deals and set out interest rates on overdue amounts, if they become necessary.
5. Credit limits
By setting a maximum risk on all accounts, you have set limits on any one “bet” going bad. Set at the right level and enforced, one disaster will not derail your business.
Don’t hesitate to stop supplies when limits are reached, and be tough – don’t accept new orders till old bills are paid. It is just good business! Customers will understand and respect you for it!
Consider getting a directors guarantee from companies and trusts – despite the controversy around their usefulness.
7. Legal costs
Specify who pays legal fees in the event of dispute.
Make it clear any physical goods remain yours till payment is made.
9. Credit cards
Consider the costs of using merchant services and specify who pays the extra charges.
10. Setting expectations
Clarity is healthy for both you and your customer – you both know where you stand and there are no surprises.
11. Ensure invoices are raised and accepted
Specify procedures to raise invoices, and where practical get signed customer orders.
Include the obtaining of evidence of delivery, and acceptance. A signed invoice is a powerful indication of an enforceable contractual debt in the courts. And well documented invoices are easier to use as the basis for finance using invoice discounting or factoring.
12. Working capital management
Use your accounting package to review debtor balances on a regular basis and minimise the total investment. Have collection letters drafted and be ready to use collection agencies or solicitors if necessary.
No exceptions! Think hard before bending your rules for anyone.