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Take Your Business To The Next Level

In the beginning, entrepreneurs tend to focus deeply on just launching the business. But what happens when the launch and the subsequent water-treading and breath-holding period starts to subside? In the article “Ready to Scale Your Small Business? Do These 5 Things” written by Emily Richett, here’s what she suggests:

Build A Vision Your Team Shares

While scaling a business of any size takes strategic planning and focus, going from solopreneur status to a true team is a serious leap. Andrew Dymski co-founded the digital agency GuavaBox in his college dorm room. Fast forward to today, and he’s got a powerhouse global team making things happen around the world. His advice? “Spend time building out the vision for what you’re trying to build.” And that’s easier said than done–entrepreneurs notoriously, “keep their noses to the grindstone and never look up,” he adds.

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It’s an essential exercise especially during the all-important shift from one to more than one. “When you start scaling your team, you need to have a clear mission that others can get excited about.” And, as Andrew reiterates, that impacts you, too–not just your team. “Taking the time to focus on your vision can help you build the company of your dreams,” he says, “not just build out another job. You don’t want to finally lift your head up in 10 years and wonder why you wasted your time and energy hustling to build a business you don’t even like.”

Be Endlessly Data-Driven

When you’re scaling your small business, it’s essential to measure and analyze everything.

“When our digital agency went through its first growth phase in 2014, our client base grew 200% in less than three months,” says Lauren Davenport, CEO of the Symphony Agency. Like Andrew, Lauren launched her company in college. Now, she leads a team of 20. “We needed help–and we needed it now.” Their solution? They immediately wrote up job descriptions and brought in seven new team members, seemingly overnight. The only problem? They did it without any sort of hiring framework in place. And that was a problem.

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“We didn’t dig into the nitty gritty of capacity planning and profit margins,” she recalls. “Hiring more people solves all problems, right? Wrong.” In this case, bringing on new hires had the opposite impact–the quality of their product suffered big time. “I had the pleasure of learning the age old lesson of ‘be slow to hire and quick to fire,” says Lauren. “It wasn’t fun.”

The good news? “You can easily avoid this mistake,” she says. For starters, figure out your company’s key performance indicators that, specifically, drive growth and cash flow. And once you do, “measure them like crazy, and you’ll avoid the pitfalls that we learned the hard way.”

Get to Really Know Your Audience

Scaling periods are critical times to focus on who’s buying your products or services. By gaining clarity of who your audience is and where your business is going, “your employees will make decisions based on what is better for the business rather than themselves,” explains Jason Swenk, an agency growth coach and mentor.

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During his career, Jason successfully built and sold a digital agency and now he coaches other agency owners. “You need to drill down into a niche a couple levels where you completely understand your clients’ biggest challenge and what they want,” Jason says.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

When you first launch your business, it’s easy to fall into a ‘yes’ pattern, that is, saying yes to every client, every consumer and every opportunity that comes your way. It makes sense, beggars can’t be choosers, right? While no one’s advocating taking on clients who are going to endlessly drain your time and talent, entrepreneurs tend to be a little more lenient in selecting clients in those early days.

But, as your business begins to scale, that approach might actually hold you back. “At the end of the day,” says Andrew, “the clients that pay you the most money will bring the least headaches. The clients that pay you the least amount of money will bring the most headaches.” His advice? “When in doubt, charge more.”

Be Accountable

Most entrepreneurs, especially freelancers and consultants, “aren’t accustomed to being their own boss,” Lauren says. “It sounds like it should be fun, but holding yourself accountable can be difficult.” While accountability is always important, it’s particularly critical as you’re scaling. Lauren experienced this one first-hand. “When I hired my first business coach,” she recalls, “I couldn’t afford it, but I scraped up pennies and did it anyway.” And guess what? “It was worth it.”

About The Author

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Capitalize On Your Content

In an article that I just read from Marissa Lyman of Marketo, she talks about “Four Things Smart Marketers Do With Press Coverage”. The same can be said about great marketing content.

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“A member of your public relations team just secured a killer placement for your company. Congratulations! This is big news—pun intended! This article has it all—corporate messaging pull-through, a nice quote from your executive, complimentary language about your organization—it’s a win all the way around. You’ve passed it around internally and everyone has replied all with comments like “very cool” and “great hit.”

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You’re done, right? That’s the extent of the value that this coverage will bring to your org.

WRONG!

If you think the press coverage is a one-and-done type of deal, think again! There are lots of things that you can do with a press hit to make it go the extra mile for your brand. You can (and should) take all that free publicity and make it work for you. Here’s how:

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Socialize It

Post that article to your social followers! Sharing stories like this over company accounts is a nice break from traditional corporate announcements and shows validation for your brand by third-party sources. Even though press coverage isn’t an endorsement, sharing articles where your company is reported on externally adds legitimacy to your narrative. That’s because studies show that earned media is considered the most trustworthy form of marketing.

And of course, if you have an executive quoted in the piece or maybe a partner or customer featured in the article, make sure all of them are tagged to give them some extra love, like greater exposure and even more follows.

Incentivize It

There are lots of tools available now to incentivize employees and brand advocates to share news like this via their social channels. Doing so allows them to spread the word to their social networks for additional reach. The benefits of using platforms like GaggleAMP or Influitive is the element of gamification, which entices employees more than an email that just says, “please share.” It’s easy to set up a rewards program (Swag! Giftcards! Money! Oh my!) through these tools, further incentivizing your coworkers for their efforts.

Put Some Paid On It

I said that to the tune of “I got five on it,” by Luniz (if you don’t know that reference, please look it up). Just because you got the hit for free doesn’t mean that you can’t give it an extra “boost.” Putting paid promotion behind the post on any social network or via a content distributor ensures that more eyeballs— especially more of the right eyeballs—will reach the article.

Much is given to a company’s website—pricing pages, product specs, customer testimonials, C-suite bios!—but I urge you to consider the page where I spend most my time: the press room. Your press room should not only include staples like your company’s most recent boilerplate and announcements (maybe even a link to your corporate blog, if you’re feeling fancy), but it should also include recent mentions of your organization in the news. It’s one thing for people to see what you’re saying about yourself when they look at this page. It’s an entirely other thing for them to see the nice things other people are saying about you”.

At the end of the day getting press coverage or creating awesome marketing content alone doesn’t ensure the results your looking for. It is critical to share the content through as many channels as possible. Looking to attract more borrowers? Maybe it is time to share more.

About The Author

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Being A Trusted Advisor

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Mortgage is a service business. We are looking to serve our clients the best way we can. In order to do that, you have to be able to ask the right questions and get the right answers from our employees.

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In the article entitled “The Questions Good Coaches Ask” by Amy Su, she says that in the HBR Guide to Coaching Employees, executive coach Ed Batista defines coaching as a style of management characterized by asking questions. With those questions you can move away from command-and-control leadership to a dynamic in which your direct report grows through self-reflection.

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Asking the right coaching questions means the difference between a one-way interrogation and a dynamic learning session. Good coaching questions give someone who’s busy and competent the space in which to step back and examine herself. The right question can stop her in her tracks as she finally sees her own actions from a different perspective or envisions a new solution to an old problem. She may indeed learn to question herself so that next time she can catch herself in the act and change her actions in the moment.

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Begin by planning out what you’ll ask and get yourself into the right mindset before the coaching session begins.

While there are a lot of coaching questions you can’t directly prepare for ahead of time, many of the ones you’ll ask in the first session are fairly standard, so take time to consider them beforehand.

First think about what you need to know to help your direct report. Your questions in this session will not only help you understand her situation but also can help you to identify her:

>> Current developmental level and goals (what she is ready for, what she can handle, what’s the next step in her journey)

>> Skill level against leadership competencies and behaviors

>> Preferences (e.g. how she processes information or makes decisions – Meyers-Briggs-type categorization)

>> Motivations and values

>> Habits and structures that might be holding her back

Then think about how you’ll ask your questions. To give your direct report the space to reflect and respond effectively, they should be phrased as open-ended queries. It can be helpful to think about the first word: open-ended questions often begin with “what,” “how,” “who,” “where,” and “when.” (See the sidebar “Open-Ended Coaching Questions.”) Stay away from “why” – it can feel confrontational and judgmental. To get at the same thing, instead ask, “What was your intention with that?”

The most important thing to keep in mind while composing (and delivering) coaching questions is that you need to be genuinely curious about the answers. People can tell if you’re just asking a question because it’s what you’re “supposed” to do. And you won’t be able to get to that one question and that moment of self-discovery if you’re just going through the motions rather than authentically interested in your direct report, her situation, and her growth.

Being authentically curious can take practice and rewiring: you have to accept the idea that others may be as smart as you, and suspend (good!) habits like asserting a strong point of view. But it will help you both as you prepare for your session and in the moment.

Once you are in the coaching session, you will need to respond to your direct report’s comments with further questions. Think of these questions as creating a bridge between what she has said and what else you want to learn. This intuitive process at the heart of the coaching relationship can’t be scripted. Your own authentic curiosity in her and her development is invaluable in triggering your next question: it’s something that happens from the gut.

You can help your gut to be ready, though, by intentionally getting into the right frame of mind as the session begins. For example, I always find it incredibly difficult to walk into a coaching session immediately after facilitating training or delivering a key note address: there is a big shift that I need to do to go from having a strong presence in front of a large audience to having a more intimate presence of being quiet and hearing and reacting to the person in front of me.

Deliberately schedule your coaching sessions so that you’ll be able to get into that place of listening, and if you anticipate being frantic in the hour leading up to your session take a few minutes out to pause, take a few deep breaths, and get yourself physically centered. Pull up your notes from the last coaching meeting with this direct report to reconnect to the conversation as it stands now.

Once you understand your direct report’s point of view into a given situation, be careful not to let the session turn into venting or blaming others. Instead of asking questions that might reinforce the emotional charge she already feels, ask questions that open up possibilities she may not have considered yet.

For example, if your direct report has described an argument she had with another colleague, instead of saying things like, “I can’t believe that person would do that to you” or belaboring “how did that make you feel,” ask questions that pose a different perspective: “I hear how frustrated you are. What do you think is going on in his world that may have led to this behavior?” or “What does the business need the two of you to do? What would you need to see from this person to have a better relationship?”

Or if she’s frustrated at her own perceived lack of personal development: “You’ve had to come through many learning curves in your career. What has been your success cycle in the past?” Recognizing your coachee’s story but asking her to shift her thinking beyond it is one of the most important ways a question can open up new possibilities.

Once you’ve asked a set of questions that opens the dialogue and helps you to see things through her eyes, it’s your turn to share your perspective. And even that begins with a question: “Are you open to me sharing with you how I am seeing this? Could I offer you a different lens? A new approach?”

Bosses have a taller order than executive coaches when it comes to asking questions. Your direct reports will always be asking themselves whether they actually want you to see their weaknesses (real or perceived) and their personal opinions about professional colleagues and situations—this takes real trust. But that’s also what can make managers the most invaluable coaches: once you build that relationship over time, you have a much deeper ability to ask just the right question.

About The Author

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.