Monday, November 16, 2009

16 Tips to Help Small Businesses Thrive Through the Recession by Francie Dalton

Be Proactive, Be Positive, Be Practical, and Be People-Centric

"Stop being your own worst enemy!" says Francie Dalton, President of Washington D.C. based Dalton Alliances, Inc. "If your thoughts are primarily fear based, if you're envisioning the worst for yourself and your business, if your conversations are focused predominately on bad news, then", she warns, "you're seriously impeding your own success'.

Instead of giving succor to all the negative blathering, Dalton's advice is to buckle down and commit to taking 3 actions every single day to improve revenue. Here are her suggestions.

1. Don't you DARE Pick up that Phone, go into Twitter, FaceBook or LinkedIn Unless it's to Generate Business! Be ruthlessly disciplined about generating business as JOB ONE. Any activity that doesn't secure new business should be delegated, or done during non-business hours. Prioritize everything else around this fundamental principle. During business hours, dedicate yourself exclusively to expanding your client base or deepening business with your current clients.

2. Virtually "Stalk" your Prospects: Describe your ideal client. What types of organizations do they belong to? Join them. What kinds of publications do they read? Read them. What types of events do they attend? Attend them. Differentiate yourself with detective work about your targeted prospects. Research them; research their industry; tap your network to learn more about them. Think about how impressed you would be if someone had clearly extended effort to learn about you, your achievements, and your industry. This tip will help you warm up the cold contacts and will set you apart from most others who won't go to this much effort. The result? You'll be more likely than your competitors to get the business.

3. Work Backwards to Move Forward: If you're tracking important ratios, you know how many qualified prospect meetings it takes to generate one client, and the average sale per client. With only these two pieces of information, you can control how much you sell each month. Determine desired sales volume, then conduct two to three times the number of qualified prospect meetings required to achieve your revenue goal.

4. Invite Scrutiny: Whose business acumen do you admire? Who's already successful in your field? Whose clientele do your products or services complement? Establish an Advisory Board, and invite these folks to be part of it. Meet quarterly to gain their advice on your business challenges. Advisory boards impose a level of scrutiny and accountability that both challenge and comfort, and a level of ideation and innovation that helps you expand your scope and reach. Ensure you get unbiased, unemotional, tough truths by not including friends and loved ones on the board. Alternatively, you could treat selected individuals to a meal now and then to get their advice. Whatever the way in which you access the intellectual capital of others, be sure to thank them, act on at least one of their suggestions, and follow up with them to them know the outcome of having implemented their advice.

5. Your Pipeline is your Lifeline: NEVER stop prospecting. In good times or bad, keep your pipeline full! Even when you're flush with business, don't get cocky. Realize that if you wait to prospect until you need new clients; it'll be too late to achieve immediate results. Sales is, in a large part, a numbers game. If you aren't getting enough business, a major contributing factor is that you're not contacting enough prospects, which means you'll erode or prevent your success. Understand this: whether you like it or not, prospecting is how to keep your business pipeline full of potential clients. If you neglect this critical function, you can hardly complain when business is down.

6. The "Lag Before you Bag": The lag time between your first meeting with a qualified prospect and closing the sale is an essential ratio for managing your productivity. The sales you bag today likely began at least 3 months ago. In achieving your goals, knowing your average lag time is essential. If you're calculating the total lag before you make a deposit, don't forget to add in the time it takes to render the service before you bill it, and the time between the billing and the receipt of funds.

7. You Gotta Network to Get Work: Whether you enjoy it or not is irrelevant; networking is an imperative. Learn how to do it well. If you want to survive the lean times, you have to network regularly. Go to appropriate events with the objective of helping others rather than seeking those who can help you. Doing so will make others want to help you in return. Remember – nothing "comes out of the blue". The seeding you do today will produce unexpected business in the future. Suggested reading: Make Your Contacts Count by Lynne Waymon.

8. Don't Pander; Ponder! Showcasing your wisdom too early, without taking time to probe causal factors, can be insulting. Instead, if what you sell is intellectual capital, honor the complexity of client issues by asking probing questions. Be inquisitive about their goals, frustrations, hopes, and struggles. Then construct a matrix of options, and augment this with the advantages and disadvantages of each. Use the matrix as a discussion tool, inviting edits, improvements, and further details.

9. Prepare to Bend by Predicting the Trends: Be vigilant about monitoring relevant trends, since they're always in flux. Just as important are tangential trends - forces that could affect the trends you're already monitoring. Doing so enables you to foresee and adapt to emerging trends before your competitors do. Set up Google alerts at to ease the monitoring process.

10. Don't Defer Getting Referrals: If you're not comfortable asking your satisfied clients to provide referrals, do it anyway! Once you've delighted them, conduct a brief interview to learn what they valued most about working with you. Using this information, draft a brief testimonial for them to edit and print onto their letterhead. Suggested reading: Referral Prospecting by Bill Cates.

11. Publicize to Optimize: Both credibility and sales increase as a result of publishing articles or books, and speaking on your area of expertise. It's not that hard. Every time you solve a problem for a client, produce an outline of the process from start to finish. Then fill in the outline, and voila, you have an article or a speech. Multiple articles can comprise a book. Writing a book is less daunting if you write only one chapter at a time without thinking of it as a book. Suggested reading: POP by Sam Horn.

12. Link Value for Free to Service for Fee: Consider providing an educational session to prospective clients at no charge, but structure the delivery so that they want more. For example, deliver the information promised, but make reference to additional, high value information that you can provide and how it has helped your clients. Consider making complimentary presentations at conventions whose attendees are great prospects for you. Or select a few organizations locally that would be great clients for you, and invite their top 3 executives to breakfast, or offer a no-fee brown bag session to their employees.

13. Don't Attend Conventions without Clear Intentions and Quotas: Recoup the opportunity cost of attending conventions. Get an attendee list in advance of the meeting, then identify and research your targets before you even leave town. Then make it your mission at the meeting to establish contact and engage these targets. Remember: attendance is not an outcome. Make your attendance result in new business by preparing in advance.

14. Break it Down to Build it Up: Identify key result areas of your business, such as prospecting, delivery, writing, marketing, speaking, new product development, etc. For each, assign yourself measurable goals for each month or each quarter. Break these down into component parts, and include them in your calendaring tool.

15. Diversify to Amplify: Particularly important in tough economic times is that you have established multiple lines of business. Ensure your repertoire includes as many of the following as possible; business consulting, facilitation, an ever expanding menu of workshops on as many topics as you're fluent in (both virtual and on site), surveys of as many types as you can do well, coaching (both in person and virtually), speeches, retreats, and more. You might also consider partnering with others whose offerings are complementary, and/or subcontracting to others who have skills that you don't have.

16. Essential Certifications: If you're a consultant, or if consultants are your target market, get your CMC from the IMC. The Institute of Management Consultants is an extremely prestigious group of professional consultants, from which you can earn the highly coveted "Certified Management Consultant" designation. The CMC certification confers competitive distinction globally, making it much more likely that you will gain the attention of decision makers. Find the chapter nearest you, and learn more at

Every bit as prestigious and essential is the IOM from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Earning the "Institute of Organizational Management" certification requires a total of four weeks of classroom attendance, which can be completed in a variety of time frames to suit your schedule. The learning process puts you in close contact with decision makers from both for profit and nonprofit business sectors, all of whom are potential clients. The scope, depth, and quality of instruction is top notch, and the relationships you'll develop are of a caliber you'll want to retain throughout your life.

Regardless of how many of these tips you implement, Dalton challenges business owners to remember that their own outlook and attitude can diminish their effectiveness. "Those who prevail in difficult times" she notes, "are the ones who steadfastly refuse to allow negativity to form a barrier to their success – who instead deliberately and diligently take multiple constructive actions every single day. Doing so refreshes the spirit, helps sustain a positive attitude, increases resilience, and reinvigorates a commitment to success"

So - which of these tips will YOU implement today?


Francie Dalton, CMC, is founder and president of Dalton Alliances, Inc, a Washington DC consultancy specializing in the communication, management, and behavioral sciences. Her new book, "Versatility", published by ASAE, and more information about her offerings is available at She is available for interview at 410-715-0484.