How to Be the Master in Your Field

25 06 2013

Pablo Picasso created paintings the world has marveled at for decades. Looking with awe at these masterpiece creations, it would be perfectly logical to imagine that the distinctive brush strokes were made by someone with a natural gift — a gift not achievable by most.

Although Picasso’s talent is undeniable and his style unmistakable, that genius was actually developed in a surprising way that many don’t realize.

From the time Picasso was a young boy, he was formally trained by his father in oil paintings and figure drawings. And what method did his father use to train young Pablo? Jose Picasso was an artist who believed the best training for his son required formal and disciplined copying of the masters’ work. For many years, young Pablo Picasso fervently reproduced paintings, drawings, and plaster casts of the masters. He not only copied religiously but also experimented with a variety of styles, theories, and ideas, until he developed his own voice and distinctive style.

So what does this have to do with business?

The ideas of meticulous practice and of learning a skill by emulating the leaders in a field are not as common today as they were in the days when apprenticeships were more common. In a world that craves instant gratification, people often overlook the hard work required to develop any talent and simply assume it just comes naturally to those who are gifted.

The good news is that there is a short-cut. The bad news is that even the short-cut requires some sweat equity.

Not everyone can become a Pablo Picasso. Not entirely because of the natural talent gap (though that’s part of it), but also because of the not-wanting-to-put-in-the-hard-work-required gap.

There’s incredible power available to you in muscle memory. Muscle memory is “consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition.” When any task is repeated over and over, a muscle memory is created which allows one to perform the task almost effortlessly.

Olympic and professional athletes, concert pianists, and all other performers in the top of their field are perfect examples of muscle memory in action. They have practiced and performed so often that their performances seem to be effortless. That is the power of muscle memory.

Muscle memory can also apply to business mastery. It requires finding the leader in the field, analyzing and dissecting what they have done, and then recreating and reproducing those skills, often while adding your own unique style and flair. Practice often until muscle memory takes over. If it worked for Pablo Picasso, it can work for you.





Introducing: Your Next Sales Super Achiever

18 06 2013

We all want to increase sales and grow our businesses. We also know that hiring and grooming a sales superstar is one surefire way of achieving those goals. Unfortunately, finding and retaining a sales superstar is a difficult task. Until you find the secret to make that a reality, here’s an alternate path to consider for reaching your sales goals.

Self-publish a book!

You read that correctly. One of the best ways to increase your sales and grow your business is to author and publish your own book. Self-publishing your book allows you to present your points to your target audience in an authoritative way — just like a sales superstar would.

Now, to be clear, we aren’t talking about writing a novel the size of War and Peace. Nor are we talking about writing a prize-winning book. This type of book is written specifically to bring you leads and the types of customers who are looking to buy what you sell.

They say everyone has at least one book in them, but no one tells you how to go about writing it. Being an author is on many people’s dream lists, but few go about actually accomplishing the tasks needed to bring a book to life. Perhaps that’s because writing a book seems so overwhelming. “It will take many years.” “I don’t know how to write a book.” “I don’t know what to write about.” These are some of the many excuses that stand in the way of making authorship a reality.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five simple steps to get you going:

  1. Pick your topic title.
  2. Make an outline of your main topic and sub-topics.
  3. Choose three main subjects to write about.
  4. Think about ways you or your products/services go about solving your customers’ problems. Come up with 10-20 solutions.
  5. Write about and expand on one of those points one hour every day.

It really can be as simple as that. Within a few weeks, you’ll have the main part of the book finished and ready for editing. Finding nice cover graphics and having it printed is not difficult.

Imagine being able to hand a prospect your own beautifully printed book. Do you think that would establish credibility and open some doors?

Your own self-published book is the ultimate business card — and the sales superstar you can use to grow your business in ways not otherwise possible. What’s more, this kind of sales superstar has no ego and doesn’t call in sick either. There’s at least one book in you. Start writing it today.





How to Grow Your Business During Any Economy

14 06 2013

While the economy seems to be slowly recovering, it’s far from smooth sailing, and many businesses are still struggling to find firm footing. Even so, you don’t have to look hard to find businesses that are thriving. What’s the secret behind these companies that the struggling ones haven’t found?

It may be tempting to think that lowering prices is the best way to compete in a struggling economy. When times are tough, people think longer and harder before making the choice to buy something. But this doesn’t mean they will always opt for the cheapest option. If they did, Apple wouldn’t be the brand leader it is today. There are many inexpensive alternatives to Apple’s popular products, yet they continue to break sales records with each successive new product release.

The Internet has made it easy to compare prices and find the cheapest alternative. Only one company can be the cheapest, and the low-price shopper will spend as much time as necessary to find what they are looking for.

This type of person is not your target customer because they will leave you as soon as they find someone else offering a lower price. There’s no brand loyalty in this game. Instead, it’s a race to the bottom, with eventual closure its only prize.

A Better Approach

The much better approach is to increase the value you bring to your marketplace instead of lowering your prices.

This value could be found in offering helpful knowledge to people looking for the types of products you sell. It could mean offering bonuses such as free shipping or discounted installation. It could be as simple as a friendly, smiling person greeting customers in store or on the phone. The more value you can find and bring to the table, the less impact price will have as the sole factor for buying what you sell.

When you bring value like that, you become invaluable to your community and to the types of customers you want to attract. These are customers who won’t leave you for the latest sale by the low-price companies. Instead, they’re real customers who come back because they appreciate real value.





The Five Dollar Workday

11 06 2013

Henry Ford, the famous Ford Motor Company founder, was known for many things. Among them was his role in promoting the assembly line as a viable means for mass-producing automobiles, a process that made cars more affordable for middle-class Americans.

Ford had a global vision with consumerism as one of its centerpieces. He had an intense commitment to lowering costs through systemization and building a more process-driven company.

This focus made his next move (which is not as well known) quite a shock at the time.

The Five Dollar Workday

In January 1914, Henry Ford made a radical decision. He increased Ford Motor Company employee wages from $2.34/day to $5/day (equivalent to approximately $110 today) and reduced the workday from nine hours to eight.

While this was one of the most generous pay hikes of its time, Ford didn’t do this simply out of the goodness of his heart. At the time, the Detroit area was already becoming known for companies offering higher-than-average pay. In addition, the boredom of repetitious, assembly-line work led to higher employee turnover rates. One of the underlying reasons behind Ford’s move to increase wages was the desire to attract and retain top-notch employees by effectively creating golden handcuffs.

Ford used his PR machine and news journalist contacts to spread the word about the generous pay. Soon, there were thousands of applicants at every Ford factory, which allowed the company to hire only the best applicants. The fortunate hires stayed with Ford much longer than they otherwise might, since they couldn’t get similar pay elsewhere. In one bold move, Ford had managed to solve most of his company’s labor problems.

But higher employee retention was only one benefit of Ford’s plan. Within two short years of the pay raise, Ford’s profits increased by 200% to $60 million per year. Within five years, Ford Model T’s were rolling out at the rate of one every 24 seconds, much faster than the 12 days each had initially taken to produce. By the end of 1914, the 13,000 Ford Motor Company employees were producing 260,000 automobiles annually, while the rest of the automotive industry produced 280,000 combined.

At the time, much of corporate America did not view employees as an asset. Instead, they were seen as part of a company’s expense. With this single move, Ford was able to open the eyes of the corporate world. Ford had created a workforce that became a model for the eight-hour workday and HR departments of today. More importantly, he set the pace for the eventual rise of middle-class America. Ford employees could actually afford to buy one of the cars they produced.

With the $5-per-day pay hike, Ford was able to reduce employee turnover, increase the pool of high-quality applicants, reduce absenteeism drastically, and attract top-notch employees. The corresponding morale increase led to the highest productivity rates in history.

So what’s the moral of this story? What can we glean from it and apply to our own companies in the 21st century?

When companies shift their mindset from viewing employees as an expense item on the financials to an asset with vast potential, they can begin to see brighter possibilities for the whole company as well. Employees who truly believe they are appreciated and feel valuable to their company are much more likely to be highly productive and happy with what they are doing. Content employees are much less likely to actively seek opportunities elsewhere. Loyal, long-term employees lead to stability and customer satisfaction.

Henry Ford made a big splash with his five-dollar workday. The same kind of impact can be made today by implementing innovative ideas that show employees you appreciate what they do.

Studies and surveys have shown that higher pay is not the top motivator for employees to stay with their company. Feeling valued, being content in their role, and accomplishing larger goals are more important criteria. Find effective ways to instill those feelings in your employees, and you can make your own splash.





How to Beat a Low Price Competitor

7 06 2013

Every industry and every business tends to have at least a few competitors who know only one way to compete: unreasonably low pricing. These businesses undercut pricing so much that few make any profits. Unfortunately, as they go down the tubes toward oblivion, they often drag a few good companies with them.

Everyone knows that competing is part of being in business. Problems occur when some companies don’t want to play by the rules.

One man who ran into just this sort of problem was Herbert Dow.

Herbert Dow founded Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan, after inventing a way to produce bromine inexpensively. He sold the chemical for industrial purposes all over the US for 36 cents per pound at the turn of the 20th century. He couldn’t go overseas, however, because the international market was controlled by a giant German chemical cartel that sold it at a fixed price of 49 cents per pound. It was understood that the Germans would stay out of the US market so long as Dow and the other American suppliers stayed within their borders.

Eventually, Dow’s business was in trouble, and he had to expand. He took his bromine to England and easily beat the cartel’s fixed price of 49 cents per pound. Things were okay for a while, until a German visitor came to Michigan and threatened Dow that he had to cease and desist. Dow didn’t like being told what to do, so he told the cartel to get lost.

Shortly thereafter, German bromine started appearing for sale in the US for 15 cents per pound, well below Dow’s price. The cartel flooded the US market, offering the chemical far below their own costs, intending to drive Dow out of business. But Dow outsmarted them. He stopped selling in the US entirely and instead arranged for someone to secretly start buying up all the German bromine he could get his hands on. Dow repackaged it as his own product, shipped it to Europe, and made it widely available (even in Germany) at 27 cents per pound. The Germans were left wondering why Dow hadn’t gone out of business and why there suddenly seemed to be such a high demand for bromine in the US.

The cartel lowered its price to 12 cents and then 10 cents. Dow just kept buying more and more, gaining huge market share in Europe. Finally, the Germans caught on and had to lower their prices at home. Dow had broken the German chemical monopoly and expanded his business greatly. And customers got a wider range of options for buying bromine at lower prices.

Dow went on to use the same trick against the German dye and magnesium monopolies. This is now the textbook way to deal with predatory price cutting.

The way Dow went about dealing with a low-ball competitor may not be the solution for you in dealing with your own competition. But his method does show that you can win by thinking creatively and putting some thought into outfoxing an opponent in other ways than just matching their low prices.





8 Skills Successful Entrepreneurs Have That Others Don’t

4 06 2013

8 Skills Successful Entrepreneurs Have That Others Don’t

There are skills you can learn from textbooks, skills you can learn in business school, and skills and lessons passed down from mentors and peers. Then there are the skills that can only be learned in the school of hard knocks and the real world. An entrepreneur who wants to be a true leader must understand which skills are the most important in order to lead a healthy and growing business. Here are eight of the most critical skills which differentiate successful entrepreneurs from others.

1: Patience and Persistence
The life of an entrepreneur includes facing many closed doors. Successful entrepreneurs have grit. They focus on the end goal and have the patience to see it through to completion despite the roadblocks.

2: Planning Skills & Time Management
Entrepreneurs must wear many hats and are often pulled in many different directions throughout the day. It’s critical, therefore, that plans and goals are flexible enough to handle unexpected surprises when they occur. Successful entrepreneurs set the GPS for their lives and businesses so they know where they are going every hour of every day.

3: Communication & Persuasion
Whether speaking with a prospect, a customer, an employee, or a stakeholder, it’s critical that the message and key concepts are presented clearly. When the point is made with focus and clarity, the chance for ambiguity falls by the wayside. Leaders know how to communicate and how to persuade.

4: Confidence & Sales Skills
Successful entrepreneurs are able to sell their products, services, ideas, and passion not only to the outside world of customers but also to their internal team of employees. That requires confidence and sharp sales skills. Successful entrepreneurs can sell anything.

5: Knowledge and Learning Skills
Successful entrepreneurs are passionate about continuous growth and improvement. When others think they know all there is to know, these leaders will push themselves to expand their horizon. They set aside an hour or more each day to read and learn about new, noteworthy industry advances they can apply to their business.

6: Realistic Optimists
No one can avoid bad news. Losing customers and having employees quit is part of life for any entrepreneur. The difference comes in how people view these challenges. The successful entrepreneur doesn’t hide bad news under the rug, but has learned instead to deal with it quickly and move on to the task at hand without being dragged down.

7: Resourcefulness and Managing Cash Flow
Resourcefulness is a great trait for any entrepreneur. The ability to think creatively and come up with out-of-the-box solutions is a must-have skill. This goes hand in hand with being able to manage the cash flow of the business. It’s a skill that shouldn’t be outsourced and one that the most successful entrepreneurs have learned very well.

8: Intense Focus
What separates the most successful entrepreneurs from others is their ability to focus intently on the goals and tasks at hand. In a world of short attention spans and constant noise, these leaders are able to put blinders on when needed, unplug from all the unnecessary distractions, and see the task all the way through. That is perhaps the biggest difference between successful and ultra-successful entrepreneurs.

Becoming a successful entrepreneur is not about what you are now, but what you do today and tomorrow. You now know eight critical skills to work on to be what you are meant to become. Start working on them today.