6 Questions Every Business Owner Should Ask Once a Year – Part 2

6 Questions Every Business Owner Should Ask Once a Year - Part 2Marketing strategist Lynn Serafinn explores the second of six important questions that can help ensure our business is evolving along with us. Part 2 in series.

A few weeks ago I made a New Year’s resolution to write the articles for this ‘6 questions’ series throughout the month of January. In Part 1, I made the comment that we often joke about our New Year’s resolutions, as so many of us forget about them or find them too difficult to uphold.

Well, there you go. I wrote that on January 8th and here we are in February already. For one reason or another I didn’t get around to writing the next article until today. Oh sure, I had legitimate reasons. Our website was being migrated to a new server and there were many technical issues that warranted my attention. Then, after being stuck for months, I got a FLASH of creative mojo and suddenly couldn’t stop writing my blogging book (which I decided to start over again from scratch). Then, my 60th birthday rolled around and I had almost two solid weeks of celebrations with friends and family. Then, I switched Internet service providers and had no access to the Internet for two days. And then, of course, I had clients – lots and lots of clients who were all revving up for the New Year and needed a lot of care and attention from me.

Yeah. Lots of excuses. Legitimate ones perhaps, but excuses nonetheless.

I wouldn’t bother bringing this all up just to make an ‘excuse’ for why I haven’t written until today; rather, it’s a perfect example of how we make plans with the best of intentions but, for one good reason or another, we don’t manage to see them through. Instead, we allow ‘stuff’ to dictate what we do in a kind of chain-reaction response. Something says, ‘Look at me, now!’ and we look. Something says, ‘Fix me, now!’ and we fix it.

While this kind of automated respond to stimuli in our lives is inevitable (and probably necessary) from time to time, the problem is that if we allow this to become a pattern, we are likely to find ourselves at the end of a long day wondering what we’ve actually gotten done. Our ‘to do list’ never seems to change and we feel like we’re spinning our wheels.

For business owners, if allow ourselves to work this way to such a point that it becomes a habit, we will end up doing ourselves, our business AND our customers/clients a huge disservice. When we continually allow circumstance to dictate our direction, we will eventually find ourselves overworked and burnt out; our businesses will fail to flourish and evolve and our customers will receive poorer service.

But there is another, highly destructive way business owners can fall into the trap of allowing circumstance to dictate their direction:

…by not taking time, at least once a year, to assess whether the business and marketing model from which they are operating is still relevant to them and their customers.

The purpose of this article series is to provide you with some critical self-enquiries to help keep you from falling into this trap. As a vehicle for these questions, I have been using six key questions:

  1. Who?
  2. What?
  3. When?
  4. Where?
  5. Why?
  6. How?

In Part 1, we looked at ‘Who?’ We looked at the various ‘Whos’ of your business: Who are you and your company? Who are your customers and clients? Who are your partners, collaborators and support network? If you missed that article (or you’d like to refresh your memory), you can find it by clicking here.

Today, I’m going to focus on the next of these self-enquiry questions:


Defining the ‘What?’ of Your Business

After we understand our ‘Who?’, being able to define the ‘What?’ of our business is of paramount importance. Without a ‘What?’ we don’t have a business. The kinds of ‘Whats’ we will look at here are:

  1. What do you WANT?
  2. What do you OFFER?
  3. What ELSE could you offer?

SIDENOTE: As we look through these in turn, I want to add that these questions are not only important for ongoing business owners to ask themselves, but are especially vital when you are starting a new business or going through a rebrand.

WHAT #1: What do you WANT?

Almost any trained coach will tell you ‘What do you want?’ is the most commonly asked question during coaching sessions. Yet it seems to be one of the most uncommon questions we ask ourselves, perhaps because it’s loaded with emotional dynamite:

  • Our answers are too vague to mean anything.
  • We fear if we ask for too much we will end up being disappointed, so we habitually ask for less than we actually want.
  • We create lots of sensible sounding justifications for why we cannot have what we really want.

Being vague about what we want is a sure-fire way to ensure we won’t get it. Saying something like, ‘I want to earn a good living through my business,’ or, ‘I want more clients,’ or, ‘I want to do what I love,’ means…nothing, really. Without defining the specifics of what you want, you have no measuring stick for knowing when or whether you’ve GOT it. The synapses in your brain will keep asking, ‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’ And when it does, you won’t have an answer, because you won’t know if you have reached your destination.

For many, the problem with being specific is that they worry they are asking too much. They worry they won’t be able to achieve it (or don’t deserve it). They fear the disappointment and feelings of failure that come along with this, so they keep their targets small and contained.

This is where the ‘sensible sounding justifications’ come in. We tell ourselves things like the economy is bad, people aren’t spending, and so forth. We say we’re in business to make a difference, not to get rich. We imagine if we ask for more from our business, we will lose customers (and friends) because they will think we are greedy. Then, even if we manage to move past all those justifications, we tell ourselves we don’t have enough time to do it all; we don’t have the knowledge, the qualifications or the skills.

Ultimately, we convince ourselves we’re ok with where we are. But deep inside, we feel bland and maybe even mediocre…even though we don’t have any goal posts for what we would consider to be exciting and excellent.

The ‘What?’ of MONEY

To reframe the question ‘What do I want?’ it is useful to look at what you already have. By this, I mean tangible, measurable things. Let’s just look at money for now. The reason I’m starting here is a) it’s easily measurable and b) it’s often a touchy subject for business owners (especially sole traders). The other reason I’m starting here is that I just filed my taxes a couple of weeks ago, and this process is something I’m doing in my own business right now!

Assuming you’ve done your bookkeeping for the past year, your starting point should be to ask:

  • How much turnover did you have last year?
  • How much of that turnover went towards operational expenses?
  • How much of that was profit/income?
  • How did that work for you?
    • Did you ever feel stretched financially? If so, how much more income would you need to feel at ease? Be as specific as possible.
    • If you didn’t feel ‘stretched’ but you also didn’t have any real surplus income, how much more would you need to feel safe and satisfied? Again, be specific.
  • What can you trim down? People often forget one of the FASTEST ways to increase your income is to streamline your outgoings. So now, looking at your expenses, ask yourself what you could minimise or eliminate in the coming year to decrease your business outgoings. Don’t be haphazard with this. Carefully assess which expenses no longer financially justify their place in your business. Then, write down how much money this will add to your annual profits (or could be put to better use within your business). You might be surprised how many casual business expenses you’ve been carrying that are draining your resources. Believe me, they mount up over time if you don’t do regular reviews.

Try to go through these questions as dispassionately and objectively as possible. Remember, these are all things to do with ‘WHAT?’ not ‘WHO?’ They are facts, numbers. Do not confuse them with who you ARE. Remember:

The aim of going through this process is to answer the question
‘What do I WANT?’
‘What do I not have?’

WHAT #2: What do you OFFER?

When asking the question ‘What do you offer?’ I am referring to your specific products and services. Saying something like, ‘I’m a coach,’ or, ‘I’m an alternative therapist,’ doesn’t give us any foundation for planning the next year of your business. Customers don’t really care about your label; they care about finding solutions that specifically address their problems, whether they relate to health, parenting, relationships, finances, business development, emotional issues, home decor or cookery. For this reason, I believe (and have experienced) that true business success and flow happens when we combine the ‘Who?’ of our business with the ‘What?’ to create products from our services, whatever those might be.

Being armed with a roster of definable products (i.e. our offers) enables us to achieve a much higher level of planning in our business. Financially, it allows to see our turnover, expenses and profits with great precision. It also enables us to see how much we might be trading ‘time for money’, and where that can change.

Creating products also helps us design specific marketing strategies. It helps us talk about what we do and what it brings to others with greater ease. Having definable products makes it easier to demonstrate the relevance of what we DO to what our audience WANT. Having products make our services easier to SELL.

So if your answer to the question ‘What do I offer?’ was something like, ‘I offer 1-to-1 coaching,’ or, ‘I offer business advice,’ or, ‘I offer alternative therapies,’ you’ve missed the point. These are not offers. They are abstract methodologies, not THINGS. People don’t buy methodologies; they buy products that will provide them with specific solutions. If you do not currently have any such ‘offers’ in your business, I refer you to an earlier article I posted in April 2014 called ‘Why Turning Services into Products is Good for Business AND Customers’, which can help you understand how to create them.

If you do have legitimate ‘offers’ in your business, write them down in a list. Then, ask a combination of ‘Who?’ and ‘What?’ questions, to get a better understanding of how they are currently operating in your business:

  • WHAT is the offer?
  • WHO are the customers I am serving with this offer?
  • WHAT specific needs are addressed in this offer?
  • WHAT do I currently charge for this offer?
  • WHAT was the total gross income from this offer over the past year (i.e. before deducting expenses or taking profit from it)?
  • WHAT was the total number of clients/customers/sales generated from this offer?
  • WHAT does this offer cost me to deliver (per sale or per annum, whichever is more relevant)? This SHOULD include expenses you have paid to other people, but not your own fees/salary.
  • WHAT kind of feedback have I received about it from my clients, customers, and support staff?

Then, looking at the answers to all those questions, ask:

  • WHAT is working/not working with this offer:
    • Qualitatively (value, integrity, etc.)?
    • Financially (relative profit compared to the amount of time, expense and energy)?
    • Emotionally (ease, enjoyment, stress, for you, your staff, your customers)?

Finally, ask:

  • WHAT could make this same offer work better for me, my staff and my customers in the coming year?
  • WHAT has changed over the past year in my business that influences the relevance of this offer? Is it now even MORE relevant? LESS relevant? Completely IRRELEVANT?

This might seem like a gruelling process, but I can tell you from experience that if you don’t go through it once a year, you are likely to keep offering products that are draining your energy and resources, and preventing your business from evolving into what it actually wants to become.

If you are holding onto offers that are past their ‘sell-by date’ just because you’re familiar with them, go back to the ‘What do I WANT?’ question and try to recognise the justifications you might be using to keep you from letting go of them.

WHAT #3: What ELSE could you offer?

While the other two ‘What?’ questions might have been hard work, this one should hopefully open the creative floodgates.

Asking ourselves ‘What else?’ is an open invitation to explore, to swim about and to break the mould. Instead of revising or getting rid of the old ways of doing things, this is where we can expand and let our imaginations come out to play.

Start by asking yourself:

  • WHAT have your clients repeatedly been asking for, but you haven’t had a ready solution?
  • WHAT are you dying to try out, but you may have been too swamped with towing the line to do it?
  • WHAT would be the easiest/fastest new product to roll out because you already have all the raw materials for it?
  • WHAT would make you tingle with excitement to offer to the world?
  • WHAT has the greatest potential to bring you the additional income you wished for back in Question 1 (‘What do I WANT?’)?

When playing with these ideas, be careful not to fall into the trap of asking too many questions. Most especially:

Do NOT be tempted to ask yourself ‘How can I do this?’

The ‘how’ is, of course, very important before you can execute any plan. But asking it too soon can shut down the creative flow of your ‘What?’ questions. The ‘How?’ will come soon enough. Just not now.

Closing Thoughts

So far in our ‘annual review’ we’ve made it through ‘Who?’ and ‘What?’ I hope you’ve taken the time to try the exercises provided and not just read through these articles. Even the best strategies won’t work unless you put them into practice.

And if say you haven’t had time to do your own annual review, ask yourself WHAT you are putting higher up on your list of priorities. After running my current business for the past 8 years, and helping hundreds of clients during that time, I know how critical it is to review all the WHATs of our business on a regular basis. Delaying this process is a recipe for financial struggle and emotional burnout.

So put the kettle on. Allow yourself to relax so you can go through the process with a clear mind and not too much over-thinking. Print this article and go through each area in detail. Then, be prepared to see solutions pop out in front of your eyes that you might never have suspected.

When you’ve done all that, you’ll be ready for the next instalment, when we look at ‘WHY?’

These ideas are an amalgamation of some of the key areas I work on with my own clients. If you’re looking to create a comprehensive portrait of the ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’ of your business, including how to develop, price and market your business offers, please drop us a line via the Contact form on this site and enquire about our new 7 Graces Business & Marketing Strategy Packages:

  • Our 13-Week PLATFORM BUILDING & Growth Package – for established business owners who want to build their online presence, increase their blog traffic and grow their Twitter following. This can also be used in combination with one of our product development packages.
  • AUTHOR services – we also have a variety of services just for authors, including full-service Amazon book launches, wholesale copywriting, virtual blog tours and other marketing services.
  • ‘A la carte’ services – Many of our other services can also be purchased ‘a la carte’ (although the package prices are always lower for the equivalent service). Some a la carte services have fixed fees, while others will vary according to the complexity of your particular project.

ALL of these packages and services are available NOW. You can read all about them on our ‘Work With Us’ page at: http://the7gracesofmarketing.com/work-with-us/.

On that page, you’ll also find downloadable PDF information packs, so you can read about each package in your own time. If you like what you read, and you’d like to discuss how we might work together, follow the link provided in the info pack to set up a FREE 30-minute consultation.

Of course, if you have any questions before you do that, don’t hesitate to drop us a line via the Contact form on this site.

I hope you’ll subscribe to this blog so you can receive the other articles in this series. And, as always, don’t forget to leave a comment (and share with your network) before leaving!

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
8 February 2015

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Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:

The 7 Graces of Marketing BOOK COVER The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing. Brit Writers Awards Finalist eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues


Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media. eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.

Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com

The Social Entrepreneur's Guide to Successful BloggingComing in 2015

The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging: An Effective, Creative & Ethical Way of Marketing for Visionaries & New Paradigm Business Leaders. To receive an update when that book is available, just click here. As a thank-you gift for showing your interest, you’ll get instant access to an exclusive, free 5-page PDF revealing the exact same blogging template we use with our clients and we teach to participants on the ethical marketing training courses at the 7 Graces Project.

Lynn Serafinn, MAED, CPCCLYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketing strategist, social media expert, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.

Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

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