How the Seasons Affect Your Direct Mail Campaigns

For the best results from your direct mail campaigns, learn how responses vary according to the time of year.

Some direct mail marketers focus so much on what they mail to whom, that they lose sight of another variable that’s just as important: when they mail. In my experience, most industries have a good time of year to mail (when they get stellar results), and a bad one (when you wonder if anyone out there is listening).

Do you know which season is best for you?

While you may have a general idea of good times to mail, you may not know those weeks or months to avoid – when your response rate falls like a stone. As an example, one of my clients mails sales letters about commodities. You know, corn, wheat, sugar, etc. They teach people how to trade commodities based on technical principles.

As you can imagine, one of our target prospects for this offer is farmers. The idea is that they can learn how to “hedge” their crops by buying and selling commodities. This makes them less vulnerable to changing market conditions. When I first started mailing this commodity offer to farmers, I had tremendous success. But…it didn’t last! After a few months, the response rate dropped off the table, to almost zero. Why?

After testing exhaustively, month after month, I figured out the problem. It was very simple. Farmers were NOT responsive during their harvest season.

Why? They are working 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. They don’t have time to read the mail. Or think about learning something new. But…they are HIGHLY responsive in the off-season, after the harvest. Knowing about this seasonality allowed me to aggressively mail farmers in the off-season, and avoid mailing them during harvest season.

Here’s another example. If you are a financial planner, do you know the best and worst times of year to mail?

Financial planners get the worst response rates during holidays – Memorial Day, Labor Day, 4th of July, etc. Their response is especially poor in November and December when most families are super busy planning and spending their money on gifts, travel, and food. What’s the BEST time for financial planners to mail? The first quarter of every year. January is best since families are evaluating their finances, and trying to find better ways to save and manage their money.

I send out over 250 mailings per year. I ALWAYS have something in the mail – every day, every week. I’ve identified money-making seasons for dozens of industries. And by mailing at just the right times, we are able to make the most out of our mailing. Experiment with small mailings and compare responses over time.

Armed with information on the best times to mail, you can make the best use of your advertising budget.

Saving the Earth, One Email at a Time

Traditional marketing practices tend to use a lot of paper. Consider how you can make operations more sustainable with digital communications.

Marketing is not exactly known for being an eco-friendly industry. In fact, the U.S. uses about 68 million trees each year to produce 17 billion catalogs and 65 billion pieces of direct mail, according to the American Forest and Paper Association. However, as the world becomes increasingly more digital, marketers have an opportunity to use digital tools to boost their environmental sustainability and turn this reputation around.

Many businesses plant trees to celebrate Earth Day; however, marketers who instead champion digital communication within their companies will benefit from a sustainable practice that can become a foundational part of their business. Consider the following best practices to help your company become more environmentally friendly for a sustainable future.

Move from direct mail to email.

When it comes to eco-friendly behaviors, some industries are better — and some worse — than others. Real estate, for instance, is notoriously old-fashioned in its marketing habits, relying predominantly on direct mail to reach customers. On the other hand, retailers who have embraced the shift to ecommerce tend to lean toward digital marketing to communicate with their customers. Internet retailers, in particular, generate very little paper across their business practices, delivering receipts, catalogs and other solicitations electronically.

Reducing your reliance on direct mail to reach customers will have a significant impact on the amount of paper waste your business creates. Shift your focus toward email, and consider how your current marketing content could be delivered electronically. Could a digital newsletter replace a brochure, or an emailed promotion replace a print mailing? Begin introducing QR codes to your print mailings that, when scanned on a smartphone, lead prospects to a landing page where they can easily enter their email address to receive digital communications. Use your traditional marketing pieces to promote your email list generation, and show your customers how they’re supporting your commitment to the environment. Taking that first step to digital might keep thousands of trees firmly rooted where they stand, and drastically reduce paper mailings from ending up as landfill.

Switch to scannable content.

While the restaurant industry has, for the most part, made the initial transition to electronic communication, they’re still lagging behind other industries in how they’re using it sustainably. Restaurants frequently send digital coupons and promotions to their customers but require customers to print them for redemption. While the communication to the customer has minimal environmental impact, the customer becomes the culprit doing damage to the environment.

Make sure the coupons and offer codes you distribute via email can be scanned and redeemed directly from a smartphone or other mobile device. Use responsive design tools to ensure your entire message and the offers it contains are easy to read and scan regardless of the device. Think about ways you can entice your customers to use digital devices for redemption, such as extending a better offer like free delivery to those who don’t print. If your business has an ecommerce site in addition to a physical location, consider whether that promotion can be used online as well as in store, and give clear instructions for both use cases.

Transition processes to an online portal.

Amazon is a force of nature, driving seismic shifts in the ecommerce, marketing and fulfillment industries. The company is setting the stage for how to do business digitally today, and one way Amazon’s influence has reduced paper waste is through the company’s online portal to manage workflow processes. Rather than mail hard copies of receipts and product manuals with new purchases, Amazon gives customers access to digital versions of these materials through their online accounts. These records can be accessed anytime and anywhere, and they track a deep purchase history so customers need not worry about losing documents.

If your business has an online component, consider how building out a customer-facing portal could cut down on overall paper waste. Migrate workflows for receipts, instructions and manuals to this portal, and make it accessible through many mediums like web browsers, devices and even apps. Help your customers understand that they’ll always have access to the documents they need and that their use of your portal is benefiting a greater good — the environment.

Transitioning your marketing efforts to be digital-based might take a bit longer than planting a tree, but the impact on the environment can be similarly enduring. If you can’t get your hands dirty this Earth Day, think about how a few changes to your marketing practices can affect the world around you. We can all do our part by taking steps towards an environmentally sustainable future.

Alternatives to Cold Call Prospecting

Some salespeople rarely make cold calls. They’ve developed other prospecting activities that can produce the sales they need without having to spend long hours on the phone. If that sounds good to you, you’ll need to put in the time developing said alternative prospecting channels so that you’re getting enough leads from those sources that cold calling becomes unnecessary.

Warm Leads

The most effective way to cut down your need for cold calling is to build multiple sources of warm leads.

A warm lead is a prospect who comes to you already interested in buying. Building a strong network will, among other things, help you to achieve a stream of warm leads from contacts. However, keep in mind that a business network requires time and effort on your part to maintain. Network contacts expect you to help them out with leads and other assistance or they won’t be inclined to help you.

Another good source of warm leads is referrals from existing prospects and customers. The final stage of the sales cycle, after closing the sale, is asking for referrals to friends and colleagues of your new customer. Because these referred leads know your customer and he can (hopefully) confirm how happy he is with his new product, it’s much easier to close a referred lead than a cold lead.

Finally, warm leads can come to you from a website or social networking site. These leads are people who visit the company site or read its Facebook profile and decide they want to learn more, so they ask for a salesperson to contact them.

These leads tend to be eager to buy since they’re clearly interested enough to want to know about your products, but they are also likely to have solicited information from your competitors, so be prepared for some heavy negotiating.

If your warm leads aren’t enough to keep your sales high, you can consider other methods of contacting cold leads.

An email is an excellent option. You can craft one message and send it to a large number of potential prospects with one click. The biggest concern regarding emails to large groups is accidentally crossing the line into spamming. Sending spam can create a lot of trouble. Not only are there laws in place that make spamming illegal, but it’s also unprofessional and can result in fines, losing customers, getting a bad reputation, and even having your email account shut down by your hosting provider.

Direct Mail

Direct mail is a traditional way to reach out to prospects, but it is also the most expensive. A simple letter will only cost you for supplies and postage, but if you decide to put together a professional direct mail package with a brochure, you can end up spending a great deal of money on design and printing costs. On the other hand, if you have a good lead list you can end up with very high returns on direct mail solicitations.

Door to Door

The classic door-to-door approach can also be effective. If you’re selling to consumers, you can pick out a good neighborhood and start knocking. B2B salespeople can target large office buildings and stop by every suite. In-person visits are time-consuming but can also lead to quick closes, if you can talk to the right person at the right time.

Most salespeople will find that these methods can supplement but not replace cold calling. A salesperson who is a keen networker with strong social media skills and a willingness to put in a lot of time can cut cold calling down to a tiny fraction compared to a salesperson with no network or Internet marketing. Still, there’s no reason you can’t shoot for the gold ring and try to get to the point where you never need to make another cold call!

New Study Shows Business Owners How to Reach Gen Y Consumers

New research from suggests that mobile and social media marketing to play even greater role in the future.

It’s important for every business owner to be constantly thinking about and planning for the future. No matter how large and power a company is now, if they don’t adapt to changing market trends or consumer expectations, they are doomed to fail in the future. Blockbuster Video, Circuit City and Yahoo are examples of companies that went from being the leaders to the losers of their industries when they failed to adapt. To help business owners plan for the future, a new study highlights what is known about the up and coming shoppers of tomorrow, Generation Y.

Generation Y consumers are often thought to be shoppers who are between 20 and 34 years old. This may just seem like an unnecessary subdivision of Millennials, but there’s a reason it’s valuable to look at Generation Y consumers on their own. The Savvy study estimates that this group currently represents around a third of shoppers, but by 2022, they will account for nearly half (47 percent) of shoppers.

Though this may seem like an obvious place to start, one of the key takeaways from the report is that mobile marketing will be integral to reaching audiences in the future. Four out of five (80%) of Generation Y saying they look at their phones multiple times an hour.

Generation Y consumers are attached to their devices and use them in many shopping situations. According to the Savvy report, 66 percent of Generation Y shoppers say they regularly use their smartphone to buy products and nearly half (49 percent) regularly use their smartphones while in the supermarket.

This is group is also highly active on social media. The lion’s share (97 percent) have accessed social media in the past month. And 95 percent have used messaging services like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. By comparison, only a little over half (55 percent) of this group had read a printed newspaper (including free papers) during the past month.

“The rapid rise of the connected shopper reflects the enormous influence technology now has in our lives as shoppers – digital media inspires us, is our go-to place for product research and, in many cases, is where we buy products,” says Alastair Lockhart, Insight Director at Savvy Marketing. “Shopper behavior is evolving more quickly than ever before, and the onus is now firmly on retailers and brands to keep up and be fit for the future.”

Business owners who use this advice to help create better campaigns for young adults will benefit from more than just increased business from Generation Y consumers. Mobile, social media and search marketing are useful to all consumers.

Even Savvy reminds business owners that 80 percent of all shoppers own a smartphone, 86 percent access social media, and 61 percent have searched for a product using a search engine in the past month. This is truly a situation where ‘a rising tide lifts all boats”
There are many ways business owner can use mobile marketing and social media to improve the shopping experience for their customers. As has been discussed in many articles in the past on, businesses that effectively use data and technology can give customers the information they need to convince them to buy a certain product or make shopping easier with in-store pickup for items bought online.

Technological advances have been driving much of the change in marketing and business, in general, and this study on Generation Y shoppers shows that this will probably not change anytime soon. For more news about the best way to use technology to improve your business, read this article on creating a better business website.

15 Ways to Scale Your Business and Make More Money

Taking your business to the next level is a step-by-step process.

There are two things that every entrepreneur wishes for: more time and more money. We yearn for more time because balancing any semblance of a career with the demands of a family life, friends and other interests, becomes overwhelming.

We desire more money so that we can run ads or pay for employees or expand our operations, and everything else in between. Yes, having more money would be great but it’s wasted if you don’t know how to spend or properly invest that money on marketing or growing your business.

The truth? It’s often hard to find time to do anything when you’re enthralled in the perils of building or scaling a business to any degree. Not only do you need to effectively bootstrap your growth by wearing many hats, you also need to constantly work to increase your skill set while struggling to wrangle sales, dealing with customer service and tending to other tedious issues that tend to take up a large chunk of time.

If there never seems to be enough hours in your day, join the club. If you’re not properly managing your time with an effective time management system, or you’re immersed in one bad habit after another that seems to be eating away at all the precious moments you do have, then the problems compound on themselves.

Setting proper goals is necessary for anyone who’s serious about scaling their business, making more money, producing more product or achieving any other dream. They need to be smarter goals and there needs to be powerful reasons behind why those goals absolutely must be achieved.

By creating a plan, taking action and staying persistent no matter what, you can leverage the following strategies and methods to scale your business. It’s not easy. No one ever said it would be. But it is well worth it.

1. Leverage legitimate SEO techniques.

SEO seems complex and confusing, but it really boils down to a few fundamental principles. Those principles are the bedrock for over 200+ rules that go into Google’s current search algorithms. Learn SEO the right way, leveraging the proper techniques, while adhering to Google’s many rules, and you’ll succeed. Your visibility will eventually grow, resulting in a natural increase in leads and sales.

2. Create and share content on a blog.

Starting a blog is simple and straightforward. What isn’t simple and straightforward is actually posting useful and unique content that adds a tremendous amount of value, and doing that consistently. However, blogging is one of the best ways that you can build authority and create an organic audience over time. By becoming an authority, you’ll end up attracting customers rather than chasing after them.

3. Answer questions on Quora.

Quora offers up a great opportunity for online marketers to connect with a massive audience by answering questions and engaging with like-minded individuals from around the world. Use Quora to spread value and further establish yourself as an authority, effectively helping you to scale your business by boosting your visibility through the platform’s massive footprint.

4. Connect with influencers.

I’ve long been fascinated with the concept of influencers, gravitating towards them to uncover the secrets behind how they’ve built such massive audiences. It’s not easy to become an influencer, but if you have a small budget, one near-instantaneous way you can scale your business is to get influencers on board to champion your products or services. This is a quick way to get out in front of a very large audience. But not the cheapest way.

5. Run a contest or giveaway.

Contests and giveaways offer another quick way to market. The word free is very enticing, and people will naturally want to sign up for anything that involves a potential windfall prize. Your giveaway needs to be worth it if you’re going to collect that all-important contact information. However, be sure to pay homage to local laws and regulations when running any kind of contest. FTC regulations run fierce in this arena.

6. Post content on

Medium is by far one of my favorite sites for content marketing. This authority site offers up the ability for anyone to post useful content to market anything online. However, don’t use this to spam. Instead, create useful discussions and tutorials that will further enforce anchor-content on your website. The goal is to market your site the right way and not by spamming links through thin content.

7. Setup a social media content channel.

Social media offers one of the most abundant opportunities for scaling any business, no matter what type of business you’ve started. It also offers an avenue to tap into the world’s connected population, quickly and effectively. Clearly, achieving a massive following is no simple feat, but that shouldn’t deter you from establishing a content channel where you can spread value throughout social media to raise the awareness and visibility of your offers.

8. Build in-depth YouTube tutorials.

Deep-dive into the world of video with YouTube tutorials. Creating a popular YouTube channel isn’t easy, but it is well worth it. To do it, you have to provide in-depth tutorials, helping people to really understand a niche or solve a problem. Whatever it is that you do, help to educate the world on how best to do it. In turn, you’ll become an authority and an industry leader, ultimately leading to greater exposure and eventually, more sales.

9. Create a lead magnet and sales funnel.

Ask any smart online marketer about how they scale out a business, and they’ll tell you the same thing: build an effective sales funnel. Draw them in with a value-laced lead magnet and drop them into a funnel where you can sell them on autopilot. The right sales funnel, split-tested to oblivion, with a clear understanding of your cost-per acquisition, can be scaled infinitely. Not only will you grow your business by leaps and bounds, but you’ll make tremendous amounts of money no matter what business you’re in.

10. Deliver real value through email marketing.

Email marketing is the most powerful driver of sales for leading online marketers and businesses the world over. This isn’t just about your email drip-campaigns that go out automatically; this is about truly reaching out and connecting with your subscribers. It’s that connection to you that will help sell whatever it is that you’re selling on auto-pilot. However, it has to be done the right way. Not by spamming but by genuinely sharing and trying to help others.

11. Hire commission-based sales reps.

Most businesses can’t afford to keep a large staff of sales people on board. Instead, they turn to commission-based sales reps to help provide a stepping stone to the next level in their business. However, those sales reps need to be effectively trained; they can’t simply be hired and forgotten about. Take the time to create training videos and helpful guides to walk them through your entire system and business, and use it to quickly scale things out when you need to bring on more members of the team.

12. Advertise with AdWords or Facebook.

Conversion-pixel tracking is a great way to grow your business online by targeting the right audience. You can do this with a Facebook conversion pixel, while also tracking any event such as shopping cart abandonments or products that were added to a wish list but not purchased and so on. You can then directly target these individuals with ads, enticing them to come back. Similarly, on Google’s AdWords platform, you can use re-targeting through contextual or search-related ads as well.

13. Create coupons on RetailMeNot.

RetailMeNot is a massive online repository for coupons and offers. Companies turn to the site, which is the biggest in the United States for aggregating coupons, in order to help drive traffic to their offers. If your store isn’t already listed, you can request to have it added, then post your coupons afterwards.

14. Setup an affiliate program.

Affiliate programs can drive a significant amount of traffic. In fact, some of the biggest online marketers rely heavily on affiliate income generated through email marketing or pre-existing website or blog traffic. However, setting up an affiliate program isn’t always simple, since there are so many facets involved. If you’re an absolute novice, turn to some of the leading affiliate sites such as Link Share, Impact Radius and Commission Junction. to quickly build an affiliate program.

15. PR outreach via HARO.

If you’re looking to scale your business through the press, utilize HARO, a platform where reporters seek experts and business sources for comments on articles that they have in the works. HARO, which is short for Help A Report Out, is a great forum for connecting with reporters, writers and contributors to some of the leading publishing platforms, without attempting to come in with a “cold” message or contact, which often doesn’t pan out.

Why You Should Work Your Day Job While Starting a Business

Should you have to pick and choose between the two?

It’s one or the other: you’re either an entrepreneur or an employee.

A workaholic that executes brilliant ideas in your garage, or a play-by-the-rules corporate employee that conforms to societal norms.


It’s easy to slap a label onto ourselves and place everything into neat little boxes to make better sense of our world. But have you ever considered being both?

There are numerous reasons why everyone should try starting a business — even if, and especially if, you’re already working at a company. There are few experiences that will help you grow personally and professionally like balancing a side gig and a day job.

Here are four reasons why it’s a good idea to give entrepreneurship a try as you continue working your job:

1. You will start off small.

Contrary to what the media portrays, you don’t need to quit your day job and start working in a dingy basement or garage. But you will start off small, and you likely won’t even have a customer base at the beginning.

This is fine, because you can slowly nurture your side business while relying on your main source of income from your day job. As your business (hopefully) grows, you can scale it continuously to generate more clients and revenue, or maintain it at the same level to keep yourself sane as you manage your full time job.

2. Failure is not the end of the world.

I know a guy who decided to open up a burger franchise. After investing thousands of dollars, it hasn’t been doing well. Due to lack of sales, the restaurant’s going to close down soon.

But one very good thing came out of this: a job offer.

He got a position in corporate finance at a global bank. In fact, opening a franchise restaurant was the tipping point that led the interviewers to hire him. They don’t know how well (or poorly) the business has fared so far.

Of course, you don’t need to open a business with high start-up costs. Some businesses can be started with $100 or less. These include knowledge-based businesses, such as consulting, tutoring and writing, or even selling physical products.

And if your venture fails to take flight? No problem. You still have your day job, and you can still tell everyone that you started your own business (but decided to ditch it to focus on your job).

3. You learn about yourself at an accelerated pace.

So you started off just pursuing a hobby and decided to monetize it for fun. Or maybe you knew early on that you wanted to go all-in to rake in the big bucks.

Isn’t it interesting how we set out to do one thing, but often things turn out another way?

Having both a day job and a side hustle gives you options. It gives you an idea of how much you enjoy your full time position and which direction you want to pursue. Or maybe you like both and want to have it all.

The point is that starting a business and failing is way more impressive than not taking action at all. Starting a business takes initiative, drive, and business acumen, which are incredibly attractive characteristics to employers.

Along the way, you’ll learn more than you thought about sales, marketing, customer relations and your own abilities. You might be surprised at what you can achieve.

By testing an idea out on the side, you learn more about yourself, and what you’re capable of — a valuable lesson you can carry anywhere in life.

10 Types of amazing businesses you can build after 6 p.m.

That daytime job of yours may be terrific. But there’s one thing that is far more rewarding and meaningful than good pay and benefits: being your own boss. There are several different, quick, and easy ways that you can bring in some extra income while still in your day job. Whether you live in a metropolitan city or any other city you can find variety of offline as well as online part time jobs in your city.

Here are the 10 Types of Businesses You Can Build After 6 p.m,

1. Start your own blog

The internet is filled with different kinds of blogs that are devoted to all kinds of topics. Many of them do not make any money, some make a decent amount, and there are some that draw in lucrative and regular income.

If you manage to make $400 each month from blogging, that can certainly be useful, especially when you are unemployed. So, if you are passionate or have a lot of knowledge about a subject which others will be interested in learning, you may able to make some extra money by setting up a blog and generating revenues from sponsored posts or affiliate marketing.

2. Teach online

If you have a skill, a trade or knowledge of a certain foreign language, you can easily make money by teaching others. There are many websites that are looking for people who can teach these skills online.

There is one bonus that comes with this. You will get an experience you can put in your resume and help you score a job later on. But be careful; many people have managed to make a successful career out of teaching people online, however, not everyone can do this successfully.

3. Sell what you know

Packaging your skills and knowledge into an ebook for people seeking to learn a skill or build their career can be highly profitable if you have a strong value proposition and know your target audience.

If you’re an expert on any topic, there’s likely an audience of people willing to pay to learn what you know. If your expertise does not lend itself to ebook form, you might also create and share online courses. Either way, once you create the digital content, you can continue to sell it over and over again. There’s no inventory threshold or manufacturing cost.

4. Entertain and educate

Podcasting is another terrific way to use an hour or three in the evening to build a regular audience around a specific topic of industry. Build your audience enough and you can start to pick up show sponsors that will pay for product discussions or short advertising spots.

There’s a small investment in equipment, but hosting a podcast online is free.

5. Set up a Youtube channel

Starting a Youtube channel and becoming an “online celeb” might appear easy on the surface but, truth be told, not many make it to the big time. You may have to purchase some recording equipment as well as have a new and exciting idea but it’s not impossible to make good money. The way to profit from creating videos is becoming a Youtube partner. This means you get paid for impressions and clicks on ads that show up during your video.

6. Become a freelancer

So-called freelancing takes selling your skills to the next level whereby you offer a more professional service to a small number of clients. As a result this path commands higher income for your time.

Freelancing will appeal most to entrepreneur minded types, with the most common freelance professions being copy writing, graphic design, web design and even social media. Starting off is now relatively easy thanks to websites such as Upwork which allow you to advertise your services to a global audience. Once you have a few jobs under your belt you should have some good references and possible referrals.

7. Give music lessons

You’ll probably want to stick to the instrument(s) you know well, but you can bank the most income and build a solid businesses teaching multiple instruments, or those in a particular class, like strings or woodwinds. Start by giving lessons to individuals to grow your business and get your name out among the community.

8. Manage social media accounts

There’s a good chance you’re guilty of spending a little too much time on social media. So, if you’re going to be there in the evenings anyway, why not get paid to put your expertise to work? Plenty of companies, especially startups in retail, want to build a strong social presence, and they need people to help them make that happen.

9. Draw art to sell online

Perhaps you are a decent artist. If that’s the case, then there are various places you could sell your talents. DeviantArt is one of the best places to sell art. It allows users to upload their art, sell prints, take commissions for others, etc. You control your own work, sell it how you want, and talk to your fans directly.

10. Content writing

Content writing is one of the best part time option if you love writing. There are number of ways you can make money writing content.

You can check the job sites like Indeed, Quikr etc. where you can find jobs related to writing work or join the sites like Lexiconn, Fiverr, UpWork & other freelance sites to find work related to writing.

Find Your Company’s Sweet Spot

Here is a simple template to find the best leverage point to grow your company…

How do you find the best places to focus your company’s limited time, attention, and money? Simple – go for the “Sweet Spot.” Here’s how.

Every business has a “Limiting Factor” (capital L; capital F). Your company’s Limiting Factor is the single biggest constraint currently limiting your growth. It’s the one ingredient that, if only you had more of, would allow your business to grow instantly.

The first step in finding your Sweet Spot is to identify, as clearly and concretely as you can, your company’s Limiting Factor. The more precisely you can identify your Limiting Factor, the easier it is to effectively push it back.

For example, if you say your Limiting Factor is “lack of sales,” you might come up with a dozen ideas to increase sales. But dig deeper and see if you can pin your Limiting Factor down more precisely.

Is it the need for more leads on the front end? Perhaps your business has enough leads but instead lacks the sales capacity to effectively follow up on all the leads you are already generating? Or is it that you have plenty of sales staff, but lack a proven sales process so your sales team’s conversion is too low?

As you can imagine, depending on your answer here, you’ll need to take an entirely different approach to solve that Limiting Factor. That’s why it is so critical that you narrow down your Limiting Factor to the most accurate kernel you can.

Your Sweet Spot is your best ideas on pushing back your Limiting Factor. Every time you push back your Limiting Factor so it is no longer your biggest constraint, you expose a new Limiting Factor to work on. Good! This is how you grow your business in a leveraged way–by focusing each quarter on pushing back your current Limiting Factor.

Now that you’ve pinpointed your company’s current Limiting Factor, step two is for you to brainstorm a list of all the potential ideas you have to push back your Limiting Factor. (See the Sweet Spot Analysis Tool below.)

Don’t settle for five or six ideas, push yourself to come up with at least ten, ideally fifteen to twenty ideas.

For example, if your Limiting Factor is a lack of sales capacity to follow up effectively on the leads you currently generate, your list of ideas could include:

  • A better lead qualification system to prioritize your sales effort
  • Hiring more salespeople
  • Creating a sales video to do some of the selling for you

The key is to push yourself to come up with as many ideas as you can that could potentially help you push back your Limiting Factor. The best way to come up with a few great ideas is to first come up with a potential list of a lot of ideas.

Next, run your brainstormed list of potential tactics through two filters: the “Low-Hanging Fruit” filter and the “Home Run” filter.

A Low-Hanging Fruit is an easy, straightforward idea that you’re almost certain will work. While it may or may not have a big impact, it is simple to implement and you have a very high level of confidence that it will work.

A Home Run, on the other hand, is an opportunity that if you hit it well and all goes just right, has a huge payoff for your business.

Go through each brainstormed idea on the list and ask, “Is this tactic a Low-Hanging Fruit?” If it is, check the box next to it with “LH” for Low-Hanging Fruit.

Then in a second, separate pass, go through your list of brainstormed ideas and ask of each item in turn, “Is this tactic a Home Run?” If it is, mark it with “HR” for Home Run.

What you’re looking for are those tactics that are both Low-Hanging Fruit and Home Runs; these are your Sweet Spot ideas, the highest leverage choices to push back your Limiting Factor.

By definition your Sweet Spot ideas are Low Hanging Fruit (i.e. easy to implement with high odds of success) and Home Runs (i.e. will have a big impact.) These Sweet Spots are the best tactics to focus your company’s resources on first.

The final step is to turn your Sweet Spot ideas into a mini-action plan of who does what by when.

Three tips for turning a business idea into a reality

Getting your ideas off the ground can be daunting, but three young entrepreneurs explain how they brought their whiteboard sketches to life.

Tonight, Shell will crown the winner of its annual LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, created to recognise some of the UK’s most innovative and inspirational low-carbon businesses and sustainability entrepreneurs.

Here, three youngsters shortlisted for the award, each at different stages of development, share their tips on getting a business idea from a whiteboard sketch to tradable product.

Drop the jargon

Making sure that everyone fully understood how his product worked was crucial for Fergus Moore to secure funding and advice for his company, Revive Eco, which recycles coffee grounds to create high-value bio-oils.

“When starting a business – especially in technology – it’s important to remember that not everyone you speak to will know what you’re talking about,” he explains. “You should be able to clearly explain your concept with as little jargon as possible, in one or two sentences.”

Mr Moore found that opportunities dried up early on. “We had real issues accessing funding and grants because we just kept regurgitating the technical aspects of how the product worked, rather than explaining what it does and why it’s different.”

Stripping back the idea into two simple, easy-to-understand sentences meant that funders became more excited about his proposition. “People won’t buy into or get excited about something that they don’t understand.”

Two prototypes are better than one

Elena Dieckmann, co-founder of start-up, AEROPOWDER, which creates insulation material from waste chicken feathers, says that it’s a good idea to work with two prototypes when developing your product.

“You should have a visual lookalike and a working model that displays the proof-of-concept in a technical manner,” she explains. “The visuals will get people excited about what the final product will look like, while the working prototype should show pretty clearly how it will perform.”

They don’t have to be perfect, she adds. If they’re a little rough around the edges, that’s fine. “If your product is electronic, for example, the working version can be a module with wires hanging out, so long as it visualises how it might work,” says Ms Dieckmann. “The visual version could be a 3D-printed model of any size and colour that you like.”

Work out the costs

For entrepreneurs who have ideas for lots of different products, cost forecasts are a sensible way to work out what should come first. So says Terence Chung, founder of FRUU, which uses fruit bi-products to create natural cosmetics and has already started trading.

“Run the numbers for each idea and for different business scenarios,” he says. “Then develop the product, or products, with the highest cost-to-impact ratio.”

That’s what he did for FRUU’s first product range, lip balm, which was cheap, but still showed off the company’s concept.

Choosing the most cost-effective route meant that Mr Chung could get a quick and early indication of what consumers thought about the brand and the technical process behind it – and gain valuable feedback on what other products they were interested in, helping him to work out what to focus on and launch next.

How Should CEOs Use Their Time?

What a CEO’s schedule tells you about their company.

In terms of work, you have only two choices. Everything you do can be categorized as one or the other: people or projects. To accomplish a goal, you must work either with people or a project.

Put another way, all work is either relational or creative. Either you work with people – meet, talk, present, communicate, listen, watch, etc. – or you work on projects – design, code, write, build, create, produce, etc.

For most jobs, it’s either all people or all projects. In his essay Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule, Paul Graham, computer scientist turned venture capitalist, writes that powerful people (managers) operate in one hour time blocks while programmers and writers (makers) prefer to operate in half-day time blocks. But the question of whether or not you should be a project or a people person becomes blurred when you’re a startup founder who has to have his or her hands in everything.

CEO: maker or manager?

While a CEO is the most powerful person in the organization, he or she is, at the core, a manager – someone responsible for casting the strategic vision of the company and leading people towards it.

It’s not worth the time of the CEO. A contributor to Forbes told the story of how an ousting of the CEO of a publicly traded company affected its profits by $1.25 billion. A CEO’s time has extraordinary value. It makes no sense financially for a CEO do a task when someone else can do it equally well.

CEO is not a maker, it seems.

An insightful Quora commenter quoted this exchange between Steve Jobs (manager) and Steve Wozniak (maker) in Steve Jobs’ recent movie:

Steve Wozniak: You can’t write code… you’re not an engineer… you’re not a designer… you can’t put a hammer to a nail. I built the circuit board. The graphical interface was stolen from Xerox Parc. Jef Raskin was the leader of the Mac team before you threw him off his own project! Someone else designed the box! So how come ten times in a day, I read Steve Jobs is a genius? What do you do?

Steve Jobs: I play the orchestra, and you’re a good musician. You sit right there and you’re the best in your row.

A CEO’s time is his most valuable asset. He needs it to knit together a company and move it toward a greater future state. The enormity of this task leads boards and shareholders to justify the eight-figure pay package for some CEOs of publicly traded companies. In 2015, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon’s total compensation was $19.4 million.

How it’s different for startup CEOs

When a company first starts out, it’s not making enough money to pay the founder an exorbitant sum. Does that mean the founder’s time is not as valuable?

A startup is not a publicly traded company. As bad as it sounds, whether it lives or dies, it won’t affect many people’s lives (compared to a public company).

The implications of this create tremendous pressure for the lone startup CEO, especially in the early stages: the brave individual must be both a people and a project person to succeed. A maker and a manager.

This necessary balance is what causes startup CEOs to work grueling work weeks, ingest egregious amounts of caffeine and alcohol, and lose hours of sleep.

In an influential Backchannel essay on Medium, Do Startups Have a Drinking Problem?, the writer describes what it’s like to lead a startup:

Startups are hard. Really f***ing hard. 95% of startups will fail. We work long hours in an attempt to innovate faster, ship products sooner, outrun competitors and preserve limited venture funding. We juggle multiple roles and responsibilities in an effort to keep teams small and nimble. When things go wrong, we pull sleepless nights, perform Herculean support feats and bend over backwards to retain early adopters. We forgo vacations, skip workouts, answer emails on our phones during family time and are expertly skilled at eating lunch while getting s*** done. It’s only natural that we would want to find convenient ways to blow off steam, de-stress, or ease fears.

Why startup founders put themselves through this is mystifying. Perhaps, the payoff of global fame and starry fortune offsets the risk of failure, debt, and emotional turbidity. Maybe it’s the primal drive, the raw ambition to make a difference, to matter, that pushes them beyond their limits.

Try this experiment

The next time you talk to a startup CEO, ask them the question:

“Are you more of a manager or a maker?”

The more mature the startup, the more of a manager he or she will be. The more nascent the startup, the more of a maker he or she will be.

Are you a startup CEO? How do you handle your time without overworking yourself?

To help answer this question, I’m writing a practical guide as a follow up to this article. Follow me on social media to see it when it comes out.