People don’t go out of business because they have a bad idea, product, or service – rather, they give up or go out of business because they haven’t yet grasped the realities of what it really means to be a business owner, says Mark LeBlanc, President of Small Business Success.
Take it from a man who knows his stuff: Over the past 21 years, Mark has coached more than a thousand small business owners, given over 700 presentations, and written 2 books: Growing Your Business, which has sold nearly 50,000 copies, and Never Be The Same, a book that chronicles his 500-mile walk across Northern Spain.
In today’s conversation, Mark opens up about how to get the money side of your business right, why setting annual goals is an ineffective strategy, how writing a book and speaking can have an impact on your small business success, and more.
A Conversation with Mark LeBlanc of Small Business Success
Mark: You know, I think it’s probably my dad who instilled the entrepreneurial spirit in me. My dad was always an idea guy; he was always trying something. Little did I know while I was growing up that my mother had an entrepreneurial spirit. My mother has become a small business success story in her own right, as well as my sister Sherry and sister Cathy. The seeds of entrepreneurial thinking were planted in us early.
What I love is the freedom and flexibility of calling my own shots. It is said that people would rather work 16 hours a day for themselves and starve, versus working 8 hours a day for someone else and making a living, and it’s true. Even through the ups and downs of a 30-year entrepreneurial career, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Q: What’s your best advice for someone who’s currently in the process of starting or growing his or her business?
Mark: I think the best piece of advice that I could give to somebody is to get your financial house in order. Really take a look at the money side of your business or your practice. People don’t go out of business because they have a bad idea or a bad product or a bad service; they give up or they go out of business because they didn’t get the money side of their business right. Obviously we all grew up with different attitudes, values, beliefs, behaviors, and habits around money, but a lot of people want to bury their head in the sand around the money side – they think that if they just work hard, it’ll take care of itself, but that’s just not true.
Q: What advice would you give to people who aren’t sure where to start when it comes to getting the finance side of their business in order?
Mark: Certainly there are some differences between a small business retail store, a small business manufacturing company or a small business services company versus an independent professional who may be working solo, but I think that first of all, it’s simply having some money. You have to have some money to start with; not many people can afford to get started on an idea. We like to hear those stories about somebody who had an idea that took off and soon became a Fortune 1000 company, but most of us aren’t going to do that. You’ve really got to have some financial footing to get started; otherwise, you’re constantly fighting cash flow and consumed with it.
Here’s the sad truth when it comes to business owners and money: I’ll often ask, “What’s the purpose of marketing?” and I get all kinds of different answers. My answer is – to make payroll. And you are the most important person on your payroll as an owner.
I’ve asked a lot of business owners all over North America, “How do you pay yourself?” And the owner will look at me and say, “Well, it’s easy: When I have some money, I take some. When I don’t have any money, I don’t take any.” Well, that’s just silly. We have to step back and make sure that we are at least minimally being compensated on a regular basis. So I think when we begin to look at our numbers and our money, if somebody is going to start an independent practice and their goal is to do $20k in business a month, they should probably start with $20k in their business, or at least have access to a credit line of $20k. If their goal is $10k, they should start with $10k. I hate to even bring examples like that up, but you’d be amazed at how many people start with a business card and a telephone and they don’t even know who to call or how to price or sell their services. If you are starting a retail store, a manufacturing company or buying a franchise, you will need more of course.
It comes down to your ability to focus and on how you set your financial goals. Most people set annual financial goals, but I don’t want people to do that because an annual goal lets you off the hook. No one is inspired to get out of the bed in the morning because of an annual goal. It’s a nice thought, but it’s not necessarily going to trigger your decision to make January a great month because there’s so much time left to make up for it in January, February and March.
Instead, I want people to think in terms of a monthly target, which I call their monthly “optimistic” number. If you create a path and a plan to reach your “optimistic” number every 30 days, you will have a much greater likelihood of reaching your annual goal. On the other hand, when you focus on an annual goal, your brain will give you all kinds of reasons why you don’t need to work all that hard today and you can spend your time getting ready to get ready.
Q: How important do you believe writing and speaking is for small business people?
Mark: I believe that a book is the ultimate marketing tool for a coach, consultant, speaker, or trainer. In fact, professionals of any stripe can establish their credibility and position their expertise with that kind of a tool, not unlike me, having written a small book titled Growing Your Business 14 years ago that continues to sell well today. There’s a lot of power in the line, “He wrote the book, Growing Your Business.” There’s a lot of credibility in hiring me as a business coach or having me speak. And I believe that whether someone is a financial adviser, a real estate agent, a graphic designer, or a massage therapist, any person can take their talent and their expertise and create something from it. I’d rather work with a financial advisor or a real estate agent who has some kind of a book. Even within your community, if you have the opportunity to stand up and share your experience you can solidify and cement your position and separate yourself from your competition. We respect people who write and publish their own books, even if they’re independently published, which means they are in charge of the creative process and foot the bill for the production.
It doesn’t have to be a big book. It could be a small book like my book, which is only 7,000 words. Sometimes we think writing a book has to be 50,000 words and it has to be 10 chapters and it has to sell for a lot of money. But with today’s advancements and independent publishing resources and self-publishing printers, it’s really not that complicated to take your experience, your expertise, your strategies, your ideas, and your stories and craft a 10,000 word book or a 20,000 word book.
In fact, my colleague Henry Devries and I work together on an event called The Marketing with a Book and Speech Summit, which is a weekend program for emerging and established authors and speakers. We believe publishing a book combined with speaking or presenting even to small groups is the ultimate strategy. A book and speech and domain name of the same title are a 1, 2, 3 punch that can create a turning point for a business owner or a professional. We think there’s a story inside of everyone that needs to be shared, and I believe the world needs to hear you, even if you don’t think of yourself as a speaker.
Henry and I have done approximately 30 Marketing with a Book and Speech Summits around the United States, and it’s probably the most fun I have in my work.
Q: What’s the role of a coach in helping small business owners succeed?
Mark: As a coach, I typically help people in three areas: One, with the money side of their business or practice and how to be more focused on this on a daily basis. Second, I help them to create a marketing plan that gets them visible, busy and booked. And third, I often work with clients on how to position and package and sell during the meaningful conversation with the decision maker: How to navigate that conversation, how to listen carefully and respond appropriately, how to determine the talking points they want to be sure to cover and how to frame them without going off on all these tangents when with a prospect.
Sometimes people aren’t open to getting coaching, but it can be one of the most important things they ever do for their business. If people are feeling stuck and stagnant and have the desire to grow their business or their practice, it’s not always a question of working hard. Sometimes they don’t know what the next step is. Maybe they’ve tried some things that haven’t worked, or they’ve gone off on a tangent disguised as an opportunity. Maybe they’ve been burned by a marketing consultant or someone with no practical and proven experience.
Not long ago, I went on a 500 mile walk across Northern Spain called the Camino de Santiago. It’s one of the three great pilgrimages of the world: Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago in Northern Spain. 500 miles is equivalent of about a million steps. During this trek, I learned this: No matter where you are in your path or your journey in your business or your life and no matter what has happened, you could always take one more step. Don’t throw the towel in on your dream. Sometimes people have four numbers of a five number combination lock, and they quit. Sometimes all they need is to take one more step or raise their hand and get a little help to unlock a little different combination. It can open up a world of new possibilities!
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Learn more about Mark LeBlanc at his website, Small Business Success. Invest in two 90 minute Pinpoint coaching sessions with Mark or another coach in his Small Business Coaching Network. You can reach Mark by emailing him at Mark@SmallBusinessSuccess.com.