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88 Start, Run, and Grow Your Business

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with my friends at Palo Alto Software to play a part in creating a unique bit of software called Start, Run, and Grow Your Business. This low-cost tool is full of advice, tutorials and free stuff for every phase of getting your business going.srg

The software is available here and in Target Stores in the U.S and runs on the Adobe Air platform so it’s both PC and Mac compatible and can be seamlessly updated as more tools are added.

I’m giving five copies away to first five that leave comments to this post suggesting why they might need a tool like this – leave your mailing address and we’ll send it out, but I really want some feedback on how this tool helped you (if, of course it did.)

I created a series of marketing fundamental videos and a tool that walks you through creating and formatting a press release, but you also get things like:

  • Company logo – Business cards and letterhead
  • Website domain ($35 value!)
  • Legal forms and guides
  • Sample business plans
  • Subscription to Inc. magazine
  • Bookkeeping software
  • Business calculators
  • Time-tracking software
  • Email marketing solutions
  • Sales contact database
  • Project management software

15 The Technology of Delegation

helpSmall business owners really are lousy at delegation – this one I can say with some passion in my most self incriminating voice.

You know, nobody can do it like you, it takes more time to explain it than to just do it. And, frankly, it’s the work you enjoy, it’s where you get the greatest satisfaction and you can’t really let go of it because what will happen then. And yet, something truly magical will happen in your business when you finally realize you must delegate most of what you do today.

Larry Ryan founded Ryan Lawn and Tree over twenty years ago on the back seat of a tractor. Today, he is the CEO of one of the largest lawn services in the Midwest with over 150 employees and he still admits, “the hardest job I have is getting out of the way of my people.”

Growth requires delegation, not to be confused with abdication, and delegation requires systems and processes. Getting all the successful ways you do what you do documented can seem like a monumental task if taken as a grand project one day. The key to delegation and systems thinking is to employ technology married with a checklist mentality.

What I’m really talking about is an operations manual and set of processes that anyone, perhaps several virtual anyones, can operate. Now, don’t freeze up at the suggestion of a manual. Think simple baby steps first.

There are two technologies that I would suggest you take a good hard look at employing staring tomorrow. Let these technologies follow you around for about a month as you note what you do and you may finally find yourself free to properly put a universe of employees or virtual associates to work in your business.

Wiki Intranet – think of a wiki like a high powered scratch pad with built in database, search and formatting. This is the online tool that will allow you to organize and document everything that you do. Here’s the cool thing though. Anyone in your organization can edit and update whatever you create using a wiki. As long as you can scratch out a few action steps, your team or virtual assistant may very well be able to finish and refine your processes. I’ve recently started using Central Desktop for this. This tool allows me to create workspaces, essentially intranets, that I can grant access to various groups for collaboration purposes. So now, when I explain something that I need done, I jot the steps down and capture them in sortable, searchable utopia for all of time. (Central Desktop does a lot more than this and that’s what makes it worth investigating over some of the simple wiki tools.)

Email Management – Email, while the enabling technology of the Internet, has caused some real issues in business. It’s hard to manage, track, sort, respond to and delegate. A new kind of technology is available to even the smallest of business that allows you to create mailboxes for everything you might get email for – sales, service, questions, joint venture offers, quotes, speaking requests, etc. and then set-up collaboration processes that can make it easy for you to build response routines that can be delegated to virtual assistants or anyone, anywhere in your organization. I use Email Center Pro from Palo Alto Software to help manage email follow-up and delegation. I can assign tasks, view responses and filter requests from a dashboard. The best part about this is that even with the flood of email we receive, I can see that nothing gets lost. This is far more powerful from a marketing standpoint than help desk software as it still allow us to delegate, but respond as humans to every type of request, even when some of the staff is on vacation. (Disclaimer: I have a partner relationship with Palo Alto Software for Marketing Plan Pro, which, by that way, also allows me to talk about the software and the incredible people behind it.)

So, you see, by employing technology, like Central Desktop and Email Center Pro, you can document your success systems and perhaps finally start getting effective assistance in a way that will allow you to grow your business beyond your current capacity to wrap your arms around.

Image source: Gruntzooki

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9 Free Sample Marketing Plan Resource

Free Marketing Plans

I happen to think that a marketing plan, one that you use as a plan of action, is an essential tool to guide your business to achieve your vision. That’s why I partnered with Palo Alto Software to create Marketing Plan Pro powered by Duct Tape Marketing. But, that’s not really the reason for this post.

The real reason I bring this up today is to point out a killer resource from Palo Alto that you may not be familiar with. The site is called mPlans and it’s full of sample marketing plans and other great start-up advice for just about every imaginable industry.

When writing a marketing plan you do want it to be original and authentic, but having some sample plans to use for guidance can help you get going.

1 Two Great Software Titles, One Great Price

As you may know I have partnered with Palo Alto Software to produce a marketing planning software based on my Duct Tape Marketing System and book. The software is very practical and functions more like an action planning tool than a document creation tool. It is called Marketing Plan Pro powered by Duct Tape Marketing and early reviews have all been very positive.

I’m also a fan of ACT CRM software from Sage. There are lots of choices in this category these days but ACT!2009 is still one of my favorites for small businesses.

So, have I got a deal for you! Palo Alto has bundled these two great titles and is offering the bundle at $150 off the price to acquire the two separately.

Sorry for the overtly commercial message here, but I just had to share this with you.

Buy Marketing Plan Pro and ACT!2009 for $150 off

4 New Marketing Action Planning Tool

Marketing Plan ProI have been working with Palo Alto Software for almost a year now to write a marketing plan software based on the Duct Tape Marketing system.

I am thrilled to be able to announce that Marketing Plan Pro powered by Duct Tape Marketing is now ready to go.

This tool is literally ripped from the streets of the real small business world and features the practical (read non-academic) approach at the heart of Duct Tape Marketing.

I think you’ll find that we’ve taken a different approach with this release and built it to be a tool you use for planning AND action. The plans you build with Marketing Plan Pro charge you with coming back and changing and updating your plans based on results. The program gives you guidance, action steps and advice needed to implement your plan.

The program is flexible enough to be used by any size business at any point in the life of the business. We even created a simple 30-minute plan because I know that a tool like this isn’t worth much unless the user can and will use it. You can always add components to create more comprehensive plans once you get started.

Every copy of Marketing Plan Pro powered by Duct Tape Marketing ships with a copy of my book Duct Tape Marketing as well. In addition, Duct Tape Marketing Coaches around North America are available to help you create and implement your marketing plans using the software are a guide.

I have to say, it’s pretty cool having my own software title! Let me know what you think.

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54 I Hate Business Plans

Okay, anyone who knows me at all knows that I don’t really hate anything, and I don’t really hate business plans, what I dislike is the way people think about, and then consequently use, business and marketing plans.

To me, a plan for anything is an action plan. If fact, the first step in creating a plan should be to decide how to update the plan. The document itself if merely a guideline. Things change, you grow, shift and bob and weave in this thing called a business. It’s the planning process, the digging to get some of the answers for the plan that contains the real value in this process anyway. It’s a bit like preparing the soil for a garden. The crop is what people want, but it’s the soil preparation that makes the difference come State Fair time.

Plan as you goSo . . . that’s why I’m really thrilled to have the opportunity to give 10 lucky Duct Tape Marketing readers a free copy of Tim Berry’s new bookThe Plan as You Go Business Plan Book. Tim is the founder of Palo Alto Software and chief author of Business Plan Pro – by far and way the leading business plan software. Tim knows more about business plans and business planning than most people ever will, certainly more than I ever will, and his approach, laid out in this book, is exactly why I started this post out with such an attention grabbing headline.

Tim doesn’t hate business plans, they are his livelihood, but once you read Tim’s book, you’ll understand that there’s a different way to think about and do business planning.

So, how do you get Tim’s book? Be one of the first 10 to answer this question in the comment section of this post – just hit comment and tell me – “I hate business plans but I love business planning because . . .”

All comments are timestamped, so it’s very easy for me to keep track of the order. Once you make the comment I’ll get your mailing address offline.

3 Making Sense of the Email Madness

email center proDo you use shared email? In other words, an email address for info@, sales@ or customerservice@ that several different people may be checking up on or following up on?

I know I do and I’ve found that without vigilance follow-ups can be hit and miss and nothing sends the wrong message faster than non-response.

The answer I’ve discovered is Email Center Pro from Palo Alto Software. Email Center Pro allows me to set-up multiple shared email boxes and then keeps track of every response and follow-up for me. In addition, I can develop and store an entire library of common responses and then know that even if I assign follow-up to a virtual assistant, for example, the message is consistent. (For the record however, know that every response sent from DTM is a personally crafted note from me, really)

This tool is perfect for sales teams, service teams and anyone that needs to keep track of follow through. (This is one of the biggest areas where small businesses get tripped up in the marketing game.)

And if that weren’t enough, here’s the best part. I get to offer Duct Tape readers a free one-year trial of the $49/mo full featured Email Center Pro option. Use this link to sign-up for your free trial.

If you’ve been using the hunt and hope method of email follow-up I strongly suggest you branch out and give yourself this marketing automation gift, you won’t be sorry.

A couple of notes for the more cynical – I don’t make a dime from this offer, but Palo Alto and I are partners on another project. This is a tool I use and would gladly pay to use, but I get the free year trial too!

NB – if you keep using the program after a year you will be billed – so, they do ask for a credit card when you sign-up but note that it says billing will start July 2009. Update: No credit card needed for free trial!

12 How Complex Should a Marketing Plan Be?

To get to the heart of the question in the title I guess we first need to agree that a marketing plan is an important small business tool.

Marketing planI think it’s essential and here’s why. Creating a marketing strategy that really allows you to build marketing momentum and then surrounding that strategy with the right tactics to amplify it requires some time, energy, thinking, research and a dash of luck.

The best thing a marketing plan – or should I say it more correctly – a marketing planning process can do is force you to sit and ask yourself hard questions, questions you may not have a ready answer to, questions you never thought to think about.

The plan itself is secondary quite often, the planning process is where the headway actually gets made.

With that in mind, and back to my original question, the plan then should be simple as possible, but not too simple. (to quote Albert Einstein)

In terms of the actual document that you might use to inform and direct your annual, as well as day to day, marketing activity, a one page plan might suffice. However, getting to one page, likely will involve a process that may take several weeks or months and a draft plan of many pages and sections.

It’s a bit like carving I suppose. The finished piece will be a simple expression of a process that took a great deal of effort, but that’s how the beauty in the stone is found.

And that planning process and subsequent plan should lead you to a brilliant understanding of:

  • Who makes an ideal customer for your business
  • You core message of differentiation and brand
  • The necessary education based marketing materials
  • Your multi pronged lead generation plan
  • Your non-selling lead conversion system
  • Your plan to harness the Internet and technology
  • Your weekly and monthly marketing calendar and budget
  • Your plan to measure, adjust and update the plan.

Look for more on this in the coming months as I release a marketing planning software tool based on Duct Tape Marketing in conjunction with the great folks as Palo Alto Software.