Busy Season Sales in a Lifestyle Business

As many of you know, I’m a beach bum in the summer. Partially luck. Partially by design.

25+ years ago, I was lucky enough to stumble into a business model where the ‘slow season’ was in the summer. I didn’t fight it. I just made sure that I earned enough in the other three seasons so that I could be in ‘maintenance mode’ during the summer.
So, let me ask…
Do you run your business or does your business run you?
Do you know what your natural business cycle is? Do you try to force it or go with it?
How often are you frustrated with the ratio of your results to effort?
Do you know what your value per hour number is for every season and month of the year?
If you had the choice, would you rather work 10 hours today and earn $1,000 today or work 40 hours this week and earn $2,000 this week?
Are you scratching your head and thinking that I’m crazy yet?
OK, let’s get specific. Tomorrow is May 1st. Is that the beginning of your busy season? What do you need to do during your busy season to assure that you’ll have a great ‘off season’ and an awesome year?
Is tomorrow the beginning of your slow season? What should you do to make sure that the other three seasons are your best year ever?
It’s different for everybody. So, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer, but if you’d like to know what I would do in your specific situation, ask me.
BTW, my three most popular articles last month were:
Did you read them all? See a pattern?

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated

I receive several email updates every day from various LinkedIn groups. One of them included a link to “5 Ways To Uncover Your Personal Brand’s Strengths” by Jorgen Sunderberg. I don’t know Jorgen. I don’t think I’ve heard of him before and I can’t say that I agree with everything that he wrote in this article, but I can’t use his stuff without letting you know that I got the idea from him. He writes:

“Imagine you are sitting on the porch of your home and old friends, family members, and colleagues are showing up. People are coming to celebrate your retirement. As everyone gathers they are gradually breaking into smaller groups, talking, laughing, and having a great time. They are talking about you and how you have impacted their lives. You get up from the porch and walk around. As you pass by each group you can overhear what they are saying. Write down what you hear. How have you made an impact? What did you do to help them?”

Now, interestingly, I have heard some of this stuff. I remember a client telling someone else that I took their business from $30K/year to $30K/month in less than 6 months. Another client hired me to grow retainers from $40K to $250K/year. He did $7K in month #1, $14K in month #2 and $20K in month #3 (all monthly retainers). When I asked, “Are we done?”, he asked, “What will it take to get to a million?” I’d also expect to hear recaps of sales calls that happened exactly as we had ‘rehearsed’ during a coaching session.
Truth be told, though, I wouldn’t expect all the stories to be ‘happy’. I’d expect some to complain that I was too ‘black and white’ or that I wasn’t easy on them when they didn’t do what they agreed to do.
That brings me to the title. As you know, I retired from Kurlan and Associates last year. I ended every client engagement cleanly and haven’t spoken to most since. Here’s why.
My maternal grandfather died, at work, 9 days short of his 58th birthday. He never got to retire. I turned 60 on 12/29. His son, my uncle will be 82 July. He’s enjoying his retirement and has a couple of part time things that he does to keep active. My father died when he was 72. He did get to retire as a carpenter, but found a fun job helping senior citizens do wooden projects in a workshop environment. Used his brain without heavy lifting.
Retirement doesn’t mean death. Retirement should be enjoyable. Spending time with people that are fun. For me that means working with people who will tell good stories about me and avoiding those that won’t.
If you know an entrepreneurial business person that’s looking to multiply sales, put us together. Just forward this post to them, copy me and include their phone number. I’ll do the rest. I don’t know how long I’ll be retried, but I ain’t dead yet.

Obstacles or Opportunities?

Who would you rather be?

A 20-something who spent the last few years delivering services as a sub-contractor for one company. Surprise! Company’s gone. OOB. Owner left town. Not paying subs (including you!). Customers paid up front, but didn’t get product. Now what?
Another 20-something who is the GM of a well established, well known family business, but is excited by the opportunities in other industries. Stay or go?
A 40-something who’s owned his business for 15+ years, and has had some good ones, but has watched his margins erode to the point that last year, although he had about 500 customers, he didn’t pay himself.
A 50-something who’s been hired to take a company in a new direction by introducing a new non-tangible technology to a commodity customer base with salespeople that sell tangibles.
So, pretend. Who has the biggest obstacle and who has the biggest opportunity?
Please answer in the comment section, but if one of these sounds like you, call me. We should talk.

Who “Needs to Know”? Marketing or Sales?

Watch CIA, FBI, or military movies and you’re bound to hear the term, “Need to Know”. We all know that when we hear those words, somebody isn’t smart enough, tactful enough or competent to handle the knowledge appropriately and the people saying those words consider themselves better able to act appropriately.

Recently, I met a sales executive that didn’t know his company was a Hubspot user, didn’t know the kind of data that was available when a lead was generated. Realization started when I asked the question, “How many sales have your salespeople closed as a result of inbound marketing?”
This is what I think is going on. The marketing executive doesn’t think that the sales force is capable of helping with marketing. So, he doesn’t share access to the data.
Could it be something else?

Good Questions and Sales Process

Friday was a different kind of day.

  • It was Friday the 13th.
  • I worked.
    • I retired 12/29.
    • Even before that, I didn’t work on Fridays.
  • I went on a ‘face to face’ sales call in the prospect’s office.
    • Because my practice has been global for the past few years, most everything happened on the phone or computer.
    • Even before that, prospects came to my office, not me to theirs.
But there were circumstances.
  • Carole Mahoney and I were speaking at Maine Marketing Association’s Lunch and Learn.
  • Carole asked me if I would accompany her on a sales call.
  • When we agreed to the Lunch and Learn, Elaine and I were thinking, ‘long weekend at the beach house’.
Enough about how I got there. Let’s get to “Good Questions” and “Sales Process”.
This call started off like any other call.
  • High powered executive, busy, important, no real problems, wondering why I was there.
  • At 2:16, he said, “I’ve got 30 minutes and we’re 16 minutes in and I don’t have a clue what the relationship between you two is or what you can do for me.”
  • At 2:39, I asked, “Do you know that you’re 9 minutes over?” He replied, “I’m OK.”
  • We talked until 3:15.
Why did I stay? Because he started answering my questions with “Good question!”, “I don’t know.” “HHMMM.” and by staring off into space thinking. He was expecting a vendor to come in and tell him all the things that the vendor could do, but he got questions that he needed the answers to.
We closed with this exchange.
“Can your salespeople execute the strategies of the company?”
“Good question.”
“Wouldn’t that be good to know?”
“Let’s talk again.”
Now, in realty, in order to know whether the salespeople CAN execute the strategies, don’t we all need to have a clear picture of what those strategies are and while we’re at it, shouldn’t the strategies be given the ‘sniff test’ to make sure that the strategy will get the company where they want to be?

Pricing Professional Services for Growth

Do you sell yourself short? How do you calculate the price that you charge your clients? Do you find yourself working all the time? Is your company stuck? Has your income plateaued? Are you not able to dream attainable dreams? Maybe you should do what Vic did?

I talked to a bookkeeper a few years ago who had quit his job to become an independent bookkeeper. He was making $20/hour at his job and gave himself a raise to $25/hour when he went independent. Very normal, but it didn’t take long to realize that $25/hour doesn’t allow a business to grow. Sure, you could work 80 hours a week and gross $100K/year, but then you need to add in time for invoicing, unbillable conversations, doing your books and taxes, returning calls, dealing with sales people calling you, working out, family time, sleep, etc. You never have time to do marketing or make sales calls. You’re stuck!
You could hire a bookkeeper or get a sub-contractor, but they’ll want a minimum of $20/hour. They’ll probably want paid vacations, health insurance, a raise, etc. How long before they’re costing you more than than you charge your client? …and, now you have to manage an employee.
If you are already billing for 80 hours/week, I can’t help you. You’re already full and you’ll have to fire clients in order to have time to learn how to grow your business.
But, if you bill for 40 hours or less a week and you’d like to grow your business, these are the steps in the process.
  1. Get found by good prospects.
  2. Learn how to sell “21st Century” style.
  3. Raise your rates.
  4. Hire and repeat.
I know that it sound simple and it actually is. Not easy, but simple and I’ve seen it work with bookkeepers, marketing agencies, consultants, attorneys, tradespeople, contractors, IT people. I’ve seen incomes go from $20K/year to $70K/year, from $40K/year to $250K/year and everywhere in between.
Have questions? Want clarification? Ask in the comments or
send me an email
Want my help?
Just ask.

Entrepreneurs The First Three Months

Dictionary.com‘s first definition of entrepreneur is “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” I like that definition because it doesn’t reference a genius idea, venture capital, scalable, yada, yada, but does mention “considerable initiative and risk”.

Last week (like any other week) I talked with several entrepreneurs. Here are a few stories from last week.
Joe is what I call a ‘forced entrepreneur’. The founder is leaving the business immediately (for very personal reasons) and looking for someone to take on a small amount of debt and pay a dividend over time. Joe is a key employee and the company probably will not survive if Joe doesn’t stay on. However, the founder is considering taking on the role of minority stockholder and handing the day to day over to someone that doesn’t know the business nor have the respect of Joe, or the other employees. Joe’s concern should be, “What happens when the founder’s connections and good will are gone? Will we still have a full pipeline and can we make it better?”
Jim is a self-described “serial entrepreneur”. On 4/2 Jim asked for my opinion on a product that he was reviewing. I didn’t know Jim, but I did know the product. So, I replied, “Thank you for your offer, but I’m quite biased and don’t believe that my review
would have any value to you.” Jim replied, “Thanks for being a standup guy!” Then, he asked me if I wanted to be listed as a resource on his site and if I could refer him to anyone whose opinion would matter. I appreciate tenacity, so I asked about two mutual connections that we had on LinkedIn that I know and respect and learned that one of them is on Jim’s board. OK, the beginning of something beautiful. I gave Jim a referral. I wrote this post, and sent a link to the post to Jim along with “How are you deciding who to spam?”. Fast forward to we had a conversation. It was interesting that Jim did not have time to read my blog post, but did ask me to write a guest post for his blog. When I did, his editor made it so unrecognizable that I said they could publish it but not use my name. Jim said that he would publish it unedited, but yesterday the edited version was posted over my name. Not listening or not caring?
I have another example about an uncommitted pretender, but I’m already long. So, let me wrap up.
Since I’ve retired, I’ve become totally intolerant of pretenders, liars, know-it-alls as well as mediocrity, small thinkers with no dreams and big thinkers with one-dimensional plans. (Not that I’ve ever been very tolerant.) What the heck good is a perfect business plan if it’s going to put you out of business? What good is it to have a social media presence if you don’t know how to use it? What good is it to have great lead development software if you’re not closing sales and developing evangelists? and what good is sales training or sale process if you don’t have the prospects that will never turn into evangelists? Ever thought about taking a month with someone that’s been there? Doing an evaluation? Developing a strategy? Want to see where you are? What you’ve got? Where you’re headed? What would 100 evangelists do for your business? Sick of questions? Want answers? Get on my calendar!

Long Term Relationships

In the fall of 1970, I was in my second year at WPI. For those of you who don’t know, WPI is a highly rated engineering school. I was also a social brother of ∑¶ fraternity. The lesson starts on pledge night in the fall of 1970. Pledge night is the night that all 12 fraternities at WPI throw parties to celebrate all of the new students that ‘pledged’ to join their respective fraternies. We need to give you the picture. In 1970, their were two girls at WPI and 1,000’s of boys. So, girls were in high demand and short supply for parties. There also wasn’t an all girls school right next door to balance things off. To make the job even more difficult, these were math, science and engineering students. We had pocket protectors, slide rules, very few social skills and Nerds weren’t cool.

So, back to pledge night. I had filled my funnel well and our party had lots of girls and was going well. So, I figured that I’d take a walk down the block to Steve Brennan’s fraternity house (Phi Sig) to see how his party was going. As I approached the house, three girls were walking down the front stairs leaving. I probably asked something like, “Where you going?” and I remember that they said that they were going to Lambda Chi because Lambda Chi had a reputation for having great parties. So, I tried to convince them to go back in. No dice. They left.
I didn’t know at the time, but one of those girls was Elaine.
Two weeks later, Elaine and I ‘officially’ met at another party and I can’t remember anybody else since. We got married 39 years ago today on April 7th, 1973.
Thank you, Elaine.
The sales lesson? Your process might start with a, “No.”, but keep getting your message out there. It may turn into the longest relationship of your life.

Stop Selling – Get Discovered

I originally posted this on my other blog in August of 2011. Enjoy!

Frank Belzer is really good at his day job. He works with me at Kurlan & Associates. He also plays in a band a few times a month. My guess is that if some Hollywood agent called and said, “Frank, I like your sound. Here’s a guzillion dollars. Stop wasting your time at Kurlan and come make music full time.”, that we’d be a memory.

Go to Hollywood. Talk to the waitress in a restaurant, the attendant at the car wash, the clerk at the convenience store and you may find an actor, singer, dancer waiting to be discovered.


Today, there are about 240 minor league baseball teams (down from over 400) ‘feeding’ the 30 major league teams. How many Little Leaguers, high school baseball players (varsity and JV) and even college players are hoping to be discovered, play in the minors, sign a multi-million dollar contract and be set for life? What are the odds?

A few days ago, I posted “Selling for Founders“. I actually talked to the first guy that I wrote about. He’s spending his savings to live. He’s talking to prospects about how wonderful he is, how great his work is, but they’re not buying. He doesn’t want to pay for my help until he “sells a couple of good deals” so that he can pay for it. Meanwhile, he’s talented, trying to be discovered, spending his savings, worrying about how long he can go on.

Brian Halligan’s advice was to go sell something, but the person that he was talking to already knew how to sell. I’m sure that, given the opportunity, Brian would tell the aforementioned first guy to go learn how to sell, then go sell something.

So, if you’re a founder, I suggest one of three paths.

  1. Contact me. Get evaluated. Learn how to sell.
  2. Take a lesson from Frank, actor wannabes and the Little Leaguers. Hope to get discovered, but “DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!”
  3. Convince somebody to give you $65 million. (OOPS! You might have to do #1 first.)