Selling and Marketing 1 – Problem Solving Steps

I’ve been attending some Kick Start workshops over at the Lounge and have finally hit my “wall” – selling and marketing! This post is aimed at helping me, and hopefully others to develop a framework for sorting through feelings and ideas about how to go forward. I don’t currently know how to scale this particular wall, but  I know I can and will!

How do I know??? The thing I and anyone reading this blog can draw on is our experiences to date – many of us have had to face huge personal challenges along the way and we’ve done it, so that’s how I’m looking at this, a huge personal challenge to find a way through. I do have a faith and that forms the base for my strategy, in that I believe the right people, opportunities and situations will come along when I need them.

I also believe that to grow you need to go through some “manure” – after all that’s what we use to make our rose bushes blossom beautifully!

 

 

 

The following problem solving steps are based on those used are used by a variety of coaches, self improvement and business improvement trainers etc.

Step 1 – Identify the Problem. 

This first step is key to problem solving, and needs a high degree of honesty in order to truly identifywhat the problem is.”I struggle with sales and marketing” is a symptom of the problem but  not the problem itself.  Identifying the true problem, means digging much deeper and untangling all the threads until arriving at the heart of the matter. This is hard work but needs to be done if you want firm foundations to build the solution on. After all the wise man built his house on rock and in business, we all hope we’re wise!

Step 2 – Identifying Solutions

Step 2 is about opening your mind to ideas! What can I do to overcome this problem? Its not just about logical “left brain” thoughts and ideas, its about getting past them and using the creative right brain, which us crafty types should hopefully be quite good at tapping into already. Its about not being afraid to dream too – and sometimes when we do dream about the “ideal” business persona it takes us back down to step 1 and helps us refine the original problem some more. So get pens, paper, find a quiet place and let the thoughts flow. I already have some possible solutions from listening to and talking to others at KickStart this month, however their inception relies on other people wanting to get involved too! The idea of this step is not about identifing THE solution but a series of them – so what you end up with is a list of things to try. You can then look at your list, re-order it if you want to and work your way down until you find solution(s) that work for you and your business. Again you might find you’re revisiting step 1 a few times and refining the problem more as you weed out the solutions you don’t like / can’t use etc and that’s fine, problem solving is a cycle, not a list based exercise. When we pedal a cycle, how often do we actually reach out destination on the first turn of the wheel? How often do we fall off when learning? Just make sure the solutions you choose are practical, don’t involve uneccesary risk and fit with your current priorities.

Step 3 – Testing them out

Ok you’ve made a list of possible solutions that you can work with – now its time to try them.

Set yourself measurable and achievable goals – something that you can review weekly or monthly and asess your progress against. Getting more sales isn’t a measurable goal but increasing my sales to 10 per month is! So put a number in there – just make sure its realistic! And remember if you aim low e.g. for the moon and you overshoot and hit a star, then you’ll feel fantastic. But if you aim for the stars and only hit the moon – you’ll start using the dreaded “f” word – fail! So be realistic and kind to yourself! Set yourself up for success, not failure!

If you’re marketing, this is a longer term project so you need to make sure that you choose solutions you can test over a season – its no good making new flyers, bunging them in one spot and then wondering why on earth they’ve made no difference. You need to get them out far and wide and then see whether they improve uptake. You also need to think about where you put them – again to make sure they’re in the right places.

If its a sales strategy, again it might not work at the first fair you go to or when you first upload your lovely new pics to your website – but over time it may prove to be effective, it might be simply that the first plac you tested it out was a fair with low footfall and lots of browsers for example but the second fair was more dynamic and well attended with people on a mission to buy.

Make notes, ask friends you trust to be honest for feedback, ask your customers for feedback – you won’t get your market research right unless you know what people are looking for and that when they come to your stall or online shop, that you’re projecting the right image. Yes its uncomfortable – but as I said early, its manure that makes beautiful blooms!

Step 4 – Ask others for help

You can do this at any or all stages of the cycle but it is important – no man or woman is an island and we live and work in an interactive world.  Einstein is credited with saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result and how true that is. In order to grow we change. And we need catalysts to start the change and hammers and chisels to make the shape and sandpaper to give a smooth surface – in other words we need to find people who are comfortable with giving us constructive feedback, who aren’t afraid to tell us how it is and who are also willing to work with us to find ways forward. I know I felt really challenged on Monday and was very tempted to say “You know what – I don’t need this” and decide running my own business is not for me – however I want to do this and I know how much I’ve changed in the last few years through facing some really difficult barriers and getting through them – but I only managed it by letting people in and relying on my faith too. So whilst this might not be the most comfortable part of problemsolving, I think its the key.

Step 5 – Evaluation

This again creeps in to every step above but should also be looked at on its own. Once you have your measurable, achievable goal, then you need to find a way to check if its happening. So you might for example keep a diary of networking meetings and note down what went well for you, or ask your clients who recommened them or where they found out about you. You can also use your blog and facebook pages to ask for feedback from your readers or fans. Link google analytics to your online shop and website to find out what it is that’s attracting people in and what holds their attention. When you do fairs or public events consider taking a “critical friend” along who can give you hints and tips along the way and help you identify what went well and what you might need to work on for the next event. This in turn will help you do more work on steps 1-4 if you need and weed out some of the step 2 solutions that really aren’t right for you and your business. And even throw up new ideas to add to the list

Step6- Celebrate

Once you’ve achieved your projected goals, celebrate! In the UK we’re not particularly good at this and we hide our successes from public glare because “its just not cricket old chap” but actually when we’ve been on a difficult journey and scaled one of those huge personal wall, we need to acknowledge it. Linking that achievement to a positive memory, makes the next wall we hit seem lower and easier to climb because we know climbing it or demolishing it feels good! And make sure you thank everyone who’s helped you along the way – we all need positive feedback and for anyone, friend or fellow professional, getting positive feedback is brilliant! And it lets them know that they’re giving the right advice and doing the right things.

Also remember a few key things to keep you on target:

1. Have a business plan to work from

2. Use this to devise a marketing plan

3. Hold a “management” meeting with yourself once a week to plan all the things you need to do in the coming 7 days

4. Avoid procrastination – putting it off just means its going to take longer to get right

5. Avoid shiny new toys – they are a distraction you don’t need whilst you’re sorting this out!

6. You can do this! You have done this before! You already have the tools in your toolkit – you just need to find the right one for the job!

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What I’ve Learned Wednesday – The Importance of Setting Goals

I’ve always thought I was pretty focused on what I need to do, until I woke up in  total panic last week and felt totally overwhelmed. I grabbed some time out, sat down with pen and paper and made a rough list of what I needed to do in the next 7 – 10 days and realised I’d completely lost the plot with making goal and to do lists.

Whilst goals are not to do lists, they are the essential thing that makes a to do list functional. So after a couple of peaceful hours at the Lounge on Thursday afternoon I managed to come up with something that helped me plan my diary…. and yes whilst I’m in confessions mode, I’ve not been doing that either, which is probably another reason for feeling overwhelmed. My relapse recovery is also at the yoyo stage where I have good days and bad, and that further complicates life as I have to reign myself in on good days and rest more on bad days, so feel I’m not achieving as much as I should! I’ve also noticed the urge to be distracted by “shiny new things” creeping in – any idea I can grab at that seems good, despite the fact that it might be contributing to the “overwhelm factor” and distracting me from my real goals!

I used to teach goal setting in a previous job, alongside action planning or sub goals and the main thing we used to emphasise was realism! I can almost chant the rules we encouraged our classes to take on board like a mantra:

1. Don’t set a goal that you need to work on 7 days a week – why? Because if you have a “lift gets in the way” moment and don’t complete it, them you say to yourself “I’ve failed”, hit the “To hell with it” button and give up trying

2. Be kind to yourself – if you think you can do something for an hour at a time, half it! Why? again its about not setting yourself up to fail – us human beans tend to over-estimate what we can achieve, and as a result set the bar too high. There’s nothing wrong with aiming for the moon, over shooting and hitting a star, but if we aim for the stars and hit the moon – a massive achievement none the less, we see ourselves as having failed.

3. Make sure its something you won’t see as a chore – if you resent your goal, you don’t put half as much effort in and try very hard to procrastinate and avoid.

4. Use problem solving techniques if you hit a barrier – these include asking for help ( am now hiding under desk in shame at my refusals to do so) and delegation……. least said etc!

So having realised I was disappearing up my own bottom in a state of confusion, was resenting and hating the very things I love about what I do, making and teaching and feeling lost in a stormy sea of paperwork and feeling life was generally chaotic, I set to and….

1. Wrote it all down on paper – things on paper seem smaller and more tangible, you can get hold of them and look for areas of overlap – or discover the art of killing 2 birds with one stone

2. Once I had a key list of targets, I then got a second sheet of paper and produced a task list and soon identified some ways I could combine my efforts.

3. Prioritised – worked out which things were a must do!

4. Grabbed the diary and wrote in jobs for each day

5. Got another pen and blocked out time off! That wasn’t comfortable but it meant I could see making as a leisure activity again and I’ve now got my “mojo” back

6. Went to a “Kick Start Monday” workshop at the Lounge – Theresa and Terry ran a great session for around 8 ladies. We all set our business goals for July and gave each other lots of ideas and support in refining them and making them tangible and measurable.

7. Have committed to asking a couple of friends to come round whilst my daughter is on holiday and help me get my workspaces organised – trying to find the things I need is a real source of stress at times, so having the ability to put my hands on things will help immensly and I know that I cannot do it all on my own as I’ll physically crash again!

So if you are feeling like me, then all I can say is that avoiding the overwhelm is just a recipie for it all feeling worse. Once its out of your head and on the page, you can see the stuff that’s driving you mad – and once you can see all the issues, you can grab them, give them a good shake up and sort out a prioritised to do list. And trust me the sense of joy that comes from ticking each item off is fantastic!!

I’ve also decided to work on small items until the list is complete – crafting small items is a fantastic way to feel you’re winning as you can produce lots in an evening, adding to that glowing sense of achievement! As you can see they are all based around bracelets and cuff. I’ve been toying with the idea of ways to cover thing silver bangles in crochet for a while – I want them to look woven – the silver weaving through the yarn and think I’ve achieved it. The pictures don’t do the final products justice as they all need finishing and joining, but I’m really pleased with them as I’ve managed to make them up in 2 evenings!:

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The Value of Networking

I used to be really negative about networking do’s – I could never see the point of going and used to feel it was a necessary, if unpleasant part of the job in my former employed life. But over time I began to see benefits from networking, it really helped to build contacts, get people talking and explore ways of working together to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

So when I started Bits and Bobs I knew I needed to find a way to network with other crafters and find out more about the world I was entering. I started off online over at Folksy, by joining in with the forums. I learned that to make sales online I had to learn to promote online and so a facebook page became needed, swiftly followed by accounts with twitter, craftjuice and creative connections. I found the networks were useful for learning about how people work, but sometimes felt they were quite competitive and found it hard that despite all the work I felt I was putting in, I didn’t seem to be getting much of a return on my investment.

I started talking to people about what I was doing in a small way offline and that started to bring in the odd sale here and there but it was still pretty sporadic. The Taste of Enterprise course offered a ready made network as part of the progression and whilst this was interesting and I learned alot from people about the practicalities of business, I wasn’t really getting the leads and contacts I needed.

So I dipped my toe into the world of Craft fairs and that was great, I found lots of encouragement and positive feedback about what I did and got to meet lots of lovely people. But again it didn’t really lead to where I’d hoped – which was finding opportunities to work with people collaboratively. Or so it seemed at the time. But now the work with Taste of Enterprise and Craft Fairs is really taking off and is promising to lead onto some really positive opportunities around running craft fairs and specialist wedding “learn  to make” events.

I then found out about the CHAOS network, a local organisation that brings artists, crafters and people from the worlds of music, film and theatre together and that did start to open a few doors. Around the same time I met up with Steve and Ross from Third Age Centre and the local Age Concern group. This lead onto joining SIGN, which is a local network of people and agencies who work across the generations. I made some great contacts there which has lead on to my developing courses and is now leading to work and commissions. I also made some connections with Networking Mummies and Mums and Business and this is now starting to lead to collaboratives and work.

I have to admit though that I’ve been feeling that my information is dropping into a black hole sometimes and that I’ve had strong misgivings at times about whether I’m doing the right thing with marketing and letting people know about who I am and what I want to do.And that’s another positive about networking – people come and approach you and want to meet you, based on the information you’ve sent out to them at some point. That’s happened today and I attended a really positive networking lunch at Third Age Centre and have got 2 leads and a commission. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk to some Mum’s at Sure Start who are getting to the point of needing to return to work and share a bit about me and my journey and also hear about other women who’ve faced and overcome multiple barriers to working.

I’ve drawn up a series of little post-it type notes that you are welcome to download as a result of my reflections on networking which you are more than welcome to download and print off  if you find them useful: