A major focus for me in 2010 is to develop continuity programs in each and every business that I am involved in. For some businesses, this is harder than others. For example, in the tax resolution business, our goal is to fix a client’s tax debt problem, and help them implement systems to never have such a problem again. By the very nature of the business, we don’t want those clients to become clients again! So, how can you develop a continuity program for something that like that?
For those that don’t know, a continuity program is a product or service that is purchased on a regularly scheduled basis. A monthly recurring purchase is the most common, but there are other intervals, also.
Examples of obvious continuity plans include your monthly cable and telephone bills. Both of these are entirely optional services, but are part of our culture so much that they are almost considered necessities.
If you’ve ever been involved in a network marketing program, you may be familiar with autoship. This is also a continuity program.
If you’ve ever paid a monthly subscription fee for access to any sort of members only web site, you were part of a continuity program.
On automatic renewal for your domain name? Yep…Continuity program.
Even government does it. Part of your mortgage payment every month if escrowed, or every 6 months or a year otherwise, you pay property taxes if you own your own home. Also a continuity program.
What about products you buy where you get that strange feeling they were designed to wear out the day the warranty expires? Buying another one is a very mild form of continuity program.
How about that machine sitting in your driveway? Car insurance is a continuity program. Gasoline — car is useless without it, so you HAVE to buy it. Annual vehicle registration – government back at it.
Who do you think created the 3,000 mile oil change? The engineers that designed the car? Your mechanic? The manufacturer? None of the above. It was actually created by the corporate marketing department at Jiffy Lube to create continuity of business for their franchises across the country. (Side note: Check your vehicle owner’s manual. Many state that your vehicle is perfectly fine going 5,000 or 7,500 miles between oil changes assuming normal driving on pavement).
So how do you create a continuity program for a business that isn’t obviously gear towards such? You need to start by looking at how your customers use your product or service, consider how that fits into their life, and also look at associated products and services.
Let me give you an example from our tax business. Phoenix Financial Group is a tax resolution firm — we negotiate with the IRS to enter into payment plans or settlements for our clients. The hope is that once we’re done, a customer will never need our services again.
Creating a continuity program for a one-time need is difficult, so I started thinking outside our normal box of toys. This led me to two things, one of which was obvious, the other wasn’t. The obvious one is tax return preparation, something we historically do very little of, and only in connection with existing clients that have unfiled tax returns and cannot afford to have their CPA do them. The other is offering Continuing Professional Education to other enrolled agents, which is mandated by law to maintain a license to practice.
Offering seasonal tax return preparation to a wider audience is something that our general staff is not prepared to do. There are exactly two of us on staff (myself included) that are versed in this skill set, as most of our staff experience is aimed at negotiation and tax management, and we cannot conceivably prepare tax returns the way we do (by hand!) in any sort of volume. However, it is a simple task to locate tax preparation software meant for commercial use and be trained on within the 27 days remaining before the onset of tax season. I am used to working long hours on various projects, and our other staff person that does personal income tax returns has worked the past two years in her evenings and weekends for a major retail tax preparation company, so the extra time commitment isn’t an issue as long as we have a way of doing things efficiently and accurately. We expect that offering this service will create a significant (greater than 10%) boost to our annual revenues.
Offering continuing education courses to other enrolled agents is a much less obvious idea, but one that fits some of my past experience well. If you’ve been following me for a while, you may be aware of the nearly 100 audio CD educational courses that I have been involved with, in addition to the full day seminars that I have helped produce with James Orr. In short, I absolutely love teaching, and course development and content creation is not something I consider a chore. I have already applied to the IRS for approval of our firm as an educational provider, and will start developing content outlines for courses tomorrow.
Thinking outside the box like this is critical, especially in today’s economy. How can you attract more business from your existing customers? What products or services can you offer your customers that will genuinely benefit them, and provide you a recurring revenue stream?
I’m more than happy to help you with ideas on this. Leave a comment to this blog post describing your business, and I’ll brainstorm some things off the top of my head for you.
Wishing you success in the new year,