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New, Useful and Non-Obvious

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I love the acid test used to determine if an item is patentable. Simply put, the item must be “new; useful; and non-obvious”.

The fun for me is the word “non-obvious” because the best new items have that element of obviousness, as in “why didn’t I think of that?” because the need or want is so apparent. Before you put this post aside because you don’t have patentable products or services, consider what might happen to your revenue stream if you reviewed each new offering in this light. Even though I don’t currently have clients with products/services in the patentable items arena, I think of this phrase all the time when talking with my clients about their products and services.

Patent law goes on to describe potentially eligible items as “not only… novel, but it must also be a non-obvious improvement over the prior art.” Is each of your offerings an improvement over how it’s been done before? The improvement must be so obvious that it’s apparent to your potential customers; it needs to excel and warrant comment by them. You may say “I provide quality service” which is fabulous; just to be sure, spell out your “better service” on paper. The best massage I ever had included an outdoor hot tub soak in a bucolic setting, sauna time, back into the hot tub, and then on to the massage table. That was clearly an improvement over its counterpart commodity service offerings!

Most importantly, you want your customers to think, “Oh my goodness! Why didn’t someone think of this before?” Most likely, they haven’t articulated your particular product or service but they have expressed frustration with a problem not yet solved. How many years did I wish for a never-ending instant supply of books? Problem solved: my  Kindle.

Put your intellectual property hat on when working on new products or services; the very best will be “new, useful, and non-obvious”.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach


Back to Basics – How to Increase Revenue

Business is complicated, and often times my first meeting with a client is spent simply trying to absorb and understand how the client is feeling overwhelmed with his or her business. The day-to-day operations frequently serve to keep the client focused on the here and now, with little time for reflection for the broader strokes in their businesses.

That’s why I find it so helpful to break down the most complex operations into simple functions. Revenue generation in particular seems to be a big hurdle – when I ask how an owner could increase his/her revenues, I often get a blank, slightly panicked look that tells me that they can’t see a clear path.

Let’s get back to basics and break this down to a simple formula. Revenue is equal to the price that you charge multiplied by the number of units sold/services provided; or,

Price (P) x Volume (V) = Revenue (R)

To increase revenue, you can go about it as follows:

1. Increase prices (P)

a. No change in product or service; or, a “just because you can” increase. While this method was popular a few years ago, it seems obvious now that this is not a sustainable practice nor is it building a business of value. Customers  understand that prices may rise due to inflation but they need to see some additional value in this economy.

b. Increasing the value perceived by your customer justifying an increased price. Again, a business based on excellence actually does increase the value provided, not just the perception.

2. Increase volume (V)

a. Offer new products/services to existing customers. We’ve all heard it before: it’s easier to keep a customer than it is to obtain a new customer. Be a step ahead of your customers and know what they will want next.

b. Obtain new customers. Knowing the attributes of your ideal customers will help you find more of them.

c. Offer new products/services to existing and new customers. In the best possible scenario, your new products or services will not only be attractive to your existing customers but they will be that “final straw” that brings new customers to you. For example, a breakfast restaurant (a commodity) that begins to offer espresso and chai tea made from scratch might be just what’s necessary to attract new clientele.

While this breakdown seems overly simple, its value is clear at a couple of points: when you are forecasting and when you are planning your marketing activities.  So get back to basics to grow your business.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach


Deciding What You’re Worth

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Deciding what to charge is often tricky for service-based small business owners. Concerned about charging too high a price, I hear entrepreneurs justify a low price with statements like “I only need to make this much (insert your number) and I’ll break even.” Or, “I just need some customers to start buying from me.”

Small business owners will often do just about anything to retain some clients. Plus, they’re so excited about their new service that it’s easy to believe that everyone else will be, as well, and so they believe that the customers will flock to their doorstep. They’re convinced that what they lose in revenue per customer will be more than made up for in volume. Besides, they worry about whether there is enough value in their service offering; just to make sure, they add a few more elements to their service offering.

Of course there are exceptions to this, but I hope you can hear me yelling, “No, no, no!” Do not go down this path of adding more and more to your offerings; of setting a low price with hopes of gaining large market share out of the gate; of setting your prices based on break even. After all, did you go into business just to break even?

While a low price may garner you a few more customers than with a higher price, will they be the right customers for you? Look at competitive product and service pricing not as a guideline, but as “somewhat useful information”. Look objectively at your offering and check in with your gut: does it feel right and true? Most importantly, you need to DECIDE that your service offers significant value to your ideal customer. Not only will you be asking your customers to step up, being confident and comfortable with your pricing and the value you’re providing will require you to step up. And stepping up to a new level makes it all worthwhile.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Cleaning Up Energy Drainers

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It’s finally starting to feel like spring! We still have snow piles but the birds are singing, the days are longer, and there’s that spring feeling in the air. For my mom and her generation, that means spring cleaning; for me, it means it’s time to clean up my energy drains.


I define an energy drain as those things that when we see them, experience them, hear them, or touch them we lose a bit of energy. They make us groan, roll our eyes, or sigh. Some call them tolerations and I say it’s time to get rid of them! Tolerations can be as simple as a dirty car or as messy as a relationship that needs repair. In either case, your goal is to clean it up and to prevent it from occurring again.


Let me give you some examples.


1. A client struggles with incoming e-mails and ACT reminders. Yesterday, he had 452 e-mails and 272 reminders! A system meant to make his work smoother and easier was out of control and caused him to lose energy every time he saw them. He sorted by sender, realized who the worst cuplrits were; from there, he opted out of several mailing lists, delegated an office support relationship to a staff member (and the e-mails that go along with it), and scheduled 2 2-hour blocks of time to resolve others.


2. Another business owner was behind in his client meetings. First, he and his staff blocked out significant blocks of time to get caught up, which he did. He then asked his staff to create a system to prevent tardy meetings from happening again, reviewed it with them, and client review meetings are now occurring regularly, right on time.


3. I recently purchased a wall-mounted organizer to keep active projects organized.(See, doesn’t it look great?) A simple thing, and yet now I can find everything related to a project quickly and easily; it feels really good!


List those items that waste your energy – big or small – and schedule time to tackle one. Some, like a messy desk drawer, will take no more than 15 minutes but the rewards will last. Welcome Spring!


Helen Dutton, Business Coach

It’s Time to Adapt

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A number of business owners have expressed to me that once the worst of the recession was over, they thought business would go back to normal. What they really want to say is, “I’ll be able to go back to my old, comfortable way of doing things.” Well, guess what, ladies and gentlemen, this is the new normal.

I learned a related lesson years ago from my golden retriever Taylor. Taylor and I were devoted to each other, and a friend once said that ‘Taylor has a bone of yours, and you must have one of hers’ because we were so strongly attached. When she developed a rare form of bone cancer that spreads through touching rather than the bloodstream, we chose to amputate one of her back legs.

At age 12, we were expecting a slow recovery. Instead, within 24 hours of coming off the surgery table, I watched her run across the lawn and walk up the stairs, albeit slowly. It seems that animals don’t have preconceived ideas of how things ought to be; Taylor just knew that something was different and she needed to adapt. How long would it have taken me, if I had been in her shoes (er, paws), to adjust to such a significant change?

If you find yourself thinking “As soon as business gets back to normal…” it’s time for you to adapt. First, let go of your ideas of how business “should” be. Just like Taylor did, accept where you are and decide to move from that location. Secondly, create alternative avenues for you to reach your goals. For Taylor, that meant she needed to shift her weight significantly just to walk; she used her tail to help with balance. Be like Taylor and try out a new strategy to meet your objective.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach
Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.