How to Engage in Blue Sky Thinking When It’s Raining

How do we plan in a time of complete turmoil and uncertainty? That’s the question most of us are asking in this year of unprecedented change. One thing we know won’t work is pulling out last year’s plan and updating it. So, what will?


For my hybrid work team, the secret ingredient for 2021 growth planning is Blue Sky Thinking.


What? That’s crazy, right? We need to focus on recovery and crisis management, don’t we?


Of course. Shoring up your defenses is needed for business continuation. But it won’t get you to what’s next. Blue Sky Thinking will. Blue Sky Thinking is that attitude of optimism that looks into the universe and sees endless possibilities.


The “What if? Why Not? Can we? Will we?” questions that drive Blue Sky Thinking can boost creativity and energy for you as the business owner and leader and for your entire team. Now is the time to consider wild and crazy ideas that just might open the door to your next big marketing campaign or new product development.


Optimism! Like laughter, optimism delivers  real health benefits that strengthen teams and bottom lines. Your team needs the confidence right now to look beyond the rain and see the rainbow.


Here are seven steps for engaging in Blue Sky Thinking for your 2021 growth planning.


  1. Review the fundamentals: your core strengths; your solid and enduring successes; your team; your resources and capabilities.
  2. Don’t focus too much on COVID impacts. Focusing on COVID will limit your thinking and likely cause you to miss emerging opportunities. Also, too much is unknown to make predictions about the full impacts meaningful. Instead, use the successes and failures of the past six months as guardrails to future expectations.
  3. Look at COVID as an opportunity that you didn’t see coming six months ago. Evaluate the changes that have happened in your industry. What’s needed now that wasn’t before? How can your business serve that need?
  4. Create a flexible framework rather than a specific action plan for 2021. A framework allows you to adjust your plan within your capabilities and resources and to pivot when necessary.
  5. Reevaluate your mission statement. Your business has changed this year. Does your mission statement reflect where you are going? Re-crafting your mission statement with an eye toward where you are going next will infuse energy and enthusiasm into your 2021 plan.
  6. Consider the big leap. What if you could enter a new market? Completely redesign your product line? Buy out a competitor? What would it take? How would you do it?
  7. Enlarge your world view and include (DEI) diversity, equity, and inclusion steps in your planning efforts. What business practices changes do you need to make to better include people of all ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, religious affiliations, abilities, and ages in your product development, hiring and business operations?

If you need help facilitating a Blue Sky Thinking session for your team, contact me here.


Innovation is your Crisis Protection Plan

Crisis management gets a bad rap. The phrase conjures up pictures of your management team running around in chaos mode putting out fires, stuck in place, instead of casting a vision, developing a strategic plan and executing to win with a proven process. Crisis management is something every seasoned, successful management team seeks to avoid.


Except today you can’t. The combination of COVID-19 and global political and economic turmoil has created a crisis environment that every business owner, entrepreneur and executive team has to manage in and through. Crisis management is a skillset your team must acquire.


Innovation is the answer. Innovation, finding that new method, product, idea, that opens up new doors and opportunities in a time of turmoil, is your crisis protection plan. Innovation is not an activity. Innovation is a mindset.


It’s a mindset that is willing to look at every component of your business with a new perspective. It’s a mindset that questions everything, especially the tried and true. When innovation works it’s a little scary on its own. Even more so now with all the other upheavals your team is dealing with. At the same time, embracing innovation also got easier because we all know that what we are used to doing won’t work today as it has in the past.


The Octain Growth approach to the innovation mindset with clients is three-fold: identify strengths, develop a mind map and create a blueprint for implementation.


A mature software company was trapped in an aging market space with little growth potential. Several new products were suggested, none was innovative. They were all safe bets. We worked with executive team using our product fuel template and the innovation questions in our mind map to identify the best ROI-based options. With stakeholder agreement, the choice was narrowed to one—launch an upgrade in new market space which opened a new geographic market, changed the company’s competitive position and drove new sales growth of 24% in first the 12 months following the launch.

Assessing your strengths

Ready to innovate? Here’s the first step: A quick checklist for assessing the competitive and market strengths of your product or services. Consider how you can use these strengths to innovate better in the remote worker economy.

Map your possibilities

It’s time to blue sky how you might rethink, reinvent and innovate your products and services for the remote economy. The mind map of What’s Next is the secret sauce. Here’s mine to get you started. This mind map was created in Whimsical.


Note the four categories:

  • Improve – How can you make your product/service easier to use, more affordable or faster to get customer results?
  • Extend – How can you expand your product/service capabilities or customer reach?
  • Reinvent – How can your product/service solve a related problem or serve another customer group?
  • Innovate – What can you do to push the boundaries of your current product/service focus and limitations? What’s the one crazy thing you can do (may seem impossible today) to better serve your market and customers?


Each of these categories requires a new perspective and a willingness to step beyond your current activity. Which one are you willing to step into today?


It’s critical to get all company stakeholders from executive management to customer service involved in the creation on your corporate mind map. Capture all ideas first without debate and then prioritize your wish list according to time, talent and resources available.


Blueprint the implementation

Once your mind map is complete, you’ll need to create a blueprint that takes you from the ideation to the actualization of your goals.


Octain has a proven process for delivering results from innovation especially in today’s remote economy and the global turmoil we are enduring. We’d love to chat with you now.


For more on how your company can Make Remote Work, download the ebook.


Dreading 2020 Planning? You’re Not Alone

Are we ready for 2020? That’s the question many business owners are asking today as we start the planning process for next year. And with that question comes the gut churning, palms sweating reality that — oh no! We have to put together a 2020 plan!

For many, the first challenge is finding the time. How do you fit this planning and prep into a business week already overloaded with meetings, customer visits, production schedules and all the other daily tasks?

Do you break out a few hours on a Friday? Schedule a two-day offsite? Hire a facilitator for a team session? Pay a consultant for a business or strategic plan?

If the very idea of having to stop your momentum to plan for 2020 gets your stomach churning, you are not alone. In fact, for many business owners the business disruption of planning is more painful than the value they get in return. That may be because prior plans were never or only partially implemented.

How often have you taken the time to create a business or strategic plan with every good intension only to have it languish on the shelf while you continue to manage the business by gut instinct?

The cost of doing nothing is expensive

What’s the cost of doing nothing or continuing to manage by gut? Invariably, it’s reactive, crisis management that leads to trial and error decision making. That always costs time and money as you have to keep pivoting to put out the next fire. And how about your team? Reactive management always handcuffs your talented team because they have to wait for you to decide or they crisis manage on their own, compounding the time and money wasted.

Which plan is best for you?

The two most common yearly plans are business plans and strategic plans. A financially driven business plan that details how you will make money is best for companies seeking capital through investment or loan. It lay outs a general operational overview and detailed financial projections. Strategic plans define the businesses’ overall strategy or direction, and determine the resources needed to pursue this strategy. They are best for growing companies that need to scale or take the business to the next level.

Done for you or DIY?

The Done for You option, hiring a coach or consultant to put the plan together, means you have an expert to guide you. Be prepared to spend between $5,000 to $15,000 for the plan depending on the size and complexity of your business. And start now. A consultant-developed plan will take 4 to 12 weeks, depending on your business size and complexity as well as how often you can meet with your consultant or coach.

If you choose to Do It Yourself, you can find lots of resources on the Internet. One of the best known and widely used is the Business Model Canvas. With that option you have to find the time, the knowledge and the tools to plan and then deal with the business disruption that probably caused you to avoid planning in the first place.

Feel your palms getting sweaty again?

Planning for the Speed of Business

At Octain we offer our clients the best of both worlds ¾ a fast, simple approach to planning that gives you a direction and a process you can actually enjoy. Here are three simple steps.

  1. Set three goals: a profit goal; a revenue goal, and a customer growth goal.
  2. Set milestones to chart your progress. These can be monthly or quarterly. We recommend monthly.
  3. Choose your actions. Hold a two-three hour brainstorming session with your team to decide what you will do to achieve your goals. Choose one activity, action or program for each of your three goals.

While not a complete strategy, these simple steps will get your business on the right track – with a defined direction for your team.

That’s fast and simple planning that will eliminate at least half your reactive trial and error decision making.

Want some tools to help get you started? Download our growth plan templates at


Your Customers are Leaving – Why?

Losing customers, especially a big customer, is the nightmare of every business owner. Customers leave for a variety of reasons. Sometimes despite your best efforts. And the number one reason is: something has changed. But what?

In today’s economic environment, everything is always in flux. When customers leave it is often due to one or more of these five factors.

Needs Change. The customer’s needs have changed. A startup business needs to build its inventory, systems and foundation. It requires many new services. A new office, IT support, accounting services. As the business matures, the need may change from accounting to a CPA, from an office suite to buying a commercial building. Needs change through the growth cycle.

Markets change. When the market changes, your product or service which might have been innovative becomes more of a commodity. Price advantages disappear with a new discount plan by a competitor. Or a new product offering raises the feature/benefit bar and your product no longer solves the customer’s problem as well as it once did.

Your product or service changes (or doesn’t change fast enough). In attempt to increase margins you change suppliers creating a product difference that customers don’t like so they look for a new supplier. Or your product doesn’t innovative fast enough to meet customer demand.

Your company has changed. The culture shifts. You and your team start doing things differently. Maybe it’s not so much fun anymore. Maybe you are doing it by the book instead with passion. In a service business this can have a real impact when customers who thought they had a relationship with your company now feel they are simply a transaction.

Poor service experience. This is number one reason customers leave. More than price or product quality or competitive offers. Customers leave because they don’t enjoy doing business with you now. You take too long to respond. They feel unheard, unloved, most of all unwanted.

Keep Them Happy

Keeping your customers and clients with you means keeping them happy. Here are three ways to keep a smile on their face and their dollars in your account.

Manage your internal growing pains. Notice how three of these five factors are linked to your company’s internal operations rather than your customers behavior. How you handle common growing plans like development, delivery and customer service response as you grow are critical to customer retention.

Your systems must not only handle today’s customer needs, they must be robust enough to manage the next wave of growth. Don’t wait until your delivery, production or account services team is maxed out before you add capacity or people. If you are forecasting growth, start adding when you are at 80%.

Anticipate customer shifts. Know what is going on and more importantly, what’s happening next. Staying on top of changes in your market, industry, competitive space is as important as making that next sale if you want to be prepared to serve your customers’ changing needs and wants. Without that outward focus, you risk being blindsided by a key impact change that you did not see coming.

Beyond just knowing what is happening, learn to anticipate change so you can predict what your best customers are likely to do next.

Start with your own sales records. Review these monthly or more if you are in a fast-growing industry. Consider: volume changes; order intervals, buying pattern changes, and more that lets you take a pulse of your customers’ behavior.

Know the Competition. The fastest and easiest way to get blindsided in the market is to miss what the competition is doing. Your competition is not just your direct business competitors, it is anyone or anything that your customers compare you to.

A quick start way to keep an eye on the competition is to list the other options customers and clients have. Include companies and other market options. Then set up Google Alerts to track them. Go beyond tracking company mentions and track specific product names or product/market categories. I recommend setting up a separate @gmail address for these alerts so you can check them as desired and avoid needless distractions.

Want help with any of these strategies? Contact



Photo by from Pexels

Six Growth Maximizers for Scaling Your Business

Gaining traction. Scaling up. Maximizing business value. Whatever your definition of business growth is, investing in these six proven business accelerators is bound to make a difference.

We call them Market Fuel Strategies because they are designed to bring new energy to your business operations and increased profit to your bottom-line.

In hundreds of client engagements across the past 15 years, I have found that these six factors, when planned for, can have a dramatic impact on company, product and customer success.

As you consider these six accelerators, ask yourself:
1) How well are we doing today in this area?
2) Where do we want to be this time next year?
3) What is it going to take to get us there?

There’s a lot to unpack here so let’s look at each in detail. Today, we take a deep dive into product/service fuel. Over the next few weeks we will examine the rest of these six business accelerators and offer ideas on how to make them work better for your business.

Product Fuel

Your product fuel is driven by these three attributes:
• Product Strength: the marketability of your product/service based on the benefits and features that you offer to your customers.
• Competitive Strength: capabilities which enable you to take advantage of new market potential in competitive situations.
• Customer Strength: the match between your product results and your customer’s needs and wants. This drives market penetration.

Think of these as the lens from which to evaluate your product/service success.

Here’s a tool to help you determine the competitive and market strengths of your products and services. The key question is listed across the top. Examples are product strength features to consider. Add your own!

First, list the product or service’s top three strengths. You can determine that by answering a simple question: Why do customers choose your product over the alternative? The top three reasons are, from a market perspective, your top strengths.

Second, consider your competitive strength from two angles: 1) List your competitive advantages (product features, service practices, pricing, delivery, etc.); 2) consider your market opportunity: how many customers who could buy this product or service are actually buying it?

State as a percentage from 1% to 100%. The difference between your number and 100% is your market penetration opportunity.

Third, consider your customer strength by your ability to sell more of your product or service to additional customers (upsell) and new customer or market types you might be able to reach.

Once you have completed this snapshot, you should have a pretty good answer to the first and second accelerator questions: How well are we doing today in this area? Where do we want to be this time next year?

The third question – what is going to take to get us there? That’s all about resources: time, money, tool and talent. What resources do you have in your company to address the challenge and what do you need to get?

What’s the next step? Consider these:

• Where you are strong but not well known in the market, the accelerator step is most likely a new marketing or sales program.

• Where you are weak, especially competitively, the accelerator step is most likely product improvements or new product development.

Are You Too Busy To Grow?

Your business is moving full speed ahead and there aren’t enough hours in the day to meet all your customer, product and sales obligations. You’re slammed, so of course your business or practice is growing! How could it not be? We are serving customers, moving product, increasing sales.

Well, not so fast. Your business can be sprinting along but not necessarily growing. What’s the difference?

Speed is rapidly moving, traveling, speeding or performing. Speed is an activity.

Growth is a business, industry or equity that is expected to increase in value over a period of time. Growth is a process and an outcome.

Growth can be fast. If so, it brings the noted advantages of success and recognition as well as the disadvantages of over extension and profit killing curve balls. Growth can also be slow, measured, intentional and sustainable.

Ask yourself these five questions to see if your speed is truly yielding the long-term sustainable growth your business needs to thrive.

1. Are you so focused on getting things done today that you may be setting yourself up for a dry spell tomorrow? We all know the adage, working in your business instead of working on your business. It creates the kind of boom-bust cycle that too many business owners fall into.

2. What about fulfillment? Are you so busy booking orders that you fall behind in providing exceptional customer service? Are you stretching or missing production deadlines? Your booking speed is breaking your production capability and maybe your people as well.

3. How well are you nurturing long term relationships? Is the customer to come more enticing than the one who has been with you for months or years? Speed to growth often comes at the expense of loyal customers. That reduces your customer life time value, a key sustainable growth metric.

4. How about speed versus productivity? Does the push to do more, more, more create the opportunity for error? If so, do-overs to correct mistakes cost time, money and (see #3) customer and employee relationships.
5. Income versus profit? Speed can produce dramatic revenue increases but if the structures, processes, people and production are not there to support those sales, the speedy rise can forecast a speedy fall.

If any of these sound like you, your team or your day to day business operations, it’s time for a change. Here are two key steps you can take to move your mindset and business practices from speed to growth.

1. Take stock. Take a long look at each of the five areas outlined above. The Key Question: In each area, are my current activities and practices improving my long-term business viability and value or undermining it?

2. List the areas that need improvement from most needed to least needed. The Key Question: If you could only change one thing, what change would have the most positive and long-lasting change on your business growth?

Focus on changing that one thing first. Experience the difference one growth step can make.

What are your thoughts? Let’s talk about it, reach out. Contact or 530-363-2043.

Turn Competitive Info into Cash


There’s information gold in knowing what your competitors are doing and how they’re doing it. The trick is finding it and then knowing what to do with it.

Most of us know in general who our competitors are and what products and services they offer. But too often we don’t know much more than that or if we do know we may not be using the information as effectively as we could to improve sales, marketing and customer service operations.

This is where a new focus on competitors, called Competitive Marketing can help. When you focus more specifically and directly on what your competitors are doing and how well they are doing it, you gain the competitive advantage.

Done well, Competitive Marketing means you can almost predict what your competitors are going to do next and convert that information into cash.

Know Them

A strong Competitive Marketing plan includes these ten elements.

  1. Competitor name and general background information
  2. Corporate Team Background
  3. Products and Services
  4. Market Strength and Presence
  5. Branding/Message/Customer Focus
  6. Customer Loyalty Index
  7. Pricing
  8. Product Trends and Directions
  9. Lead Sources/Win-Loss Analysis
  10. SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

Beat Them

If this sounds a lot like competitive research or analysis, you’re right. The difference between competitive analysis and Competitive Marketing is what you do with what you know.

Competitive research gathers the data, competitive analysis draws conclusions and provides recommendations, Competitive Marketing turns that information into better, more effective sales and marketing tools. Tools that result in your company’s ability to:

  • Win more sales deals
  • Arm internal customer champions with competitive facts
  • Give customer confidence in their choice of product/service
  • Train new sales reps
  • Provided a better customer experience
  • Improve strategic planning
  • Accelerate new product development

Competitive Marketing is an emerging new area of marketing that entrepreneurs, marketers and business owners can use to create tools to leverage their company strengths and protect against their weaknesses. To know your competitors is to beat them at their own game.







What’s Your Social Business Personality?

How you show up in your social communities matters. It matters a lot. Your personality probably shows up naturally in your personal social media interactions. But what about your business?

Global corporations spend millions creating “personalities” to represent their businesses. Personalities like “Flo” from Progressive Insurance or the AFLAC duck or even good ole “Tony the Tiger” from yester-year.

Your business has a personality too. Especially when it comes to social business. Your personality is more than just a way of connecting, it has an impact on the kind of content you deliver, the kind of connections you make, and how people will do business with you and refer you.

It’s that important.

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Is Your Content a Little Tyrant?

We all know that content is king but what do you do when your “content king” turns into a little tyrant? What happens to your marketing campaigns when content becomes an end in itself instead of a means to the end of connecting you to your customers?

Content becomes a tyrant when it drives the message instead of amplifying the message, the vision or the story. It becomes a tyrannical beast when the end goal of your content production is meeting a content quantity goal or due date instead of providing valuable educational, inspirational or practical insights.

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