Thursday, December 31, 2015

Finding buyers for artworks

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     Artists and artisans have a difficult time connecting with buyers. Their creations can languish in their studios. But it need not be.

     Painters, photographers, sculptors, illustrators, weavers, fiber artists and others produce works that sell in the right venue. Different venues, however, attract different people. There's the rub.

     High end galleries still show high end works. Particular galleries have homed in on a particular market segment. They select works they think will appeal to the buyers they attract. 

     Some galleries have morphed into high-end gift shops. They serve more of a second tier market. Customers who frequent these shops are likely to be well-heeled with disposable incomes. But they are not necessarily knowledgeable buyers of art works. Frequently they are looking for handmade gifts.

     Many artists and artisans use the Internet. They establish a website or use sites like Etsy or even eBay to attract buyers. They also use social media to show their works--Facebook is one example. 

     Example: Ella paints realistic pictures in oils and acrylics. She has exhibited in galleries, attended up-scale shows, and has taken some private commissions. She supplements her income by teaching. Her classes are popular--with beginners as well as with advanced students. She has found that she gets real enjoyment teaching young people. Her studio is in a converted garage, and she convenes classes there. She runs several multi-class sessions during the year. All this activity has spread her reputation, resulting in sales. 

     Example: Travis is a sculptor. He works in bronze, and it is a tough market to conquer. To bring in income, he made arrangements with other sculptors to produce their bronze castings. He works also with museums and galleries to produce fine reproductions. Recently, he has begun selling fine reproductions to gift shops and decorators. He uses Facebook to drive interest to his website. 

     Example: Mary is a weaver and designer. She turns out small rugs and wall hangings. She has a website and is on social media. All this activity keeps her busy with projects that come from decorators, collectors, high income individuals, and galleries. She does a show twice each year where regulars seek her out and she meets new people. With her artist's eye, her knowledge of fibers, and her weaving skills, she has tapped into a new market segment. She produces woven pictures of people and animals, working from photographs. Private commissions are coming in.

     Artists and artisans today have more opportunities than ever before. Social media drives people to you. There is a real market out there for whatever you do. And there is a real market in teaching others. 

     With today's marketing opportunities, artists and artisans no long need starve in the garret. Reach out to the buying public.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Space lease or rent

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     Every small business needs space. No matter what you do, you will need a place to do it.  

     Artists rent studios, therapists lease space, chiropractors need a place to see and treat clients, and so it goes. Retailers need stores, accountants and attorneys need offices. Even if you have a home office, you are renting from yourself.

     Leasing or renting space usually involves a document to be signed. It will spell out the terms and conditions--you need to pay attention.

     Example: Ellen ran into trouble when her lease came up for renewal. She opened and operated a small ice cream shop under a 3-year lease. The shop was very successful. She used Facebook to promote and she hosted events at her place--birthday parties, open houses, fund raisers, and the like. In her third year, she approached the landlord about renewing the lease. He wanted another 3-year lease at a much higher rate. Ellen wanted a 5-year lease at the same rate. Negotiations went nowhere, so Ellen looked around town for another location. She had considered adding to the ice cream she offered--she had toyed with expanding into coffees, including espresso, a smoothie bar, and fancy chocolates. She found a much bigger space at the same rate she had been paying and for a 5-year lease. It also had a patio that could be used. So, Ellen told the present landlord goodbye, moved, expanded, and never looked back. 

     Example: Roberto was a consulting therapist who needed space where he could meet clients. Two rooms would suffice--a private office and a reception room. He found an appropriate space in a building full of other professionals. Roberto knew that the landlord had trouble renting such a small space, so he negotiated a 5-year lease at a relatively low rent. As part of the negotiating, Robert insisted that the landlord include heat and electric. The landlord agreed--such a small space would not use much heat or electric. But it meant a lot to Roberto.

     Some leases have lots of small print that can include all sorts of add-ons. In addition to heat and electric, the lease might ask you to pay for snow removal, garbage pick-up, signage, parking spaces, even taking care of plants and yards.

     Before signing a lease, read it carefully. You might want to pass it by a trusted friend or business person or even an attorney.

     Leases and rental agreements are legal documents. Once signed by you and the landlord, the terms and conditions apply. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Growing business larger

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     To get a business out of the garage and into the big time takes lots of dreaming, hard work and vision.

     Today's leaders in computer technology and social media started small. So did fast food chains--one place at a time.

     The ultimate size of a business depends on the vision of the owner. The main constraint is the marketplace. Markets limit growth.

     No matter the size of your dream, the buyers out there for your goods and services will determine just how big you get.

     Example: Professional therapists usually work alone, serving a relatively small group of clients. Also working alone, many specialists in massage, Reiki, yoga, personal trainers, even chiropractors and nutritional experts can only handle so many clients. But, by expanding into a wellness center, more clients can be served--and each specialty attracts more clients to take advantage of their services.

     Example: Small cafes can specialize, attracting tradespeople looking for hearty breakfasts and quick lunches. Electricians, plumbers, construction crews, landscapers and others start their day very early. They represent a niche market in the fast food business. Look at the market in your area for a new type of fast food. Not talking about Burger King or Starbucks--these places compete for a different market.

     Example: Older style gift shops can change direction and grow large by attracting a market segment that is more today. There is a growing niche market for up-scale, high-end, handmade items. A small or outdated gift shop can re-brand itself and grow by addressing this new market. Seek out artists and artisans who create--many of these creative types are looking for a shop to sell the things they make. 

     If your small business is stuck at the present level, start thinking outside the box. Re-examine your market. Look for new markets. It is the markets that rule--not your dream.

     Dreams are the stuff of small business. But markets always trump the thing you might have had in mind when you began.   

Monday, December 28, 2015

Expand your market

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     Expand your market and you expand your business. When you reach out into markets that are related to what you already do, your business naturally attracts more customers. You grow. 

     Many of these new customers know you, they appreciate what you do, and they are ready to call you for the new services/products you offer. Also, expanding into related markets can extend your business reach.

     This doesn't mean that you take off in a different direction. That's a different kind of expansion. On the contrary, it means expanding into a wider segment of the market you already serve.

     Example: Kathy inherited her father's business. For many years, he had developed expertise in selling and repairing gas-fired appliances, furnaces, heaters, and other gas-fired items. He had also collected a huge inventory of parts and supplies, many of them out-of-date and decades old, along with manufacturer's schematics and catalogs extending back some 50 years. The business consisted of 8 employees and two service vans. It pretty much ran itself. But Kathy saw a possible expansion. She developed a new website, offering out-of-date parts, supplies, schematics and catalogs for gas-fired items no longer manufactured or supported by brands. This expanded her market to people all over the country and became a healthy addition to the existing business--which she still operates in the area she serves.

     Example:  Tom runs an auto repair shop. He handled regular tune-ups, replaced exhaust systems, provided new filters, balanced wheels, and, of course, could troubleshoot problems on his computer set-up. He also started doing minor collision work and saw an opportunity to expand in this area. He put up a steel addition to the garage where he could do more collision repairs, including paint jobs. This was a new expansion for Tom, but the reception in the community was quick and positive. He had successfully expanded into a related market. 

     Other examples: Bakeries can use social media to expand into wider markets, offering boxes of baked goodies shipped overnight for corporate meetings and private gatherings. Landscapers, who have built their businesses cutting lawns and trimming shrubbery, can expand by offering garden designs and layouts for people wanting to re-work their yards. Computer experts can expand by educating clients on the value of social media--how to use Facebook, for example. 

     Look around for other segments of the larger market you serve for ways that you can expand your own business. Sometimes, using this idea, it's fairly easy to capture more customers--and grow yourself. 

     Never try to expand until you take a hard look at your business plan. If it fits, okay. If not, keep looking. The marketplace is huge.   


Friday, December 25, 2015

Handling problem customers

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     Clients and customers are the heart and soul of your business. Each of them deserves your attention. 

     But not all of them are worth it. Now and then, you will run across a client or customer who is simply a pain. 

     Some seem to be late in paying their bills--every time. Others haggle with you on every price. Maybe they bad mouth you to your face or behind your back. 

     In short, some clients and customers are not worth the effort to keep them happy. It is their way of life to be unhappy, negative, and find fault with everything. And you can be the one in the cross-hairs. 

     When the situation gets out of hand, it is time for action. It might be useful to your well-being to refer problem customers to your competition--in a nice way, of course.

     Example: A customer returns again and again to a florist to complain that the flowers she bought. They always seemed to have promptly died. Once is understandable, but if a pattern develops, it's time to refer her to another florist.

     Example: A veterinarian helps a pet overcome an itching problem, but the owner is a know-it-all who insists after several visits that, although the pet is showing positive signs of recovering, the treatment should be changed to something learned on the Internet. The vet suggests that, if the problem occurs again, the owner might try instead the treatment suggested on the Internet.

     Example:  Painters of interior walls get involved in unreasonable complaints about the exact shade of paint on a wall. They might take this as a sign to change the focus of their business--referring fussy homeowners to other painters and then concentrating on corporate and commercial accounts.

     You get the idea. When you cannot satisfy a client or customer, it might be a sign to move on. Or move them on. 

     Always listen to your clients/customers. They give you valuable clues on the future of your business. That marketplace is always changing.  

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Reach out with social media

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     Expanding you small business is easier than you might think--if you use social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others do the job for you. And it can be free.

     There is a vast audience of people out there who follow social media for all sorts of reasons. Your small business deserves to be one of the reasons. Lots of eyeballs see the stuff you put up on social media.

     The key to effective promotions on social media is the picture you put up. Pictures don't have to be professionally done. Any picture that's in focus can be used. Don't use people's faces unless you get permission. You are constantly snapping pictures, aren't you?

     You might take pictures of new items you are offering, new services you've added, events, street scenes, and just about anything else. The picture does not necessarily have to be about your business. Use puppies and kittens to capture attention and send viewers to your website for the real deal--no matter what product or service you are promoting.

     Example: A retail operation uses Facebook to post announcements of upcoming sales, discounts, coupons, perhaps an open house planned for the following weekend. "Free coffee and cookies this Saturday and check out the big discounts on kitchenware."

     Example: A garden center announces an all-day hands-on free session teaching homeowners and professionals how to build a patio, a fire pit, a brick wall. "Demonstrations every hour. Get answers to your questions from experts who will be on hand all day."

     Example: A law firm uses Facebook to announce upcoming free seminars on elder care, social security concerns, and other matters involving the legal community. "No legal advice given out Wednesday evening, but all your questions answered by an attorney."

     Social media can work wonders for any small business. Using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can perhaps be the best advertising you can mount. And it's free, unless you want to advertise with them. 

     The social media sites are eager to have you sign up. Just go the the site of choice and follow the easy directions. It will take about 5 minutes. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Be prepared in emergencies

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     Bakeries, gift shops, lawyers, landscapers, salons, repair shops, therapists, restaurants, caterers and every other business can suddenly have a disaster on their hands. Every business person deserves to have thought about the possibility ahead of time--and planned for it. 

     Fire, flood, wind, blackouts, hackers and robbers can shut you down--whether you have a shop or an office or work at home or do business on the web. When the unthinkable happens, put your emergency plan into action and sail through.

     Example: Phil runs a small auto repair shop. When the electric suddenly went down, he had to close operations and lost some repair jobs. There was no power to his shop for three days. Phil quickly installed a power generator to a part of his shop and handled some jobs. Some customers were understanding, others were not--they moved on. Since then Phil has made arrangements for a larger, more powerful generator to have on hand to get through future power outages. He also talked with the owner of another small auto repair shop across town--they agreed to handle each other's customers in case of a future emergency.

     Example: Diane runs a small neighborhood convenience store. After she was robbed twice, she decided that it was up to her to defend herself and her business. By the time she called for help, the robber was gone without a trace. She bought a handgun, went through the proper licensing and training, and now keeps the firearm handy. She hasn't shot anyone yet, but she did send a knife-wielding robber on his way when she pointed the firearm at him. In the past, Diane was terrified of guns, but today she has the means to defend herself while awaiting the arrival of the police. She is much more confident--especially when she is in the store alone at night.

     Example: Amy sells pet foods and supplies online through her website. She does not have a store, but she manages her business in a rented backroom that is cheap and convenient. Orders come in, Amy fills the orders, and she ships out to her growing list of customers. One day, her computer crashed, obliterating lots of information and orders. She had always backed up everything once each week, but the current stuff was gone. It was a wake-up call. Today and every day, Amy now backs up all computer information in the cloud--using one of the available services. Her business is now prepared to ride out crashes and hackers.

     Emergencies are more than fire and flood. Give some thought to what might happen, and always be prepared for the unexpected.    

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Managing business money

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     Managing a small business means managing money. If all your expenses and payments add up to less than income, you can point to a healthy bottom line.

     The money left over after all the bills are paid at the end of the month is money you can use to grow and expand. Look at it as your growth capital. Use it to sock away for a rainy day, or use it to buy new equipment, more products for resale, maybe even add an employee.

     Example: Nancy runs a flower shop. Income exceeds expenses, but it's not enough to fund an expansion she has in mind. With Mother's Day coming, Nancy went to work. She blasted out emails to current and former customers. She took dozens of pictures and posted them on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and other social media. With little expense, Nancy put her flower shop in front of hundreds of eyeballs. Orders began arriving for Mother's Day and Nancy had to hire several part timers to handle the work. With the excess bottom line dollars generated, Nancy added a new line of silk flowers and arrangements. She would expand her flower shop business to include corporate offices, banks, and other organizations looking for revolving flower arrangements for their establishments. Nancy self-funded her expansion.

     Example: Alex runs a home improvements business. Projects typically run $5,000 to $25,000. He requires 1/3 on contract signing, 1/3 when an agreed-upon milestone is reached and the final 1/3 at the completion of the project. His work is almost self-funding. Alex is careful to separate the accounting for each project, and he is very much aware that the bottom line excess, or profit, is in that last payment--not upfront. This money management scheme has allowed Alex to grow confidently--those last payments have funded his addition of new equipment as well as hiring additional workers.

     Example: Judy is a certified Pilates specialist. She used her personal credit cards to get into business--paying for training and equipment. It took many clients, both private and group sessions, to pay off the bills Judy had run up on her credit cards. Using credit cards means borrowing money, and that means paying interest charges--a much higher rate than you might get with a bank loan. Sometimes, it's the only way forward, but do it only with your eyes open. Judy has a long term plan to establish a wellness center offering services from other specialists. It will take months to clear up the credit card bills, but Judy will eventually be able to realize her ultimate business dream.

     In business, you learn to manage your money or you won't survive. But with good management, you can self-fund your growth.

     Managing money in your business takes creativity, ingenuity and a willingness to take risks. Keep your eyes open and your thinking clear.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Single person biz start-ups

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     Many small businesses are single person operations. Before you jump in and start up a small business, step back and take a look at yourself.

     What business do you go into? You have several interests that you are passionate about. It might be physical fitness or gardening or video games or music or some artistic pursuit.

     One person businesses exist in all these--and more--small businesses. If you are passionate about something, others are as well. And they represent your potential market.

     Any interest can be turned into a viable business. You have an interest. Now, you must study the market. Without a market, there is no business. Whatever the business, it's the buyers who will get you off the ground and headed toward becoming successful.

     Example: Jesse began playing guitar as a youngster. In high school he was a member of a band. That was 10 years ago. He decided to turn his interest in guitar into a small business built around music. He began teaching guitar to others and built up a following. As his teaching increased, he decided to open a small music shop where he sells and repairs guitars--and is adding more equipment his clients want. He is still a one person business, but he is doing what he loves.

     Example: Matt loved sailing. Whenever he had time away from his corporate position, he was at the local lake. Deciding he would make a transition, Matt began offering informal sailing lessons to others. His reputation spread. He got himself certified as an instructor in water safety. This brought in more clients. He began giving group as well as private lessons. When he was ready, he quit his corporate job and set up a small sail shop at the lake. Today, he sells sailing gear and supplies and sailboats. It took several years to make the transition, but today, Matt is happily planning to add an employee. 

     Example: The arts and crafts field offers many opportunities to establish a small business. Artists and artisans today offer painting and pottery, fibers and wools, beading and beads, jewelry, wood turning, basketry, quilting, glass, metal work and many others. They can work alone or ban together to work with others--the choice is theirs. They set up websites and post on social media--attracting widespread attention. Some are members of co-ops. Others offer their creations through gift shops--or they establish high end gift shops of their own. All can turn their passion into a small business. 

     Doing something you love can make business seem easy. The thing to remember is you must attract a marketplace of buyers.   

Friday, December 18, 2015

Know your business friends

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     Everyone has two types of friends--personal and casual. Personal friends are those close to you. Casual friends are the other people you know, but you don't share every secret with them.

     A third type of friend is the business friend. These are the people who buy your goods and services. They depend on you, and you depend on them.  It is a relationship for mutual benefit.

     If you treat your business friends as personal friends, some will be turned off by the attention. They will view your attentions as an invasion of their privacy.

     If you treat your business friends as casual friends, you run another risk. They can misinterpret your attention (or lack of) as your being less than serious. 

     So, what is a business friend? Two examples tell the tale.

     Example: Elaine promotes her fashionable shop for women with social media posts of new designs she offers. Twice each year, she mounts a live fashion show with models wearing the designs carried in the shop. Models mingle with guests. Shoes, handbags and accessories are prominently displayed. Before and after the show, pictures are posted on social media. In addition, Elaine has developed a mailing list and she uses it in two ways. She sends a Thank You card anytime someone spends over $100 in the shop. And she sends out gift certificates along with an invitation to special private showings. Elaine also makes herself available at all times to answer questions, discuss trends, and be the go-to adviser for clothing and accessories. All these activities contribute to building the business friend base.

     Example: Marsha started out with a small yoga studio, attracting a loyal base of business friends with her training, expertise, and relaxed attitude. Her clients lingered after their sessions, and she listed carefully to their concerns and problems. They had questions about nutrition, meditation, massage and other alternative therapies. So, a couple of years ago, Marsha decided to grow her business into more than her yoga sessions. Since then, she has attracted other professionals who offer a wide range of therapies. Together, they schedule open houses, programs, events, and information sessions built around the interests of the growing base of business friends. Everyone at the wellness center is sensitive to clients, trained to listen, spend time together and freely furnish information. With many pictures and posts on social media, the base of business friends continues to grow. Marsha still sees private yoga clients herself, but her wellness center has expanded far beyond yoga.

     When you listen, your customers will show you the way forward. With business friends, it's all about their interests, their concerns, their needs. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Arranging for new space

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     Expanding? Need space for that new small business? Moving your operation out of the house?

     You have three choices--lease the space you need, share a space with another business, or you can buy the building.

     Example: Rita was excited. She was about to realize her dream of establishing her own retail shop. She found the perfect storefront in an upscale small town. The landlord asked a reasonable rent, but he wanted a one-year lease. This raised a red flag in Rita's mind. On the one hand, if her store didn't do well, she would be out of the lease in 12 months. On the other hand, if all went well, she would be in a bad position to negotiate a continuing lease. The landlord could insist on doubling the rent, knowing she would not want to move. Or perhaps he had other plans for the building and was simply looking for rental income for one year. Rita believed in her dream business, and she held her ground--she told the landlord she wanted a 5-year lease or she would look elsewhere. Her persistence paid off. The landlord counter-offered and they settled on a 3-year lease.

     Example: John is a furniture designer. He could not afford a storefront of his own, so he went looking for another type of space. He found a gift shop that catered to high end buyers of works produced by up-and-coming artists and artisans. He made arrangements to display his chairs and tables on a consignment basis. Also, he uses Facebook and Etsy to reach out to the public. 

     Example: Diane is a personal trainer. She sees private clients in their homes, and she sees employees in company fitness centers. She is building a following with the eye to establish her own place in the future. But her plans don't stop there. Diane would like to expand eventually into a full-fledged wellness center, offering space to nutritionists, massage specialists, and other health and wellness practitioners. With her goal firmly in mind, her business plan is writing itself. 

     Finding the space you need for your business can be daunting. The opportunities can vary. 

     Explore the possibilities and work them through your business plan. Make certain that your decision matches your long term goals. 

     Finding space appropriate to your business is a vital part of managing. Even if you are running a home-based business, you need space. And, what happens when you grow and expand beyond the bedroom or garage? 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Get on social media

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     Social media represents a huge tool for small businesses. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and others extend your reach far and near.

     Whether you want to reach more people in your local area or reach out across the land, social media can do the job. 

     Example: You are a graphic artist turned photographer. You get your portfolio together and publish an e-book on Amazon/Kindle. Make connections on LinkedIn, teasing interest with pictures, and point them to your e-book and your website. If you are looking to connect with an employer, grab your Kindle and show your interviewer what you've accomplished using Amazon's technology. Round out your promotions by posting on Twitter and Facebook.

     Example: You operate a gift shop or consignment shop. To attract attention, you post pictures of newly arrived items on Facebook. The word spreads to your regulars--and they pass the pictures on to their friends, enlarging your circle of customers. Reach out and show the world what you have to offer. 

     Example: You own a restaurant. Get an app so that your customers can check out your specials for the day, make a reservation, and place an other as they leave their offices. When they arrive at your place, their meal is ready. Post pictures of mouth-watering entrees every day on Facebook, and use Twitter to round out the promotional activities. 

     Example: You run a pet shop--a complete line of supplies but no animals. Nevertheless, you take pictures of your dogs and cats at home and post these on Facebook to attract attention. With a few words, you have done your promotion for the day. People are attracted by the pictures, and they click on your website or they come to your shop. 

     Using social media can be very effective in getting the word out in the community. Your website can be thought of as your anchor, social media drives people to the website or to your place of business. 

     Pictures are the key here. Get in the habit of snapping shots of things that will get attention. Then post them--this is your advertising for the day.

     Social media is a godsend for small business. You can reach out to the whole world with the simple click of a button.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sailing through the holidays

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      We are in the middle of the holiday shopping season. Owners of small businesses must promote aggressively if they want to attract buyers of goods and services.

      Example: Carlos is a chef with his own restaurant. He regularly posts mouth-watering entrees and desserts on his Facebook page. He puts the word out that he has partnered with local farms to offer fresh, farm-to-table ingredients. He also puts the word out that he has arranged to have his own app so that people can order ahead and the meal is ready when they arrive. He partners with non-profit groups to hold fundraisers for them--especially attractive during the holiday season. It's a rat race, but it is working--Carlos is seeing a steady stream of new faces dining at his place. And they are referring others.

     Example: Fran is a certified acupuncture expert. She sees more and more people looking for relief from stress, aches and pains, post-surgery concerns, and other ailments. To increase awareness, Fran brings in holistic practitioners for informational meetings, free demonstrations, question and answer sessions. This had led to more interest in acupuncture and a wider acceptance of its benefits. In addition, Fran is beginning to plan a full-fledged wellness center offering several holistic treatments. During the holiday season, she partners with non-profits to hold open houses and fundraisers. 

     Example: Guy runs a fitness center. During holiday seasons, people tend to have other things on their minds. To counteract this, Guy is bringing in experts in other fields to stoke interest and attendance. A hypnosis practitioner is set to hold sessions on weight reduction and stopping smoking. A nutritionist will be educating people on better eating habits. Guy is also sending out email reminders to his list of clients, reminding them not to skip fitness opportunities during holidays. 

     To attract more attention, retail businesses hold sales. In addition, hold open houses, offer a trunk sale, bring in a guitar player, set up talks by experts. How about offering apple cider and cookies? 

     Small business people are nothing if not creative. And hard-headed. And persistent. Remember to wave as you are sailing through the holidays.   

Monday, December 14, 2015

Extending your market

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     Keeping up with what is going on in the markets you serve is part of running a small business. Markets continually change, they mature, and new markets appear. It ain't easy keeping up.

     Always give the market what it wants. Customers and clients give you the clues you need. It's up to you to provide the goods and services that will satisfy the marketplace.

     Example: Alex is a struggling artist. His large abstract paintings have attracted attention, and he has made sales. But buyers are few and far between. He is confident that in the long run he will be successful. The problem for Alex was how to get through the time it will take until he sells enough of his larger works to support his family. The answer came unexpectedly at a show he was attending. He overheard several people saying that there was nothing inexpensive enough to be considered as gifts for friends. It was a clue to a market segment Alex had not considered. He began turning out small paintings, quickly done, framed, and at reasonable prices. These began selling on his website, at shows, and to gift shops. Now he doesn't worry about income while he concentrates on his larger, more expensive, abstracts. The market is providing him with a bridge to his long-term goal. 

     Example: Nicole is a Pilates expert. She has her own studio where she sees clients. To exploit people's growing interest in fitness and wellness, she got her instructor's certification. She put the word out on social media and got good response. Nicole now teaches Pilates to others interested in the field while still seeing private clients. It is an extension of what she was already doing, but the teaching sessions bring in additional income. All of this activity has resulted in more referrals. 

     Example: Mary inherited her mother's small consignment shop. It was long-established and filled with vintage collectibles, games and toys, jewelry and small antiques--no clothing. Mary knew that the market out there was bigger than the locals who frequented her shop. So she reached out on social media, posting pictures every week of new arrivals. She also expanded by using eBay and Etsy to sell long distance. She turned a local destination consignment shop into a bigger and healthier business. The marketplace Mary serves is much bigger than that of her mother's shop. 

     A big part of managing your business is staying on top of the ever-changing marketplace. Sometimes, the change is in what people want. Other times, technology can propel your business into a bigger marketplace.

     Your clients and customers move with the times. Businesses must do the same. To grow, take a step beyond what works today. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Expand your operation

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     Expanding your small business is easier than you might think. It takes thought, planning and moving ahead.

     You can expand your present product lines or services. Or you can take off in a different direction. 

     Whatever you do, keep your eye firmly on the marketplace. No business succeeds unless it fills the public's needs for products and services. 

     Example: Jackie is a trained and certified nutritionist. She has been trying to establish her business, but attracting paying customers has proved difficult. She gives talks at health food stores, supermarkets and senior centers. When she decided to begin concentrating on weight problems and healthy eating, her business picked up. Jackie devised programs for both adults and children. She posted on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. Her solid background in nutrition gave her credibility with the new people who called for an appointment. Her seminars filled up, and soon she was able to rent a place of her own. It didn't stop there. She partnered with a hypotherapist and together they created more programs to help people manage and lose weight. 

     Example: Lisa was running a traditional gift shop which she had inherited from her mother. The gifts no longer attracted the attention that they once did. Lisa decided to make a change, updating the gift shop to better appeal to today's market. She contacted artists and artisans, arranging to carry their handmade works on a consignment basis. And she began posting the new items on Facebook and other social media. She now carries handmade jewelry, clothing accessories, stained glass items, small paintings and drawings, unusual objects in wood and iron. Gradually, Lisa transformed the old gift shop into a new destination, attracting more high-end customers from a wide area.

     Example: John gradually changed his landscaping business by adding additional items to his list of services. Formerly, he cut lawns and trimmed shrubbery. Today, he installs walkways, fences, trellises. fish ponds, and other things to enhance and improve customer's gardens. 

     New trends in the marketplace pop up all the time. To keep up, get a trade magazine that serves your type business. Watch television. Troll the Internet. 

     Keep up with the changing marketplace. No matter your business, it will not be the same next year as it is today. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Doing more for clients

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     Clients tend to see you for one thing only. They pigeon hole you. They file you away as a provider of one thing they need. 

     Joe takes care of my lawn. Mary is my fashion expert. Greg gets the kinks out of my neck. Amy styles my hair. And Frank makes the best coffee in the world. 

     In business, you must continually remind your customers/clients that you can do more. Otherwise, you'll miss opportunities.

     Example: Eli is an independent insurance agent. He has built up a client base filling their needs for insurance--homeowners, accident, life. He frequently reminds his clients that he can write other types of insurance--flood, loss of business, key man or partner insurance. It has brought more call and clients. 

    Example: Sue is a hypnotherapist. She specializes in offering sessions on weight reduction and stopping smoking. Recently, she reached out to local physicians, informing them that she could help their patients with weight problems and smoking addition. It resulted in more calls. When Sue informed physicians that she could also handle pain management problems, even more calls came in.

     Example: John designs websites for clients. When he informed them that he could also set them  up on social media, the calls came in. His clients had not made the connection until John laid it out and educated them. This has resulted in additional work--several clients now want their websites redesigned.

     Every business tends to settle into a comfortable way of doing business. And the customers/clients tend to settle into seeing you in only one way. 

     Remind people of all the things you can do for them. It helps to grow and expand the business among a client base already familiar with you.

     You can remind people in person of all the things you can do for them. Or remind them on Facebook and other social media.   

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Promoting effectively

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     Your small business is never static. Either you are growing or falling behind. Trying to tread water and stay at the same level of business is not a good option.

     The reason for this is based on a simple truth. Sooner or later, you will lose every customer you have. They move away, they outgrow you and your products and services, their brother-in-law goes into a similar business, you drop the ball in customer service, and so on.

     Your business environment is always changing. What worked last year falls flat in tomorrow's market. The marketplace moves and you must move with it. 

     Example: Greg is trained and certified in acupuncture. He set up his place and attracted a growing list of clients. To promote more, he offers talks and demonstrations at business and organizational meetings. In addition he arranged to do a brief workshop at the local medical clinic. These activities began to attract more clients to the acupuncture treatments Greg offered. He was promoting--and educating--by reaching out into the community.

     Example: Cheryl runs a fitness center. No heavy lifting here--she targets people 40 years old and above, using treadmills, cycles, and the like. To spread the word, she joined several networking groups but the success was limited. She went to and formed her own group--people looking to solve weight problems, get in better shape, and deal with post-surgery problems. She also used Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media to spread the word. This has resulted in promoting her fitness center far beyond the small circle of regulars she served before. Social media put Cheryl on the map, plus referrals came.

     Example: Vicky opened a small neighborhood restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. She knows her reputation is spreading, because new faces are showing up. To promote, Vicky had coupons printed offering one dollar off on any meal. These were designed to suggest the size and color of real money. (You cannot print a dollar bill unless you want a visit from the federal government.)  Vicky hands out her coupons to everyone as they pay their bill, encouraging people to take a couple of extras for their friends. Her regulars helped Vicky promote the restaurant. A dollar amount coupon works better than offering a percentage off. 

     Inexpensive promotional ideas are everywhere. Put on your thinking cap and home in on what works in your business. 

     Promoting your business is a never-ending activity. Try one method and see how it does. Then try another. Home in on what works best. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

So long, corporate

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     Leaving a cushy corporate position is not easy. I did it, and I can tell you that it is scary. At the same time, it can be very rewarding.

     In a corporate position, you have the resources of a big organization to call on. Your computer is suddenly acting up--you call the department that handles such things. You want an electrical receptacle moved--call the maintenance department. You want a raise in pay--sit with your boss.

     When you say goodbye to corporate, you leave all this behind. You are on your own. You handle everything. Instead of asking your boss for a raise, look in the mirror.

     Example: Mary handled customer service in a manufacturing company. She was very good at it, and she regularly got commendations and raises in pay. But Mary wanted her own business. She considered several options, investigated several possibilities, and then came to her conclusion. Handling customers was the key in any business. It's all about the marketplace and customers. She gave her notice, and today Mary runs her own firm representing a growing base of manufacturers. Hers is a business handling the interface between manufacturers and their customers. The key to her success is her years of experience handling customers--their needs, their concerns, their complaints. Her reputation is such that new clients call her asking to be represented.

     Example: Gene went to law school because that was the career path that was common in his family. He passed the bar exam and landed a position in a big law firm. He was on his way. But the thing that Gene really enjoyed happened after a day in the office. He would go home and head for the kitchen. There, he would bake--usually experimenting with cakes. The more he did this, the more he dreaded going to the law firm every day. Gene began creating spectacular cakes for a growing list of specialty clients. Today, he has his own successful cake bakery, often wondering why he got so sidetracked with a law degree. 

     To leave corporate, concentrate on the thing you're interested in and good at. Turn that into a business. You will find yourself jumping out of bed every morning and you won't mind the long hours. 

     Before you give notice, however, do a business plan--concentrating on the market for your product or service. And make certain that you have enough funds to support yourself for that first year or two in business. 

     Saying goodbye to corporate and starting your own business is a major move. Remember, you'll be taking out the trash and fixing your own computer. And then you turn out the lights and get a little sleep.  

Monday, December 7, 2015

The next employee

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     Finding that next employee can be frustrating. Much of the frustration might be your own--you might be looking in the wrong place. 

     All of us know that good employees are hard to find. It's really understandable--good employees already have jobs. To hire them to work for you can mean hiring them away from some other business.

     Another option is to train an existing employee to do the next level job. This means you are left with a lower job opening that must be filled.

     To look for that next employee, you might think about placing an ad. Or you might look to social media to find an applicant. Either one of these options can result in resumes flooding your desk. Not a good option. 

     But there are better ways--particularly for owners of small businesses. Once you're clear about what that next employee will be expected to do, tell your present employees what you're looking for. One of them might step up, wanting the job. Or, they might know someone else who will be good at the job--ask them to refer others. 

     Example: Tony ran a small printing operation. He had just four employees. He wanted to add a new press and he would need someone to operate the machine. His existing pressman jumped at the chance, leaving an opening to run the small, older press. The receptionist jumped at the chance to learn to operate the older press. This left Tony needing a new receptionist--an easier job opening to fill. 

     Example: Sara is a chiropractor who built her business into a wellness center. Her massage therapist moved away, leaving a hole in Sara's operation. She had a conversation with the nutritionist who practiced at the wellness center. The nutritionist suggested several possible candidates from her circle of contacts. Quietly, Sara checked out three of them, settling on one. She called that one, had an interview, and they settled on an arrangement. By networking her way through contacts, Sara avoided the resumes an advertisement would have brought in. 

     Example: Bill's private law practice was growing, and he wanted to add elder law capabilities. He had the expertise to handle elder law, but he needed another attorney to handle the other pieces of his practice. He began searching for a young, relatively inexperienced lawyer, feeling that he could train the younger attorney to handle anything that walked in the door. He found Ellie who had recently completed her bar exam. Today, Bill handles elder law while Ellie handles just about everything else. 

     You always want to hire someone who shows up on time, knows the language, has a good attitude, and gets along with others. Most of the time, you can teach them everything else.

     Placing an ad in newspapers or on social media can be the answer for big companies. But small business is a different animal.    

Friday, December 4, 2015

Customer complaint goldmines

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     You get complaints when you are in business. Complaints are part of the territory. They come in many colorful ways, but all are useful in helping you improve your operation.

     Example: Gina runs a hair salon. When a new customer posted negative comments on Facebook, Gina responded in a professional way. She posted positive comments of her own, keeping the focus on every customer's concerns. She offered a free do-over for the lady who complained, turning the complaint into good vibes.

     Example: Jill runs a breakfast cafe. One customer complained about the meal, although he had eaten everything--the eggs were runny, the coffee was cold, the orange juice watery. Jill wiped out the charge and apologized to the man. When he left, she immediately looked into the situation. She found that the cook was rushing orders and the waitress was overwhelmed that day. Jill used the customer's complaint to re-organize the flow of orders through the kitchen, and she hired part-time waitresses she could call to help out as needed.

     Example: Karl is a massage therapist. A first-time client complained at the end of her session that she had been bruised. While nothing was apparent on the woman's skin, she insisted that it was a deep bruise and therefore would not show. Karl offered a double solution--he would waive the charge for this session and he gave her a gift certificate for a future session. He suspected that she was angling for this all along. Today, the woman calls regularly for an appointment. 

     Example: Mary is an artist who makes glass mosaics. She has a small studio and the public is welcome to visit. She also has a website and a Facebook presence. Her phone number is published and she gets calls, but when she is busy on her mosaics, she sometimes lets the call go to voice mail. One woman called every 15 minutes for an hour, finally leaving a telling message: "If you cannot pick up the phone, I assume you are out of business." When Mary tried to call the woman back, the woman hung up on her. Today, Mary answers every phone call--promptly.

     Whatever the complaint, it is an opportunity to improve your business. Of course, sometimes, people complain because that's who they are. Know the difference. Complaints can be goldmines.

     Complaints are useful. Think positively and use complaints to help you improve your business.  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Getting your word out there

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     So, what's the best way for you to use in spreading the word and promoting your small business? What methods work best? 

     The first question you need to answer is about the marketplace. Who are the people you're trying to reach? Trying to reach baby boomers is one thing. Trying to reach millennials is quite another thing.

     Many avenues are available to you. These include social media, websites, direct mail, print, radio, television and Internet advertising. 

     Social media is a new kid on the block. Think Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and more. Many more. Facebook is perhaps the best vehicle for small businesses. But the others can reel in results as well. If you are trying to reach millennials, you must use social media.

     Websites provide a small business with an anchor. Keep your website simple, easy to navigate, and include information so viewers can read more about what you do. By all means, keep it up-to-date.

     Direct mail can be a post card resembling Facebook. Among all the forms of print advertising, the simple post card is arguably the most effective--especially when you put a memorable picture on one side.
Baby boomers react positively to post cards mailed to them. 

     Radio and television as well as Internet ads can work for certain small businesses--but these can be expensive. The new Internet radio sites can be extremely effective and relatively inexpensive ways to reach out. 

     Sorting through all these possibilities can be daunting to the owner of a small business. To figure it all out, keep you eye firmly on the marketplace you want to serve. 

     Example: Jen counsels clients on nutrition and lifestyle, helping people with eating habits, weight problems, overall healthiness and lifestyle. To get her business off the ground, Jen struggled and tried many things. She had a website, she placed ads in local media, and she sent news releases to local papers. The results were poor. When she took a hard look at her potential market, one thing popped out--weight. Weight was a problem on several levels for many people. She began posting before and after photos on Facebook and she had post cards printed showing similar results. This double-pronged approach worked well and was inexpensive. The Facebook photos were passed around among friends--as did the post cards. More people began to call her for an appointment. 

     You have lots of options. Whatever methods you use, keep your eye on that marketplace. 

     In business, the marketplace rules. Studying the market will give you clues as to how best to get your word out there--and working. 


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Headed toward franchising

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     Franchising can be a way to grow your small business. You get established and then you offer to show others the value of buying into the franchising operation you want to create.

     It's a big decision and it's not right for every business. To set up to franchise your business idea takes careful thinking, planning and execution. You are headed toward a different business built on the foundation of the small business you have created.

     Example: Antwan started his own business delivering packages. He delivered pizzas, auto parts, groceries and other items to a local area. Lots of competition taught him to be lean and mean--he didn't worry about Fedex and UPS. His business model was based on same-day, quick deliveries. His dream grew to be bigger than the local towns he served. All calls for services came into Antwan's office, and he hired a delivery person in an adjacent town to handle a wider area. When one of his people suddenly quit, Antwan scrambled to find a replacement. One applicant wanted more than to be a driver--she wanted to have a business of her own. Antwan set up the framework for offering her a franchise and a territory of her own. Today Antwan has sold several franchises in his state. He is now in a very different business--no longer does he deliver packages himself. 

     This is the business side of setting up a franchise. There is also a legal side. You'll need a specialist to lead you through the process. There are strict laws governing franchises. 

     The most critical part in the beginning is your existing business. You must have a going business, and you must have lots of written materials to guide the other people who buy your franchise. 

     A big part of growing your business into a franchised operation is what it will do to you. To run a franchise is quite different than running the small business you have created. Make sure you are comfortable with this. 

     Every business needs a business plan. If you decide that franchising is right for you, do a new business plan. It's where you meet the marketplace.