Friday, February 27, 2015

Grow your business

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      to help you better manage your small business. 

     Your small business should be doing more than just making a living for you and your family. If not, get busy.

     Many small businesses are marginal operations. If that's you, do some soul-searching and rethink your business. No one else can do it for you.

     Look at it as if you're traveling down a road. Behind you is "making a living." Ahead, the road forks, and you can choose from the two directions. Either continue as you are or kick the business up a notch. 

     Example: Marisa is a massage therapist. She has successfully attracted clients and the business is rocking along. But it's not enough to send the kids to college. She reaches out to a chiropractor who is essentially in the same situation in his business. After several meetings and conversations, they form a partnership. By working together, they attract more clients to each of them. By combining practices and resources, they can be a bigger operation. Both benefit and both grow. They now have discussed plans to add more specialists and become a full-fledged wellness center. In the future, they might add nutritionists, hypnotherapists, holistic practitioners and others to round out the services offered at the developing wellness center. 

     To make more than a living, look to expand your small business into additional avenues. One way to do this is to partner with another small business. 

     Example: Della opened a consignment shop. She filled it with clothing, toys, furniture, kitchenware, baskets and books. She thought that having many things would attract many customers. Business was just rocking along when she noticed a vibrant market for vintage and antique clothing and jewelry. Della decided to change directions. She eliminated everything except the vintage and antique clothing and jewelry. She put the word out on social media to attract teens, theater groups, high school play producers, party goers, and fiber artists looking for materials. The word spread quickly via her website and Facebook. She has transformed a marginal business into one that addresses a growing market, both walk-ins and over the Internet. 

     Just "making a living" should not be your goal. Solve your particular problem by planning for a better future. You are always at a fork in the road. Choose a better direction and go for it. 

     These write-ups come from my personal experiences. I didn't read them in books or by sitting through boring lectures. I've been there, done that, both in businesses of my own and in coaching thousands of others in small business. Now, in retirement, I'm passing on what I've learned.  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Answer your phone!

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      to help you better manage your small business.

     Serious business owners have a business phone. And every telephone call is answered--promptly and by a live person.

     The voice answering your phone IS your business. The face of your business leaps into the caller's mind immediately. 

     A voice mail prompt is put in place for your convenience, not the caller's. Voice mail is annoying to callers. These days, many callers simply hang up when they get shunted off to voice mail. 

     Of course, in single proprietor small businesses, restroom breaks are necessary. But you take your cell phone with you, right? If you do have voice mail to catch all calls, check your voice mail frequently. Don't leave them hanging out there in never-never land.

     Example: Wendy was always busy in her dress shop. She ran the place alone. She carefully selected fashionable items to improve the wardrobes of upscale women. She was continually placing accessories on display--a silk scarf here, a silver brooch there. She changed her shop's front window two or three times each week. When the phone rang, she let it go to her voice mail account. Wendy woke up when one caller left a simple message: "I wanted to know if you carried designer clothes. I'll try someplace else."

     You can lose a sale and a customer when you don't answer their phone call. And it is unlikely that the caller will return to you. These days, people are on the move. 

     Example: I write lots of content for local papers and social media sites in my area. I call local businesses every day asking for comments, information, announcements, and the like. The idea is to give them a free write-up, helping them promote their operation. It doesn't cost them anything, other than a 5 or 10 minute conversation, and they reach thousands of prospects. When my call is answered by voice mail, I hang up and go to the next business on my list. Recently, I got a business owner on the line who informed me to "just check my website." I like to put a friendly face on a business with words from you, I told her. "Just check my website," she repeated. "Everything is there." I doubt I'll ever call her again. She missed the free publicity.

     Everybody gets calls from people trying to sell something. They can be annoying and a waste of time. But turning down free publicity is counterproductive. 

     Example: Andrew operated an architectural design firm. When he was out of his office, he always had his calls transferred to his cell phone. One morning his cell phone buzzed as he walked next door to the coffee shop. The caller was from a high-end architectural firm wanting to know if Andrew would consider being part of a large project team working on a big assignment for a major corporation. Today, Andrew has two assistants and new offices, along with a personal assistant who answers every phone call.

     Your future depends on customers and clients being able to reach you--at their convenience, not yours. They deserve your attention whenever they call. 

     Some business owners put rules in place on handling incoming calls. Answer every call no later than the second ring, and do it with enthusiasm. Be professional and helpful. It works.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Finding new employees

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     Adding a new employee is an important step in business. You need an additional person to handle specific tasks you have in mind. Just as important, you need someone who can contribute to the future growth of the business.

     This means that you must look beyond the person's experience. These days, it can be difficult to find people who can read and write, much less get to work every day on time and do the job at hand. 

     Beyond these minimums, you want to look for a particular type of person. You want one who is inquisitive and learns easily, one who is comfortable in his or her own skin, one who knows how to think through things, one who tackles new projects with enthusiasm, one who accepts your direction and runs with it, and one who respects others and gets along well with them. 

     These attributes do not appear on resumes--unless you read between the lines. But these are the important qualities that will help you grow your business. 

     Example: Personally, I've used a simple and inexpensive method to good success. Good employees tend to know other good people who are elsewhere employed. I've called my people together, one at a time, in private conversations, asking them to help us find that new employee we need in our company. I described the qualities and experience a new employee might have. And always, I put them at ease by reassuring them that we are growing and need additional help, not replacing anyone. It worked. They put the word out and some prospects showed up to be interviewed.

     This method doesn't always work. You might enhance or improve results by offering a bonus to the employee who refers someone who is eventually hired. 

     The method has an added advantage. Your private talks with employees conveys the fact that you value their input and they feel more a part of the on-going business. It builds employee morale.  

     Big companies use social media or place ads to find new prospects. The resumes come in and someone in the HR department sorts through them. Finally, a short stack of possibilities lands on the manager's desk. Good prospects are frequently lost in this shuffle.

     Finding that new employee takes effort. You are looking for someone who can hit the ground running. You want them to grow and you want them to help grow the company. It's a double-edged sword, and you are sitting on the point. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Facebook world

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     Facebook has blossomed. The early days of friends keeping in touch has morphed into a formidable promotional tool for small business.

     Getting your business on Facebook is easy. They lead you through the set-up. It's simple and it's free. How does this compare with the other promotional tools in your toolbox?

     After you've established your presence, you're ready to post quick entries. Include a picture--you know, those pictures you are constantly snapping anyway. Eyeballs are drawn to pictures, and they don't have to be professionally done. Upload a photo with every post. 

     The viewer only spends seconds on your Facebook page. But that short time will keep your business in their minds. And they frequently will pass it on to their friends. This expands your referral network. 

     Examples: Massage therapists, chiropractors, and wellness centers post upcoming open houses, events, demonstrations that are meant to attract the public. A retail store posts upcoming sales, discounts, and newly received merchandise. A garden center posts an upcoming all-day, hands-on free session on building fences, patios, fire pits. A consignment shop reaches out to announce and show pictures of new items received. A law firm posts announcements of upcoming free seminars on elder care, social security concerns, reverse mortgages.

     Keep in mind that Facebook postings are quick reads for the viewer, and they are quickly disposed of. You might not get much activity from a single posting of an upcoming event--especially if you post it the day before the event. To attract more attention, post it two weeks ahead of the event, again one week ahead, and finally the day before--all with different pictures.      
     Get creative with the pictures you post. Use one of the pictures you snapped of the inside of your retail space. Show close-ups of dresses, coats, boots, jewelry. Go outside and snap a photo of the front of your store. Zoom in on hands doing a massage. Take a selfie to remind your customers and clients who you are. Pets attract attention--take a picture of your cat curled up around a bottle of beer. 

     You deserve all the help you can get in building your business, especially when it's easy and free. Go to and let them lead you through the set-up. 

     Facebook and other social media work in any small business. Some will work better than others. But you don't know how it will work for you until you jump into the pond.    

Monday, February 23, 2015

Customer goodbyes

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     Customers and clients come in different flavors. When you open your small business door to the world, you can expect all different types to walk in.

     Most customers are like gold. You welcome them. You value them. You go the extra mile to keep them happy and coming back. 

     Others? Well, they are different. Some seem to be forever late in paying the invoice you send. Others haggle with you on every price. Some will not say anything to your face, but they bad mouth you on social media. Others suffer a personality defect that causes them to criticize everything and everybody. 

     Every business owner has seen all types of people. You might be putting up with a certain number of customers who are not worth the time and effort required to keep them. When this happens, it can be time to say goodbye. 

     Example: A customer returns again and again to the florist, ordering more flowers, but always complaining that the previous ones died too quickly. It becomes apparent that the customer is angling for a discount on the current order. You give in the first time, and maybe the second, but eventually you realize that her small orders don't compensate for the time spent or the discounts demanded. To handle, you refer her to another florist.

     Example: A veterinarian helps a pet cat overcome an itching problem. It takes a couple of follow-up trips before the itching shows signs of going away. The owner insists loudly that the vet should be using a treatment learned on the Internet. It might be time to recommend a specialist down the road. 

     Example: Painters of inside walls can refer fussy homeowners to others, rather than repaint walls several times to achieve the homeowner's desired shade of green. It can be good for business to refer these types to other painters--and then concentrate on corporate and commercial clients who are much less fussy. 

     Example: A financial adviser recommends several strategies for an argumentative new client. Even when the clients makes money, he second guesses the strategy and frequently voices endless criticisms. Time to move on. 

     All customers and clients are potentially good customers and clients. The key word is "potentially" in this statement. Depending on the situation, you might be able to work with problem clients and develop an on-going relationship that serves you and them.

     When it serves only them, it can be time to refer them to a competitor. If you make such a decision, always say your customer goodbyes with grace and a smile. They might return one day with a much improved attitude. 

      Saying goodbye to a customer or client is called "resigning the account" and it is an old Madison Avenue technique. When dealing with problem people takes more of your time and money than it's worth, it's time to gently show them the door.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

Working youngsters

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     Apprenticeships were once a path to a lifelong career. Young people in their early teens signed up with experienced tradespeople and learned the craft from the bottom up.

     Today, we take a much more enlightened view. We've largely outlawed youngsters going to work. We might feel good about this, but it's the youngsters who suffer the consequences. Our child labor laws have put years of leisure time in the hands of immature youngsters.

     Some teenagers are lucky enough to be guided through their difficult years by an adult. Teens can seek out internships or part time work where they learn the interactive skills that will serve them well throughout their lives. They learn how the world really works.

     Example: As he was growing up, Billy worked part time helping a neighbor who ran a landscaping business. He learned a lot about maintaining lawns, pruning shrubbery, mulching flower beds, keeping equipment in good repair--and interacting with customers. Billy was particularly impressed with the way his employer talked with and handled homeowners. When he graduated high school, Billy went to college, but he left after a couple of years. Today, he runs a marketing consulting firm and talks about the valuable experiences of his early years handling all types of clients. 

     Small businesses can benefit from hiring young people. It's part of passing the culture on to the next generation. A youngster has energy, enthusiasm, and naturally wants to learn. Hiring a youngster helps him or her learn self discipline, instills self-confidence and self-esteem by accomplishing tasks, and gets experience in the real world.

     Example: Susan worked part time during high school at a local hair salon. She handled the receptionist desk, scheduled appointments, sold products over the counter, and assisted the stylists. She went on to attend a professional stylists school, and today she owns and operates a salon. Without that early start, she might have spent years "finding herself" and putting in place a rewarding career.

     Starting early in life is valuable. Part time work by teens introduces them to possibilities they will not learn elsewhere. Not in school. Not in university. Not in playing around, and certainly not in hanging out with other immature teens. 

      Some of the most successful people I've known did not finish high school, much less college--like my own mother and father. And I know several 40-somethings who are still in college, trying to "find the right career" and connect with the real world. They forever lost those valuable teen years.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rental successes

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     Rentals can increase your income. And every small business needs additional income. 

     Example: A restaurant that's closed on Mondays can rent out the kitchen that day to an aspiring baker who needs an inspected and licensed kitchen. A cafe that serves only breakfast and lunch can likewise rent out the kitchen when it is idle in the evening.

     Today, you can rent almost anything from a rental center. Operations are in business to rent chainsaws to lawnmowers, furniture to televisions, vehicles to boats, tents to portable toilets. But they don't have everything.

     Example: Florists and garden centers can rent out baskets of flowers and artificial arrangements to corporations, banks, medical centers, offices and others on a revolving basis. Painters and photographers can do the same thing with framed works--with a written agreement and insurance. 

     Caterers regularly rent the tables, chairs, even the silver and glassware to clients for special events. Some caterers will rent you a dance floor and a big tent for your special occasion. 

     Example: A lady farmer in my area raises goats, and she rents them out to other farmers, homeowners and others. Goats will eat just about anything. Her rented goats are brought to location to clean out pastures and hedgerows. The goats will eat away the poison ivy and those multiflora roses that are highly invasive. Renting out her goats is not the lady's main business, but it provides her with additional income.

     All sorts of possibilities are available if you have extra space. An empty garage or barn can be rented to bands needing space to practice. A back room can be rented out for meeting space for organizations, clubs, and others needing space to hold events. 

     Example: A local winery rents out its facilities for private parties, corporate meetings, weddings, organizational gatherings, and other events. The winery setting is unusual and can add that extra edge to any event. And the wine maker is available for talks and tastings. 

     Get creative when you consider adding rentals to your business. Rentals can involve your space, your items, your time and even your goats. When you write up service contracts to maintain equipment, for example, you are committing to renting your time to a client. The same is true with consulting and coaching--you are renting out your expertise. 

     Put the rental concept to work in your business. It can provide extra income and extend your reach in the community, resulting in referrals.    

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Changing world

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     Sometimes a good idea for your business is lurking in your past. Taking a look over your shoulder can be productive--you might find ideas to increase sales and expand.

     Example: In the past, a restaurant faxed daily menus to regular customers. But faxes became, well, so yesterday. Today, the restaurant has an app for customers to access the daily menu, specials, place an order or reserve a table. An old idea is re-born.  

     Ideas from the past can come alive again, upgraded to keep pace with today's technology.

     Example: Doctors wear white coats in their offices and clinics. One doctor has hung up his white coat for the last time. He decided to re-introduce the house call. Today, he sees elderly and indigent patients in their own homes. His office is in the trunk of his car. He is busier than ever, and patients avoid emergency room visits and hospital stays. And they love the personal attention. 

     Sometimes, discarded methods can make sense again, even in today's brave new world. 

     Example: A computer expert discontinued the training sessions he once provided. Although the sessions were popular, he noticed a decline in attendance and interest. He stopped them. It was a bad decision. The furious pace of today's technology has left clients more confused than ever. So he re-structured and re-introduced his training sessions to be less detailed. The re-focus has worked. Instead of trying to educate clients in the weeds of computing technology, programming, and troubleshooting methods, he now provides introductory sessions. His formerly detailed training sessions have today become overview sessions. They are more quickly understood and appreciated by attendees. And they have led to referrals and new clients for his expanding on-site business of repairing, troubleshooting, and networking computers at the offices of clients. 

     Discarding yesterday's ways of doing business can work against you. Better to take a second look, re-format and re-introduce ways you used in the past. This can offer new business opportunities in today's business world. 

      Small businesses are fleet of foot. You can change very quickly. In your own business, if you spot a method that that worked in the past, but you've discarded, re-examine it. With a little tweaking, it might work again. 


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Just-in-time deliveries

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     Big companies pride themselves on efficient operations. Just-in-time deliveries are part of this. They don't want delivery of input materials until they need them. For example, this relieves auto manufacturers of the need to store and handle input parts ahead of actual need.

     Small businesses need to take better advantage of just-in-time. Owners can use the concept coming and going.

     If you are selling to big companies, you already know that they don't want delivery ahead of the time they need your products. If you are buying products from suppliers, you can specify when you want the delivery. Just-in-time works for both incoming and outgoing stuff. 

     Examples: If you are a hypnotherapist specializing in pain relief, you schedule your client's appointment following their surgery--not at your convenience. If you sell supplies to electrical and plumbing contractors, you know that they want to pick up materials on the way to their daily jobs. If you are a tool rental shop, you supply landscapers early in the morning on their way to a job. If you sell goods to customers located out of your area, you ship via UPS or Fedex or the U. S. Postal Service, targeting the arrival date wanted by your customer.

     Notice that the preceding examples are for outgoing goods and services. Here you are complying with the needs of your clients and customers. But you can use just-in-time for materials and services incoming to you.

     Examples: If you have an on-going maintenance contract to troubleshoot and maintain your computer setup, you schedule the technician to come in at times convenient to you--not at his convenience. If you run a restaurant offering farm fresh foods, you tell the farmer to deliver fresh lettuce and herbs on the morning you'll be needing them--not when the farmer wants to move product. If you are a caterer and you have a big wedding coming up, you order a spacious tent to be delivered and set up on the grounds the day before the event, not at the convenience of the rental center. If you run a vehicle repair shop, you want deliveries of parts from the supplier just before you need to install them--not several days ahead. 

     Look around. Put on your thinking cap. Put the just-in-time concept to work in your small business. It can save you time and money. 

     You already use just-in-time. When you get down to the last ink cartridge for your printer, you place an order for more. And when the fuel gauge in your vehicle starts to shake hands with the big "E" you begin looking for a service station. 



Monday, February 16, 2015

Moving on

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     A business is a living thing. The baby is born and begins to find its way in the world. Just as a parent nourishes and guides the child into maturity, your business needs feeding and guidance. 

     Businesses tend to move in a certain direction. It's determined by the marketplace. If people are buying certain types of shoes, your shoe shop will naturally stock the shoes that sell. If homeowners no longer want wallpaper on their walls, you begin to specialize in painting walls. If car buyers no longer want station wagons, the manufacturers stop making them.

     So the marketplace pulls businesses in one direction or another. The marketplace can turn a nutritionist into a weight reduction specialist. A gift shop can become a cooperative for artists. A local baker can close the bricks-and-mortar store and concentrate on selling only brownies on the Internet.

     The marketplace is a restless beast. It's constantly changing. You cannot jump in every direction that opens up. You must choose, based on most likely outcomes--and your own business plan. Is this new direction enough to support your business? Is it a passing fad that won't last? Does it represent a permanent change in direction for the marketplace?

     Example: Ralph has been repairing televisions for more than 40 years. He also repairs stereo systems, VCRs, and other electronics--but not computers. Several years ago he noticed more and more people bringing him stereo systems. He thought those days were long gone, but he looked into the market. He found many people who had LP music collections, and they needed a way to play them. He began putting the word out on social media and attracted lots of paying customers. They came for repairs and they also came to sell their old systems to him. He now offers old stereos for sale, and he has largely transformed his old TV repair business into his new shop offering stereo systems and repair. 

     More examples: (1) Cars once had hubcaps. They were supplied to vehicle manufacturers by small companies. Then, suddenly, hubcaps disappeared. (2) Several years ago, gluten-free foods were unheard of. Today, they are everywhere. (3) High-maintenance lawns once kept landscapers busy. Then, the wildflower look attracted many homeowners. Lawns became passe. (4) Clothing cleaners today must be prepared to deal with clothing impregnated with micro-deodorants as well as wicking weaves in garments. (5) Small machine shops still turn out products needed by big companies, aerospace, health care industry, manufacturers, and more. Today, 3-D printing technology is making rapid gains, displacing many of the older machine shop methods. (6) Big companies today depend on smaller firms to furnish temporary placement of personnel--engineers, accountants, and other specialists are hired only for a particular project instead of adding permanent employees. (7) Primarily due to government regulations, many more part time employees are added today than in the past. 

     Market forces are everywhere. They continually change and they affect your business. Keep on top of the market or you might be blindsided. Changes in technology tend to unfold in the marketplace very rapidly. The resulting tsunami can wipe out a small business overnight.

     Don't be caught unawares. The market can cause you to inch off in a direction you might not want. On the other hand, the market can alert you to future directions you can take.    

Friday, February 13, 2015

Trust your employees

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     To grow your business, you must organize and trust your employees. They are the foundation on which you can build.

     Many owners and managers are control freaks. They hire people who will do exactly what they are told to do--and nothing more. This is a mistake if you want to grow. 

     You must train employees. They must know what their responsibilities are, where the limits are, and when to turn to you for additional input. Then you turn them loose, step aside, and monitor from a distance. 

     Employees are naturally inventive and they put that to work in their daily tasks. You and your business are limited by what you alone can do. If you turn your employees loose and help them grow, your business can take off. If you try to tell them every little detail of their daily jobs, then your business will never grow beyond the hours available to you.

     Example: Bob runs a small machine shop. He's the first one to arrive in the morning and the last one to leave in the evening. He spends his day walking the floor, watching everything, showing his employees how to do their jobs, inspecting their work. In short, Bob is a classic micro-manager. Nothing escapes his attention and his input. His business has not grown beyond the limitations of this type of management.

     Example: Bill also runs a small machine shop. He trains his employees and lets them handle their jobs. He inspects final products before shipping, but he is training one employee to do this. He noticed the advent of 3-D printing technology. He installed one of the new machines together with the computer to run it. He has hired a new computer technician/programmer and is on the way to expanding his business. And he is training his older employees in the new technology. 

     Managing a business means training your employees. Your ultimate success--and theirs--depends on your turning loose. Your employees are closer to the actual day-to-day grind than you are. This means that they can learn, improve, and grow a better organization than you can acting alone to monitor every detail.

     Trust your employees. You don't give up control. Your organize your controls and back away.

     Whether you run your own business or manage a unit in a large corporation, see to the training of your employees. Then turn them loose, watching everything from a distance.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Deja vu businesses

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     What's old can be new again. It happens with every generation when it discovers what went before. Grandma wasn't so old-fashioned after all.

     Small businesses can take advantage of this phenomenon. A deja vu business can have the feel of an antique shop or a collectibles store or an Ebay presence.

     The market for deja vu clothing is limited, but it is nonetheless real and buyers have the money to indulge their passion. Deja vu clothing can also spark the creative juices of designers to produce edgy outfits for today's market.

     Example: Dolly runs a local store that is similar to a thrift shop. She specializes in vintage and antique clothing only. The place is packed with women's and men's clothing and accessories from bygone eras. Dresses, hats, purses and jewelry from the 1920s onward fill the racks and display cases. Remember when men wore Nehru jackets and leisure suits? Customers come from far and near to Dolly's store--teens looking for a new look, designers looking for ideas, theater people looking for period outfits, party goers planning unusual events. Dolly follows today's trends with an eye to the past. When she finds items from the Victorian era, they go up on her website and Ebay.

     Example: James has tapped into the renewed interest in old LPs. You remember those big discs that played at 33-1/3 rpm? Well, there is a growing market for them among people who insist that the quality of sound cannot be matched by today's digital formats. So James opened a shop specializing in LPs made during the 1950s through the 1990s. He has thousands of LPs for sale in all music categories. He also offers stereo systems that can play them. Customers come from all over to his shop to browse and buy. He also has a website and offers LPs on Ebay. 

     Example: Roberto spotted another type of deja vu business. He specializes in repairing and rebuilding old vacuum cleaners, building on his experience that dates back some 50 years. People who know the difference come to Roberto to repair and maintain their old vacuum cleaner. Or new customers come to buy a 30-year old machine. It's because decades ago these machines were made with all metal parts. They don't wear out like the present day vacuum cleaners made with plastic parts. Roberto's shop has no recently made machines.   

     Don't think you must offer only the glitz and glitter of today's technological marvels in that business you love. There is still a market in the older products. 

     Pinball machines, anyone? Juke boxes? Board games and jigsaw puzzles? Old radios and televisions? How about manual typewriters? 

      When people today discover what went on before their time, a market develops. Deja vu businesses crop up all the time to serve that market. Last time I looked, the collectibles market was alive and well. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Read your emails

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     Face it. Emails are frustrating. No matter where we go, emails follow. They are like a shadow. At home. At work. In the car on the way. Even on vacation.

     People in large corporations live from one email to the next. Emails announce meetings. Emails bring problems and questions. Sometime, a joke to relieve the pressure. 

     People in small business don't pay attention so closely. I've sent emails to owners of small businesses and several days passed before I received a response. These were people I knew and who knew me. 

     Example: Mary is a hypnotherapist. She sees clients privately for several problems--weight reduction and eating habits, stopping smoking, and pain management following surgery. She did not check her emails for several days one week. When she did, she found a 3-day old email from a local surgeon proposing an on-going relationship between them to handle patients with pain problems. When Mary followed up, it was too late. The surgeon had made other arrangements, thinking that Mary was not running a serious business.  

     Example: Sue is a potter. She works in her home studio turning out pots and plates with special glazes she has developed. Her work has attracted attention, especially after a friend talked her into putting up a website and posting on Facebook. Emails came in, but Sue had trouble remembering to check them. When she did, she found that she had missed the deadline date to be included in a major museum showing the works of up-and-coming potters. Sue learned a valuable lesson.

     Example: Steve runs a home improvements business. On a Friday, he completed a major kitchen renovation for a happy client. Or so he thought. That night he neglected to check his emails--Steve and his wife were taking a long weekend off. When he did check his emails the following Monday, he found 6 emails from his kitchen client. The first one asked Steve to call because there was a problem with the plumbing. The last one informed Steve that the client had put a stop on the payment check. 

     Emails are not a passing fancy. They have become an integral and vital part of our lives--in personal and business relationships. Emails are here to stay.

     If you don't communicate with your clients/customers, you can miss valuable opportunities. Read those emails frequently. Responding promptly shows you are there for your clients/customers. It shows you're on top of your game. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

10 Events to hold

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     Any small business can hold events. Events help you grow and expand your client/customer base. Events create excitement, get the word out, move some merchandise, get better known in the community, and bring in referrals.

     1. Holding a sale is an event. 2. Holding a grand opening (or re-opening, or anniversary) is an event. 3. Holding a special reception to honor someone in the community is an event. 4. Partnering with an organization to hold a fundraiser is an event. 5. Throwing open your place to a networking group is an event. 6. Showing a movie is an event. 7. Bringing in a local band or musician every Friday evening is an event. 8. Partnering with the local baker to serve free cookies and cake is an event. 9. Holding a free demonstration of what you do is an event. 10.
Holding a fashion show with live models can be a big attraction.

     Example: Marie runs a specialty shop. She offers one-of-a-kind, handmade items consigned by artists and artisans from far and near. It's a fairly large store--jewelry and blown glass, leather bags and paintings, turned wood bowls and silk scarves, women's clothing and children's games, and much more. The store attracts customers looking for unusual gifts, keepsakes and things to wear. Marie wanted to attract attention during the Christmas season. She cleared everything out of the shop's big window, lined it with reflective foil, and installed a Christmas tree--upside down. The tree was fully decorated and hanging from above. On the floor, she scattered gift-wrapped boxes tied with fancy ribbons. People passing on the sidewalk stopped in their tracks--and then they came inside. The local newspaper sent a photographer, and a picture of the upside down tree appeared on the front page. This was an event that brought lots of attention and free publicity. People talked about it, tweeted, and emailed their friends. 

     Example: Dale is a massage therapist. To attract more attention to his massage studio, he brings in related therapists for open house/demonstrations once each month. These have included hypnotists talking about weight reduction, nutritionists talking about healthy eating habits, meditation experts, acupuncturists, and others. These sessions have been popular with the general public, anxious to learn about various holistic practices in a non-committal session where they could ask their questions and get answers. Dale always gives a massage demonstration at these sessions, and he has signed up additional clients. He's thinking about expanding into a full wellness center, making arrangements with these other therapists and experts. Meanwhile, his reputation is spreading and referrals are calling. 

     Events attract attention in the community. They can be elaborate and costly or they can cost you very little.

     To promote, write up a short news release and send it to your local paper. Post it on your Facebook page and other social media. Send out announcements to your email list. Announce it with a poster in the window, mention it to customers as they come in, string a banner across the street, place a magnetic sign on your delivery van--use your imagination.

     You are already creative, or you would not be in small business. Put that creativity to work in marketing your business. Events can greatly expand your market.    

Monday, February 9, 2015

Teach your market

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     People in business are experts. And out in the marketplace, people are hungry for your expertise. This provides you with opportunities to teach others what you know.

     Expansion opportunities can be overlooked in your small business. By teaching others, you are extending the reach of your business. Or you can make a business out of teaching.

     Example: Jenna is a professionally-trained chef who runs a small upscale cafe. While she did everything in the kitchen, her first love was designing and making spectacular cakes. These were colorful and edible sculptures. Her artistic cakes attracted much attention, and they were soon to be found in other restaurants, at wedding receptions, and local gala events. People wanted to know how she made the New York skyline out of cake, and other chefs wanted training in her techniques. This caused her to face alternatives--should she continue as is, or should she close the cafe and just make cakes, or should she keep the cafe and add teaching sessions? She set up teaching sessions, from simple to complex, and she is headed down the road to transitioning entirely to teaching cake sculpture. 

     Example: Jon owns and operates a garden center. He has expanded his business considerably by offering "learning sessions" to customers. Some are free, others bring in revenue--but all of these sessions bring in referrals. Some classes teach homeowners how to take care of houseplants, or how to select and grow plants in the yard, or how to control pests in the garden. Other sessions show how to select and lay pavers, or how to build and take care of small fish ponds, or how to build fences, trellises and gates. These sessions bring new customers and encourage existing customers to return. The teaching sessions help spread the word in the community.

     Example: Bill has many years experience running his stained glass studio. He creates spectacular windows for churches, corporations, offices and homes. He also repairs and restores antique stained glass using traditional techniques. He began offering instruction sessions for beginners and advanced students in group and individual sessions. These bring in a continuing stream of revenue, and the students spread the word about Bill. 

     Offering to teach others what you know can be a good way to add to your bottom line. And there are other reasons as well--like the personal satisfaction you get from passing on what you know to others. It's why I write this blog.

     People are naturally curious. They want to know how you do what you do. Teaching them how to make a cake sculpture is one thing, but just holding an informal open house at your place is another. Both spread the word about you and your business.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

Quality = Referrals

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     Whether you offer products or services, you are known by the quality of your work. And the word gets passed around--resulting in referrals.

     Take a look at the comments posted on social media. A glowing review of your business spreads the good word about you. The reason that Angie's List works has a lot to do with the quality of the work described there.

     If you do quality work, or if you sell quality goods, your clients and customers will do your advertising for you. They tell others--both online and off. 

     Example: Gwen runs a pizza shop. She is a stickler for quality. She imports ingredients from Italy--tomatoes, cheeses, garlic and flours. She makes her pizza dough herself in small batches every day. Her pizzas cost more, but they are prized by a loyal customer base. These customers return frequently, and they bring others with them. Gwen draws customers from a 20-mile radius, many of them passing several pizza shops on their way to her place. 

     Example: Jeannine makes pottery and she signs every piece produced. Her pottery business specializes in limited productions. She and her two employees inspect every piece. No flaw escapes their attention, and these pieces are destroyed. Jeannine sets a high bar for quality, and her reputation is spreading. She is not looking for awards, although she has received some. Instead, she sells and consigns to high end gift shops and through her website. 

     Example: Joseph is a carpenter who does each job as if he is working on his own home. He is also a stickler for quality. Whether he's framing out a door or constructing a wall of shelving, his attention to detail is readily apparent. He never advertises, but his customers praise him and pass the word among their friends. The only thing he does is he passes out multiple business cards to customers, asking them to pass them on. 

     See to the quality of your work, and your business can take care of itself. If your clients and customers are happy, they'll spread the word around your community and beyond. 

     The referral process is a natural undertaking--people talking with others. You can do some things to speed up the referrals. See other blogs in this series with "Referrals" in the title. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Referrals methods

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     Referrals bring you the best new clients and customers. John refers Marie and she walks in your door or she calls for more information. Marie is ready to hear your proposal or give your products a favorable browse. 

     So, how do you keep the word going around the community you are targeting? Referring other people to a business you've dealt with is a natural thing.

     You want to tell others where you bought those new shoes. When your neighbor compliments you on your well-kept yard, you launch into a conversation that refers your landscaper. And when your friend hurts her back, you know the chiropractor who can help. 

     There are many ways to enhance this natural referral process. Here are three possibilities for you and your business. 

     Example: Sue runs a women's clothing and accessories shop. Every day Sue snaps pictures of items in her place. She selects one and posts it on her Facebook page and other social media. This continuing stream of pictures captures the attention of Sue's regular customers, and they frequently pass the pictures on to their friends and acquaintances. This process has greatly expanded the reach of Sue's shop. She now regularly attracts new customers from an area much larger than before. Her referral network is growing--and it costs her little in terms of money and time. 

     Example: An ice cream store uses an older, but no less effective, method of extending its referral network. Here, picture post cards are used. One side of the card shows a colorful picture of a scrumptious ice cream concoction. On the other side is the name and address of the recipient, a stamp, and a simple message: "Bring this card in and get a dollar off anything you want. Or pass it along to a friend." The owner mails these cards to a customer list. Many cards are returned to the store, by both existing customers and new ones. The advantage of a post card over Facebook is clear. Facebook gets a two-second viewing and might be passed on to a friend. The post card is kept--taped to the refrigerator or tacked to the bulletin board or passed on. That one dollar off makes the card feel like money. Type the "$1.00 off" in big, bold type.

     Example: A method I have used is more direct. Get in touch with your existing clients/customers and ask them for referrals. This can be done personally when you see them, or it can be through emails or phone calls. Simply ask them for three referrals and follow through by contacting each one they give you. This new person doesn't know you, but both of you know the person who gave you the referral. You already have your opening line: "Mary mentioned that you might be interested in what I do." Be very brief. Follow up by sending them an email, or, at the very least, point them to your website or your Facebook page. 

     Social media has opened up many possibilities that didn't exist before. It is changing everything. Even that post card can now be turned into a coupon that attracts attention all over the net. 

      Every small business is different. What works at one might not work at another. And what works today might not work tomorrow. Think through your own situation and get busy. Go after those referrals.   

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Corporate vs. small business

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     Leaving corporate America and starting up your own small business is difficult. I know. I did it myself.

     If you are considering doing this, be careful. You need some preparation. Corporate America and small business are totally different. They occupy different planets, they speak different languages, and they hold out different futures.

     Example: For 10 years I headed up the Business Owners Institute of New Jersey. We helped many people establish their first business. And we helped many more dealing with the everyday problems of growing, finding financing, getting referrals, and other operating problems they brought to the table. 
     A lady once walked in the door looking for advice on buying a franchise. She had taken a buyout from a major corporation, so money was not the problem. She ran a single idea past me--she wanted advice on buying a donuts franchise. I posed two groups of questions.
     1. Who will make the donuts at 4 a.m. when your employees call in sick--or simply don't show up. Do you know how to run the coffee machines? 
     2. What are your personal interests and passions? What have you spent your time doing when you were away from your corporate position in the past?
     When she thought through the implications of this, she decided against buying the donuts franchise. She went on to establish her own marketing consulting firm, helping other small and medium size businesses do what they were ill-equipped to do themselves. Much later, we had a good laugh talking about how donuts are made.

     Corporate America does not prepare you for establishing and operating a small business. In corporate America you have many corporate resources to call on. You depend on the company sales force, production people, human resources, and all the rest. In small business, look in the mirror. 

     You might enjoy what you do in corporate America, but you have all the company's capabilities at your disposal. In small business, it's you. 

      Before jumping out of your corporate position, investigate the small business world. It's quite different. Look ahead before taking the step. You will be your own boss in small business. But you will be doing everything else as well. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Drifting along

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     Businesses drift. Your business drifts with the changing market. It drifts with the economy. It drifts with social media. You're pulled this way and that. 

     You want to change with the changing economy. And you want to change with the changing social media. But change is not drift. Change is what you do consciously. Drift simply carries you along a path you might not want. 

     Your business is drifting when you chase the easy sale and ignore the rest of the business. Your business is drifting when you begin catering to the latest fad in the marketplace. 

     Example: Mary loved making women's hats. She loved designing them. She loved selecting different materials to use in the hats. She also loved to decorate the hats with pins she had made using buttons, beads and seeds. These additional items made the hats "pop" and led to sales. As time passed, however, Mary noticed that customers asked to buy the special pins, and the left the hat behind. She was happy to be selling things, and she concentrated on turning out pins. Then she got an order for 500 pins. She was suddenly in the pin business and the hats languished on the displays. What had been the accessory became the main product. She had let her business drift--without really paying attention to the longer term implications.

     It's always gratifying to get a whole bunch of new orders. In small businesses, it can also mean that the other items and lines you offer will suffer. Your business is about to drift into new areas--areas that might not be consistent with where you want the business to go. 

     Example: John had worked on computers since his high school days. While still in college, he opened a computer repair shop. In those days, people would lug their computers to his place and he would get everything repaired and in shipshape. After college, John decided to expand his repair shop. Customers began asking John to come to their offices to install new machines, network them, and train their employees. He decided to go with the drift, and it was a good decision. Now and then, a person still brings in a computer for repair or upgrade, but mostly, John spends his time at his clients' locations--installing, troubleshooting, networking and training others. 

     A drift in your business can tell you that the marketplace is changing. It's an indicator. But it's up to you to decide whether or not to go with the drift. Do it with your eyes open. Don't drift into lines of business that are inconsistent with your long term goals and business plan.

     Taking care of business means taking care of drifts. They happen all the time. Pick and choose those that you want to follow, and discard the rest.    

Monday, February 2, 2015

If / then decisions

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     Decisions are a daily concern in your small business. They become second nature. But do you step aside now and then to make the "if / then" decisions? 

     Planning ahead sorts through the possibilities of "if / then" and brings up some alternative courses of action.

     If the economy goes south, then I'll concentrate on certain products/services not emphasizing the rest. If this type of advertising does not work, then I'll shift to alternatives. If a big box store comes to town, then I'll begin offering the things they don't carry.

     Example: Joel had time to plan ahead. WalMart announced some 18 months ahead that the company would be opening one of their big stores nearby. Joel feared for the future of his small hardware store, and he soon arrived at a "planning ahead" decision. He would move from the cramped, in-town location to a suburban location on a main road. Simultaneously, he would change the direction of his business. Contractors and homeowners already came to Joel's place to rent the power tools and equipment they needed for a day or two. In his sprawling new location, Joel would have more room and could add more rentals. Today, Joel is in his new place, offering more and more rentals--including trucks and trailers. He has been able to add a repairman to keep the equipment shipshape. He still offers high quality hardware items and power tools for sale--concentrating on items not carried by WalMart. 

     Sometimes, owners of small businesses get comfortable with the business running itself. But the marketplace is continually changing. You already know how to plan ahead, but it can take an outside force to kick start the big decisions. 

     Example: Artists can have a difficult time connecting with the buying public. Juan loved to draw. Growing up, he honed his skills, including painting in oils. He attracted interest, but he noticed that people at shows and festivals bought pen and ink drawings of homes, buildings, bridges and the like. He thought about it, and he decided to concentrate on building a following with people interested in pen and ink. Doing these are easy and quick for Juan, and the word spread quickly. People now call him to come and do a drawing of their home, barn, and other local structures. This is now supporting Juan, and he uses his spare time to produce more oil paintings. His reputation is spreading as an artist to watch. 

     Sometimes, an interim path can be the road to the goal you want to eventually reach. Don't disparage baby steps to get you there. Put the if / then decisions to work in your business.

     When your business shows signs of slowing, it's time to hunker down, plan ahead and figure out a better path forward. No better time than the present to tackle the if / then decisions.