Tuesday, March 31, 2015

All you need is....

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     Excuses are everywhere. I didn't set up a business because I didn't have the money. I'll set up that little business of my own when I retire from my cushy corporate job. My business isn't growing because people don't appreciate what I do. There's not enough time for me to do everything.

     In small business you learn to plow through the excuses and get the job done. Playing the blame game and procrastinating won't get you where you want to go. 

     Example: Pam was a whiz at baking. Her kitchen was always abuzz. She loved creating variations on recipes for tarts. She made them big and she made them small. She filled her tarts with jams and jellies, creams and puddings--these were the sweet ones. Then she created savory tarts--bacon and kale, yogurt and spinach, chorizo and cheese. She tested each batch herself, and she gave them away to friends--asking for comments. Finally, she homed in on a line of tarts she thought ready for the marketplace.

     The problems for Pam to get into business seemed overwhelming. She had no kitchen facilities to handle baking. She had very little money. And how would she tackle the marketplace? 

     Continuing: Pam was not one to give up. She contacted a local restaurant and made arrangements to use the restaurant's facilities on Mondays when it was closed. Now she had inspected facilities where she could produce her line of tarts. She made arrangements for labels and shipping boxes. She set up a website showing her tarts and an order form. She took many pictures of the goodies and posted them on social media. Orders began to arrive, a few at first, then more. She boxed the tarts and called United Parcel Service to pick them up and speed them on their way. 

     Pam succeeded in getting established--without baking facilities of her own, without a sales staff, without a delivery van, without a bricks-and-mortar bakery open to the public. With very little money but lots of determination, she was on the road. Her sweet and savory tarts now showed up at corporate meetings, organizational gatherings, seminars and talks far and wide. 

     Getting a product off the ground today is far easier than it used to be. A website can be the focal point, with social media driving eyeballs to it--with orders. Delivery of the product? Take your pick--United Parcel Service, Fedex or the Postal Service. As a business owner today, you pull all the pieces together. All you need is ... yourself.

     Product-based businesses can easily use this example. Service-based businesses present different problems, but much of the foregoing is applicable. 


Monday, March 30, 2015

Business ideas

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     My lifetime has been spent starting my own businesses and helping others start theirs. It has convinced me that you can make a business out of anything.

     It makes sense. If you are interested in something, others will be as well. And they can become the market for your products and services. 

     Not all markets are as big as others. If you are only interested in selling the herbs you grow, and you only show up at farm markets, your bottom line won't be very big. But if you sell herbs to a supermarket chain, you might be overwhelmed with orders. 

     Example: Jason loved cars and motorcycles. Growing up, he tinkered and repaired vehicles and spent hours hanging out at auto shops. He went on to college and got an engineering degree. Then he set up a business specializing in two things: restorations of older vehicles back to original condition and building motorcycles from the ground up. He brought some of his work to car shows, and his reputation spread. Restorations of cars that are 20 to 50 years old and in poor condition can take months, sometimes years. While waiting for parts, Jason would concentrate on building or customizing motorcycles for clients. His backlog of work now extends years into the future. 

     Example: Marie loved designing women's clothes. She called it "Throwing together some odds and ends in new ways." Her designs brought compliments and sales. She wanted a business of her own, and she was forced to make a strategic decision. Either she could open her own high end, exclusive design shop, or she could become a design house. She chose the latter. Today, Marie has established herself as the design arm for several manufacturers. She sells her designs to them, freeing her to move on to next year's possibilities. 

     Example: Several years ago, I met a man whose business was repairing and selling old vacuum cleaners. Many in his showroom were 40 or more years old. Old vacuum cleaners were built to last--with all metal parts. Today, many vacuum cleaners are cheaply made--with plastic parts that break and wear out. People in the know, he explained, pay big bucks to have their old vacuum cleaners repaired, or they buy one from his display. He also sold parts. "Where else can you find a part for a vacuum cleaner that's been doing the job for years?" he asked me. 

     Whatever your interests, consider building a business around them. There's a market out there, just waiting to be tapped. True, many are niche markets. But with today's social media, you can reach far and wide to attract attention--as well as more dollars to your bottom line. 

     Collectibles offer many opportunities for unique businesses. I know a store that specializes in LPs, for example. Another offers unique and rare growing plants. Still another sells jigsaw puzzles--and other older board games. And then there is the shop that sells old manual typewriters--restored and ready to begin life again.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

Other people's money

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     Money is always a problem in small business. There's never enough.

     So, let's see. Your business plan is in place. Things are moving in the right direction. But the business is not generating cash as fast as you would like to grow. 

     You need other people's money. The usual sources like banks are not interested. You don't have enough experience in what you're doing. Your business is not old enough. Whatever.

     Example: Judy was renting a plot from a farmer. She specialized in growing greens and veggies for local markets. She had built up quite a clientele for her farm fresh produce, and she needed to expand. Searching around the area, she found a small farm for sale. The problem was money. Judy did not have enough cash for a down payment, and even if she did, no one would approve the loan. On the back of the property she noticed there was a fairly large grove of black walnut trees. It took some negotiating, but Judy managed to buy the farm. She knew that walnut wood went for big bucks, and she got a sizable commitment from a sawmill to buy the walnut trees. Then she got a commitment from the property owner to sell at an agreed price. With all this in hand, she approached a private lender who agreed to advance the funds and hold the mortgage on the property. It was a matter of bringing all the pieces together and closing the deal. 

     Example: Leland was a young man in the landscaping business. One of his on-going jobs was to take care of the grounds of a small apartment building. The owner of the property was impressed with Leland's work and asked if he wanted to buy the building. Leland jumped at the chance, but he told the owner that he could not afford it. Maybe yes, maybe no, said the owner. He showed Leland how to take over the property with two mortgages that the owner was willing to hold. They put in place a long-term large first mortgage at a normal interest rate and a short-term second mortgage at a much higher rate. Income from the rent rolls covered both monthly payments. If Leland didn't make the payments, the owner would take back the property and put it up for sale to someone else. Leland is still a landscaper, but he owns the building. The second mortgage is paid off, and he's making payments on the longer-term mortgage.

     Example: Robert is in the home improvements business. He worked with his customers to finance each job. He required one-third payment upfront, one-third when an agreed-to milepost was reached, and the final one-third when the job was completed. This method can be used in other types of businesses as well. Just remember that the profit comes in that last payment.

     Using other peoples' money in business is quite common. It takes many forms, but the mechanism or concept is pretty much the same. Put it to work and home in on the specific arrangement that will help you start-up, grow and expand. 

     When your supplier delivers and hands you an invoice dated 30 or 60 days hence, you are using other peoples' money. It is a matter of trust that you will pay your bills on time. This simple concept of trust is at the heart of using other peoples' money.    


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Reaching out

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     Managing your business means you must reach out to the community. Stay in touch with those you serve, and tap into new streams of clients and customers. 

     Today, reaching out has changed. Newspaper and phone book ads are no longer as effective as they once were. Ads in specialty publications, however--especially those that are locally directed--can reach out into those new communities you want to serve. 

     But social media has provided a quantum shift in how you reach out. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and others get you in front of eyeballs that no longer read newspapers and phone book ads. These are easy to use and, for the most part, free.

     A Facebook page is a very effective way to reach out and keep in touch. You should be posting pictures frequently of your creations--artists and artisans, bakers and chefs, landscapers and more. Shop owners can post pictures of racks of clothing, cases of jewelry, newly arrived goods, cones of yogurt and squares of chocolate. And anyone can post photos of street scenes, parades, car shows, flea markets, and your newly decorated window. 

     There's more--think selfies and apps. Selfies can be fun. Pictures of yourself can be entertaining and remind clients and customers who you are and that you are there for them. Setting up your own app can make it easy for hungry customers to order ahead and have their meals ready when they arrive at your restaurant. 

     Emails sent to your regulars can be effective in announcing upcoming sales--and other events. Too many emails can be a turn-off, however. Emails should be about your client's and customer's interests, not yours. Keep it brief. 

     Blogs and newsletters can be effective in certain markets. Blogs can be informative and descriptive. They can announce new developments in your industry. A health food store owner can discuss natural foods and the nutritional value of eating fresh. A wellness expert can explain how pain can be managed, how to lose weight, and the value of exercise on body systems. 

     A blog or newsletter is not a personal diary for you. It is feeding the thirst out there for the knowledge you have. Blogs and newsletters posted on your website are marketing tools, and they concentrate on subjects the reader is interested in. Attorneys, accountants, consultants, medical experts and others can explain in depth the ways in which they can help clients. And this attracts referrals.

     Keep in touch, but do it smart. You don't want to come across as a nuisance. Keeping in touch with short reminders, colorful and fun pictures, and clear explanations of some aspect of your business can go a long way to get you growing.

     Done right, your clients and customers will appreciate being reminded of who you are and what you can do for them. And they will refer others to you. 

     To grow, you want to extend your reach in the communities you want to serve. Keeping in touch using social media is a valuable method to have in your toolbox.    


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Using social media

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     If you don't use Facebook and other social media to promote your business, you're missing opportunities to grow. 

     Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter and other platforms are useful additions to your marketing tool box. Everyone who operates a small business deserves to make use of them.

     First, it is easy to set up your presence on social media. Even if you are not computer-savvy, you can follow simple directions and be up and running quickly. Just go to the site, and they lead you through it. 

     Second, social media pages put a face on your business. Everyone snaps digital photos these days. Photos are easily uploaded to your Facebook page, for example. Social media platforms are different in their requirements, but I recommend beginning with Facebook. Get your feet wet and then perhaps move on to other platforms.

     Third, social media makes maintenance easy and cheap. You don't need an expert, like you needed to develop a website. With Facebook, for example, you simply check in, post one of those photos you've taken, and say a few words--few is the operative word here. 

     Fourth, social media platforms bring in new business, get referrals, spread the word. People tend to pass your photos around, getting your business in front of more eyeballs. 

     Keep in mind that social media is not like a brochure. It's not an ad, although they will sell you one if you want one. Social media is more like a scroll. It unfolds day by day or week by week. It is not static, it changes as you input more as the days pass. And you are making these changes yourself.

     Make your photos a living record of your business. A baker photographs every cake as it is being made. A florist photographs every arrangement as it comes into view. Show before and after photos. A massage therapist photographs hands (no faces) working on a subject. A landscaper shows the hole being dug, the plant being inserted. 

     Don't try to be professional. Aim for being informative, humorous--and a little craziness can help. These things attract attention. You're not taking photos for display in a gallery. You're having fun, and so are your viewers. 

     Auto repair shops can show a mechanic's hands fiddling with something under the hood. Pest exterminators can take endless pictures of bugs. Even lawyers and accountants can take pictures of public street scenes, auto accidents, close ups of balance sheets, etc. 

     The purpose of the photo is to inform and entertain. They are quick glimpses or slices of life. They have something to do with your business, they are memorable, they remind your clients/customers that you are there for them, and they bring in referrals. 

     You can promote your business in many ways. Almost all cost you money. But social media offers opportunities that reach far beyond other means. And for the most part, they are free!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Handling complainers

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     You know them. They are the complainers. They complain about you, your business, and just about anything else that strikes their fancy.

     It seems that some people exist to complain. Their whole lives are devoted to finding the next thing to complain about. It borders on a mental disorder. 

     When a complainer gets you in the cross hairs, it's time to go into action. You need to summon all your abilities to defuse the situation. You need to turn the complainer into an advocate who will spread good words about you and your operation.

     Example: Bill runs a restaurant and is active on social media. When a customer posted a negative review of the restaurant on Facebook, Bill went into action. He commented on the complaint on Facebook as well. "We love complaints. It tells us how we're doing. And we use every complaint to improve and provide better meals, better service, and better lives for the people who visit us." It worked. The person who complained returned to the restaurant and identified herself. Bill gave her a free lunch. 

     Social media provides people with opportunities to comment on--everything. Suddenly, everyone is an expert. They get carried away in the moment. When called to account in a non-combative way, sometimes you can turn them around.     

     Example: Carole runs a small boutique offering women's accessories, purses and caps, jewelry and scarves, and fun things that delight her female clientele. Many of the items she makes herself, using discarded blue jeans and denim. She cuts up the materials she finds at thrift shops and re-fashions it into bags and purses, even pins and belts. Shoppers love the big bags she creates, leaving the original pockets on the sides of the bags. Carole hates to see some shoppers arrive and begin complaining that the shop is too small, or that this bag is too big, or that denim is not appropriate for this hat. And, "Where are the tee shirts?" Carole took the initiative one afternoon, complimenting a complainer on the choice and design of coat she was wearing. This launched a conversation about the shopper, and with attention turned away from the shop and to the shopper, the woman relaxed into selecting several items for purchase.

     In business, you meet the general public in person or on line. Complainers are everywhere, and you must meet them and turn them around. Keep it positive. 

     Example: Joseph does landscaping for several regular customers. One of his workers reversed a planting--setting out petunia plants where the marigolds were meant to be, and vice-versa. The customer called to complain. Joseph went to the home, apologized, and reversed the plantings. A simple mistake, a simple solution, and a happy customer. 

     Never leave a complainer to their own devices. It will only get worse. You must address the situation and turn a complainer into a satisfied customer. Your future depends on it. 

     Success in business means taking care of business. And that means you must keep your own personal feelings and judgments to yourself. Handling complainers will help you grow and expand.    

Monday, March 23, 2015

Start and grow

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     The mechanism of starting up and growing a business has long fascinated me. And it came quite naturally.

     I grew up in a family business. My two sisters and brother established businesses. Being the youngest, it took me longer to get there. Just out of college, I started off in corporate America. Disgusted, I left and started my first business. There have been four or five, depending on how they are counted. 

     A business can be set up using any idea. Of course, some ideas are bigger than others. The marketplace and how you structure your business determines your success. 

     The marketplace is big enough to accommodate that idea you are passionate about. If you are interested in something, others are as well. They are your target market. How you reach them will determine your success.

     Example: A lady once asked me how she could increase her sales in her small pet store. When I asked her what she was doing to promote her place, she said she took ads in the local paper. I suggested she use social media, post pictures of pets, and begin reaching out. "But I don't sell pets," she objected. "And I know nothing about social media." We talked it through. Later, she realized how easy it was to attract attention with pictures of puppies and kittens. She emailed me that sales had more than doubled in a relatively short period of time--she had set up on Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Hers had been a simple question, and it was solved with a simple answer.

     Social media makes it simple, easy, and inexpensive to get the word spreading in your community. It's even more productive when your business offers services and products that appeal to a wide spectrum of the marketplace. Everyone has a pet. Everyone has alternative health issues. Everyone needs help around the home and yard.

     Example: A young man once asked what business he should go into. He wanted a business of his own, but he was perplexed as to the type of business he could pursue. Unfortunately, public school had not prepared him to make a business decision. In a quick back-and-forth, I helped him realize that he already had the answer. "Look inside," I told him. "Find the thing that you are most passionate about, and set up your business around that idea." Today, he owns a small construction firm--renovations and additions to homes. Occasionally, he tackles whole structures. His passion for building has become his business. 

     A career can be built on your passion. Artists and authors, therapists and tradespeople, landscapers and lawyers, shopkeepers and specialists--no matter your interests, you can build your business to serve that market. Start and grow. 

     And don't neglect the use of today's social media. The marketplace is continually changing. To a great extent, social media is leading the way. Find your place in it. It can reward your business with growth.  


Friday, March 20, 2015

Looking ahead

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     Are you in the business you want to be in? Does the market support this? What are some directions you can take to better address current and emerging market trends? Are your original goals outdated? What are some ways you can head off in different directions? Do you have the resources to support new goals? Are you comfortable using social media in managing your business?

     All businesses drift. They take on a life of their own. Maybe this is a good thing, maybe not. Every now and then, you need to step back and take a hard look. You might find that your business has grown stale.

     You need to get yourself in that quiet place where you can think about where you are and where you are going. Only you can evaluate where you are in relation to where you want to be. You know the possibilities. Now sift through everything. 

     Clear thinking can turn today's hunches into tomorrow's realities. Clear thinking can turn around a failing business, and it can expand a business that's just stumbling along. 

     Always keep you eye firmly fixed on the marketplace. It's the marketplace that will make your business successful--or support a new direction. The marketplace is continually changing. Stay on top of it. 

     Example: My older sister operated a florist shop back in the 1950s through the 1980s. When I was a teenager, I helped her--delivering orders, picking up flowers at the distributor, cleaning up. Hers was a very successful business. Looking back, I wonder what her reaction might have been to today's communications technologies. Today, people dial an 800 number, order flowers, and they're done. My sister had to answer every phone call. Or, they click on a website and order what they see there. There were no websites back in her day. Or, they would have found her on social media sites--had the sites existed then. I know that she would have taken advantage of all of today's technologies. Why? Because she was always looking ahead.

     While business is all about the marketplace, the marketplace has many new ways to reach you today. Technology moves at a very rapid pace. When you're looking ahead in your own business, keep your eye on technology. It can have a major effect on the market and on your business.

     Looking ahead means juggling three things. Match your thinking to the marketplace, to technology, and to your dreams. This is basic business planning. If you have learned anything in business, you have learned to juggle. 

     So, get yourself into that quiet place and begin looking ahead. You might already be on the right track, but you might not. Only you can answer all the questions when you start looking ahead.   


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Future income

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     Many small businesses can increase sales and future income by offering to help clients and customers with partial or extended payments. This can be for products as well as services. 

     Partial payments, as work progresses, can assure income as work is being done. Layaway plans help buyers purchase items they otherwise might not buy. Retainers and maintenance agreements provide a business with on-going income.

     Examples: (1) Massage specialists, lawyers, computer experts, landscapers and others offer on-going retainers or maintenance agreements, assuring future income for the business. (2) Electricians, plumbers and other tradespeople can realize a better bottom line by quoting the overall jobs in pieces for homeowners and other businesses--breaking up big jobs into components, each billed as it is completed. (3) Jewelers and furniture stores can offer layaway plans, breaking up a large expenditure into monthly payments. Layaway was once very popular, especially in large department stores. Recently, it has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. (4) Printers, consultants, wedding providers and construction specialists can set up projects to be paid in thirds--one third upfront, one third when a critical milestone is reached, and one third at completion. (5) Any small business doing work for larger companies should be aware of approval authorities. A manager might be able to approve up to $500 while a senior vice president might okay a $50,000 project. By knowing who can approve what and for how much, you can structure a project accordingly--doing it in pieces that can be approved. Nobody's hiding anything here. It's just taking advantage of authorities of clients. Both sides win.

     Look for ways to guarantee future income for your business. Start by understanding the needs of your clients and customers. Help them solve their problems, and you help yourself. It all goes to the relationship you have with them.

     Looking to your future income can help you sleep at night. It's not the whole answer to the cash flow problem, but it might help in your business. And we all know how critical cash flow can be.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Aging businesses

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     Businesses age. They grow like children. That baby you started out with is beginning to show a personality of its own. 

     The thing that your business reflects is the marketplace. Don't ever forget this. It is the market for your goods and services that determines the face of your business. 

     You can start a business doing just about anything. You take an interest of yours and you build a business around it. But the marketplace will determine how it succeeds, how it grows, and how long it lasts.

     Example: A farm in my area has been operating as a family business since the 1740s. Same family, same piece of land. But the farming has gone through many changes over the years. The original farm changed many times, becoming a large producer of apples and peaches as the 1800s turned into the 1900s. Since then, it has changed again. Today the farm is a large producer of boxwood and other ornamental shrubs. Sales are to several well-known arboretums, garden centers, landscapers and homeowners. It's still the same piece of the earth and it's still run by the descendants of the original family. But the changing marketplace determined its survival. This family never forgot that farming is a business. 

     To keep your business alive and well means keeping a sharp eye on the marketplace. You might be building for a nice little income for yourself. Or, you might be aiming for a bigger operation that your kids will take over. Either way, you must be alert to changes in the marketplace. 

     Example: A consignment shop in my area was established over 75 years ago. It's big and it's almost an institution in itself. The specialty here is vintage and antique clothing. Customers are party goers, actors and production companies, teenagers, and others. There are also racks of more recent clothing. In recent years the owner noticed a developing market for currently fashionable women's clothing. Customers were business women looking to extend their wardrobes. They could get name brands, gently used and at steep discounts off the original prices. They could wear the outfits a couple of times, return them and select others. The owner decided to open a sister shop in an upscale neighborhood. She now reaches out on Facebook to her growing list of customers with pictures of items new to the store. The sister shop is very successful, filling a niche market. And the original store still serves its target market. 

     Growing your business means staying on top of the ever-changing marketplace. 

     Don't get in a rut in running your business. The market is continually changing. Stay on top of what's going on. Re-direct your business with the changing times. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Gift certificate info

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     Gift certificates can be good promotional tools for your small business. Use them to expand your reach into the community you serve.

     Gift certificates can take different forms. Think of them as upscale coupons. Some business owners print them on post cards and mail them--to existing customers or to a mailing list. Other business owners hire an artist to create a special certificate for that business only. Stock gift certificates are available at office supply stores--just fill in the blanks. 

     Example: Elena operates a wellness center. She started out as a specialist in several types of massage. She expanded by bringing in other specialists--in yoga, hypnosis, nutrition, and more. She has used gift certificates in various denominations to be used for massages. This promotes the center and the other specialists benefit as well. Clients use the gift certificates Elena hands out for themselves--they are made out in the client's name. They also buy gift certificates to be used as gifts for their friends. 

     Gift certificates can be for any amount and still be effective. With an amount printed on the gift certificate, it has the feel of real dollars. A $10 certificate can be just as effective as one for $100--depending on the circumstances. Either one can return to you in the hand of a new client.

     Example: Takira is an artist, a designer who makes jewelry and small accessories for women. She specializes in using unusual materials--no gold or silver here. What she is selling is her unique and creative ability to bring together everyday things in new ways--pins, earrings, bracelets, necklaces. These sell for prices beginning at $25 and going up to $125. She hands out $5 gift certificates to people. The certificates carry a one-month expiration date but no name--anyone can use them. These bring customers back to Takira or they pass them on to friends. The $5 is prominently displayed--it feels like money and works better than a 20% off coupon. 

     Try gift certificates in your own operation. You can have them printed for handing out, or you can add to your website. They keep you in the minds of your existing clients, and they can get passed around--bringing you referrals. 

     Many small businesses hand out gift certificates or cards to employees--for holidays or to reward excellent performance. You win, the employee wins, and the business that issues them wins.   

Monday, March 16, 2015

Voice mail blues

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     Voice mail can be a good thing. And it can be a bad thing. 

     One thing is sure. Voice mail is on the decline. More people are sending text messages these days and more are using social media for contacts. 

     The telephone is absolutely necessary in business. But a phenomenon is occurring with voice mail and people in small business should take note. 

     Voice mail can give you a clue as to the age of your callers. Older callers are more likely to leave a message on your voice mail. No so with the younger set--I'm talking teens and twenties and even thirty-somethings here. These callers simply hang up.

     Voice mail can be a useful tool in small businesses. Frequently, a small business is only one person. Think therapists, chiropractors, pet groomers, small shop owners, electricians, plumbers, and the list goes on.

     A specialist needs to be doing the jobs that will bring in the cash flow. Voice mail helps small businesses organize time. The distractions of ringing telephones can be re-directed to voice mail. And these can be tended to at a time more convenient to the business owners. 

     Therein lies the problem. The caller doesn't care about your convenience.

     Example: I write a weekly business column for a local newspaper. The column is informational and directed to the general reading public. Businesses are introduced and the write-up offers good promotion for the small operations. To do groundwork, I call a dozen or so business owners every week. Frequently, my call goes to voice mail. I leave a message, identifying myself, referencing the weekly column, and offering to write about the business in the next paper. I am always careful to say that I'm not selling anything, saying that it will be free publicity for them. About half the time I get a callback within a day or two. Some call back a week or a month later. And others are never heard from.

     Voice mail is too often used for the convenience of the business owner, not the caller. Callers expect a live voice to answer. All of us know the frustrations of not being able to get a live person on the other end. 

     When people are directed to leave a message on voice mail, more and more of them are hanging up. You might have lost a sale, a referral, a business deal, or worse. The caller might never call--or visit--again. 

     Research in this area tells the tale. The latest statistics I've read show that about 75% of callers simply hang up when directed to voice mail. The younger the caller, the more likely the hang-up. 


Friday, March 13, 2015

Promote with networking

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     Networking puts a friendly face on you and your business. Networking is an effective way to talk with other business people. It is informal. It is relaxed. And it is an effective promotional tool. 

     You know the drill. You are invited to meet with a group of people from your community. These sessions are regularly held by local chambers of commerce, other businesses, economic development groups, and others.

     Private networking companies such as BNI also hold regular networking meetings. And MeetUp.com might already have a group meeting in your area--if not, form one. Just go to the website and form one of your own. It's free.

     At business networking meetings, people come together, exchange information, and provide leads to expand your business reach. It's business social interaction. 

     A networking meeting, however, can be a lot more than just exchanging business cards. Some people attend these sessions to do only that. They press a business card into every hand and move on to the next person. 

     There's a better way to do this and it accomplishes more. Target 3 or 4 business people that you want to meet. Spend time with each of them. In 15 minutes with each, you can introduce yourself and begin a conversation--it's about them, not you. 

     Getting people to talk about what they do is an easy way to start. Later and quite naturally, the conversation will turn to you and what you do. Landscapers meet chefs. Bakers meet bankers. Therapists meet jewelers. And lawyers meet computer experts or shop owners.

     The trick is to get yourself and your business firmly implanted in their mind, and vice-versa. Each one of them might call you in the future, and more importantly, they will refer others to you in their daily activities. I know a baker who landed a corporate account through a referral met at a networking meeting. 

     Of course, you exchange business cards. But the important thing is to have that 15 minute conversation. You are expanding the reach of your business through relationships and referrals. It is a promotional activity. 

     If you don't know a local networking group, start one of your own. MeetUp.com makes it easy. Form a group, keep in touch, and schedule events. 

     Networking is one of the most valuable tools you can use. An hour or two spent networking once or twice each month will bring you new contacts, customers, and referrals. 

      Social media can be viewed as a networking tool. The stuff you post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others can have the effect of spreading the word about you and your business.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Starting at home

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     Working from home is as natural as it gets for me. I grew up on a dairy farm. Dozens of cows grazed in the pastures and had to be milked twice each day. Then we bottled the milk and delivered it to doorsteps all over town. 

     Today's advanced communications makes it easy to start-up and run a business from home. Running a business is easier than ever--with a laptop or tablet, a cell phone, and automated record keeping.

     Examples: Personal trainers, nutritionists and cooking teachers can meet their clients at the clients' homes. So can holistic healers and massage therapists. Consultants and coaches can start out at home and grow into separate offices as the business expands. I know a doctor of internal medicine who closed his office and now sees his patients at their homes--his office is in the trunk of his car. 

     More examples: Tradespeople have long worked from home offices, including electricians, plumbers, masons, locksmiths, cleaners, repair specialists. Artists and artisans typically work from home in a studio or barn or attic, reaching out into the marketplace to make sales. 

     In business, you move with the times. Working from home makes it easy to transition from a single person business to a larger operation. It can be part of your business plan from the very beginning. 

     With today's technologies, you can hire others, expand your business and grow--all from the home office. You can even eliminate the home office if you are clever in your approach, carrying your business around with you depending on the business. 

     As the Good Witch of the North advised Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the place to begin is at the beginning. Starting a business at home can take you down the road to the Emerald City. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Selling made easy

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     No business will make it unless someone sells the soap. Or the advice. Or whatever it is that inspired you in the first place.

     Business is selling. And owners who shy away from selling are ignoring their own childhood and adolescence. You learned to sell every step along the way. 

     We sold our parents. We sold our teachers. We sold each other. In fact, every time we met someone, we were selling something.

     Today, you don't even need to meet someone face-to-face to sell. Use social media to put your message out there. Or use other means.

     Example: Walker got his law degree, passed the bar exam, and tacked up a brass plate on his door. Then he waited. And waited. It's one thing, I told him, to have great credentials, but it's another thing to rein in clients. Every client expects a lawyer to be smart, educated and resourceful. But when they walk in your door, I explained, it's all about them--not you. Walker joined the local chamber of commerce and several networking groups. He offered to lead free discussions at senior centers, organizational meetings, and other gatherings. There, he talked about the simple concerns of people--what to do when you get a traffic ticket, how you handle an elderly relative, what to do if you get sued, how to conduct yourself if you end up in court. Soon, Walker's phone began to ring, and his law practice began to blossom. 

     Example: Freida loved to bake. Something about creating cookies and cakes fascinated her. She opened her small bakery and waited for people to discover the place. Some stopped in and returned from time to time, but it was not enough. Freida worked out ways to promote her bakery and sell the goods without doing face-to-face selling. She set out a fresh sample table every day--free cookies. She put her bakery on Facebook. She began holding baking classes--teaching people how to bake, giving them tips and information and recipes. All this activity created a buzz in the community and beyond. She offered to give talks at organizational meetings. Freida's reputation spread as customers spread the word for her and her bakery. 

     You can do many things to promote your business without face-to-face selling. Sell yourself and your business by getting others to think of you when their needs arise.

      The trick is to find the method that works for you. Selling yourself and your business becomes easier when you focus on the ways you can help other people.   


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Guarding reputations

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     Your reputation is everything in business. You build your reputation every day. And it spreads, whether it is good or bad.

     Example: Ben runs a small rental operation. He rents carpet cleaners, power washers, concrete mixers, even lawn mowers and power tools needed by homeowners and contractors. When a homeowner called saying she couldn't get the carpet cleaner to work, Ben jumped in his truck and drove to the home to solve the problem. He took along a replacement machine, just in case. But it wasn't needed because Ben showed the homeowner how to run the one she had rented. He stayed and helped her clean the rug in one room. Another time, he rented a lawn mower to landscaper who called to complain that the blade was not sharp. Again, Ben jumped in his truck and took a sharp blade to the landscaper where he was working. 

     Problems can be handled in different ways. Every customer complaint, however, should be handled quickly. Guard your reputation by building customer confidence in you and your business. It's the future relationship that's important.

     Example: Elena runs a small health foods store. She sells organic vegetables, packaged foods, vitamins, supplements and more. When a customer returned a bunch of carrots saying they were woody, Elena refunded the cost and gave the customer a gift certificate in a small amount to be used on anything in the store. The customer used it right away, spending many times more than the value of the gift certificate. 

     By going the extra mile, Elena helped the customer through a disappointing experience. The reputation of the store was protected. And the customer was encouraged to spread the word. 

     Example: Betsy operates a one woman public relations firm. She was a whirlwind of activity with clients. One called to complain that the news release Betsy had written did not get picked up by the local press. Betsy went into action. She called several contacts, got the press release published, and turned a bad situation around. She built customer confidence and prepared the way for future business. 

     Complaints are opportunities. When tackling a complaint, it is useful to remember the golden rule. Treat others as you would want to be treated.

     Carefully guard your reputation by showing your customer that you care about them and their problems, that they can depend on you, and that you always follow through. 

      Your customers expect you to stand behind your products and services. But mistakes happen and difficult situations arise. You guard your future by solving problems.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Get on social media

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      to help you better manage your small business.

     Many of your current and future customers are living the digital life. Social media is the new go-to. Along with all the mobile options.

     People follow each other on Facebook. They tweet their friends. They text everything. They join LinkedIn, post on Instagram and Pinterest and much more. 

     All sorts of possibilities are open to you today. You have options that didn't exist 5 or 10 years ago, and more are coming at you. And going digital can mean re-thinking your business.

     Example: Tim is a baker who made a drastic transition. He closed his retail bakery, opting for a web-based operation. His website shows the goodies he offers. His cookies and pastries are now sold all over the country, delivered overnight if the customer orders before 2 p.m. His customers now find him on his Facebook page and other social media. These drive traffic to his website where they place their orders. Customers once drove several miles to get to his bake shop. Now they order online, and social media does the driving for them--along with UPS and Fedex.

     This bakery operation has used social media and a website to expand to a much bigger operation. There was a transition time, but the bakery is now much bigger than possible with just a storefront with a website. 

     Example: Joyce owns a long-established wellness center offering massages, yoga, and other specialties. She maintained an email list but did not use social media. She decided to take the plunge and started with a completely new website. The site was attractive, easy to navigate, and she emailed an announcement to her clients. After months of keeping up with the costs and maintenance of the site, Joyce took a second hard look. Less than 100 new viewers had actually used the site, and she could attribute very few sales to it. She decided it was time for a change. She left the website in place and reached out on social media with pictures she snapped herself and posted. The response, including referrals, was immediate. Within the first month on Facebook, Joyce added three new clients. Facebook was driving people to her website and viewership there quickly increased. Referrals showed up.

     Businesses once put up a website and that was that. Today, many of those stagnant websites are everywhere--costing time and money, but delivering little. 

     To make websites useful, businesses must drive traffic to them. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and more are doing a good job. They capture the attention of potential clients. Mobile does as well. Then, you can get the desired bump in website viewership and growth. 

     A website is a great tool for small business. But going digital is much more than setting up your website. Use all the social media you deem appropriate to realize your potential.  

Friday, March 6, 2015

Getting referrals

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     Referrals are the lifeblood of every business. Referrals come to you on another person's reputation, friendship or recommendation. 

     You never know where the next referral is coming from. This simple fact tells you how to treat every visitor to your website, every person who calls your business, and every person who walks in your door.

     Example: Mary had her hair done at a local salon. She enthusiastically referred her friends. One was dissatisfied with the results and she spread lots of negativity. When the bad words reached the owner, she went into action. She contacted the dissatisfied customer, offering a free "do-over" plus a gift certificate. The owner also called Mary, thanked her for the referral and offered her a gift certificate as well. The bad-mouthing stopped and more referrals came in.

     Turning around a dissatisfied customer can be tricky. But it is always worth the effort. You never want bad-mouthing going around the neighborhood--or on the Internet.

     In business, you can always expect referrals. People talk to each other and refer others to your business. But it can be a slow process unless you do some things to increase the flow.  

     More straightforward ways to get referrals are available. Some can be even more effective in spreading the word.

     Example: When John got his plumber's license, he had few customers--mainly friends and relatives. He passed out his business cards at every opportunity. This included several networking events he attended. He also placed a small ad in a local newspaper. Nothing seemed to bring in new customers. John decided to call people he had done work for. First, he asked if they needed any more plumbing work done. Second, he asked each one for referrals--names and phone numbers of people they knew. Everyone needs a plumber sooner or later, he reasoned. Many were happy to give John some referrals. One of these was the owner of several small apartment buildings. Jackpot! The word is spreading, and today John employs two helpers. 

     Example: Angie is a holistic practitioner specializing in massage. To increase referrals she contacts other practitioners--nutritionists, chiropractors, hypnotherapists, and medical doctors. She has set up a network of non-competing practitioners to refer people to each other. Her massage business is growing, based on these referrals. Each practitioner in the network keeps a stack of business cards of the others and hand them out when they refer people. The practice has expanded Angie's massage business considerably--all based on referrals. It has also increased the client base for the others in the small network.

     Referrals arrive at your door predisposed to your services/products. They are leaning in your direction based on the word of a third party. 

      Don't let a week pass without doing something to increase the flow of referrals. The future of your business will happen more quickly. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Promote with seniors

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     Seniors are a good source of referrals. And they are a formidable market themselves for your products and services.

     Many seniors are now retired, and more retire every week. They're also living longer than previous generations. They have disposable income--but they've learned to live on budgets. They have many friends, relatives, and associates who trust their judgement. 

     Small businesses typically serve local communities. Tap into the seniors demographic for some surprising promotional opportunities.

     Example: Peter's small computer business needed more customers. He noticed that he got some referrals after giving free computer workshops at a senior center. He would take all comers, showing them how the basics, how to access and use social media, and more advanced demonstrations for those who already used computers. Peter realized that all those grandmothers and grandfathers were spreading the word. He expanded his free demonstrations to other senior centers, and today it is his only promotional activity. Many referrals keep him busy in his business.

     Example: Ellen used to own a small tea shop with only four tables. The shelves were lined with teas of all descriptions. Customers stopped in to have a cup of tea and purchase tea to take home or to give as gifts. At a town street fair, Ellen set up a table offering free cups of tea. Se noticed that her teas were a hit with all age groups--but especially seniors. Later, she began offering tea demonstrations and talks at clubs, group meetings, and senior centers. Today, Ellen has expanded her tea shop into the space next door. She still serves tea and pastries to a loyal clientele, but her business really took off when she began using social media to drive customers to her web page. Seniors have referred people from all over the country to Ellen. They order and Ellen now is spending lots of time daily packaging and shipping teas. 

     Example: Bill runs a small home improvement business. He and his two helpers take care of the odd jobs around the house--painting, replacing a window, cleaning gutters, repairing sheetrock, and other needs. Bill takes a two-pronged approach--especially with seniors. (1) He takes time on his initial visit to listen to the customer's concerns and he homes in on what they want done. He always suggests that he begin with only one job. If they are satisfied, he tells them, he will estimate the next job and tackle it. This puts the client at ease, and it stretches out payments--a real concern with seniors. (2) Bill always asks for referrals and leaves a handful of business cards with the homeowner to give out to friends and neighbors. It's working well to get referrals for upcoming jobs.

     Seniors are a good source of new business and referrals. You can tap into this rich vein of referrals and repeat business if you are sensitive to the concerns of this big market. 

     Businesses are built one customer/client at a time. Working with seniors to get referrals is a good way to extend your reach. Seniors are loyal and they will refer others to you.   

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Start up at any age

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     People start up small businesses at any age. Age is not part of the equation.

     Doing business comes naturally to the young, just as it does to older people. While they have less experience, young entrepreneurs compensate with loads of enthusiasm and imagination. 

     Example: When I lived in the big city, I walked to the corner every morning to catch the bus. As I approached the bus stop one day, I saw four or five people gathered around a small table. They were picking up and examining things displayed there. Coming closer, I recognized my neighbor's young daughter among the adults--one of whom was the child's mother. It turned out that this 6-year-old had gathered some smooth stones, painted them in blazing colors, and was offering them for sale at a dime each. People smiled, plopped down their dimes, pocketed the stones, and boarded the bus. I decided to catch the next bus, lingering to talk with the youngest entrepreneur I ever met. Why set up your table here, I asked the girl. Because that's where the people are, she answered without hesitation. What will you do with all the dimes, I asked. Save them in my piggy bank, she told me--looking up at her mom. It's almost full, the mother added. As my bus came to a stop, I put a quarter on the table and took a yellow stone. I still have it. 

     Children catch on quickly to the ways of the world. I've often wondered what became of the young stone painter. I'll bet she is successful, no matter the future she chose. 

     You're never too old to start up a business, either. Turning dreams into realities is a state of mind, not age. With a positive attitude, you move forward day by day.

     Example: One of my careers was to head up the Business Owners Institute in New Jersey. Everyone employed there had to have experience operating a small business. That way, we offered hands-on experience in dealing with the problems of starting up and running small businesses. People came to us for help with financing and loans, selling and marketing, expanding and growing their businesses, and any other problem they might have. One day, a lady came wanting advice on starting up a business she had in mind. Right off, she told me that she was 79 years old, and she was concerned that she might be too old to tackle the start-up she had in mind. She moved and talked like a 40-year-old, and I assured her that no one is ever too old to begin. She wanted to establish a bagel shop, and over the next couple of months, we worked together. She arranged to lease space, buy used bagel-making equipment, stock her new shop, put the word out, and get the doors open. Her bagel shop was very successful. About five years later, she sold the place and pocketed a nice retirement income to supplement what she already had.

     I have told these two stories many times. They illustrate the fact that age is not important in starting up and operating a small business. You are never too young or too old to start out on a new path. 

     My lifetime of personal experience starting and growing businesses tells me that you can build just about any business you set your mind to--and at any age. Yes, other things impact decisions--family, health, money, knowledge, the marketplace and more. But the thing that will see you through is attitude..