Friday, May 29, 2015

Expand and grow

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Expanding your business takes time, planning and moving forward one step at a time. Expanding means taking on related markets.

     Example: Linda is a chiropractor who decided she wanted to head in the direction of becoming a wellness center. She spent several months talking with holistic practitioners, investigating the market possibilities, looking at space availability, and gradually homing in on a business plan. Today, Linda is well underway. Her new wellness center is attracting clients looking for all sorts of treatments--Reiki, massage, acupuncture, yoga, nutritional guidance, and other interests. She provides space for various experts to meet and treat clients. These people pay her a simple fee, or, for longer term experts, they rent space from her. There is a reception room providing informational displays and video. The new center has attracted community attention, and her chiropractic practice has attracted many new clients. 

     Example: Mary is a potter. She has a studio that is open to the public. She loved to experiment with glazes and she developed specialty products that attracted attention and sales. To expand, she decided to offer classes to groups and to individuals. In addition, she decided to hold events once each month--bringing in other artists (jewelers, fiber artists, and others). The events were successful and brought in more people interested in classes for her pottery and glazes. Mary also wrote a short how-to book which she offers on Amazon--people who attend her classes also buy the book.

     Example: Jon is a landscaper. He cuts grass, trims shrubbery, helps homeowners put plant material in the yard, and builds walkways and small seating areas. He parks his truck and trailer behind his own house, and his garage is full of equipment and materials. He has a small office inside his home--a converted bedroom. Jon's wife reminded him that he had to get the business out of the house, out of the garage and out of the yard. Looking around, Jon found a small garden center owned by an elderly man who was willing to enter into a lease-purchase agreement, selling the place to Jon. After carefully projecting the numbers, Jon jumped at the chance. The elderly man was looking for an income for his declining years, so they agreed to a payout that Jon could afford over the next 15 years. If Jon defaulted, the elderly man could repossess the place and sell it again. Today, Jon has expanded his landscaping services into a full-blown garden center that attracts more customers, expanding his business.

     To expand your business, get creative. You already have a base operation. It's up to you to home in on what can work for you. 

     Expansions are not to be taken lightly. When you think you've found a way to grow, do the numbers. That means knowing the market.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Getting cash

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Getting cash into your business is an on-going problem. Customers pay for goods and services, but the cash flow always seems to lag.

     Everyday concerns are one thing. Long term growth presents an even bigger problem. There is a difference between money to operate today and money to grow tomorrow.

     Loans from banks can be hard to get. Loans from friends and family can present other problems--if you go this route, always have a business plan and always write a contract.

     Private investors are another source. Many people make investments in stocks and bonds. Some of these people might be open to considering investing in a local small business. With either a loan or a partial ownership in your business, you might be able to attract them with a better return than they could realize otherwise. 

     Other methods are available. (1) Credit cards can provide flexibility, but interest can be high. They are not a long-term solution to getting cash. (2) Some businesses can factor receivables. This, too, can be costly, but you might be able to bump up your selling prices to cover. (3) "Borrowing" from your suppliers by negotiating longer payment terms--by the time their invoice arrives and has to be paid, you have sold the goods and have the cash to meet the payment. (4) "Borrowing" from your clients and customers by selling gift certificates--some of these will never be redeemed. (5) "Borrowing" from customers who buy your custom manufactured products by having them pre-pay for future delivery. (6) Have your customers make work-in-progress payments--common in certain industries (printing, landscaping, construction, machine shops). (7) Sell on-going maintenance and repair contracts--the cash comes in on a regular basis, whether or not you are called on to perform.

     Getting cash into your business requires constant attention. Healthy cash flow means you are building for the future. 

     You'll need a business plan to get the bigger loans you'll need for future growth. Healthy cash flow in your business provides a solid foundation for that business plan.   

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Persistence pays

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     to help you better manage your small business. 

     You run your own business. You are creative, hard-working, tenacious and stubborn. But sometimes you get confused.

     It's an everyday kind of confusion. Not to worry.

     Example: Takisha runs a neighborhood cafe. She used her grandmother's recipes and good advice to establish the operation. Customers rewarded her by returning again and again--and by referring others to the food she served. After a year or so, the business leveled off. Takisha knew that she had to reach out beyond the neighborhood in order to grow. She tried print ads, coupons, and a postcard mailing. There was little success. Then she hit on the thing that worked--she posted pictures of plates of food on Facebook. The pictures got "liked" and passed around. Suddenly, people from other areas of town showed up. Takisha is thinking about renting the space next door and expanding. 

     Example: Kathy is a massage therapist. She has built up a clientele that is growing--slowly. To speed up growth, Kathy partnered with others to offer free informational sessions. She brought in specialists in nutrition, hypnotherapy, Reiki, and others. Once each month, a specialist joined Kathy in explaining and demonstrating and answering questions. The sessions helped Kathy speed up her growth by introducing her massage therapy to others who were attracted to the sessions. The other specialists enjoyed growth as well. 

     Example: Bill is a landscaper. He needed to add new equipment and a truck to his operation. Banks turned him down. To get the money, he searched the Internet for companies that specialized in loaning money to small businesses. He found one that suited his requirements.

     Worrying about your business is normal. Separate the problems and focus on one thing at a time. Tackle confusion by listing problems. Then solve them one at a time. Work your way through your list. 

     The paths to success are many. What works for you might not work for me. Find your own path. Never give up!

     Persistence pays. Learn to compartmentalize. Separate your problems and you'll find it easier to solve them--one at a time. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hello social media

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Social media is the new kid on the block when it comes to getting the word out. Advertising has taken many forms in the past, but social media is putting all the older methods to shame.

     Social media is still developing, expanding, finding its place in the brave new world of computer technology. Who knows where it will lead us. In the meantime, it's revolutionizing the ways in which we interact.

     Take Facebook. It is a way to reach out, stay connected, have fun, play games, laugh and cry, and otherwise escape the more formalized roads our culture has provided in the past.

     And it is a way to promote the goods and services small businesses provide. Not the hard sell. But the softer interactions between regular folks getting on with their daily lives.

     Example: An upscale women's shop posts pictures of newly arrived dresses, jeans, outfits and accessories on Facebook. Almost every day, there is something new there. The site becomes a go-to place for regular customers--and they not only "like" the photos, they also pass them on to their friends.

     Example: A bakery that specializes in scones and brownies posts pictures of mouth-watering products on Facebook. Orders come in from organizations and corporate clients who want to punch up their meetings with some unusual goodies. 

     Example: A wellness center regularly posts pictures of the activities going on at the center--along with announcements of upcoming events. Massage therapists give free demos, yoga specialists hold free sessions, nutritionists hold free question-and-answer group meetings. Thanks to Facebook, the pictures create excitement and draw people to the center. The Facebook site is the chief means of advertising what goes on there.

     Facebook is easy. It's free. And they lead you through the set-up. Of course, they want you to buy an ad, but it's not required. 

     Facebook is only one of the possibilities. How about using LinkedIn or Twitter or Pinterest or Instagram or some other social media site?

     To use social media effectively, you'll need pictures. Well, you snap pictures anyway. They don't have to be professionally done to be effective. They don't even have to be on the subject at hand--any pet can attract attention to your message.   

Monday, May 25, 2015

Partner to grow

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Two businesses coming together can create more excitement than either one acting alone. The public is more likely to show up when more than one business is holding an event.

     Open houses, informational meetings, seminars and workshops are popular. People want to learn, ask questions, and discuss the subject of the day. And you are the expert. 

     Example: A computer expert partners with a local cafe. Everyone has questions about computing--problems, new developments, how-to info, etc. And attendees get to know another place to grab a bite to eat.

     Example: A wellness expert partners with a local book store. Free demos attract attention and the question-and-answer session creates excitement. The book store's sales increase and the wellness expert makes future appointments.

     Example: A tax accountant partners with a financial planner. They separately discuss taxes, inheritance set-ups, retirement possibilities, and more. They have to schedule another session to cover all the questions that come to the table. Both get good publicity, referrals, new clients.

     Example: A landscaper partners with a garden center. They set up a series of workshops showing homeowners how to create a patio, how to install a small fish pond, how to build fences and gates and arbors and more. The sessions are free and they attract more clients for the landscaper and the garden center. 

     Partnering with each other helps small businesses attract attention, build excitement, get the word out, and find new clients. 

     To get started, make a list of possible partners. Talk to each one. See if you can set up an event that will benefit both. 

     When you set up an event, make sure you get the word out ahead of time--this takes 2-3 weeks if you use traditional media (news releases), or 2-3 days if you promote on social media (pictures, pictures, pictures).    

Friday, May 22, 2015

Running with credit cards

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Buying materials and running your small business using credit cards can be dangerous. It's common. Everyone has done this, but it can get out of control.

     Example: Judy runs a pet supply store. In months when cash flow is not flowing, she uses her personal credit cards to buy materials for resale. She has several credit cards and she has good credit--never late and always paying the monthly charge--or more. The problem is that the amount outstanding has been steadily creeping up. It needs to be going in the opposite direction, but Judy cannot make more than the minimum payment.

     Example: Emma is a Pilates expert. To get her certification, she used her personal credit card. To get the equipment she needed, she used the credit card again. Then there were the incidentals that she needed. By the time she got into business, Emma was in over her head with credit card debt.

     Example: Tom needed several thousand dollars worth of new computing hardware and software. He put everything on his credit card, along with some office furniture and other items. In his excitement of expanding his operation, Tom overspent--all of it on his credit cards.

     Credit cards are a marvelous invention. They represent a way to get a loan without the hassle of applying to a bank or credit union. Used wisely, credit cards can help you get into business, expand, and grow. But sooner or later, the bills must be paid.

     If you have several credit cards and all of them are killing your monthly budget, it's time to get a handle on the situation. There are several ways to do this. The method I like is to target the one with the smallest total, then double or triple the payments each month until it is paid off. Then tackle the the next one with the smallest balance. Eventually, you'll be left with only the biggest one. Keep paying as much as possible until it's gone. 

     Credit cards give owners of small businesses some flexibility in managing money. That's the good side of the equation. The bad side is letting things get out of hand. 

     The thing to keep in mind with credit cards is this--you are using other people's money.  Sooner or later they will demand repayment. Ain't no such thing as a free lunch.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Changing directions

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     to help you better manage your small business. 

     Opportunities to change directions are everywhere. Before you jump, do some careful consideration and planning.

     You might have never operated a business before, and you want to take the plunge. Or, you might be in business and want to take off in another direction. Either way, the road ahead can be rocky.

     Markets drive all businesses. Carefully check out the market you're about to tackle. Is it stable? Mature? Just opening up? Can you translate that market into numbers? Do the numbers make sense? Can you turn the numbers into a business plan?

     Example: Marcia was in corporate America and she was unhappy. She wanted to run her own operation. First questions: Should she buy an existing business? Should she buy a franchise? Did she have a compelling interest that she could turn into a business and start up from scratch? Second questions: Did she have enough money to buy, to start up, to support herself for at least a year? Would the market support what she wanted to do? Did her business plan give her the confidence to proceed? 

     Example: Tom is a chiropractor. He has a small office that has attracted a regular list of clients, but growth has leveled off. Most of his clients want evening appointments which left Tom with open time during the days. He decided to open a second office at a local truck stop. Truckers traveled the major interstate in large numbers and many of them had back and neck problems. Today, Tom spends about half of his time at each office. The "old" office is by appointment only. The "new" office is walk-in, and Tom has added a massage therapist to this side of the operation. 

     Example: Mary runs a small cafe. It seems to be lagging. Is it just the economy which, given time, will turn around? Or should Mary start a catering operation, reaching out to corporations, event organizers, weddings and the like? Should she start cooking classes and reach out to people who will pay to attend? 

     These examples pose questions that need answers. And the answers come from the marketplace. Before you change directions, do that business plan. 

     Your business plan reduces all the verbiage to hard numbers. All of us know that politicians can fudge in speaking words, but the bottom line numbers don't lie. It's the same in changing directions in business. Reduce your dreams to numbers and you'll sleep better at night.  


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hiring new employees

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Over the years, many business owners have asked me about hiring employees. This is a basic question that goes to the long-term goals of your business.

     If yours is a small machine shop and you want to add an employee to help with the growing overload of jobs, then you want someone with specific experience on the machines your have in your shop. But if you are looking for an employee to "grow with" you might look in another direction.

     Basic skills are necessary in any employee. You always want someone who can read and write, do basic math, get to work on time, and gets along well with others. That said, I have learned the hard way that a college degree does NOT always mean that you hire the person who comes looking for a job. 

     College degrees are a dime a dozen these days. They have come to mean very little in the real world of business. Of course, a degree in economics means that the person has passed certain levels of knowledge. He or she can regurgitate, but can he or she think their way out of a paper bag? 

     I have hired many employees in the past who did not know how to operate the equipment I wanted them to run. But the person was bright-eyed, creative, anxious and willing to be a good contributor to the company. I could teach them to do what I wanted them to do every day, providing they had the basics for me to work with. 

     Example: Mary runs a flower shop. She designs flower arrangements herself and has a couple of helpers who finish the arrangements. The time came when she needed to hire a full-time designer. Neither of the helpers expressed any interest in design, so Mary went looking for a new employee. To her surprise, she found a graphic designer whose creativity perfectly matched the needs of the flower shop. Mary realized that she was hiring a creative person--not a floral designer who had years of experience. Mary worked with the new employee to bring her up to speed in floral design.

     Hiring a new employee is not to be taken lightly. Bringing a new person into your operation will change the makeup of the business. When you sift through the applications  of new people, make certain you are looking for the right combination of skills and experience.

    Neither my mother nor my father finished high school. But both of them learned to think, to face reality and figure out solutions to problems. It is the most valuable trait you look for in new employees.   

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Customer contacts

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Turn customer contacts into fun experiences, educational sessions, and go-to places for information. The idea is to position your operation in the forefront of customers' minds. Engage your customers and they will return again and again--bringing others with them.

     Example: An accountant sees clients only at tax time. Take it to the next level. Invite several of them to attend a special session where you'll educate them on the latest tax rules and regulations. You'll answer all their questions, serve coffee, and demonstrate new software for handling accounts. You become the go-to place for expert information, and your clients refer others to you.

     Example: A jewelry maker designs earrings, necklaces, and more in gold and silver. One-of-a-kind pieces are offered through the website. Social media drives eyeballs to the site. Clients are invited to submit their own ideas for custom designs, and rough illustrations arrive in emails. There is a back-and-forth to home in on the final design, but the jewelry maker has been very successful in providing finished pieces to happy customers--all done long distance. 

     Example: A hypnotherapist offers an open seminar on how hypnosis can be effective in pain management. The session is directed to and open to doctors and nurses. Post-surgery patients are referred to the hypnotherapist following the session. 

     Example: A furniture store looks at every walk-in as challenge to fill a room with appropriate pieces. When a client expresses interest in a recliner, he is guided to a computer screen to show how the piece will look in a room setting. The conversation leads to room layouts, and the client is encouraged to "play around" on the computer--designing a room with furniture. It leads to more sales and a customer who returns again and again. 

     Becoming involved with customers is good for business. Help them understand the possibilities and guide them through the complexities of whatever their wants might be.

     Sometime, people don't actually know what they need or want. It's up to you to put a face on that need or want. Then you can help them solve their problem.  

     When you are the go-to expert in your field, customers will gladly pay extra for your expertise. Just remember to build the cost of this into your pricing schedules. You are selling not only a product or service. You are selling your knowledge and experience.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Arranging for space

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     to help you better manage your small business.

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

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

     Example: Rita was excited. She was about the realize her dream of establishing her own retail shop. She found a storefront in an up and coming town that she thought was perfect. The landlord was asking a rent that she could afford, but he wanted only a one year lease. This raised a red flag in Rita's mind. On the one hand, if the business did not go well, she would be out of the lease after 12 months. On the other hand, if the business took off, she would be going back to extend the lease after only one year. The landlord would be in the best position to ask a much higher rent because she would not want to move. Rita stood her ground, asking for a 5-year lease. Finally, they agreed to a 3-year lease.

     Example: Diane is a personal trainer. She sees private clients in their homes, and she sees corporate employees at company gyms. She is building a client base and reputation so that one day she will be able to open her own place. 

     Example: John is a furniture designer. He could not afford a space of his own so he went looking for an upscale gift shop. He found one that offered original works by artists and artisans, and he made arrangements to consign his furniture. 

     Example: Elise is a potter. She used part of her inheritance to buy a small building. There, she established a working studio and display shop. She is supplementing her income by teaching--group and individual instruction. She is set up so that the business pays her back a monthly rental income, thereby recouping over time the money she spent buying the building. 

     Explore all the possibilities when arranging for space--especially when you are starting out. Opportunities vary. Make certain that the arrangement you make matches your long term goals.

     Many will tell you that in today's computerized world, you don't need a space. Well, you'll have to handle your customers/clients somewhere--even if it's in your home office.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Getting more referrals

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     to help you better manage your small business. 

     New customers and clients show up at your place all the time. Many come from referrals. John refers Mary who visits your website. Joan refers Ted who walks into your shop.

     Referrals result from the natural interactions between people. When you are impressed with the work your plumber did, you want others to know about it. When someone admires the coat you're wearing, you tell them about the wonderful little shop where you found it.

     You can do some things to speed up the number of referrals coming your way. This means you are growing your business.

     Example: Pam is a massage therapist. She posts pictures on her Facebook page showing her hands hard at work on necks, legs, shoulders and more. The pictures get "liked" on Facebook and passed around. This has the effect of referring others to Pam. It has worked so well, Pam decided to post pictures on other social media. Today, Pam's appointment bookings extend far into the future and she's added another massage therapist to her staff.

     Pictures are powerful communicators. Many of today's social media offer opportunities--mostly free--to get the word out there and passed around. 

     Social media, extensive as they've become, represent only one method to get more referrals. There are other ways to keep the word zIpping around the community. 

     Example: Jill is an attorney concentrating on elder care and the problems seniors have. She regularly puts on informational sessions at senior centers, organizational meetings, and other gatherings. She talks about living wills, social security, elder care and more. She answers questions from the audience and helps people understand the implications of their problems. These sessions have the effect of spreading Jill's reputation and calls come in for appointments. Attendees also refer others to Jill--not only other seniors, but grandchildren as well who have legal problems. 

     Getting the word out to the community can take many forms. Some businesses sponsor sports teams. Others hold classes to teach pottery making or baking fancy breads. Still others hold events. 

     Example: Lisa runs a health foods store. Once each month, she schedules an event at the store designed to increase awareness of healthy living. One month a nutritionist will talk about eating habits and foods. Another month an organic farmer will answer questions about the problems of raising vegetables organically. A chef has offered cooking lessons and a Reiki expert has demonstrated Reiki to the group. Lisa's reputation is spreading. 

     Getting more referrals can be an inexpensive way to grow your business. The way you go about it is up to you. Just keep in mind that many methods are available. And with today's social media, getting more referrals is easier than it has ever been.

     Getting more referrals means putting your customers and clients to work for you. They will be doing it anyway, so what you want to do is to speed up the process. Keep it positive. 


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Do more for clients

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     to help you better manage your small business. 

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

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

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

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

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

     Example: John designs websites for clients. When he informed them that he could set them up on social media, the calls came in. His clients had not made the connection until John laid it out for them. 

     Example: Donna's restaurant was a go-to place for healthy meals, and customers regularly returned and referred others. Donna also offered catering, but she did not remind her regulars often enough that she could handle their parties and special events. When she lost several catering jobs to others, she realized she needed to put the word out on a regular basis. 

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

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

     Every time you interact with customers/clients, try to remind them of all the ways you can serve them. Otherwise, they will tend to think of you in a very narrow way. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Getting into business

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     There is no magic road map for getting into business. You begin where you are and take it from there. 

     If you are young, you have little experience in business. But you have a real interest in something, and if you're interested, others are interested. They are your market.

     If you are in corporate America, you have little appreciation for the world of small business. But you have years of experience doing something, right? Can this be translated into a small business? Or do you have a hobby that can form the basis for a small business? 

     Example: Jane was a customer service representative for a large company. She had a book of accounts and handled the problems that cropped up with products and services. Exhausted at the end of long days in the office, Jane came home to her jigsaw puzzles. She looked forward every day to her evening time at her dining room table fitting pieces together. Usually, she had 4 or 5 going at once. One day she screwed up her courage, gave her employer notice, rented a small store front, and installed her jigsaw puzzles on the shelves. Her grand opening attracted some interest, and her presence on social media generated even more. She bought and sold puzzles and board games through her website and on eBay. It took a while to get the business off the ground, but it worked. And Jane was never happier. 

     Example: Jeb worked summers and after classes during high school for a construction company. He learned how to install siding, power wash decks, build steps, mount gutters and downspouts, paint and pour concrete. He saved his earnings. When he graduated high school, Jeb could have started his own renovation and repair business, but he had a bigger idea. With his savings, he made a down payment on a three-family building that needed work. He put the place in tip top shape, rented the apartments to three tenants, and looked around for another building. He still takes on renovation jobs for others, but his main business is acquiring and managing rental properties of his own.  

     Example: Sheena was fascinated with the law. She got her law degree and passed the bar exam with flying colors. Then she found herself stuck in a large law firm where someone else made all the decisions. Sheena wanted to be her own boss, so she decided to build her own business using what she knew as a basis. She structured a series of presentations on various aspects of legal matters and began offering them to organizations, churches, senior centers, and other groups. These events brought Sheena clients who needed legal help in buying and selling real estate, writing wills, dealing with law suits, handling traffic accidents, and other matters where the law was concerned. It took some time, but today Sheena is doing what she loves in her own way. 

     Getting into business is a matter of knowing your own interests and kicking it up to the next level. It takes attitude and determination and persistence. 

     Any interest you have can be turned into a business. It might never grow into the next Microsoft, but it can be rewarding--personally and financially. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tackling market trends

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Market trends are all around us. Markets are subject to fads and fashions, just like clothing styles. Things are continually changing. Sometimes, a trend develops and the marketplace runs with it. Other times, a trend dies aborning. 

     A good example can be found in the way men dress up for office jobs. While the three-piece suit has been around for a very long time, the vest comes and goes. The jacket lapels get very wide in some years, go narrow in other times. Shirts used to be all white. Today, colorful stripes and checks are everywhere.

     To spot market trends, watch television. Trends in clothing styles are readily apparent. Harder to spot are trends in healthy living, exercise, foods, education--the list is endless. All over television are ads for gadgets--the trend here is not for the gadget but rather for the convenience of distance buying. 

     Example: Lisa put the convenience of distance buying to work in her bakery. She began offering scones, biscotti and brownies on her website and on Facebook. Her target market was people tasked with supplying refreshments at meetings and gatherings in corporate settings. Her sales pitch was simple: "You already have the coffee. Now you have the caterer--anytime, anywhere." The orders came in and Lisa ships out the goodies daily via UPS.

     Education usually means a classroom. But it ain't necessarily so. People are thirsty for information--not the kind that puts a degree on their resume, but the kind of everyday, practical information that helps people get through the day. 

     Example: Joan is a trained and certified nutritionist. She has been trying to establish her business, but attracting paying clients has proved difficult. She gives talks at health foods stores, supermarkets and senior centers. This has resulted in a few more clients for her nutrition sessions--but not enough. When she noticed more and more questions about weight reduction, Joan decided to try that direction. She devised weight reduction programs for adults and children which she promoted on her website and Facebook page. When she scheduled these new seminars, they quickly filled up. Some of the attendees at the seminars became regular clients and referred others to Joan's programs. She has now partnered with a chiropractor to hold demonstrations and events. By re-packaging her nutrition programs as weight reduction and healthy eating programs, Joan has tapped into a market trend that will support her business. 

     Your job in managing your small business is to find the market trends that will help you sail into the future you deserve. Sometimes, it's a matter of re-structuring your own thinking to better align your business with trends in the marketplace. Other times, it's a matter of taking off in another direction. 

     Market trends are never static. What works today will more than likely not work tomorrow. It takes constant attention to stay on top of what works in the marketplace. Now, where did I put that white shirt? 


Monday, May 11, 2015

Expand your market

     Free daily tips, information, advice and ideas
     to help you better manage your small business.

     Building on what you already do is an easy way to expand. Sometimes, it only takes a change in attitude to attract clients in a completely new way. Other times, a new market develops in an area you already serve.

     Example: Joe runs a small independent pest control company. He has experienced difficulty "breaking out" ahead of his competition. When the town was suddenly invaded by stink bugs, Joe saw a way to enliven his marketing message. He took dozens of pictures of the bugs on sidewalks, porches, steps and patios--posting them every other day on Facebook. The calls came in. He offered to give short talks at meetings. More calls came in. Many of these new callers became regular clients coping with fleas, ticks, mice, ants, spiders and more. The stink bugs were a marketing gift.

     Example: Dawn is a certified therapist specializing in helping clients through stress, grief and related issues. She noticed that many of her clients had gone through drug and alcohol drug addiction rehab programs, but large numbers of them were still coping with their old habits. Dawn extended her practice to this area, helping rehab "graduates" cope with their on-going problems. They represent a well-defined market--people needing specific help. Dawn is developing several programs for post-rehab people. It builds on what she was already doing, but it structures programs in an entirely different and new way. 

     Example: Judy runs a local recycling operation. She takes in all types of metals. The market for metals goes through ups and downs--prices rise and decline according to forces well beyond Judy's control. When a storm came through her area, Judy saw an opportunity. She put the word out that she would take the wood--no payment, just a convenient place for people to get rid of downed trees. Soon Judy's back lot was filled with a jumble of tree trunks, limbs and stumps. Again, Judy put the word out--this time to artisans, woodworkers, and businesses offering mulch and firewood. She had expanded into another market with little effort. Two or three storms per season keeps the back lot full. 

     Everything changes. Technology, weather, markets, your client base and their needs--all change. Be alert to changes that can affect your business

     Some changes affect you negatively. Others can be opportunities. 

     Expanding your market and growing your business can be as easy as recognizing everything the world throws at you as opportunities. In every dark cloud there is that silver lining. Find the silver and run with it. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Business friends

     Free daily tips, information, advice, and ideas
     to help you better manage your small business.

     In previous write-ups, I've talked about the difference between personal friends and business friends. It pays to know which is which and treat them accordingly.

     Personal friends can be casual or close. Everyone has both casual and close personal friends. 

     A business friend is a completely different animal. Business friends are the customers and clients you attract to your business. These people come to you for the product or service you provide, and they return again and again. You might never invite them to dinner at your home, but you make them feel welcome and relaxed in your dealings with them. You might never give them a birthday party, but they know that they can count on you to be there when they need you.

     You and your business friends are in a mutually dependent relationship. It is symbiotic. Each contributes to the well-being of the other. Both parties get what they need.

     Example: Elaine promotes her fashionable shop for women using social media. Once or twice each week, Elaine posts pictures of new designs and items in the shop. Twice each year, she mounts a live fashion show with models wearing the designs carried in the shop. Models mingle with the friends of this business showing off shoes, handbags, and accessories along with gowns and casual wear. Before and after the show, Elaine posts pictures on social media. In addition, she sends out invitations to private showings, and she sends a Thank You card to people following purchases. Elaine is careful through all this activity to position herself as the "go-to" adviser for clothing and accessories. Her business friends know that they can trust Elaine's advice and judgement when they have questions. Elaine's is not just a place to buy stuff. It is a resource for the business friends who represent the customer base. 

     To develop and grow your business friend base, concentrate on their interests, their concerns, their needs. Listen to your customers and clients, and they will show you the way forward. And then they will happily refer others to you. 

     Building your base of business friends takes attention, listening, transparency, honesty and going the extra mile. Social media is a convenient vehicle to make all this happen.  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Serving customers

     Free daily tips, information, advice, and ideas
     to help you better manage your small business.

     Recently I went online to make a purchase. I waded through all the pop-up ads and finally homed in on what I wanted to buy. I clicked on "Add to Shopping Cart" and nothing happened. Several attempts gave the same result.

     At the company's Help Desk, I left a message. Instructions there assured me that all messages would be answered within 48 hours. It's been over two weeks, and no word has come back from the company.

     I wonder if there's a live person somewhere wondering why the company is not receiving orders. Or has everything become so automated that only the machines notice a downturn in orders? Where have all the people gone? 

     Example: Gina operates a small company with four employees. The company sells brownies to customers all over the country. People place orders on Gina's website and she ships via UPS. To make certain that everything is working properly, Gina has an arrangement with a friend to place an order every other week. Tracking that order through the entire system assures Gina that the website is working, that there is no problem with ordering or with order fulfillment or with delivery. 

     Checking up on the internal workings of your operation is important. If you have a storefront, you can arrange to have a "mystery shopper" check out your business. If you're on the net, you should do no less.

     Example: Paul operates a small auto repair shop. There is a single lift and two employees. Paul is frequently tackling repairs himself when the phone rings. In the past, he let the caller go to voice mail. Then he realized he was losing business--callers assumed that the shop was closed, hung up, and called another shop. Paul hired a part timer who handled the phone in the mornings as well as a few additional duties. The phone is now answered by the second ring.

     Handling customers involves more than making a sale when they show up. Or when they click on your website. It means being there for them--at their convenience, not yours. 

     Today's technology can help you better operate your small business. But it's the customers and clients who ultimately spell success or failure. Make certain you are serving them.  


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Partner ahead

     Free daily tips, information, advice and ideas
     to help you better manage your small business.

     Small businesses can partner with other small businesses for mutual benefit. Two or more businesses coming together can create more attention and excitement than either one acting alone.

     All kinds of excuses can be used to put together an informal partnering. Hold workshops and seminars, informational meetings, networking events, or sponsor events that raise funds for a good cause. Partnering ahead is NOT about holding a sale or setting up a town-wide event.

     Getting together with one or two other businesses to hold an event helps promote and grow each of them.   

     Example: A health foods store partners with a nutritionist. Monthly sessions are announced, the event is posted on Facebook and other social media, a news release is sent to local papers, and store customers are reminded of the upcoming events. The sessions are popular and draw new customers to the store and new clients to the nutritionist. 

     Example: A bicycle shop partners with a fitness operation to hold Saturday morning riding sessions. They meet in the parking lot of a local restaurant. The charge is $5 per rider with all the money going to a local charity. This event attracts new people to all three businesses--the bicycle shop, the fitness operation and the restaurant. 

     Example: A potter and a florist put together a workshop. Attendees can learn hands-on how to throw a pot on the potter's wheel and learn how to make flower arrangements and take care of house plants. The workshop, held in the pottery studio, attracts more people that either business acting alone. And the pictures on Facebook attract even more attention. 

     Partnering to hold events helps to expand the participating businesses. Partnering puts a fresh face on what you do, and it offers opportunities to post pictures--before and after the event--on social media. This attracts even more attention.

     Partnering with other businesses is a way of getting ahead, planning for growth, attracting a wider base of customers/clients.   

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Facebook how-to

     Free daily tips, information, advice, and ideas
     to help you better manage your small business.

     Facebook has proved itself to be a fantastic promotional tool for small business. Posting a picture on Facebook is quick, easy, and free.

     Example: Kathy is a Reiki expert. Her client base is growing with referrals. She decides to expand by offering Reiki for pets. She snaps pictures of dogs and puppies and posts them on her Facebook page. People exchange photos with their friends and referrals come in. When Kathy wants to speed up appointments, she posts pictures more frequently. 

     Example: Sara runs a gift shop. It is a walk-in place and it is much more--she has a website and a presence on Etsy. Sometimes, she puts items up on eBay as well. Sara promotes with pictures--when consignments come in from artists (jewelry, paintings, photographs, ceramics and pottery), Sara takes pictures. These serve as a record and also get posted on Facebook and elsewhere as she considers appropriate. People are attracted to the shop and they order online. Pictures on Facebook drive the success of Sara's business.

     Example: Jeff uses Facebook to promote his garden center. His close-up pictures of blooming plants attract attention. In spring, he shows daffodils and tulips. In autumn, he shows asters and chrysanthemums along with pumpkins and corn stalks. The variations are endless. Facebook pictures drive people to his website. Then people drive to his garden center. 

     Example: Frank is an attorney. He regularly offers to speak at gatherings, club meetings, senior centers and other group sessions. He asks for and gets agreement to take pictures. He posts them on Facebook and they get passed around among friends. The result is that Frank gets calls from new clients, asking for an appointment to discuss some legal matter. 

     Facebook can work in any business. Snap pictures and post them. It is not necessary that the pictures be taken professionally. Just home in on something interesting, colorful or dramatic--a picture of butterfly can draw as much attention as one of the Grand Canyon. 

     The key to using Facebook to promote your business is the picture-taking. But you're snapping pictures all the time, aren't you?    

Monday, May 4, 2015

Promoting tips

     Free daily tips, information, advice, and ideas
     to help you better manage your small business.

     No matter your business, pets can help you promote. You don't have to own a pet shop. Pictures of cuddly kittens and playful puppies can attract attention and get people talking about you and your operation on social media. 

     Example: Ted is a chiropractor. He regularly posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram--and all of these show pictures of his big dog. The dog is very active and the pictures show the dog running, jumping, chasing a ball, carrying a stick, or curled up by Ted's fireplace. Ted is getting across his message showing an active, pain-free life style. He doesn't talk about bones and muscles--that information is on his website for people who want more chiropractic information. The dog is the message. It is upfront, attention-getting, and draws in the viewer. 

     Example: Jan runs a consignment shop. Her big tabby cat really owns the place. He curls up in his basket on the counter, or in the sunny front window, eyeing all comers and catching cat naps. Jan snaps pictures of him--sleeping or playful. He is shown inspecting all the new items arriving at the shop. Jan posts the pictures on Facebook and other social media, generating continuing interest and referrals. Jan's regulars have developed an attachment to the cat and they refer others to the Facebook pages--bringing more people to the shop.

     Example: Tom runs a bar. To punch up interest, he installed two pool tables and a dart board. He brought in craft beers. But the thing that really got the place hopping was something else. Tom cleared off one full wall and had a sign painter emblazon the words "Man's Best Friend" across the top. Underneath, he hung a reproduction of a famous painting of dogs playing cards. Then he invited everyone to post pictures of their dogs all over the rest of the wall. Soon, dozens of pictures of dogs and puppies appeared. Tom takes pictures of the wall and posts on social media. The bar is now affectionately known as Tom's Dog House. 

     Pets can be used in many ways to promote a business. Put your own creativity to work. Today's social media offers many opportunities that were not available in bygone days.

     In the past, promoting meant reaching out with ads. Today's social media is more direct. The key is picture-taking. Everyone today can take pictures and post them easily, inexpensively, and continuously. 
Get yourself in the picture-taking groove and don't look back.     

Friday, May 1, 2015

Social media tips

     Free daily tips, information, advice and ideas
     to help you better manage your small business.

     Social media has captured the attention of consumers. We are living in the age of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, LinkedIn, Instagram--the list goes on. 

     It is possible for small businesses to reach out far and wide. And it's not just a wider area. Today's social media brings depth to the marketplace.

     Example: You are a chiropractor. You post a picture on Facebook showing a close-up of your hands working on someone's back. Add two short sentences and your message gets passed around to many people.

     Example: You are a landscaper. You post a picture on LInkedIn showing springtime flowers popping up in someone's yard. Add a "come on" statement, and calls arrive from new prospective clients.

     Example: You are an attorney. You post a quick Twitter announcement of an upcoming free seminar you're giving on elder care and social security. People re-tweet your message and reservations come in from others who want to attend.

     Example: You run a restaurant. You get an app so your customers can check out your menu specials for the day, make a reservation, place an order while they are on their way to your restaurant. When they arrive, you serve their order immediately. 

     Example: You are a photographer. You publish samples of your work as a short e-book on Amazon Kindle. You put up tease sample photos on Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest--pointing viewers to your e-book. The word spreads.

     Example: You are a hair stylist. You post pictures on social media showing the latest stylings done at your shop. You mention that appointments can be made through your website and the bill can be paid with the client's Apple phone. 

     Placing ads in newspapers and specialty publications can still be very effective. Social media represents additional opportunities. Get that camera clicking and take pictures that can be posted. Keep all write-ups short--a phrase, a short sentence does the trick. 

     If you don't know how to use social media, go to the sites for Facebook, LinkedIn, and others. These people will gladly lead you through the process--it can take less than 5 minutes for you to be up and running. Then get in the habit of posting frequently. Once you get the hang of it, your free advertising can be accomplished literally on the run. 

     Social media is a godsend for small business. You can reach out to the world with the click of a button. Your elderly customers might still appreciate a post card. But tomorrow's world belongs to social media.