Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Business thinking

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     Our brains are like giant computers. But there is a big difference.

     Computers are built from little components that give them their power. They are organized in such a way to give us pathways to solve all sorts of problems.

     Brains also consist of little pieces. Brains have great potential. But until the brain is organized, it flails about from one perception to the next, absorbing everything it encounters.

     Brains get organized by moms and dads, by language and culture, by education and experience, and by trial and error. 

     People program computers, and people program brains. The process is somewhat similar. Garbage in, garbage out.

     Example: Adele loved the fiber arts. She tackled crochet, knitting, tatting, rug making and lace making using all sorts of materials. A friend encouraged her to establish a website and open a tiny studio open to the public. Adele soon discovered that she could do only so much with her own hands--but she did not want to have employees. She did not want to price her output too high because she felt sorry for many buyers of limited means. To her dismay, Adele quickly found that her income did not support her expenses. Her solution was to turn her small business back into a hobby which she pursued at home. 

     Example: Marge also loved fiber arts. She wanted to establish a small business, so she did several business plans. She discovered a good market for handmade rugs using her original designs. So she took the plunge with a website and a working studio. Today, Marge has two employees making rugs using her own designs and under her close supervision. To price her rugs, Marge sets prices at a level that defines her target market. She is not looking to sell a rug to every homeowner. Rather, she sets prices at levels that attract clients who appreciate the uniqueness, the design, the custom colors--and they have the money to indulge these preferences.

     Business works by the numbers. Those bottom line numbers tell us with a degree of certainty whether or not the business is viable. 

     When a business owner mixes feelings with business, the business heads down a slippery slope. When emotion crowds out the numbers, bankruptcy looms. 

     Bad bottom line numbers weed out business owners who fly with feelings and emotion. It rewards those who do the logical, numbers-based thinking. 

     This does not mean that business is amoral. The current loud mouths who bemoan greed don't know how to put greed to work in a moral way. A moral business tames greed and turns it into a good social mechanism. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Business handwriting

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     There is a move afoot in education to eliminate the teaching of cursive writing, or handwriting. Instead, kids learn capital letters--or they simply text everything.

     This is depersonalization of the language. It is rampant today. And it is bad for business.

     Example: Ella runs a bakery, and some of her popular products are cakes. People order cakes to be decorated for birthdays, anniversaries, retirements and other special occasions. When Ella needed to hire another employee, she found that many of the applicants did not know handwriting--a major requirement for decorating and putting the finishing touches on cakes. 

     Example: Alice runs an embroidery service. People want their names embroidered on uniforms and other items. Many prefer the writing to appear as if handwritten. While the computers Alice uses does most of the work, even with fonts that imitate handwriting, her employees must know how to proofread the finished product. Many don't.

     Example: Bob is an expert auto technician with 40 years experience. He and his people tackle all sorts of mechanical and electrical repairs. The shop has the latest computerized equipment. Today, diagnosis of problems would be impossible without taking a reading from the auto's computers. When the repair job is done, Bob provides the client with a computerized summary of what was done. Nevertheless, Bob always makes extensive handwritten notes "on the run" as each auto moves through the shop. These handwritten notes are kept with the files so that they can be consulted later. Bob has found it invaluable. 

     If all you use to make notes is some fancy computerized device, what will you do when the power/battery goes down? How will you understand handwritten instructions from a client? 

     Handwriting is back-up. People who know how to quickly make handwritten notes will have a big advantage in a crisis.

     If schools won't teach your children how to do handwriting, do it yourself. One day, they will thank you.   

Friday, June 26, 2015

New or used?

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     Astute business owners know how to save money. One way is to consider buying used equipment instead of new.

     Massage therapists, Pilates instructors, chiropractors and others can save a good deal of their upfront funds by buying good used equipment instead of shelling out the big bucks for new stuff.

     People in other businesses can do the same. Even if your business is conducted entirely online, you can frequently pick up used computer equipment, printer cartridges, and other things at steep discounts by searching out used items in good condition at trustworthy sources. 

     Example: Mike spotted an opportunity. Over a hundred retirement homes were being built just outside town. In addition, a strip mall was going in nearby. Mike had always wanted a bagel shop, and he decided this was the place and time to realize his dream. His problem was funding. A franchise bagel operation would cost $250,000. If he bought new equipment for his planned operation, it would cost half as much. All Mike could scrap together was $50,000. He went searching through used restaurant equipment dealers, and he hit pay dirt. He found an antique bagel making machine priced at just $10,000. He jumped at the chance, cleaned up the machine, got it in good operating condition, and installed it in the front window of his newly leased storefront. It was a lot of work, but the money saved made the difference. The machine was old and clunky and slow, but bagels dropped out every few seconds into the boiling water and then moved down the mechanical line and onto the counter. Mike's set-up attracted lots of attention--he even got a write-up in a major regional newspaper. People came to watch the operation and take away a sack of his bagels. His reputation spread far beyond the retirement home complex, and business was good. 

     Buying used is not new. Used houses and used vehicles sell all the time. There is a big market for both. 

     Before you bad mouth used, think of the health care industry. It is filled today with transplants of hearts, livers, kidneys, and more. These used organs are life-giving.

     Check your own operation to see if used can serve you as well as new. You might find some money-saving opportunities. 

     It all starts with your business plan. If you project numbers based on new equipment, see how many dollars can be saved by buying used. It could make a big difference, as in the above example.  


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Getting rich

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     People don't set up a small business to get rich. Those who do will be disappointed.

     I suppose you can get rich running an illegal drug operation. But you're likely to go to jail or, worse, somebody will send you to the great beyond.

     The reason to set up a small business has to do with being your own boss, pitting your smarts against the marketplace, earning a living for yourself and your family, and pursuing your dream.

     Example: Ranjeet  in an expert in information technology. With social media exploding, he saw a unique market opportunity. He quit his job at a corporation and set up a small business to show other small businesses how to take advantage of the enormous opportunities available to them in social media. Today, Ranjeet employs several people and has hundreds of small clients. Many are using the tools of the information age to grow and expand their businesses. Ranjeet is on his way to becoming rich.

     Example: Jon was a young man in a hurry. He used a sizable inheritance to establish an architectural artifacts business. He bought an old warehouse and filled it with architectural items recovered from buildings being torn down. He built up a stock of old windows and doors, iron fencing, antique gingerbread and banisters, hardwood carvings, even used brick and slate. His clients were architects, designers, contractors and homeowners. Jon expanded the operation when a unique opportunity presented itself--an old 5-story building was to be demolished. It contained a motherload of yellow pine flooring, virgin wood dating from the 1800s. He was suddenly the go-to place for the valuable wood, a hot item in upscale construction and renovations. Jon was on his way to becoming rich.

     Getting rich depends on your efforts, your dreams, your management, your alertness to opportunities, your hard work, and other things in your control.

     The current admonition by some misguided politicians that "You didn't build that" is nonsense. Those mouthing these words have never run a business. These people limit their own futures and their personal satisfaction to the stifling world of government.

     Getting rich is a by-product of chasing your dream business. Making a living is more likely the end game of setting up and doing what you love doing. It's what makes every day an adventure.     


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dreams meet reality

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     When you get caught up in your dreams, you run the risk of ignoring everyday realities. It can happen to every business owner.

     Example: Cedric Sr. started a tee shirt operation years ago. He worked very hard, keeping the business lean and mean. It supported the family and sent Cedric Jr. to college. When Cedric Jr. took over the business from his dad, he had bigger dreams. He expanded the old website and he posted lots of pictures on social media. Orders for tee shirts exploded, orders came in from all over, and shipments went out every day. Cedric Jr. arranged for a loan to expand the operation. He moved into larger quarters, bought more equipment, and hired more people. Suddenly, the economy tanked and orders dropped. He had trouble meeting the monthly payments on the loan. And then there was the rent on the increased space. He laid off people, and some of his equipment now lays idle. Going on social media was a good idea, but taking on lots of new debt and expanding too fast was a bad idea. He let his dreams get ahead of reality.

     When you think ahead, you do a business plan. The numbers don't lie, and this keeps your dreams in sync with reality. Always factor in changes you see in the economy and the market you serve.

     Example: Kathy runs a small tea shop. Customers come in, browse the dozens of different teas, sip a sample, and purchase tea to take home. It was a nice little business, but Kathy wanted to expand. She familiarized herself with social media, and she began posting pictures on Facebook. Suddenly, her website was more active--people began ordering packaged teas online, rarely, if ever, coming to the shop. One customer asked a question: "Will you ship tea to me on a regular basis, like a standing order?" That question prompted Kathy to offer standing orders for tea on her website and on social media. Today, Kathy spends most of her time filling orders to be shipped out.

     Older business owners frequently don't appreciate the value of social media. It is changing the way customers get what they want. 

     Remember that it is the marketplace that determines your success. Customers are well aware of the value of social media in their lives. They are increasingly using social media. This has a big effect on your business. It's where dreams meet reality.  

     Turning your business dreams into reality means that you must use all the tools available to you. Customers put a high value on convenience. In fact, with many businesses, a case can be made that convenience is what you are selling. 


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

When pigs fly

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     You have a great idea. You want to start a small business. Or you want to go off in another direction. 

     You mention it to several people. You discuss your idea with friends and trusted acquaintances. 

     Example: Duane wanted to establish a big new website. His idea was to have a platform to sell just about anything. It would work like an auction but it would not be an auction site. His platform would act an an intermediary between sellers and buyers. Buyers would peruse the items up for auction, and then they would place their bids against a pre-set deadline. As the deadline approached, bidding would intensify. Finally, there would be a winner.

     Everyone told Duane that his idea would not work. Everyone mentioned the technical and legal problems. Everyone told him that his idea was pie-in-the-sky, doable only when pigs fly.

     Of course, eBay exploded into a formidable presence. But eBay might never have happened--had its founders thought too much about all the negative advice they must have received. 

     Example: Ella trained as a hair stylist. She worked in several salons to nail down lots of experience. Her idea was to have her own salon--one day. That day came unexpectedly when the owner of a local salon became ill and placed her salon up for sale. Ella scrambled to put together the funding. But all her friends said to wait for a better economy. They questioned her lack of experience in running a business. They advised her against the deal. Ella considered the advice, but she went ahead anyway. It was an opportunity that she felt might not come again. 

     Your friends will frequently advise you. They feel compelled to offer their advice. Listen and consider. But pigs don't fly on negative advice.

     If the opportunity is real and your gut feeling tells you to proceed, then by all means, do so. You will never know if success is around the corner unless you take the chance. 

       Before you jump, always do a business plan. The numbers will give you some confidence--or not. But the numbers are your best advice. Your pig just might fly. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Expansion options

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     Okay. You decide to expand. It might be going with social media, or establishing a new office, or a change in location, or adding a new department, or taking off in a new direction. 

     These decisions take careful planning. Always do a business plan before you take the step. Otherwise, you might overwhelm yourself and the existing business.

     Example: Ted runs a pet store--no pets, but everything else, including all sorts of foods, related items and accessories. To expand, he offered to ship on his website. To his surprise, many of his current customers began ordering online instead of coming to the store. He began posting on social media. He took pictures of pets and posted on Facebook and others sites, directing people to his website. Orders began coming in from new customers from a wide area. Ted had suddenly expanded his operation. He hired a new employee to handle the extra work.

     Example: Alec was the only physician in a small town. He wanted to expand by establishing a walk-in clinic in a neighboring town about 20 miles away. That town was one of several active suburbs of a large city. It was a big step, but Alec decided to proceed. Suddenly he had two operations, and the strain of keeping up with two offices began to affect him. Alec was forced to make a decision. He would seek out another physician to run the new clinic. He put together a partnership. Today, Alec runs four walk-in clinics, each with its own physician. 

     Don't ever wander into an expansion. It takes careful planning based on the numbers you get when you do your business plan. 

     Doing a business plan is always based on the marketplace. That is where your dreams meet reality. If the numbers support your idea, then, and only then, do you proceed.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Pets and vets

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     The pet industry in America has been exploding for years. The trend is driven by more people having more pets.

     It's not just dogs and cats, although they represent the main thrust. It's also pocket pets (hampsters, mice, etc.) as well as reptiles, insects, birds, fish and other aquatic species, and more. 

     People will spend as much on their pets as they will on themselves--sometimes more. Traditional veterinarians still treat injuries and maladies of dogs, cats, farm animals, and more in their offices. And some make house calls, and others, of course, make farm calls.

     What's happening is enlightening. More and more holistic practitioners are offering their services. This segment is exploding the field again.

     Example: June was a traditional vet. She treated dogs and cats in her offices. Today, she has become certified in acupuncture for animals. Many of her pet patients are helped with acupuncture procedures.

     Example: Takisha used to treat only humans with Reiki and massage. She expanded her practice by becoming certified in canine massage. Today, she treats not only her human clients, but their dogs as well. 

     Example: Alan is a physical therapist specializing in rehabilitative procedures to help people recover from surgery, injuries, and problems experienced by the elderly. He expanded his practice by educating himself in the anatomy of dogs. Today, he still treats humans and also their canine friends that need physical therapy. 

     Example: Leeza specialized in equine chiropractic. She kept the horses in tip top shape with her therapies. She decided to extend her practice to include dogs and cats. This rounded out her practice by seeing more animals than just horses. 

      The marketplace has expanded for both veterinarians and holistic practitioners. And it shows no sign of slowing. 

      If you are either a vet or a specialist in any of the holistic practices, consider expanding in a direction you might not have considered.

     No matter your business, keep a keen eye on the marketplace. It's always changing. And it can lead your small business in another direction. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Solving daily grind

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     Running a business is hard work. No doubt about that.

     Everything is on your shoulders. Little things, big things. You solve one problem and two more pop up. And all those bills are due next week.

     Example: In my own experience starting and running businesses, it has been extremely useful to keep a daily list. Big problems, small problems, appointments, things that needed attention. My list was handwritten and always in my pocket--no fancy electronics. The list organizes my time on an hour by hour basis. It prioritizes daily activities. I found my handwritten list much harder to ignore than an electronic calendar--no batteries, no distractions, no time lost. My list keeps me on point solving problems--quickly and efficiently. Even today, in spite of all the usefulness of technology, I still use my handwritten list and recommend it to others. 

     Example: Julie provides massage services to a growing list of clients, including pregnant women and patients recovering from surgeries. Out of left field, she got an opportunity to respond to a request for a free press release describing her services. She entered the deadline on her electronic calendar so she would not miss the deadline. Days later, she had a software problem. By the time she got everything working again, the deadline for the free press release had passed. The opportunity for free publicity was gone.

     Example: Bill operates a landscaping service. He keeps his cell phone with him at all times. But, sometimes, he's busily mulching a yard and lets calls go to voice mail. He will not ever let that happen again--he missed the call from a new corporate client and by the time he listened to the voice mail, the client had made other arrangements. 

     Small businesses operate in today's technological world. It's good to take advantage of all the help that tablets and iphones can be. But they are only helpmates, not the business you are running. 

     Keep your perspective. Your business focus is diluted when you get involved in the problems that technology brings to the table. 

     For all the help that today's electronic marvels can be, my solution--and ultimate backup--is still my handwritten daily list. It has never failed me.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sifting through advice

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     When you run a business, everyone offers advice. It seems to come whether or not you ask for it.

     Friends, relatives, acquaintances--all of them feel compelled to tell you how to run your business, how to tackle problems, how to improve. 

     Unsolicited advice is usually so much background noise. Listen to all of it, however, and discard most of it. 

     Example: Ana runs a frame shop. Most of her clients are companies, professional offices, galleries, artists and individuals. A big order came from a new clinic, and Ana scrambled to meet the deadline for the grand opening. When they didn't pay the sizable bill for several months, Ana mentioned the problem to a lawyer friend. He suggested sending the clinic a collection letter. Ana thought that too strong--it might jeopardize future business. Instead, she simply visited the clinic, engaged the administrator in a friendly conversation about future assignments. When she mentioned that the old bill had not been paid, she got immediate action. Today, she does continuing work for the clinic.

     Relationships with your customers are important. Two martini lunches might have their place, but a friendly conversation with a client can be much more meaningful. Letters from lawyers can put a wall between you and your client.

     Example: Ellen is an artist who makes jewelry. She has a website and sells to a growing list of repeat customers. When a friend asked Ellen why she could not find Ellen's jewelry on Facebook, she considered the idea. Today, Ellen posts pictures regularly on Facebook and has a wider circle of repeat customers.

     Good ideas can come at you from any direction. While many suggestions don't quite hit the nail on the head, some can. Always listen and evaluate, and, if it makes sense, act accordingly. 

     To evaluate advice, test it against the marketplace. That's your first line of defense. If it seems to work in the marketplace, it's worth a try. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Business decisions

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     Never fear making a decision. Good or bad, you will learn something.

     Everyone makes decisions everyday. Most are small with few consequences. These are throwaway decisions. They are part of living.

     Big decisions, however, require careful thinking, planning and execution. Big decisions have big time consequences. Especially in your small business. 

     Example: Antwan started his business delivering packages. He delivered pizzas, auto parts, and other items to local people and businesses. Lots of competition taught him to be lean and mean--he didn't worry about UPS or Fedex. His dreams were bigger. He thought he saw a market for quick local deliveries--not only in his town, but others as well. He hired an employee to make deliveries in an adjacent town. His margins were very tight, but it worked. Then, the unexpected happened. The employee he had hired quit suddenly and Antwan scrambled to find a replacement. In his search, he talked with a lady who was interested. But she wanted to have a business of her own. The idea really came from her, but he set her up on a path to own a franchise. It took many decisions and time and hard work to get it to happen, but today Antwan has franchised his local delivery service and expanded into several towns. The basic idea is the same--local same day deliveries. But the overall business has grown into an operation much larger because of a critical business decision. Today, Antwan sells franchises to people who want to have a little business of their own. He no longer does the delivering himself. 

     Sometimes you are forced into decisions. To realize an ultimate dream for your business can take an avenue different from the original plan for your business.

     Your own business forces you to make decisions. You are at the leading edge of the marketplace which is constantly changing. And, ultimately, it's the marketplace that puts you in a corner. 

     When you decide to change the direction of your small business, do that business plan. That planning is where you meet the marketplace.  

Monday, June 15, 2015

Getting the word out

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     So, what's the best way to get the word out and promote your small business? What methods work best?

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

     To figure out what avenue is best for you, look to the future market for your goods and services. 

     Social media is the new kid on the block. Think Facebook, Twitter, LInkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram--the list is long and confusing.

     Websites provide a business with an anchor. Keep your website simple and easy to navigate with information viewers deem critical. 

     Direct mail can be a post card resembling Facebook. Among all the forms of print advertising, the simple post card most closely resembles social media in effectiveness.

     Print, radio, television and Internet advertising might work for your business. Or they might not--they can be costly. 

     The key to sorting through all these possibilities can be daunting. To figure it out, keep your eye firmly focused on the marketplace you serve. 

     Example: Jen's business is counseling clients on nutrition and lifestyle. She helps clients with weight, health, and lifestyle. She struggled to get her business off the ground and to the next level, tried many things.
She had a website and she placed ads in local media and sent out news releases. The results were poor. When Jen looked at her target market, one thing seemed to pop out--weight. Weight was a problem on several levels with many people. She began to post before-and-after photos on Facebook and had post cards printed showing similar photos. This double-pronged approach worked well and was inexpensive. The Facebook photos got passed around, and more people began to call. The post cards included a discount--they got passed around also and they had a longer life out there in the marketplace. Jen's business increased.

     Only you can decide on the best way for you to get the word out. Whatever you decide, the methods you use must be in sync with the marketplace.

     You have lots of options today. But, remember that the marketplace is in constant flux. To get the word out effectively, use the methods that work for you and the market you serve. 

     In business, the marketplace rules. You are the supplier of goods and services. Always study the market to home in on what works best for you.     

Friday, June 12, 2015

Client inputs

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     Clients and customers tell you what they want. These conversations can be a gold mine of new ideas for your business.

     Example: Jake is an herbalist. In a conversation with a local farmer who supplies fresh herbs and veggies to chefs, Jake learned that a big problem on the farm was purslane. The plants seemed to pop up everywhere, and the farmer was spending an inordinate amount of time weeding out the purslane. Jake suggested that the purslane might be an extra crop to be exploited. The farmer might offer the fresh purslane to his chef clients. Suddenly, both the farmer and the chefs have a new ingredient for omelets, salads and side dishes. And the farmer is calling Jake more frequently.

     Example: Eve runs a restaurant. It's a popular lunch destination for corporate workers in the area. One of her customers asked Eve if she might be planning to get app for the restaurant. Eve said she would investigate. Today, Eve's restaurant has an app. Customers can check out the daily specials and order ahead--their lunch will be ready for them when they arrive.

     Example: John is a chiropractor. One of his clients asked him to recommend a nutritionist--this lady wanted help getting in better shape. Today, John has arranged with a certified nutritionist to be on hand every Friday to talk about nutrition, make recommendations and hand out information. He announces the sessions on social media every week. These sessions are bringing new clients to John's chiropractic practice. He is considering making a more permanent arrangement with the nutritionist. 

     Example: Eric is an attorney with a private practice. While working with a client on a business problem, the client asked how to handle a simple traffic ticket. This led Eric to think about how to use this to bring in new clients. Today, Eric offers a series of informational brochures on common problems--how to react to a lawsuit, simple traffic problems, different ways to organize a business, what to do when you get a subpoena, and more. No legal advice is offered, just information. He has these brochures displayed in his office and on his website and on social media. They enhance Eric's reputation and bring in new clients. 

     It's the marketplace in action. Put your ear to the ground. Listen to your clients and customers. They can point the way to a better future.

     If your clients are not talkative, engage them in conversation. Talk with them. Ask questions. Listen. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Complaints resolved

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

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

     Example: Mary is an artist who makes mosaics using Venetian glass. She has a small studio where the public is welcomed. And she has a website and a Facebook presence. Her telephone number is published, and she gets calls. Sometimes, however, she is busy creating and lets the ringing telephone go to voice mail. While she tries to return calls promptly, sometimes she lets them go into the next day. One woman called every 15 minutes for two hours and left a telling message. "If you cannot pick up the phone, I assume you're out of business." That was it. When Mary tried to call back and explain, the woman hung up on her. These days, Mary has her phone on speaker beside her as she works.

     Example: Karl is a massage therapist. A first-time client complained at the end of the session that she had been bruised. While nothing was apparent on the woman's skin, she insisted that it was a deep bruise and wouldn't show. Karl offered a double solution--he would waive the charge for this session and he gave her a gift certificate for a future session. He thought that this was what she was angling for all along. It satisfied her and today she is a regular client. 

     Example: Jill runs a breakfast cafe. One customer complained about the meal, although he had eaten everything--the eggs were runny, the coffee was cold, the orange juice watery. Jill wiped out the charge and apologized to the man. When he left, she immediately looked into the situation. She found that the cook was rushing things too much and the waitress was overworked. Jill used the customer's complaint to re-organize and hire a part-timer to absorb some of the work.

     Whatever the complaint, it is an opportunity to consider improving your own operation. Of course, sometimes, people complain because that's who they are. Know the difference, and act accordingly. 

     Complaints represent useful curves in the road ahead. Use them to continually adjust to the changing marketplace.     


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Social media pathways

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     Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple--that's just the beginning. Then comes LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and more than you can keep track of.

     You have many avenues open to your growing your small business. Many find it confusing. But there's a way to thread your way through all the possibilities.

     It's simple. Think of your trip to the supermarket. You pick your way through the fresh fruits and vegetables, the dairy displays, the cereal aisle, and so on. Soon your shopping cart is full and you check out. You have the things you need for the next few days.

     The easiest starting point with social media is Facebook. Go on the site, follow the quick and easy steps and your business shines forth. You post pictures (see yesterday's blog) and a FEW words. It can take less than five minutes and you're done with your advertising for the day.

     Example: Lori runs a hair salon. She snaps pictures of every hair style and curl she completes (no faces). Then she posts them on her Facebook page with a very brief comment. (Sometimes the comment is just "Wow!") The pictures get passed around and they attract more clients.

     Example: Joe runs a bakery. He snaps pictures of his hands preparing a cake in stages. The pictures tell a story and he posts on Pinterest--no words, just the pictures. Lots of interest is generated and additional clients show up.

     Example: Diane is a photographer. She published an e-book on Amazon at no cost to her. Then she regularly posted "tease" pictures on LinkedIn, pointing people to her Amazon e-book. There were a few sales of the book, but importantly, more people called her to arrange for her fine photography services.

     The possibilities are endless for using free social media to promote your business. The key is to use all those pictures you continually snap. Pictures attract attention and point people back to your operation (store, website, e-book, blog, newsletter).

     Instead of that extra trip to the supermarket, get some of those pictures working for your business. Post on social media and track the results. Figure out what works best for you.

     With all the options available to you, your advertising becomes a breeze. The easiest place to begin is Facebook.    

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Picture snaps

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     You've taken a zillion pictures with all this new technology. But how many have you used to promote your small business?

     It used to be that you had to hire a professional photographer to take pictures you could use in your business. Those days are gone.

     Today, professional photographers are still available. They take pictures that meet high quality standards--event and product photography are two examples that require professionals.

     But promoting on social media is a different world. People see your pictures for a few seconds only--and hopefully, they pass them on to their friends. Also, most viewers are using smaller screens that can have trouble handling high quality professional photographs. Further, social media emphasizes the thought behind the picture--not the picture quality, and maybe not even the subject matter.

     Example: Yolinda is a certified acupuncturist. She opened her place and attracted a growing stream of clients. To promote the therapy, she decided to devote a room to community acupuncture where people could walk in, spend 20 minutes is a quiet, darkened room and relax. It served as an introduction to acupuncture. She posted close-up pictures of her work on social media at least twice each week. She now has more clients.

     Example: Mike is a contractor specializing in creatively designed and built decks. To promote his work, he takes pictures of his jobs in progress and posts the detailed photos on social media. His multi-level decks attract lots of attention, and the close-ups of details of his work clearly show his expertise as a carpenter. Recently, he posted pictures of a tree house he built for neighborhood kids. From those pictures, he scheduled several new projects.

     Example: Susan is an interior decorator specializing in window treatments. She, too, takes pictures of all projects underway and posts on social media. Her drapery arrangements have created quite a buzz on social media, but nothing attracted more attention than the picture she posted showing open drapes with a cat curled up on the window sill. 

     Pets always attract attention. You don't have to be a pet groomer to use cats and dogs in your promotions. Hey, you take pictures of them all the time anyway. Why not use them to get viewers to pay attention?

     Start by punching up all the pictures you have taken and have stored on your computer. Select those that can be used and start posting on social media. Just don't use any person's face without permission. 

     The value of pictures on social media cannot be overly emphasized.  It's one of the chief reasons social media works so well. You are missing opportunities if you don't use pictures in your business promotions.  



Monday, June 8, 2015

Father's Day

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     It is notoriously difficult to buy a gift that fathers truly appreciate. So, the upcoming Father's Day presents problems. It's barely two weeks away--Sunday, June 21, 2015.

     Moms will not like it when you buy her a new microwave oven for Mother's Day. The latest vacuum cleaner is not something she has in mind--that sends the wrong message. She wants something personal.

     That can be a key to thinking about gifts for dad. Most dads like tools and gadgets of all sorts. He might just love a new weed wacker or a new computer game or anything from Apple.

     Example: Oscar raises buffalo where the animals roam the farm. Every year he culls the herd, and he sends these animals off to a butchering operation. Back comes wrapped buffalo steaks, other cuts of meat, along with buffalo burgers. All the meat goes into Oscar's big freezer, ready for customers who come to his farm store or who order from his website. For Father's Day, Oscar makes a big push on social media and the orders come in. Cooking up a batch of buffalo burgers turns any grilling into a special occasion.  

     Example: Jon runs a collectibles operation. He specializes in sports memorabilia--baseball cards, football posters, golf videos, autographed anything, and the like. He has a small store, but mainly, sales come through his website. He promotes on social media--especially leading up to Father's Day. It is one of the biggest days of the year for Jon. Giving dad an autographed baseball will be treasured for years.

     Example: Edith runs an auto/truck accessories store. She stocks wheels, mats, truck caps and tool boxes, hitches, waxes and paints, and dozens of additional products. Leading up to Father's Day, Edith posts products and comments on social media. Orders arrive from people who have never thought about such gifts for dads. It has become one of Edith's big days for sales--from walk-ins and from her website. 

     Small businesses frequently miss sales opportunities on Father's Day. The key seems to be that they don't put themselves in the shoes of those who want unusual gifts for dad. 

     Gift certificates for dad might be easy for the giver. And dad can appreciate your thought while shopping for the things he hankers for. But nothing means so much as when dad points to the new shiny wheels on his truck and says to his friends: "My daughter gave me those."

     Small business owners need to think about the gifting problems people have. Not just for Father's Day, but other times as well.     

Friday, June 5, 2015

Finding employees

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     Finding the right new employee to hire can be frustrating. Most of the frustration is your own.

     All of us know that good employees are hard to find. This is understandable. Good employees already have jobs. To get them to work for you means hiring them away from some other business. Or training them to do what you want done.

     Today, social media is available to find that person you are looking for. But, first, you must decide just what that new employee will be doing for you. 

     It's one thing to look for a certified massage therapist to add to your wellness center staff. That is a narrowly defined and targeted addition.

     But it's quite another thing to look for that special person who can help you grow your hair salon or your law practice or your printing operation.

     Example: Jeanie is a chiropractor who has built her practice into a wellness center. The massage therapist who saw clients at the wellness center has decided to move away, leaving an opening in the center's staffing. Jeanie put the word out for a certified massage therapist and interviewed several candidates. One of the therapists was a good fit, and Jeanie made the decision. Quick, easy, and done.

     Example: William had a private law practice and wanted a specialist in elder law to join him. Without committing to anyone, William began a quiet, under cover search of young, aggressive lawyers in his circle of friends and acquaintances. He was looking for someone who was eager, open to new challenges, compatible with himself and his plans. He found a likely prospect and proposed a relationship. It worked. Today, William is looking for his next partner. 

     Example: Amanda runs a small health food store. She is growing the operation with both walk-ins and website sales. The store is well-managed and staffed, but she needs to find another employee who can handle website sales and expand that end of the operation. She interviews several prospective people who have technology and computer backgrounds, but she felt they didn't know enough about either health foods or marketing to be able to do the job. Amanda looked around. One of her store employees had great knowledge of the store's stock but little knowledge of computers and social media. But she was energetic, eager to learn, and handled all her assignments quickly and professionally. Amanda proposed training her in website sales, social media, and follow-up. The employee eagerly took the job, and Amanda went looking for an in-store clerk to replace her.

     Sometimes, the answer to your problem is right under your nose. Finding new employees can be as easy as thinking through the problem.

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

     Putting an ad in the newspaper or on social media might be the answer for big companies. But a small business is a different sort of animal.  

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Goodbye corporate

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     Leaving a cushy corporate position is not easy. I did it, and I can tell you that it is scary.

     Suddenly you're responsible for your own paycheck. That's a biggie. But there are other things to consider as well.

     In a corporate position, you have a whole organization to call on. Your computer is giving you problems--call the IT department. You want an electrical receptacle moved--call maintenance. You want a raise in pay--prepare your boss for a conversation.

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

     Example: Mary handled customer service for a manufacturing operation. She was very good at it, and she regularly got commendations and raises and promotions. But she wanted her own business. One of the accounts she handled asked her one day why she was working for someone else. "Why aren't you running your own business?" the man asked her. The question was a life changer for Mary. The more she thought about it, the more she came to the same conclusion. Handling customers was the key to any business, she came to realize. It's all about the marketplace and the customers. Today, Mary runs her own firm which represents a growing base of manufacturers. The key to her success is her appreciation for and insistence on jam-up customer service. Her reputation is such that new clients call her asking to be represented. 

     Example: Gene went to law school because that's the career path that was common in his family. He got a position in a big law firm and was on his way. But the thing that he really enjoyed was going home and experimenting with cooking. Finally, Gene made the big move. He left the law firm and opened a small bakery. It has not been easy, but Gene is happy now baking fancy cakes for all sorts of clients. 

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

     Before you give notice, however, make certain that you do your own business plan. And make certain that you have enough funds to support yourself while you get the business off the ground.

     Saying goodbye to corporate and starting your own business is a major move. If you are not ready to take out the trash yourself or worry your way through all those computer problems, think twice.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Customer relations

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     Customers are a gold mine. Mining your customer relations can bring them back again and again. As a plus, they will refer others to you.

     Example: Gina operates a women's clothing and accessories business. She sells to walk-ins and through her website. She attracts customers through regular posts on social media. Every time a customer spends more than $100, Gina sends a personal thank you. When someone spends more than $500, she sends a gift certificate.

     Example: Ed runs a garden center. During the spring and summer, Ed regularly hosts an event, free and open to the public, showing people how to lay pavers and bricks, how to build walls and fences, etc. He brings in representatives from suppliers--they are glad to contribute their time. These events have built Ed's reputation and expanded his customer base far beyond its previous reach. Even local landscapers and contractors attend the sessions and refer others.

     Example: Eve is an accountant. She sees many of her clients only once each year--at tax time. She regularly spends time with each client, showing them how to simplify their bookkeeping and be aware of the tax implications of what they are doing in their businesses throughout the year. This has solidified Eve's relationship with clients, expanded the amount of work she does with them, and attracted more clients. 

     Example: Frank is a caterer. He helps each client make the most of their affair by showing them how to take it to the next level. This sometimes means suggesting a black tie affair or setting up a big tent with a dance floor and band to create spectacular gatherings. Frank's operation has moved from handling backyard events to managing large affairs for corporate clients.

     The idea is to create good customer relations with your clients. Educate them. Show them how you can do more. Make sure they understand the complete range of your services and products. 

     Offering free information is basic to developing good customer relations. Your clients expect you to be there for them and this includes the free flow of information between you and them. It costs you only your time.  But it can turn a single sale into a customer who returns again and again, refers others to you, and sings your praises on social media. 

     Every customer represents more than is first apparent. Dig deeper. Get to know every one of them. Expanding a conversation beyond the subject at hand will pay off in the future.    

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Train your employees

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     You help your clients and customers. It's part of doing business. But do you help your employees?

     You depend on your employees. They depend on you. Employees are a vital link between you and your future.

     It is a mutually beneficial relationship. Some employees are simply looking for a long-term home. Others are passing through. Either way, it's up to you to train and cross-train every one of them.

     Example: Jon runs a printing operation. Mary came on board with some computer experience and lots of ambition. Jon trained her in the activities he had planned for her and then he cross-trained her in other jobs in the operation. Mary absorbed everything and demonstrated a desire to learn even more. Jon called her aside for a private conversation. He began by telling her that she had quickly become his most valuable employee, and that he hoped that she would stay with the operation. However, he told her that she had abilities far beyond what he would ever be able to offer. If she would stay, he would be grateful, but if she wanted to move on, he understood and would gladly help her find and move into a better position elsewhere. Mary stayed on for a while, but subsequently left. Today she works in a large corporation and refers all her printing work to Jon. 

      Example: Sue took over the family hardware business she inherited. Three of her employees have been with the store for more than 10 years. They know the customers, the hardware business and the products. Sue called everyone together and announced that she was putting in a better retirement plan and added other benefits so that the employees would know that she was there for the long haul--and appreciated them. 

     Example: Darryl is a hair stylist with an active salon. To expand, he looked for ambitious employees and sent them to a top school for stylists. It paid off. Darryl's salon attracted many clients from a wide area because of the top-flight staff he had put together.

     Training and cross-training your employees helps them and helps you. They might stay with your operation for the long term, or they might move on. Either way, it's up to you to help them find themselves.  

     Business is a living, breathing undertaking. You will not be around forever, and neither will your employees. Make the most of the time you have together. 

     The secret to having good employees is in the training and cross-training and knowing that they will not be with you forever.       

Monday, June 1, 2015

Giving back and more

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     Giving back and making a difference are constant mantras today. We hear these admonitions at every turn.

     Well, by its very existence, your small business is giving back and making a difference. Every time you open your door, answer your phone, or post to social media, you are contributing to your community.

     Your business provides for peoples' daily wants and needs. Your services and products are vital parts of people's daily lives.

     Example: Dawn owns an embroidery service. She has several of the machines and has computerized outputs that handle logos and other fancy items. She puts names on uniforms for other companies as well as sports teams. Sometimes, local sports teams cannot afford the costs, so she offers discounts and sometimes freebies to deserving groups. These involvements help Dawn with on-going as well as new business.

     Example: Joe is an organic farmer, supplying local foods to local restaurants, farm markets, and other venues. To keep his reputation spreading, he offers free tours to local school kids. This creates excitement and referrals for his produce. Kids and teachers alike learn how food is produced, where it comes from and how it's prepared for consumption. 

     These two simple examples show how a small business can become more involved with the local community. Garden centers and florists, repair shops and printing operations, massage therapists and holistic practitioners, and other small businesses can reach out into the community in various ways at virtually no cost to the business.

     This is giving back and making a difference in real ways. It's not just a feel good activity. It's much more. 

     Put on your thinking cap. Come up with ways that involve your community. An event, for example, can inform and educate--potters can offer free demonstrations showing how pottery is formed, and chiropractors can demonstrate exactly how they help people with their health problems. 

     Big companies can afford to build a stadium with the company name on it. You have to do more with less. But the benefits can be the same. 

     Giving back and making a difference is something you already do. But you can expand your community involvement with all sorts of activities.