Friday, July 31, 2015

Tomorrow's businesses

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     Tomorrow's businesses will look very different from those of today. Technology and our changing culture will make big impacts on day-to-day business.

     Many businesses start up but don't make it past 5 years. Others have more staying power. The difference has to do with the attitudes of the owner. 

     A business is a living, breathing entity. It provides a product or service that others want and will pay for. It succeeds in direct proportion to the owner's agility--turning feedback from the marketplace into sales.

     Example: John was intrigued with solar power. Free energy from the sun captured his enthusiasm, and he installed solar panels on his roof. It supplied part of the power needs of his home and reduced his monthly bill for electricity. He wrestled with the problem of turning this into a business, and he hit on an idea. He would install a large array of solar panels on several acres of land adjacent to a suburb with hundreds of homes. He could create a power cooperative by signing up homeowners--some of whom already had solar panels on their homes. Many regulatory hoops had to be jumped through, but John was on his way to creating a business that fit tomorrow's needs.

     Example: Ella runs the machine shop she inherited from her father. Machines turned out parts to spec for all sorts of clients in aerospace, health care and automotive industries. Then technology created 3-D printing. Ella immediately saw threats and opportunities. She bought an early model 3-D printer and began experimenting. She is now at the leading edge of technological development, and many of her products are produced on 3-D machines. It's an industry in transition, but Ella is confident that her operation will survive and thrive. 

     Example: Tom has operated a bookstore for many years. Realizing that most readers today do their reading on electronic media, he faced a fundamental decision regarding the future of his operation. Tom loved books, so he restructured the store. In the future, he would offer first editions, rare books and maps, and other book-related memorabilia. To take advantage of today's technology, he offers online viewing of any book he offers. His many customers today are located all over the world, and a few still come to his bookstore. By concentrating on one niche market and specializing in it only, Tom re-invented his business. And by taking advantage of today's social media, he sells fewer books, but for a healthier bottom line.

     Social media has forever changed how businesses reach out and tap into new and bigger markets. And technology is still on the march, forever changing some industries. 

     Tomorrow's businesses will be quite different from those of today. Basically, you are still selling products and services. But the products and services change, and the point of sale changes. 

     Take a look at tomorrow. How will it affect what you do? Should you change? How will you change?  



Thursday, July 30, 2015

Using freebies

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     Everybody loves freebies. Offer a freebie and step aside to avoid the stampede.

     Today a freebie is much more than offering free delivery or free shipping. These attract buyers, but social media has opened the door to a much wider appeal.

     Example: Linda fell in love with yoga. She practiced yoga and went on to receive several certifications and became a sought-after teacher. To grow her business, she began offering free introductory training sessions through her website. She promoted using social media, and this brought her many new clients--both private and group sessions at her offices and additional clients looking to become certified. A group of interested clients in a distant city arranged for her to come to them for extensive training sessions. The free introduction attracted more interest, and today she travels to groups far and near.

     Example: Helen was a dental hygienist who became very interested in minimally invasive dental hygiene. To reach out and attract clients for her coaching services, she developed a series of short webinars, free and offered to anyone interested. The free sessions resulted in new clients who signed up for her coaching services. She drives interest through her use of social media--Facebook, Twitter, and others. 

     Example: James is a master gardener. He designs and installs gardens for clients. To reach out and attract new clients, James offers free consultations to prospective clients. Additionally, he offers monthly free talks and demonstrations, open to the public. All these are promoted on social media. His free demonstrations include showing how flowering plants and shrubs can create an attractive landscape with minimal maintenance. He includes discussions of water features, walkways, fences and gates. His freebies are built around educating prospective clients in the possibilities of projects he might do for them. He fills his Facebook page with new pictures two or three times each week.

     Using freebies can help you build your business. But it's a lot more than free deliveries locally or free shipping nationally.

     When you offer free demonstrations, free open houses, free samples, free information, the public is interested. And always use social media to get the word out. It works.   

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Event promotions

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     Promoting your small business gets you to the next level. Growing is the whole idea behind your promotions.

     Many promotional tools are available to you. Traditional advertising is one way. Community involvement is another. You can promote by attending networking groups and business card exchanges--subjects covered in write-ups yesterday and the day before.

     Holding events is another good way to get the word out into the community. These can be over the net or on the ground at your place. Or you can combine the two methods. 

     Example: Shawn teaches guitar. He uses social media to reach out and find new people who want to learn guitar. Many of these are in the wide geographical area he serves. They sign up for and come to his teaching studio for one-on-one instruction. Others prefer the online instruction he offers--they sign on for instruction sessions with Shawn. To grow, Shawn also began offering simple repair sessions online--restringing an instrument, for example. In addition, he offers an open event once each month--people come to his studio, get pointers on technique, meet other guitar players, and share an experience with others. These sessions are informal and free. 

     Example: Marisa is a massage therapist. She has a small studio where she meets clients. To grow her client base, Marisa partnered with a chiropractor. Once each month, the two of them offered free events, open to the public, where short demonstrations were offered. Each gave a brief talk on the benefits and applications of their specialties. All questions were answered. These sessions are promoted on social media and they have led to more clients for each of them. 

     Example: Jay is a business coach and consultant. He targets owners of small and medium-sized businesses to help them through various operational and growth difficulties. To sign up more clients, Jay decided to hold events to attract the people he wanted to work with. He partnered with a financial planner to hold a session, free and open to the public, on getting a business ready to sell. Jay and the financial planner each gave a brief talk and answered questions. The session was so successful (for both of them) that Jay decided to hold sessions every month--with a tax expert, with a health care expert, with a legal expert who talked about what to do when a business is sued.

     Holding events to promote your business is a good way to grow. The general public is thirsty for information and anxious to have their questions answered.

     Any business can hold an event that draws attention. Computer experts, social media mavens, nutritionists, personal trainers, food growers, therapists, home improvement specialists--the list is endless.

     Put on your thinking cap and devise an event that will bring you additional clients and customers. You can go it alone or partner with another business. Either way, you are reaching out to people who otherwise might not ever call you.     

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Card exchanges

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     Business card exchanges have declined in popularity. They once served a good purpose. They still can.

     These meetings in the past were a focal point for business people. Attendees gathered and exchanged business cards. It was meant to get the word out about what businesses did, what they could do for each other, and extend the reach into the community.

     Business card exchanges still have their use. But the use is limited--unless you've kept up with changes in the culture.

     Example: Takisha is a caterer. She decided to attend a business card exchange to get to know some prospective clients. She went to a big gathering, thinking that she would have many opportunities. Instead, she found people rushing around, pressing their business card into first one hand and then the next. She passed out most of the 50 cards she carried with her, and she collected as many from others. Back at her office the next day, she systemically flipped through the cards. She could not place a single face with a card. But she called some likely prospects anyway. No one remembered her, but she was able to make a few good contacts and appointments. It was similar to cold calling. 

     Example: John is a plumber. He was invited to join an organization that held monthly business card exchanges. Because of the rules, he was the only plumber in the group--no competitors. He thought it was a good idea to meet some new clients. The problem turned out to be a self-limiting one. Once he had picked up a client or two from among the other members of the group, it was pretty much over. He dropped out of the group.

     Example: I have myself attended many business card exchanges in the past. I learned that the best way to increase the effectiveness of the meeting was a simple one. Instead of pressing one of my business cards into every hand, I concentrated on targeting 4 or 5 people. I would introduce myself, ask questions about them and their business, engage them in a 10 or 15 minute conversation. The talk inevitably turned to what I did in my business. In other words, the two of us got to know each other--and then we exchanged business cards. Meeting a small number of people turned out to be much more effective than simply passing out business cards. 

     Card exchanges can be a good way to extend the reach of your business. But it is much more than simply exchanging business cards.

     People want to know the person they are doing business with. A brief conversation with a few people can turn a quickie business card exchange into a valuable marketing tool for you.  

Monday, July 27, 2015

Networking successes

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     Networking can increase your client and customer base. Meet more people, inform them about what you can do for them, and you increase the chances that they will call you at a future date.

     Networking also increases referrals. And we all know the value of referrals. 

     Networking events, social media, and other methods can draw more attention to your business. And more attention is what is needed.

     Example: Della runs a video operation. She works with small and medium size businesses making videos for them. These are used in conferences and on social media to help those businesses spread their word. She decided to begin running networking events at her studios. Once each month Della gets the word out about the next networking event. She has made arrangements with local business people to attract more attention to the event. A local caterer furnishes some goodies. A local business person is a featured speaker. And a local wine shop furnishes several bottles of bubbly. The events are popular, they are informal, and they serve as a venue for local businesses to meet each other. 

     Example: DeWayne is a business coach. To punch up the awareness of his operation in the local community, he started a monthly networking meetings. He made arrangements with a local restaurant to use their meeting room and to furnish a lite meal (there is a charge, of course). To get the word out, DeWayne puts each upcoming event on social media, and he posts on his MeetUp site. offers this to anyone wanting to have meetings--clubs, groups, and networking people. DeWayne's business reach has expanded with more clients becoming aware of what he can do for them. 

     Example: Robert runs a small construction company, handling projects both large and small. When he completes a job (residential, commercial), he always goes in for a follow-up visit. Here, he sometimes gets additional projects, but more importantly, he asks for referrals. It's a type of networking his way through the community. And we all know the value of referrals.

     Many groups run networking events. Chambers as well as professional business associations run them. Or you can run them yourself, as shown in the examples. 

     Networking can take several forms. Put networking to work in your business using the methods that work for you.

     Doing a networking meeting too frequently can work against you. Once a month is about right--if you are planning to do one yourself. Attending others gives you a choice. Whatever you do, don't blow it--use networking.  

Friday, July 24, 2015

Raising prices

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     The prices you set for your products and services go a long way in determining your success. Too low, and you risk bankruptcy. Too high, and the same thing can happen.

     To get the price right, you might need to experiment. A lot has to do with the business you're in. If your product or service is totally unique, you can set prices high. If your product or service is commonly offered by competitors, it's a different world.

     Example: Judy sells fancy teas and coffees online. At first, she set her prices to compete with others--both locally and nationally. She was selling lots of teas and coffees, but not making enough to grow her business. She decided to inch prices up, a little at a time. It didn't seem to affect overall sales. So she inched up more. Still, there was no noticeable effect on sales. Then, she took the plunge, raising prices significantly--at the same time she offered free shipping. Some customers dropped out, but she attracted more customers overall. She did even better when she began using social media--highlighting the free shipping. 

     Example: Tom's auto repair shop was attracting more customers, but he decided to raise prices. He tried inching prices up overall, and noticed no difference in customer response. He continued inching prices up until he thought he noticed a different customer response. That was when he leveled off prices. Today, he has a much healthier operation. 

     Example: Rita runs a successful hair salon. With rent and supplies costing more, she raised her prices. She noticed an immediate decline in some types of customers. That was when she decided that she was going after the wrong market. She began offering additional services--and raised her prices significantly. Today, she is serving fewer customers, but her bottom line is much healthier. She used pricing to redirect her business.

     Pricing is a good mechanism to change directions in your business. Higher prices attract a different type of customer. Used intelligently, pricing can lift your business to a healthier plane. 

     All of this points your business toward that segment of the marketplace you want to address. You can work yourself to death serving everybody. But an eye to the vast marketplace can help you grow and expand your business, targeting those who pay more.

      Don't ever mess with your pricing until you have looked at the marketplace. The marketplace always will tell you where and how much to change what you are doing. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Back-up ideas

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     In small business, you provide your own back-up solutions. Backing up employees, equipment, systems, suppliers and clients is the smart thing to do.

    By now, everyone knows that it is imperative to back-up computer systems. So much depends on the information stored in computers. You cannot afford to lose it. 

     But other pieces of your business are just as important. Clients and customers have their own problems. Don't let your problems intrude in their lives.

     Example: Eric quickly learned the value of employee back-up in his carpet cleaning business. He sends out three vans every morning to handle jobs. Each van has two employees. When an employee calls in sick for the day, Eric jumps in to fill the opening. But what does he do when two employees fail to show up? He cross-trained an office employee to handle such situations. 

     Example: Judy is a freelance writer. She turns out pieces for newspapers and magazines as well as internet content. When her computer went down, she simply moved to her back-up computer and continued the work of the day. After completing her assignment, she then turned to her regular computer to fix the problems there. The back-up computer allowed Judy to meet her deadlines, while she time-shifted the problems on her regular computer. She also has a generator on hand to be able to function when the local power goes down.

     Example: Mary is a fiber artist. She spends all day at her sewing machine. To make certain that she has no down time, she has another sewing machine ready to take over the work at hand. It has been a life saver when the regular machine is away for repairs.

     Example: Jose runs a printing operation. He has installed redundant systems and machines to keep running when equipment goes down. He also cross-trains his employees so that he has flexibility in the operation as well as when an employee calls in sick. In addition, he has back-up suppliers--because you never know when a supplier might go down.

     There is never an excuse good enough to let down a client. If you do not back-up your own operation, your problems become their problems--not good for business. 

     Business back-ups include clients as well. Sooner or later, you will lose every client you have--they move, they go somewhere else, they no longer need your products and services. Back-up your clients by developing a steady stream of new customers and clients. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

More marketing tips

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     Marketing is an on-going concern. Getting the word out about your products and services takes thought and action.

     Keeping up with what's going on in the marketplace is a vital part of running your small business. In today's fast-paced world, it ain't easy.

     The answer is simple. Always give the market what it wants. Your clients and customers usually give you clues. It's up to you to figure out how to apply the clues to your business.

     Example: Anna inherited her mother's consignment shop. It had been established for many years. It was filled with vintage collectibles, games and toys, jewelry and small antiques--no clothing. Anna decided to listen to today's marketplace. She expanded by offering items on eBay and Etsy. She turned a local destination consignment shop into a healthier business. Consignments still come in, but sales are to a much wider area. She is reaching out to a much bigger market. 

     Example: Damien paints large canvases and has had some success in exhibitions that attracted buyers. But the buyers were few and far between--not enough to support his family. At an upscale show, Damien overheard someone say that there were no small, less expensive paintings that they could buy as gifts. He listened to that marketplace input and started producing small, inexpensive paintings that sold well. Today, he is taking that same two-pronged approach to marketing his works. Eventually, he thinks that he might close out the smaller paintings in favor of concentrating on his larger paintings. In the meantime, he is supporting his family. 

     Example: Josh is a chiropractor. To increase his client base, he moved his office several miles away--to a major truck stop. His current clients had no trouble continuing to visit him. But the move offered marketing opportunities not previously available to him. Truck drivers have many physical problems, and Josh is conveniently located to serve them. A simple move to a new location brought in many new clients.

     Many ways to expand your reach into new markets are available to you. Check out internet possibilities, or address a different market segment, or move to a location that attracts new clients. 

     Other possibilities exist. Try convening events, demonstrations, teaching sessions, partnering with other non-competing businesses. Different strokes for different folks.

     Just keep in mind that the marketplace is always changing. Watch it and act accordingly.

     You have the drive and creativity. Put it to work in keeping abreast of the changing marketplace. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Acronym frontiers

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     Nutritionists, therapists, salons, spas and others can spruce up their marketing with acronyms. Acronyms today have become spiffy and smart marketing tools. 

     Among other things, Washington DC is known as alphabet city. Everyone knows the drill. We recognize and accept them by their acronyms--IRS, FBI, FHA, DHS, and there are dozens more.

     Some years ago, acronyms invaded health care. Today people are alerted to new concerns by the letters RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome), CDE (Chronic Dry Eye), and OAB (Over Active Bladder). There are many more, and they serve to lift certain conditions to a new level of concern.

     There might be some marketing opportunities for small businesses in the rage to create new awareness for products and services. Therapists, nutritionists, salon and spa specialists suddenly have a new toolbox with which to promote their businesses.

     Example: Nutritionists can attract new clients by applying acronyms to the conditions they tackle. People are more likely to hire a nutritionist to help them overcome STM than admit they have Sweet Tooth Madness. And they will consult a nutritionist to help with OES much more quickly than they will mouth the words Over Eating Syndrome. Then there is BSC or Bulging Stomach Condition. 

     Example: Therapists can offer treatments for WPD rather than insisting that clients call for an appointment to overcome a Will Power Deficit. FOB can bring some calls from the timid, but everyone will be loathe to admit to Fear Of Bullies. Further, therapists might partner with nutritionists to hold group sessions on ICA or Ice Cream Addiction. 

     Example: Salons and spas already attract attention with many treatments. But if clients could say they have CCS rather than Creeping Cellulite Syndrome, they more likely would sign up for sessions. How about FWG as a special concern, instead of admitting to Fine Wrinkles Galore? Or, how about calling for an appointment to work on LSE as a condition to be vigorously treated, instead of walking in the door with Liver Spots Everywhere?

     To keep ahead of the marketing game, small businesses must keep abreast of the changing ways of the culture. People don't like to call things what they are anymore. They want relief from reality.

     Changing the meanings of words is quite common today. We see it in every segment of our society. Just look at how global warming morphed into climate change.

     If the words and phrases used to describe your products and services have become hackneyed and old fashioned and otherwise out of date, consider the acronym. You can hide almost anything behind three little letters--appealing to a wider market in the process.

     A lot of the foregoing is tongue in cheek. But there are some serious realities lurking here and there. See to your marketing.  

Monday, July 20, 2015

The marketplace & you

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     Marketing your products and services has a lot to do with demographics. Who buys what you have to offer?

     People with pains in their necks seek a chiropractor. People who need help maintaining their yards look for landscapers. People who want to make sure they will have enough money to retire talk with a financial adviser. And those with computer problems call an expert.

     The market out there divides itself into groups. With demographics, you look for age groupings, income groupings, needs groupings, and other groups.

     Example: Anne was a fiber artist. She specialized in making dolls, and her dolls found a ready market--many years ago. She was creative and a workaholic, and her dolls were unique. She could not seem to make enough dolls to satisfy the market. Gradually, however, that market demand lessened. She was selling fewer and fewer dolls. Instead, buyers wanted handmade accessories. Since she was a fiber artist, Anne began offering scarves, pins, handbags to serve the new market. 

     No matter the market you serve, rest assured that it is changing. You must be alert to new fads and fashions.

     Example: JoLin got certified as an acupuncturist. She opened an office where she met clients, and she built the business gradually. She noticed, however, that people were stressed in their work, their lives at home and in the community, and in their other activities. She arranged for a bigger space and opened a community acupuncture room. There, people could walk in, lie down in a quiet, darkened room, get 20 minutes to rest along with a sampling of acupuncture. It proved popular. JoLin also noticed the increasing interest by mainstream physicians in the benefits of acupuncture for certain patients. She gave a talk and demonstration on a patient with post-operative pain at a local medical center. It helped to promote and extend her business into a new area of interest. 

     The changing marketplace can and does affect you. No matter the business, the marketplace rules. Stay on top of it. 

     Example: Fred runs an appliance store serving the market for stoves, refrigerators, and other appliances. People came to buy items from him, and then they needed installation in many cases. He recommended electricians and plumbers to them. Then he decided to add electrical and plumbing supplies to the items he offered in the store. Today, electricians and plumbers are also customers, and they frequently recommend new buyers to Fred.

     You can extend and grow your business by being alert to the marketplace. Be assured that it is always moving. 

     A good place to watch the marketplace change is by watching television and social media. New products and services pop up all the time. These are good starting points for you to think about how your business is being affected.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Starting a business

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     A lady once came to my office looking for advice on "getting into business" and she was confused. She had some ideas, but she was getting advice that was all over the place.

     All her friends had advised her on what business to get into. Her accountant advised that she should wait for a better economy. Her lawyer advised several different ways to establish an operation. Family members had all sorts of ideas for the type of business she should pursue.

     Turning all the advice over in her mind, she was stymied. It seemed that her own ideas got lost in the shuffle.

     To cut to the chase, I asked "What are your interests?" That was when I saw her eyes light up. It turned out that she had a hobby doing pottery. She had a small workshop in her garage where she turned out pots and experimented with glazes. Something was always in her kiln, and she rushed home every day to her workshop.

     This short conversation marked the launch of her small business. Suddenly she saw a pottery-making business in her future. And she went on to concentrate on what she loved doing--and turning it into a business.

     All the advice she had previously received fell into place. All the reasons not to proceed became irrelevant. All the pitfalls lying in wait disappeared. She was now focused. 

     Some business ideas bring other considerations to the table. Lack of space, lack of experience, lack of funding, lack of confidence, lack of a market out there awaiting you.

     But it has been my experience that just about any idea or interest can be turned into a viable business. You might not grow to the size of Apple or General Motors or BankAmerica, but you can structure a small business around any idea. 

     Products and services are in constant demand by the vast marketplace that surrounds us. Consider fitness, catering, landscaping, foods, therapies, collectibles, clothing, consulting--the list is endless. 

     If you are interested in something--anything--then others are interested as well. They represent your market. The need for products and services is out there. Your job as a small business owner is to find your market--doing the thing you love to do. 

     The lady who built a business making pottery has been very successful. Her special glazes have tapped into a market that continues to grow. Her pots and other pottery today sell for big bucks. It took several years, but during all that time, she loved what she was doing. 

     Always consider the advice you get. But weigh it against your own interests and the marketplace. If you don't sell anything, you're pursuing a hobby--which can provide enjoyment. But if you pursue your hobby with an eye to the marketplace, you're on your way to establishing your business--and this provides enjoyment as well. 

     Matching your interests to the marketplace forms the basis for a business. It's a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.    

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sales shadows.

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     Sales shadows are annoying. Everyone has visited a store to browse the racks of stuff. It is frustrating when a clerk appears and follows us around. They frequently ask if they can be of help.

     Sales shadows have long been a problem. But today, sales shadowing is entering a new era on the net. 

     Social media sites capture all sorts of information about us. They think that they can anticipate our future buying habits. And, no doubt, it is true to some extent. 

     If you buy a handbag and shoes today, it's likely that you will be buying more soon. Social media has tapped into your habits and interests. 

     But it's more than that. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, ads pop up for handbags and shoes on unrelated sites you visit. Sales shadows are following you around.

     Example: Eleanor built her website, deciding to make it simple. She offered her collectibles there, as well as on eBay and Etsy. Using social media, she attracted a good deal of attention for her offerings. When net advertisers showed up wanting her to carry their ads, she declined. She also passed up opportunities to accept associate ads, reasoning that visitors did not want to be bothered. This meant that she did not get any revenue from the associate ads, but it was a small price to pay.

     Example: Kevin runs a large hardware store. He hires employees who are experienced and knowledgeable. He trains new employees to always be generous with help for shoppers, but never to follow them around the store. His customers appreciate the help, and they also appreciate not being bothered. 

     Sales shadows are not good for business. Whether you operate a store or offer stuff on the web, beware of sales shadows. 

     Yesterday's automobile salesman got a bad reputation--deservedly so. They followed you around and used all sorts of pressure techniques to make the sale. Sales shadows in social media need to join them on the trash heap of history.   

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Disaster plans

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     Fires, floods, burglaries can happen. The electric can go down for a week. A key employee can fall down stairs at home and be laid up for a month. Or your own health can become a problem.

     Running your own small business means that you are your own backup. This means you must have plans ready to implement when disasters strike.

     Example: Jim runs a small computing services firm with 3 employees. His firm monitors in real time the operating systems of larger firms that are his clients. Jim's firm can electronically repair computing problems remotely. One morning, the husband of a key employee called to say that his wife had fallen and broken her back. She would be laid up for several weeks. Now, with only two employees, Jim had to scramble to cover the work she had been performing. Today, she's back at work, and Jim is busily cross-training everyone to be able to handle each other's jobs.

     Example: Amy is a chiropractor. She built up her clientele to the point that she needed additional space. When she went looking for larger quarters, she was careful on two fronts. Some of her clients were unable to use stairs, so that was a prime consideration. Additionally, sometimes the river flooded out into the town. Amy found suitable space accessible by a ramp in a building that was several feet above ground level. Amy's careful planning paid off. When the river did indeed flood, her place was high and dry. 

     Example: Ella runs a small graphic arts firm. The business was going well when suddenly the landlord informed her that she had 60 days to vacate the premises. The lease gave the landlord that option, but Ella had negotiated a clause to protect herself. In the event the landlord wanted her to vacate, Ella would receive a buyout amount of money. Since she had two years remaining on the lease, she received a substantial payout. She used the money to move and buy new equipment. The disruption was significant, but Ella turned disaster into a positive growth option. 

     Thinking ahead can help you sleep better at night. Planning for the unthinkable can help you and your small business sail through the disasters that come your way. Now, what do you do when the electric goes down for a week?

     Fire and flood, even key employees, can be covered by insurance. But your best insurance can be in your planning ahead for any eventuality.    

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Small Business Careers

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Going to college is a constant mantra today. Young people are bombarded with talk about the value of getting that college degree.

     The facts sing a different tune. Perhaps the best example is that of Bill Gates. He quit college to start Microsoft.

     High flyers aside, more and more young people are discovering that college might be a waste of their time. Look around and you'll find people who did not go to college and yet they are successful. Others signed up for the college of their choice, only later leaving in disgust.

     Example: Alisha loved makeup. At an early age, she borrowed her mother's makeup and applied it to her dolls. Then she discovered hair and hair styling. She badgered everyone to let her do their hair. Then she left regular high school to attend a trade school program. Combining her creativity with what she learned, she opened her own salon after she graduated. Today, Alisha operates her own high end salon and attracts clients from far and near. She is supporting her growing family and teaching them that they, too, can achieve anything they set their minds to.

     Example: Tom had an interest in growing plants. While still in high school, he worked as an apprentice at an organic farm. The owner of the farm and a teacher encouraged Tom to pursue farming. When he graduated from high school, he rented five acres of farmland from a retired farmer. There, Tom began growing organic herbs and vegetables. He sells the produce to chefs who specialize in farm-to-table menus. He is putting up a greenhouse to expand, and he is experimenting with hydroponic farming. His plans include renting a barn to grow mushrooms.

     The most important thing we learn as youngsters is how to think. Many young people learn this from a parent, from a teacher, from early work experience. Going to college can put a finishing touch on this, but the basics are already there by the time you matriculate. 

     Careers in business are built on interest and hard work. Part of that hard work is learning how to think. You see a problem, you wrestle with it, you figure out how to solve it, and then you're on your way. 

     Trade schools provide real opportunities for young people to connect with their innate interests and turn those interests into lifelong careers. Think electricians, plumbers, welders, auto repair technicians, beauticians, chefs, and more.

     Preparing young people for careers can take a multitude of paths. College represents only one path. Careers in small business are another. Too often, teaching the value of small business is being neglected. 

     The losers in life's casino are those who become so enamored of going to college that they go to college for many years, piling on degrees, while trying to find themselves. Many reach middle age--still looking.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Change your focus

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     You watch the marketplace carefully. You know that it can change quickly. You must keep up.

     Spotting a trend in the marketplace can be easy or it can be not so easy. Women's dresses can be longer or shorter than last year. Men's ties can suddenly grow wider or narrower than those dad wore.

     Every business targets a segment of the marketplace. And the marketplace is on the move--in what it wants and how it buys.

     Example: Tashira is a trained and certified acupuncturist. Her business was growing slowly as she attracted more clients to the value of acupuncture. She noticed the current trend of people wanting quick and easy solutions to their problems. One of these problems was the stress of everyday living--juggling work with kids and everything else. Putting the two observations together, she established a community acupuncture room. The room was quiet and dimly lit with padded tables. For $20, anyone could walk in, take a table, get a quick acupuncture session and leaved refreshed and ready for the rest of their day. It was a new focus for Tashira's practice, and it resulted in new clients for more extensive sessions. 

     Example: Jon specializes in raising native plants. He began offering them to locals for their gardens. It got his business off the ground but he knew he could do better. To serve a wider area and generate additional interest in native plants, Jon began taking pictures of the plants he grew. Pictures showed seedlings, growing plants, and blooms. The idea was to show native plants in drifts and groupings--emphasizing how easily native plants could solve landscaping problems. He posted the pictures on social media, generating lots of additional interest and referrals, and driving more eyeballs to his website. The change in focus in the way he promoted resulted in growing into a bigger business. 

     Example: Della is a personal trainer. She has clients but she still could do more. Noticing the trend in food awareness on the part of the general public, she underwent training in nutrition. This expanded her focus and extended the range of services to people interested in losing weight, training, food and nutrition. Now she has a waiting list of clients.

     By watching the marketplace, people in small business can expand their business by focusing on trends. Of course, trends come and go, so be ready to change directions at any time. 

     Your business environment is always changing. Sometimes it's readily apparent. Other times, it's more subtle. Some are short term changes. Others are longer term and take time to play out. Stay on top of your game and be ready to change your focus. 


Friday, July 10, 2015

What business to start?

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Many people want to have a small business. But they get confused on the way to deciding just what business to go into.

     Some look at franchises. Of course, there are many types of franchises. Some are well-known, others not so much so.

     Some that come to mind are pizza parlors and burger operations. You think that people must always eat and this provides an on-going income stream. Plus, the companies that offer the franchise also provide a certain amount of hand-holding.

     But there are many other ways to start a business. You might open a small shop or a cafe or other type of store. You might offer a product selling entirely from your website and run the operation from your home. The possibilities can be very confusing. 

     Always think through the possibilities before taking the plunge. Some of your most important work will be done before you actually start up.

     You start this process by looking in the mirror. What are your interests? A small business can be built around any interest you might have. 

     Example: Jesse built his business around his love of playing the guitar. Today, he has a small store where he sells guitars, repairs them, teaches others, and holds open jam sessions. Pictures on social media spread the word.

     Example: Marie is a potter who has created many special glazes. She works at home, but her website is very active. She regularly posts pictures on social media, and this generates traffic for her website sales. Recently, she was asked to participate in an upscale regional show. She is on her way, doing what she loves.

     Example: Matt loves sailing. He got himself certified in water safety and set up a sail shop at the local lake. He sells sailing gear and supplies--and sailboats. It took some time, but Matt never wavered in chasing his dream. 

     Build your dream business around any interest you might have. How you do it and how far you take it is up to you. 

      Always do a business plan before you launch your business. What is the market? What is the competition? How can you use social media to reach out and find your customer/client base?  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Niche markets

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

     Markets continually change. Your business reflects and serves the fads and fashions of the marketplace.

     Some markets will always be there. Food, clothing, housing, transportation and communications are markets that are here to stay. In one form or another these are always there, but they change. 

     Products come and go. Whatever happened to hats for men? When was the last time you saw kerosene lamps? Hand-cranked ice cream makers? Hub caps? Typewriters? Paper dolls for kids? 

     Some of these can represent niche markets for small businesses. You doubt these markets? Just check out what's on eBay.

     Example: Catherine inherited her father's long-established business. His expertise was gas-fired furnaces, heaters, and other gas appliances. Over a long career, he had accumulated a huge inventory of parts along with manufacturer's schematics and catalogs. Catherine decided to put up a website and offer parts and reprints of the catalogs. To her surprise, she found herself involved in a healthy business. Suddenly she was the expert and filled orders arriving from all over the country. 

     Example: Elise opened her small gift shop to offer vintage collectibles and other items. She had out-of-date board games and puzzles, reconditioned typewriters, well made kitchenware no longer available, furniture from the 1950s and 60s, and an array of other items. Hers is a niche business that attracts visitors, both in person and on her website. 

     Example: Tom sells and repairs old vacuum cleaners. He also does a healthy business selling parts. He won't handle vacuums made less than 25 or so years ago--they are made with plastic parts, contrasted with the metal parts used in earlier years. In addition to keeping old vacuums in good working order for a circle of clients, he offers parts on the net. 

     Looking to start a business? Consider addressing niche markets. Using today's social media, you can reach out far and wide to make sales. And shipping is no problem at all these days.

     Whatever you do, make certain you do a business plan first. How big is the market and what is your competition?      

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Event promotions

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

     Promoting your business is a constant concern. You need to get more clients and customers to visit your website, walk in your door, or otherwise buy your products and services.

     Example: Jill is a massage therapist. She attracts clients by offering free demonstrations at corporate gatherings, senior centers and organizational meetings and events. It's a simple and quick chair massage that introduces people to the benefits she can offer. These demonstrations get the word out to new people and they tell others about it. New clients call Jill for a regular appointment.

     Example: Jim is an artist specializing in plein air work. He regularly holds classes for people interested in his specialized painting techniques. This gets him publicity on Facebook and in local newspapers. It also adds to his income.

     Example: Edgar is a landscape designer. To find new clients, he gives seminars at garden centers and organizational meetings. To attract attendees, he posts pictures on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest. 

     Example: Frank is a dentist. He holds an open house every three months, talking about various topics. One will be particularly directed at children. Another will show before and after pictures of dental implants. And one invites the public to ask any questions they might have. These are relaxed settings, and they attract new clients to his dental practice.

      Example: Tamara sells her bakery products online. She offers overnight shipping for scones, brownies, and other goodies. Her website attracts attention, but to promote, Tamara uses Facebook to offer specials once each month. The Facebook site brings in new customers attracted by the pictures--and freebies--she offers. When an order is filled for brownies, she always includes free samples of scones and cookies.

     Example: Sue runs a bed and breakfast. On holidays, she offers free tours of the place with free food and wine, especially targeting corporate types who can point new clients to the inn. 

     Any small business can offer events to promote the business. Put on your thinking cap. You might go it alone or you can partner with another business.

     Events attract attention. And attention expands your business reach into the community--it brings new people to your shop or online or both. Get creative. The event you hold can result in more publicity. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

IRS problems

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Nothing is more disruptive in business than a visit from the IRS. You can get a letter or they can show up at your door.

     It can be a simple audit or a request for more information or something worse. No matter the contact, suddenly you have a whole new set of problems and unknowns.

     Example: Marie ran her consulting business from her home. On advice of her accountant, she had set up a home office--a room where she conducted her business. Her home office was where she made calls, installed her computer, maintained her files, and worked every day from 9 to 5 with a few breaks as well as outside visits to clients. When the IRS came calling and requested an audit, everything was in order. 

     Example: John operated an upscale restaurant. Sometimes, diners paid in cash. When this occurred, John pocketed the money--nothing appeared on the accounts, so he thought he was safe from an IRS audit. When an agent showed up, John opened his books and provided all his records. The agent left and John smiled to himself. Then he was hit with a bill for unpaid back taxes and a stiff fine. When the agent visited, he had counted the tables and the white tablecloths that covered them. Checked against the laundry bills, the agent found that John was serving many more meals than he had accounted for, otherwise there would be no need for the big laundry bills. Food bills also indicated that many more meals were being served than reported. 

     Example: Joline ran a small gift shop. When customers were ready to pay, she would offer a discount for cash. Many accepted the lower amount and handed Joline cash. By pocketing the cash, Joline lowered her federal and state taxes--both on income and sales taxes. It all fell apart when one of her customers happened to be an IRS agent. 

     When you don't follow the rules, expect to get caught. Many legitimate ways exist to save on taxes. Legal loopholes and strategies can help you run your business and sleep better at night.

     If you don't know how to deal with the IRS, get yourself a good accountant who knows the rules. You need someone who has been dealing with the IRS for many years. Frequently, these people know the rules better than IRS agents. A word or two from them will help you avoid lots of problems in the future. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Today it's videos

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

     You've heard it. It's all over television. "But wait! For the price of one, we'll send you TWO with FREE shipping."

     Certain words and phrases always attract attention. No matter how many times we hear "But wait!" or "SALE" or "FREE" we react.

     The reason has to do with boredom. Boredom is toxic. Our brains are wired to avoid boredom. 

     No one likes to walk the same path over and over again. It can be boring to eat the same meal day after day. Fashions continually change to avoid boredom. Only a few classic movies ever get watched a second time.

     "But wait!" and "SALE" and "FREE" tell us that something new is coming our way. These words attract our attention because something unexpected follows. It's all about us, not the product or service.

     Pictures perform much the same function. A still photo invites us to wonder what's going on and what's to follow. A moving picture takes it to the next level. So Facebook has added video, and it was as predictable as sunshine follows rain. 

     Example: Charlene struggled to sell enough of her handmade silk scarves to support herself. She priced the scarves high to better define her target market. She placed some on consignment in upscale shops and she offered them on her website. This brought in more sales. Still, it was not enough to pay for her daughter's college bills. She decided to take the plunge and make a video. It was a short 3-minute affair that she posted on social media. In the video her scarves floated in the breeze, they wrapped around necks, they fluffed atop chic outfits and complemented hair styles. Today, Charlene struggles to keep pace with orders--which, of course, she ships "FREE". 

     When you are promoting your business, keep your target market in mind. Always avoid boredom, because boredom will send your clients/customers looking to your competition for relief.

     Certain words and phrases are more valuable to light the fires of interest in your products and services. Pictures can do a job better than words--especially when you turn pictures into videos. 

     Videos invite participation by people you are trying to attract. Get out of the boredom business. Get creative and reach out to new clients and customers with a video.   

Friday, July 3, 2015

Easy expansions

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Expanding your business can be easier than you might think. It can boil down to choosing one or more of the paths open to you already.

     Example: Sue is a massage therapist. She concentrates on Swedish massage. When she added hot stone massage and other types of massage, Sue expanded her appeal in the marketplace.

     Example: John runs a pet supply store. His customers are people looking for pet foods, supplies, and supplements. He decided to add installation of in-ground dog fences. It proved to be a lucrative expansion for John's operation. 

     Example: Alicia is a chiropractor. When she noticed that her clients also were interested in healthy eating, she made arrangements with a nutritionist to give talks and hand out information every Friday. This attracted new clients, so she added nutrition to her business.

     Example: Joline has an acupuncture practice. To get the word out, she added a community acupuncture room--for $20, people came to the room, lay down and got a brief acupuncture session. It was a popular addition to her business for stressed out people. Some of these people became regular clients for more extensive acupuncture. Just as important, it attracted the attention of doctors who referred clients.

     Example: Bob runs a small garden center. When he set up a special website to sell native plants, he attracted new customers to his garden center and he expanded his business by selling on the web. He also brought in specialists (partnering with local landscapers) to hold free demonstrations on designing landscapes, building walkways and fire pits. All this expanded Bob's garden center.

     Example: Linda is a caterer. She specialized in catering events for clients--parties for individuals and small corporate events. She expanded by partnering with businesses that offered tents, dance floors, tables and chairs, etc. Suddenly Linda was addressing the marketplace in a new and bigger way. 

     Example: Chris runs a frame shop. He handles primarily corporate clients and walk-ins. To expand, he made arrangements with artists to display their works in his place and on his website. Decorators began calling and he worked with them on their projects. It was an area of the marketplace that he had not previously handled.

     Every business has expansion opportunities readily available to them. It's a matter of seeing what best fits with your long term plans.

     Opportunities are around every corner. Keep abreast of the market. What are people looking for? How do they find you? Are you using social media to reach out and draw new clients/customers to you?

     Never jump into an expansion of your business without some serious thought. Know ahead of time how it will affect your business. Before you take the plunge, make certain that it fits with your overall business plan.