Monday, August 31, 2015

Expand from within

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     To expand a small business, you have a choice. You can let the business rock along adding clients and customers and gradually grow. Or you can look to take off in a direction that builds on what you already do.

     Every business has opportunities to grow. Let the marketplace show you the way. 

     Example: Kristin is a massage therapist. She has an established office and regular clients. She uses social media to grow her client base. One of her postings on Facebook brought in a question that changed the direction of her business. Someone asked if Kristin offered acupuncture to help with problems of stress. She did not, but it spurred her to begin expanding in another area to address wellness issues. Today, Kristin has a staff acupuncturist. It has worked out well--expanding the business into the beginnings of a well-rounded wellness center. 

     Example: Judy is a candy maker who owns a small sweet shop. She loves making peppermint pillows, caramel twists and other goodies. When several customers asked why she had no chocolate, it caused her to consider expanding. First, Judy brought in lines of chocolates made at a small chocolate shop in a neighboring town. This caused a noticeable bump in sales. Then it was decision time. Judy could learn to make chocolates herself at her place, or she could continue the arrangement with the chocolate shop, or she could exploit the possibility of forming a partnership with the owner of the chocolate shop. She chose the later. Today, the expanded operation offers candies and chocolates at both shops, and, additionally, fill orders and ships to buyers far and near. 

     Example: Bill is an artist who paints landscapes. His paintings sell for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars, and he exhibits in several galleries. He also attends higher end shows. At one of these shows, he overheard someone complain that there were no smaller, less expensive paintings that could serve as gifts. Bill began experimenting--quickly painting small canvases, signing and framing them, and offering these at lower prices. He maintained quality and vision, and he found that he could sell many of these while waiting to sell just one of his landscapes. By listening to, and answering, the marketplace, Bill is now in a better financial place. 

     Expansion possibilities crop up all the time in small business. Some are good. Others, not so much.

     Keep your ear to the ground. The marketplace is always changing, and you can spot opportunities all the time. You'll probably discard most of these, but now and then, a jewel can be spotted.

     Never try to chase every opportunity that you spot. That causes you to run around in circles, not getting much done. When you do find a good opportunity, however, check out the possibilities--and expand.     

Friday, August 28, 2015

Goodbye corporate

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     People in corporate positions frequently think about leaving to establish a small business of their own. It happens all the time.

     No matter the circumstances, this is a life-changing decision. The corporate world is on one planet, the small business world is on another. They speak different languages.

     Before making the jump, do some serious thinking--and investigating. The most important thing is to take a hard look at the market your small business will serve. Get to know everything about that market. This will form the basis of your business plan.

     Your business plan will give you confidence to say goodbye to your corporate position. Don't take the big step until you reduce everything in your business plan to the bottom line numbers.

     Example:  Bob was a CPA working in the tax department of a large company. He often wondered how he came to be stuck in his position. His interests were in gardening--in his spare time, he raised many vegetables in the big yard behind the family home. He decided to make a change--with a time of transition. He built raised beds in the yard, covering them with plastic, and planting several types of lettuce. When the lettuce was ready, Bob gathered several bunches and went calling on local restaurants to see if there was interest in farm-fresh, organically-raised greens. What he found surprised him--every bundle was sold in an hour. Bob came home with more orders in hand. He is now in the process of expanding his raised beds to cover the back yard, and he is looking forward to the day when he can do what he loves and leave the corporate job behind. 

     Example: Alice was a graphic artist. She worked in the graphics department of a large company. She wanted to leave and start her own operation. While she continued working, she prepared a business plan for the business she had in mind. Working through the numbers, Alice realized that she had to make contacts out in the marketplace, so she began this process. She found several likely prospects, and working nights and weekends, she sold some of her work to them. When she felt the time was right, she gave notice to her employer and sailed into her own small business.

     If you want to leave your corporate position, do your homework while you are still employed. Transitioning to your own small business is not easy, but it is doable. 

     Always do a business plan. The most important part is getting to know the market your small business will serve. No exceptions.   

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Answer your phone!

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     Every week, I talk with a dozen or so business owners--usually on the telephone. The conversations are fodder for my writing mills.

     It is amazing how many calls to small businesses go unanswered. The caller is shunted off to voice mail, or, worse, the ringing goes on and on. I'm left to wonder if the place is out of business. 

     There was a time when I left voice mail messages, requesting a call back. When I found that most of these went unanswered, I stopped.

     These days, unless I get a live person when I call, I simply hang up and go to the next business person on my list. I can get back to that business at another time.

     In business, the telephone is a principal means of communicating with clients and customers. You have a telephone for THEIR convenience, not yours. 

     Example: Marge is a therapist. She works alone, and when she's in a session with a client, she lets calls go to her voice mail. First time callers as well as on-going clients are understanding. So is Marge. She checks and returns voice mail messages many times each day. To do this takes time, so she leaves a half-hour open between scheduled sessions with clients. This gives her a chance to return calls as well as make notes and get ready for her next appointment. 

     Example: When I had my own businesses, I knew intuitively that telephone calls were important. It might be a new referral calling, or it might be an existing client wanting an appointment or additional services. I insisted that all calls be answered promptly. And I checked up on my operation by calling in when I was away. 

     We have many ways to communicate, but the telephone is the most indispensable. It connects your business with the outside world. Always answer your phone! Promptly! Nicely!

     If you must use voice mail, check out your messages and return calls. After all, you never know where the next order or client or customer will come from.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Resetting expectations

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     Owners of small businesses generally fall into three categories. It is a reflection of human nature.

     Some are thrilled that things are going well, and they sit back to enjoy the ride. Others are so excited that they overestimate their prospects. Then, there are those in the middle--watching, evaluating, trying different things, being careful as they step into an uncertain future.

     Example: Anne always wanted to run a bakery. She opened a small operation and was pleasantly surprised that so many people stopped in. Anne was inspired to bake even more goodies. She thought more cakes and cookies would fly off the shelves. But customers drifted away and they didn't return. Anne was suddenly donating lots of baked goods to local food banks. She was at a loss as to how to proceed.

     Example: Rachel also started a bakery business. People came but Rachel wanted more. She took customers' early interest and rushed to turn it into a springboard to expand. She immediately began many postings on social media, expanded her website to include shipping, and began offering to cater events. The response overwhelmed Rachel. Her equipment could not handle the sudden new volume of orders. She didn't have employees to handle everything. Deadlines were missed, orders and shipments were not met, and testimonials turned sour. Rachel had to back off and pay more attention to growing more slowly.

     Example: Susan's bakery was different. She got the place established and began building the operation over several years. She concentrated adding more products slowly--the interest she saw in the marketplace guided her expansion. She used social media to grow her base of customers. She spotted an interest in the marketplace for brownies--shipped overnight to customers far and near. She restructured her bakery to handle anticipated volume, made arrangements for shipping, and promoted this on her website as well as social media. When growth came, Susan was ready to handle it. 

     Centuries ago, Alexander Pope wrote: "Be not the first by whom the new are tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside." Seems like good advice in this brave new world of technological change. 

     Operating a small business means continually resetting expectations. Where you take your business is up to you. Know the market, know yourself, and know how to get where you want to go. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Grow with the net

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     Many small businesses get a website, and then they wait. Complaints abound among owners that the website is a waste of time. 

     Putting up a website and waiting for the world to beat a path to your door is like putting up your business sign and expecting people to come. Marketing your business is much more than this.

     Example: Susan runs a pet shop. She stays on top of the pet foods her customers want for their dogs and cats. She stocks fresh foods for pets, including meats from area farmers. Susan has a website and keeps it updated. But she expanded her business considerably when she began putting pictures of dogs and cats on social media. She began with Facebook. It has been so successful, she is now putting pictures on other social media. This reaches out to people in a wide area and brings more people to her pet shop--or they place an order on her website.

     Example: Joanne began business with a small consignment shop. She was not satisfied with the limited customer base she attracted. A friend suggested that she use eBay to sell to a wider audience. Joanne decided to turn her shop into an eBay consignment shop. She began by redesigning her website and posting pictures on social media. She promoted the fact that high-end items and collectibles could be consigned to her shop, and, additionally, she would put them up on eBay. She is now reaching a much wider audience of prospective buyers, and she has outgrown the old consignment shop. 

     Example: Judy started her business by offering bookkeeping services and tax filings for small businesses. She grew by helping them install automated accounting systems, making it easier for them and for her. To promote her services and attract new clients, Judy changed her website to offer webinars. Some are introductory and free, others are detailed and require a fee. But all bring in new clients, not just in Judy's area, but from beyond. 

     Using the many possibilities offered by the Internet can significantly change, improve and grow your business. The net is continually changing the business landscape. 

     Start with that website. Keep it simple and updated. Then drive traffic to your business using all sorts of avenues not available 20 years ago.

     Social media offers a huge advantage to small business. Start with Facebook and then check out the other possibilities. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly, and cheaply, you can grow your business.

     It does not matter whether you offer products or services. And it does not matter whether you are local or national. By using the net, you are reaching out to new prospects. And that's what marketing and growth are all about.   

Monday, August 24, 2015

Expanding can be easy

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     Expanding your small business might be easier than you think. The key is to look inside your operation and how a change extends you into the market you want to serve.

     To take a big expansion step takes detailed planning and big time funding. Expanding by taking smaller, incremental steps is easier.

     Example: Don runs a computer services company. He uses his computer expertise to help other small businesses access and better utilize the social media tools that are readily available but little understood by his clients. To reach out and drive more clients to his services, Don decided that he would offer a series of educational workshops, free and open to the public. He set up sessions, offered them through local chambers of commerce and other business organizations. He also posted them on social media, including Facebook and LinkedIn. The sessions were well-attended, and he encouraged people in small businesses to bring their problems and questions. This simple initiative has resulted in many new clients who signed up for Don's services. 

     Example: Dawn is a certified therapist specializing in helping clients get through their stress, grief and related issues. She noticed that many of her clients had gone through rehab programs to address their drug and alcohol problems. Large numbers of them were still coping with their old habits. Dawn extended her practice, helping rehab "graduates" cope with their on-going problems. They were people in a well-defined market and they needed specific help. She began developing several programs aimed at post-rehab clients. She is building on work she already does, but this initiative is expanding her business in an entirely new direction. 

     Example: Fred runs an interior decorating operation. He helps residential and commercial clients define work areas, tackle window problems and dressings, reorganize seating, and decorate entire areas. When a realtor friend asked Fred to organize and stage a residence to better attract buyers, Fred spotted an easy expansion. He now offers staging services to several realtors in his area--staging homes for resale. It was an easy expansion of services he already offered. To expand this new area of his business, Fred now offers basic "how-to" staging expertise online. Realtors afar now direct their agents to enroll in Fred's online webinars.

     Sometimes, it only takes a change in attitude to attract new clients in a completely new way. Other times, a new market can develop in an area your already serve.

     Your business addresses a moving target. Markets change, technology changes everything, people change. Heck, even the weather changes. 

     Be alert to who you serve and how. Opportunities are everywhere. Discard the negative ones, but embrace those that make sense. 

     Some opportunities can look good at first glance, but they might lead you in a direction you don't want to go. Before embracing changes, make sure you are heading in the direction you want.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

Get outside the box

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     Opportunities are where you find them. If you're looking in the wrong place, don't expect much.

     Big waves are what surfers are looking for. You watch, you wait, and when you spot the big one, you grab your opportunity. 

     Example: Dwayne operates a health foods store. He stays on top of current trends, the leading edges of interest in healthy foods. He offers organics, non-GMOs, gluten-free foods, and more. He draws customers from a wide area--they travel to his well-stocked store to satisfy their curiosity and interest. Dwayne wanted to grow, and he caught the wave of shipping opportunities available today. Combining this with social media, he now offers many items on his website. He began with dried berries--readily available from suppliers, light weight packaging, long shelf life, and easy to ship. Today, Dwayne ships dried blueberries, cherries, currants, and other dried fruits to customers far and near. And he is looking for his next wave of growth.

     Example: Nick is a dentist. He grew his dental practice by rounding out his offerings with cleanings, dentures, fillings and crowns. His became a well-rounded dental practice. Then Nick spotted a bigger opportunity. He made arrangements with upscale dental clinics, putting together a network of these specialists who could handle dental implants. Then he used a two-pronged approach to attract clients--he uses social media and he places spot ads on localized cable television. When people contact his new dental implant division, he refers them to the specialist closest to them. It is a free service to the new client--Nick is paid by the dental implant specialist who handles the actual work.

     Example: Ted is a computer whiz. He started a business offering to design and set up websites. He quickly expanded, helping business owners use social media, install their networks, and trouble-shoot problems. He suddenly realized that he was doing a lot of free training for his clients. So Ted structured several training programs designed for beginners and light-weights. Today, Ted's training program arm has grown bigger than the rest of his operation. He has also published simple, how-to training manuals available on Amazon's Kindle readers.

     Get outside the box of everyday business to find opportunities. Not every opportunity will be appropriate, but when you spot a wave, go for it. 

     Owners of small businesses tend to settle into daily routines. You get up, face the day's problems, and collapse into bed. Take an hour now and then to relax, let your mind wander, and you might spot one of those waves that can get you outside the box.    

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Use social media

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     You are passing up many opportunities if you are not using social media. The type of small business doesn't matter. Social media can help you grow and expand.

     You can reach out to new clients and customers in your area or across the nation. Facebook, for example, can help you promote who you are and what you do. If you have never used social media for your business, Facebook is perhaps the best place to begin. And it can be free.

     Example: You are a holistic practitioner specializing in Reiki. You write a short blurb on relief from stress and muscle pain and post with a picture that shows hands hovering over an ailing body part. Post it on Facebook to attract attention. Do this two or three times each week--remember that postings have a very short life span. Try also Google+ and LinkedIn.

     Example: You own a restaurant. Get an app so that customers can check out your specials for the day, make a reservation and place their order on their phone on their way to your place. When they arrive, you have their meal ready for them. Post pictures of mouth-watering entrees daily on your Facebook page. 

     Example: You run a pet shop that offers free deliveries locally or you will ship to customers located farther afield. Every day you post a picture showing kittens and puppies, dogs and cats on your Facebook page, along with specials you might be offering. You don't sell pets or even offer them for adoption, but pictures of pets always attract attention. This will cause viewers to pause at your page. That's when they see your specials and might become customers. 

     Example: You are a graphic artist turned photographer. Get your portfolio together and publish it on Amazon as an ebook. Make connections on Facebook, LinkedIn and others--teasing with a picture. If you are looking for a position, grab your Kindle and show your interviewer what you've accomplished using Amazon's technology. 

     Example: You are a landscaper and gardener. Take pictures of gardens you've designed, stone terraces you've built, fish ponds you've installed, hedges you've clipped, even lawns you've maintained. Post on Facebook--a new pictures 2 or 3 times each week. Think ahead of the seasons, and generate interest by potential clients and customers. 

     Using social media is quick, inexpensive (or free), and attract attention to what you do. Expand your circle of clients and customers to expand your business. 

     Never used social media? Go to the websites for Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and others. They want you to participate, and they make it very easy to get involved. You owe it to yourself and your business to do so. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Facebook examples

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     Small businesses struggle to promote the business. They have a hard time getting the word out into the communities they serve.

     You can grow by using Facebook. And it can be completely free. You snap a picture, post it on your Facebook page, and you are done with advertising for the day.

     The purpose of the picture is to attract attention--a close-up of a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon, a colorful new handbag, hands working through a massage, a dew-laden rose, your cat curled up in a basket.

     Example: Sue is certified in Pilates. She used social media to reach out into her community--and beyond. She posted pictures on Facebook showing Pilates equipment, with the words, "Pilates explained" followed by her website address. This attracted new clients as well as referrals. To expand, she offered long-distance training over the net to people who then could go for certification. This brought in clients on a new basis for her business, and they could be far or near.

     Example: Lisa is an architect. She struggled for a few years before discovering the value of social media. Then she reached out to a larger client base by emphasizing green design, sustainable and energy-conscious, environmentally friendly architectural designs. Her pictures on Facebook were intriguing close-ups of solar panels, a building set in a field of wildflowers, roof run-off caught in rain barrels, a dog asleep on a deck. The pictures brought in comments, generated interest, and resulted in some new clients.

     Example: Tina went through extensive training and certification in acupuncture. She began seeing clients, joined networking groups, and offered to give free seminars to medical practitioners--showing how acupuncture could help with pain management, post-surgical recoveries, and other concerns. Growth of her practice was slow, however. So Tina used Facebook to target people who were stressed by work, family, and today's fast paced living. She set up a community acupuncture room where people could stop in without an appointment, lie down and get a quick introduction to the value of acupuncture. Twenty minutes here calmed people down, and they went their way refreshed. In addition, it helped spread the word and referrals came in for major treatments. 

     Social media, particularly Facebook, can be used in many ways. It is a god-send for small businesses to promote and grow. 

     Pictures here need not be professionally done. You snap pictures and upload to your Facebook site. You are not creating a masterpiece for the ages. You are angling for a two-second viewing to make an impression. 

     I am not a spokesman for Facebook--just showing the value of social media in promoting and growing your small business. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Social media works

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     Social media is a great tool for small business. Facebook and others can reach out into the community and put a friendly face on your business.

     Pictures on Facebook attract attention, remind people who your are, and get passed around to others. It's a marketing tool not available just 20 years ago.

     Example: Takisha has sites on eBay and Etsy. On both of these, she puts items up for auction or sale. The items come from her consignment store, an active bricks and mortar operation. To attract more attention, she has a Facebook page where she posts a picture every day of an item. Usually, Takisha's cat or dog can be seen, prominently included in the picture. All of this is meant to drive traffic to her store or to her sites on eBay and Etsy. She includes the cat or dog to help attract attention and get the picture passed around or mentioned to other viewers. 

     Example: Bud is a landscaper who is stepping his business up to a new level. On social media he shows yards he has done, gardens he takes care of , new designs he is planning. All of this entices new clients with pictures of stone terraces, fish and lily ponds, gates and trellises, and other landscape/garden features. He regularly posts pictures on Facebook and other social media. These have brought in new clients looking for more than lawn-cutting. Bud's business is growing and attracting new up-scale clients.

     Example: Elaine is a business coach. She has attracted several small and medium-sized clients--some are regulars, others are one-time propositions. She noticed that business owners need funds to expand, but they were discouraged by the current downturn in availability of loans to small businesses. At the same time, Elaine noticed that on-line lending firms were springing up to fill the void left when banks declined loan requests. She used social media to reach out to area businesses, offering to help them access on-line funding. She posted pictures of stacks of coins with the edges of $100 bills peeping out from behind, along with the tag line "Need a loan?" Having researched a dozen on-line lending firms, Elaine used her expertise to guide her new clients through the maze, significantly growing her business coaching operation. 

     Social media can grow your business in ways unheard of several years ago. Put on your marketing hat and see what Facebook and others can do for you. 

     For example, if you have never used Facebook to promote your business, it's time to get your feet wet. Jump in, the water's fine. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Packaging your business

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     Packaging is more than what you see on a bag or corn chips. Packaging is important in your small business--even if you don't sell corn chips.

     Big companies spend lots of money on packaging. And it ain't just on bags and bottles and boxes. Companies also package themselves. They call it branding.

     Owners of small businesses also need to brand or package themselves. You need to package your business in a way that's attractive, memorable, and sticks in the minds of customers and clients. 

     Example: Maria runs a catering operation. She has grown the operation over the years into a high end, upscale resource for the types of clients she targets. She uses social media--pictures on Facebook, for example--to separate her unique business from other caterers. Pictures show gloved servers dressed in chic, formal attire ready to take over and handle an event--all of the event, from soup to nuts. Other pictures zoom in on table settings with wine being poured. Still others are long shots showing tables with guests and couples dancing on a portable dance floor to the music of a live band. In short, all of Maria's social media pictures show an event, with people enjoying themselves at an upscale affair. All this has the effect of conveying enjoyment, not the food being served. This branding lifts Maria's catering operation out of the mundane, and it separates her from other caterers--where food is usually the total focus. It firmly implants in the viewer's mind how their affair can be taken to the next level.

     Packaging or branding your business is being done whether or not you pay attention. Your business has a life of its own, a reputation that grows and spreads. You can let it grow on its own, or you can guide it.

     Social media offers many opportunities to control and guide your branding. You are what people see--and talk about. 

     To take your business to the next level, always do a business plan. And that plan should include branding or packaging efforts--the reputation of the business as a whole.   

Friday, August 14, 2015

Money matters

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     There is never enough money to do all the things you want to do in small business. Money--and cash flow--is always a problem.

     When income is greater than expenses, you can point to a healthy bottom line. There's some money left over to grow, expand, buy a new piece of equipment, hire another employee--or take on repayments on a loan. 

     Sometimes, there is money to do all the things you want to do. But that is rare. Your dreams are bigger than your pocketbook allows. Or you want to grow faster than your bottom line supports--an infusion of additional cash can put you on the road to faster growth. 

     This is when you look to borrow the money you need. Sources like banks don't loan to small businesses like they once did. Credit cards are very expensive alternatives--be very careful using them. Borrowing from friends and relatives is not a good idea--unless you draw up an agreement with specific terms.

     Enter the net. In recent years, several firms have popped up offering to do business loans. They make it easy and quick. But you pay for that in interest. Do a Google search for "Business loans" and check carefully the listings. You might find one that suits you--some specialize in loans only to small business, say $2,000 to $20,000. Others are looking to make larger loans. 

     Another Internet source is "Crowd funding" and it means just what it says. If you have a great idea or an appealing business model, you might attract a large crowd of people who are willing to invest in you and your business. Some of these are structured as loans; others involve equity, or part ownership, in your business. To check it out, Google "Crowd funding" and read through the sites you find.

     Small, local businesses can also look for private investors locally. Say you run a landscaping business, a beauty salon, a health food store, an auto repair shop, a veterinary practice, or whatever. Among your customers and clients you might find one who is willing to invest in a local business rather than continue playing the stock market. You'll probably need an attorney to draw up an agreement, but this is very real possibility--one I have used myself. 

     The key here in any of this is your cash flow. If your bottom line shows that your business can support a monthly loan repayment, then a loan is possible. And if your business is healthy and growing, then it might attract a private investor. 

     Managing money in small business takes ingenuity, creativity, and a willingness to take risk. Taking a risk is not like rolling the dice. Taking a risk is seeing a path forward--with some degree of certainty. 



Thursday, August 13, 2015

Print advertising

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     Many experts have said that print advertising is dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is different today, but it is no less alive.

     Print advertising is alive and well in specialty publications, local newspapers, and trade publications. Pick up any one of these and you'll be pleasantly surprised at the number of ads you see for small businesses.

     If printed ads did not work for small businesses, then business owners would not be spending money on them. Nobody watches their expenditures more closely than owners of small businesses.

     Example: Arleatha spent a year getting her yoga studio open and off the ground. She placed an ad in the local daily newspaper and waited for response. She found that she could not trace a single new client to the ad. Then she placed an inexpensive ad in a local weekly paper--the response was immediate. She then placed an ad in a regional monthly publication that promoted healthy living. Again, the response was gratifying. 

     The general public reads local weekly publications. They are less likely to read daily newspapers--the readership of The New York Times is down significantly. And the days of weekly news magazines are numbered--have you seen Time magazine lately?

     Trade publications, on the other hand, are alive and well--even in this age of the net. The Pennsylvania Fireman, for example, is published monthly. Readership includes firefighters, regulators, construction people, the general public and more. The publication runs to some 200 pages, and it is filled with information and ads. 

     Every industry has trade publications. Targeted readers include dentists, chiropractors, foodies, healthy living, auto enthusiasts and collision experts, tradespeople of all types. These publications reach specific audiences, and readers are looking for small business suppliers of goods and services.

     The reason the experts say print advertising is dead is simple. They are living their lives at the leading edge of technological change. They see everyone getting their news and information via their cell phones, smart phones and other fancy devices. 

     While the experts are mesmerized by the onslaught of technology, you can safely ignore their dire predictions. What they say is true for the big guys in business (large daily newspapers, slick monthly news magazines). But it does not apply to the circle of customers and clients who are attracted to small business. 

     Owners of small businesses have a limited budget for advertising. And a small amount of dollars can go a long way when spent with local weekly newspapers, regional monthlies, and trade publications.

     The cost of advertising in small publications is related to readership and distribution. But the audience is more targeted, giving you a better return for your ad dollars.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Customer service

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     Customers and clients are arguably the most important aspect of your business. They buy your products, they sign up for your services, and they spread the word about your operation.

     All this means that you must focus a great deal of your attention on them. Keep 'em happy and keep 'em satisfied, and they will make you a part of their lives.

     Example: Donald operates a large cigar shop and mail order operation. Customers walk in, but Donald's main business is selling cigars to customers all over the country. He continually updates his website, offers specials, and ships for free on orders more than $100. The phone-in order desk is staffed by three people. When they get a complaint, they are authorized to offer free cigars, free shipping--whatever will satisfy the person complaining. To check up on the order desk people, Donald has mystery shoppers call in and place orders. They report back to Donald on how they were treated by people on the order desk. The purpose of all this is to maintain a high level of customer service. Donald has used the reports to increase training of order takers, and, in one case, replace the person with a more congenial person. 

     Example: Sandra runs a frozen yogurt shop. She concentrates on kids and offers all sorts of contests that appeal to the younger set. She uses social media to encourage youngsters to stop in, to partake in the contests, and to tell their friends about the latest yogurt flavors. Usually, everything is positive, but, occasionally, a bad comment sneaks onto Sandra's social media pages. She checks her site twice each day, and when she finds a less than complimentary entry, she goes into action. She responds by thanking the person and offering a free yogurt. The important thing here is that the other kids see how well Sandra treats everyone, regardless of their comments. It builds positive customer service. 

     Always listen to your customers and clients. And listen "between the lines" because you can learn a lot there. Listen to your clients and customers and they will show you the way forward. 

     Everyone wants to be treated well. Do this and you build familiarity with customers and clients. You want the relationship to be one of trust and loyalty to your brand, your shop, your operation. 

     In business, never get caught up in the blame game. It's easy to blame the customer or client. It's easy to blame the economy. It's easy to blame others for problems that are your own. Don't do it--your job is to find the way forward in spite of any problem that comes up. 



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Emergency plans

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     Fires and floods, blackouts and robbers can shut you down--whether you have a shop or office or work on the web. When the unthinkable happens, put in place that plan you've already thought about.

     Example: Frank runs a computer service business. His computers are tied into those of his clients, and many are large corporations. He can diagnose, troubleshoot, and repair their software problems from his set-up. His system automatically generates an invoice anytime his computers do work online for clients. Then the power went off. When he checked the power outage footprint with the power company, he learned that all his clients were without power as well. He reasoned that everybody would get power restored at the same time. But that was not the case. Several of his clients had back-up power systems that cut on when the power went off. Frank did not. He is now investigating how he can hard wire his system to those of his clients.

     Example: Diane runs a small convenience store. After she was robbed twice, she decided that it was up to her to defend herself and her business. She bought a handgun, put herself through licensing and training, and now keeps the firearm handy. She has not shot anyone, but she did send a knife-wielding robber on his way when she pointed the firearm at him. In the past, she was terrified of guns, but today she has the means to protect herself while waiting for the police to arrive. 

     Example: Jill's gift shop was located near the river. In the middle of the holiday shopping season after Thanksgiving, the river flooded. Water flowed into Jill's shop, ruining everything it touched. She had flood insurance, but she did not have loss of business insurance. And she had to close the shop for two weeks while she was getting everything back in shape. When her lease came up for renewal the next year, Jill moved to higher ground. 

     Emergencies are not unusual in business. Power outages, flooding and storms can come with little warning. Robbers can show up anytime.
Be prepared by planning ahead.

     In business, you are your own back-up. How will you manage your business if you break your leg? What will you do if there's a fire?

Monday, August 10, 2015

When referrals drop off

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     to help you better manage your small business. 

     Every small business owner knows the value of referrals. Referrals come to your business on another's recommendation. 

     When you notice a drop-off in the number of referrals you are getting, you need to take action. It's not something to ignore and simply hope for better economic times. It won't pass by itself. 

    Good business people do not blame other people or other situations for their problems. They go to work to solve their problems. 

     Example: Dean is a fitness expert and personal trainer. When he began his business, he got lots of referrals. His clients recommended others to his services, and he signed up new clients. Six months in, however, he noticed that referrals were few and far between. New people were not calling him or showing up. Looking at the situation, Dean realized that his clients had told everyone they knew about him and his programs. He had exhausted their circle of friends. To break out into new circles of people, Dean mounted a social media campaign. He solicited testimonials from his current clients, got their permission to use their words, and began posting on his new Facebook page. It paid off. New people called and became clients. More importantly, Dean broke into new circles of people interested in his services. 

     Example: Ellen runs a small coffee shop. She attracts local people to her breakfasts and lunches--no dinners. It took a couple of years to get established and become the go-to place for a local clientele. Ellen began to notice that it was the same crowd that showed up every day and that some of them seemed to be drifting away--they didn't come as often as they had done before. She looked at the staff, the cook, the service, and the cashier--and she found two problems. The cashier was so busy texting or talking on her phone that a line formed--waiting to pay the bill. And serving meals promptly was so lax that the meal was cold when delivered to customers. Ellen replaced the cashier and a waiter, neither one of whom understood the basics of customer service. 

     Using social media to reach out to more circles of friends can improve your business with more referrals. And seeing to customer service, and improving it, can do the same.

     When referrals drop off, see to your operation. You'll more than likely find that the fault lies with you. Keep those referrals coming.  

Friday, August 7, 2015

Sell less, earn more

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     You struggle in your small business to find the right balance for a healthy operation. This involves pricing your product or service, holding down expenses, and getting the word out--especially on social media.

     Optimizing bottom line income is a constant concern. Many of the inputs that flow to the bottom line are always changing. It can be difficult to get the balance that makes sense.

     Sometimes, you can avoid getting lost in the weeds by increasing your prices. Upping your prices lets you play in a different ball game. Former problems no longer obtain.

     Example: Shawn is an artisan working in leather. He makes belts and handbags. He displays and sells from his own showroom, and he consigns items to a dozen or so additional boutiques and galleries. Shawn wanted to grow, but he did not want to hire people and establish a production operation for his designs--he wanted to keep the business based on his own output. This presented him with a dilemma which he turned into an opportunity. He decided to increase his prices significantly--every product doubled in price overnight. Belts that had sold for $35 were now priced at $75, and handbags that yesterday sold for $85 now had a price tag of $150. As Shawn expected, there was an immediate dip in sales. But three months later, he was earning more on fewer sales. 

     Example: Sarah runs a hair salon. She has increased her prices to the point that she only accepts two appointments each day. Increasing her prices led to fewer appointments, but she is making more by selling less.

     Your pricing goes a long way toward defining your product or service. The marketplace has a wide tolerance for pricing. But, all things equal, the value received by the client or customer is largely perceived to be determined by the price paid.

     Of course, no one will pay $100 for a cup of coffee. There are limits to pricing, but many people are today paying $8 for a cup of coffee. Back when a cup cost less than a dollar, who knew people would pay $8?

     Whole businesses can be built on the public's perception and willingness to pay more. And existing businesses can earn more by selling less.            

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Planning simplified

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     Business planning is not difficult. You already do it. In business, planning is second nature.

     Planning is all about clients and customers. No matter your business, your future depends on them. Today's clients and customers tell you where you are. Tomorrow's clients and customers tell you where your business is headed.

     To simply the planning process, begin with your present clients and customers. They can point the way to your future. 

     Example: You are a chiropractor. Your clients are asking questions about massage and nutrition. Should you add other capabilities to your practice? Should you head to becoming a wellness center? 

     Example: You help me troubleshoot and repair my computer set-up and networks. Can you help me exploit the possibilities of social media, teach me how to use it, and point my business to wider appeal? 

     Example: You have a thriving yoga studio. Clients are asking if you can help them with losing weight. Should you add other regimens to your practice by partnering with other specialists? 

     Example: You operate a restaurant. More clients are asking for gluten-free preparations and vegetarian dishes. Should you change your menu offerings? And how about the current interest in farm-fresh? 

     Example: You are an attorney. You are getting calls asking if you can handle special problems--worker's comp, elder law, a business sale. Should you add a specialty or two? Or concentrate on one avenue?

     Example: You operate a small print shop. You get a request to handle small mailings. You suddenly realize the potential of offering small direct mailings--completing the circle of one-stop printing/mailing jobs.

     Your business planning begins with the marketplace and where it's headed. A starting point is to listen to your current clients and customers. 

     They will tell you all sorts of possibilities for future expansion. Your job is to sort through the suggestions and home in on what makes sense to you and your business future.

     You can take the clues and re-structure your business. Always keep an eye on the bottom line numbers that a new direction will lead to. Also, is the new direction a passing fad in the marketplace? Or is it a more permanent change?

     Never make a big change in your business without first doing a formal business plan. The plan is where you reduce the marketplace to real numbers. But small changes in direction don't require all the effort that goes into a formal business plan. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Helping your community

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     to help you better manage your small business.

     There is a lot of interest today in helping the less fortunate among us. All sorts of schemes are put forth by politicians--these are mostly designed to get votes in the next election.

     But business owners can get involved in helping others in a more helpful way. Look for ways to become a more vital part of the community.

     Example: Arthur runs an auto repair shop. He employs three workers who are trained technicians. In addition, Arthur brings in young people who have an interest in vehicles. They are not employees, and they don't do any hands-on work at the shop. Instead, they observe, learn, follow the technicians around and ask questions, learning as they go. Arthur is providing an opportunity for young people to get acquainted with business, with vehicle repair, and all the rest. He has watched several young people go on to have careers in the field. 

     Technical schools teach various trades, but students stuck in public high schools don't get much hands-on exposure to career paths. But just about any business can provide a valuable community service by exposing young people to real career paths.

     Example: Margie is a CPA specializing in taxes. She handles clients in small and medium-sized businesses. And she does more. She realized years ago that kids in school don't necessarily appreciate the value of business in general or, specifically, accounting and taxes. She volunteered to hold sessions at local schools showing how important businesses were to the local community, and, in particular, how important learning math can be to the successful operation of any business. Teachers regularly bring Margie in for brief sessions, and some have steered students on field trips to Margie's offices--as well as to her clients' offices. The youngsters see up close how businesses work and how important math can be.  

     These types of interactions with your community can pay off. It spreads knowledge in a way quite different from in-school sessions. It helps young people see the connections that make communities work. And it exposes youngsters to possible career paths they might not otherwise consider. 

     Perhaps more importantly, involvement with youngsters in the community educates them into the basics of business. And, after all, it's small business that provides most of the jobs, the goods and services that communities depend on. 

     Your involvement in your community is much more important than all the schemes politicians foist upon us. Politicians have a temporary and ulterior motive, but you have a future community to care about.

     Young people are the future. They will take over after you're gone. They will be running the businesses that make communities work. And you have a big time interest in this.  



Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Grappling with demons

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     Demons are common in movies. Demons show up in fantastic shapes and sizes--all for the sake of entertainment.

     Demons in business are not entertaining. You grapple with them every day. They take up lots of your time, and you must prepare for the unexpected visit.

     Example: Don is a computer whiz. He helps people in business solve the computer problems that plague them. He does new set-ups, networking, back-ups, social media connectivity, and he trains his clients' employees. Don's business experienced ups and downs with cash flow--until he began selling his clients on the value of monthly retainers. Clients now pay a set amount every month to have his services always available and he is always on call. His cash flow demon is now caged.

     Example: Dawn used to run a pet grooming service. She set up the business in her garage and ran it successfully for several years. Then a demon appeared. A dog being groomed died on the table. The owner sued. Dawn had no insurance and she had never registered her business or incorporated. Incorporating a small business is very easy and quick these days. It puts a wall of separation between the business and the owner's assets. Today, Dawn is out of business and she is struggling to save her home because of the lawsuit. She could have protected herself against this demon by incorporating her business. 

     Example: Oscar is a hypnotherapist. He has private clients and he runs sessions for people wanting to lose weight. Some of these clients pay with cash. Oscar got into the bad habit of pocketing the cash and never declaring it on his tax returns. This went on for several years. Then the IRS came calling, wanting to do an audit. They wanted to see his records, including the lists of attendees at his sessions. When these records were matched with Oscar's tax returns, a discrepancy was found. He now owes the IRS a large sum of back tax liabilities, together with interest and a fine. The IRS demon is not one to mess around with--feed it properly to keep it at bay. 

     All sorts of demons can show up at your door when you are in business. It's not just lawsuits and tax problems. Regulations and technology can breathe down your neck as well. 

     Business is a lot of things. You worry about day-to-day operations, suppliers, customers, the changing market--the list is almost endless. Don't neglect giving some thought to the demons that can hound you.   

Monday, August 3, 2015

Surfing the markets

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     Building a business means staying on top of markets. But markets change. Markets are like waves on the ocean.

     One after another, market waves rush toward the shore. How do you catch the next wave and surf to the safety of a beach? And what do you do then? 

     Example: Stacey runs a successful consignment shop. She specializes in high end women's clothing and accessories. Her shop attracts business and professional women. They eagerly buy the name brand outfits, handbags, shoes and jewelry Stacey was known for. Frequently, these buyers used these items 2-3-4 times and then they returned them to consign again. These customers were riding a marketplace wave. They dressed in the latest fashions and saved money. Then, Stacey caught a market wave herself. She began putting up pictures of every new item on social media. Every day, she added a new item to her Facebook page. She caught the social media wave that exploded her consignment business.

     Example: Jon runs an interior design business, working with residential and commercial clients. He caught a marketing wave when he contacted realtors and offered to provide staging services--getting a home ready to show to prospective buyers. This provided Jon with a successful expansion of his business. To take it to the next level, he began offering short videos showing realtors, agents and homeowners how to stage a home to attract buyers. Jon provided free short video trailers on social media--along with longer videos that he offered for sale. These attracted realtors who hired Jon to do stagings, as well as in-person talks and demonstrations for real estate agents. Jon took his design business to the next level.

     If your business is already riding a growth wave, look around and find the next wave. Surf it to the next level. Don't get beached. Ride the next wave. 

     Starting out, your business is riding a start-up wave. To grow, you must catch the next marketing wave. It can be as simple as using social media to expand your reach.