Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Expand with rentals

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     Rentals and rental related services are everywhere. We are a rental society. Rentals by other names pervade our daily lives.

     People regularly rent apartments and vehicles. Rentals are available in movies, furniture, phone services, software, even costumes and dance floors. Even clothing, DJs and bands. 

     When you hail a taxi or call Uber, you are renting a ride. When you take your vehicle for repairs, you are renting expertise. When you get a massage from a therapist, you are renting expert services. And when you hire a landscaper or a plumber, you are renting a professional.

     Example: Ray runs a local computer services firm. He installs new software for small businesses and trains employees to use it. When Ray convinced a client that a new computer system was needed to handle an expansion, the client asked Ray if he could rent the new setup. Quick thinking resulted in Ray's expanding into the computer rental business. Today, Ray's own growth is substantial--in rentals. 

     Example: Don loves the theater, but he is not an actor. His main interest is centered around set construction, props and stages. He turned his passion into a business--rentals of all the things needed for theater productions, corporate exhibits, organizational meetings, business dinners, and, of course, theater productions by community groups, high schools, bands and caterers. He has a warehouse filled with all sorts of spectacular props that clients eagerly seek. Sometimes he sells props, but his main business is rentals. 

     Example: Jeanie runs a flower shop. She specializes in fresh flowers and silk arrangements--selling to walk-in customers. She expanded her business when she began renting silk flower arrangements to banks, clinics, and corporations. She charges a monthly fee to place her flowers in offices and lobbies. She is now considering expanding her rental business to offer large containers of live green plants. 

     Many businesses can enhance the bottom line by offering rentals. Restaurant dining rooms can be rented to others for their meetings, or the restaurant can rent out the kitchen to aspiring bakers when the ovens are not being used. Artists and artisans can rent their works to others. Even maintenance contracts are a form of renting the on-going services by professionals. A new trend sees business women renting dressy outfits.

     Put on your thinking cap. Adding rentals to your business offerings might be a quick way to enhance your bottom line.   

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pathways to growth

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     Key employees are just that. They are key to building a business, keeping it healthy, expanding into the future. You are key. But you cannot do everything.

     Small business owners who want to propel their operations into the big time frequently look outside for talented individuals. It's a matter of complementing internal capabilities.

     Example: Jim runs a small firm specializing in solving the many technological difficulties experienced by small businesses when they attempt to promote their business on multiple social media platforms. (Whew!) To say it's complicated is an understatement. Many prospective clients do not understand the value of Jim's service when he attempts to sell his programs to them. Recognizing that he himself is lost in the weeds of technology, Jim hired Mary to pitch the service to prospective clients. Instead of concentrating on the technical aspects of Jim's services, Mary used her past experiences in small businesses of her own to "speak the language" of her targets. She concentrated more on the end game of growth and expansion than on the intricacies of social media platforms. She is adding more clients to Jim's firm.

     Example: Bob runs a small printing operation. His interests are in providing the best end products, in satisfying his customers in a timely manner, and in staying on top of the latest technological developments in the printing industry. Bob let the business grow by the natural referral process--because he had little interest or time to sell his service. To kick his business up to the next level, Bob began searching for a suitable partner--someone who could fill the gap in marketing and sales. He found Ted and brought him on board. Ted was a printing broker with a client following. His clients placed orders with him and he arranged the actual printing with various printers in the area. When Ted joined with Bob, many more clients were quickly being served in the new operation. Together, the two of them embarked on building a much bigger operation than either could have done separately. 

     You can complement--and build--your business by looking for complementary people. But it can be much more than adding people.

     Pathways to growth are many and varied. Additional services can enhance your appeal in the marketplace. Additional product lines can extend your reach in the community. Adding social media can explode your growth potential. 

     Whatever you do on your pathway to growth, do not neglect customer service. Give them what they want, when they want it, no questions asked.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Tracking your business

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     Keeping track of the health of your business is crucial to success. No two business owners do it the same way.

     Today's technology offers new opportunities to track the health of your business. But older methods also work. Whatever method you use, don't get lost in the weeds of too much data.

     Example: Dexter runs an automated computer service. His computer setup is connected to his clients' computer operations. His machines are always monitoring and automatically repairing problems that arise at the client's operation. Every morning Dexter reviews the previous 24-hour activity--interrupt time and amount billed automatically to each client. This has become for Dexter a quick way to track the financial health of his own operation. If billable time declines, he can quickly spot it and take appropriate action. This also helps him monitor longer term trends.

     Example: Myra runs her women's clothing shop the old fashioned way. She accepts credit and debit cards, ApplePay, PayPal and cash. At month's end, she turns everything over to her accountant who furnishes a report a week or two later. When sales decline, Myra is not aware of the seriousness for some time. The results of her special sales and promotional activities are not timely. She has decided to move to an automated system to better track business activity, keeping her accountant for taxes.

     Example: Marco runs a printing operation. He has a mix of both small and large businesses. When jobs are completed, invoices are prepared and sent to clients. His office person prepares these invoices and receives payments that arrive both electronically and in the mail. Every Monday morning, the office person prepares a special report for Marco. It shows all payments received the preceding week and all invoices still outstanding. Payments received and invoices outstanding are shown as actual dollar amounts. Marco tracks his business by plotting these figures on a chart--giving him a long term glimpse as to whether the business is steady or increasing or declining. Older outstanding invoices prod Marco to call the client for payment. 

     No two business owners will track the health of their business in the same way. Technology offers many alternatives, but no less effective are older methods. 

     Tracking your business must be done. It can be your guide to future growth and expansion.

     Every business person tracks the business. Choose a method that you are comfortable with. Base it in actual numbers you can use.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Start that small business!

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     No road map exists to start a business. You find your own way to begin by providing goods and services that other people will pay for. 

     If you are young, you have little experience in business. But what you have is a passion about something. And if you have a passion, others have the same passion. They are your market.

     In you are in corporate America, you have little appreciation for the world of small business. But you have years of experience doing something. It might be part of your present job, or it might be something you enjoy doing in your off hours. Either one of these can form the basis for a small business.

     Example: Jane was a customer service representative in a large company. She had a book of accounts and handled their problems. Exhausted at the end of long days in the office, Jane came home to relax with her jigsaw puzzles. She looked forward to this quiet time, sitting at her dining room table fitting pieces together. Usually, she had 4 or 5 going at once. One day, Jane screwed up her courage, gave her employer notice, rented a small store front, and began filling shelves with jigsaw puzzles. Her grand opening attracted some interest, but when she put pictures on social media, she pulled in many buyers. She sold puzzles and board games on her website and on eBay. It took some time to get her business off the ground, but it worked. Today, Jane's shop is the go-to place for people interested in her products. And she is happy.

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

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

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

     Any interest you have can be turned into a small business. It might never grow into the next Microsoft, or it might. But you will never know until you get it established and start to work with the market that is out there. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Reaching new markets

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     Markets are always changing. Some change slowly over time. Others make big leaps into new realities almost overnight.

     Social media has caused new markets to appear much more quickly than was previously the case. Once it took months of print advertising to reach people. Today, reaching out can be achieved very quickly, efficiently, cheaply.

     Facebook, for example, has opened up vast new markets for small business. Snap a picture, post it on Facebook, and reach new markets for products and services you offer. All within minutes. 

     Example: Irene used to treat only humans using Reiki and massage. She saw a market that was under-served--treating pets. She went through the certification process to be able to treat her human clients as well as their pets. She began posting pictures on Facebook showing her treating dogs. The pictures were passed around among friends, and today her appointment book is filled with new clients--and their dogs.

     Example: For years, Pepe has been making his living tuning pianos. His clients were organizations, small churches, private individuals, and an occasional concert hall. He spotted a market among younger people who wanted to learn keyboarding. He decided to offer private lessons, and he posted pictures on various social media. It worked so well, Pepe now has many more clients--mostly beginners. He still tunes pianos, but it is a minor part of his business.

     Example: Computer expert Chuck expanded his business by offering new services. He already helped businesses install their computing systems, network them, and keep them running efficiently. What he added was instruction sessions in how to use social media. His extra niche market came in the realization that people in small business do not understand social media, how Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter could help them expand their own businesses. His new instruction sessions are popular, people pay to attend, and it has attracted new clients to his operation.

     Example: Doctor Theodore spotted a new market that changed his life. In the face of all the new health care regulations and paperwork, he closed his private general practice office. Today, he only makes house calls. (What a novel idea!) His office is in the trunk of his car, and he concentrates on elderly patients he sees in their homes. Referrals keep him busier than he was before. 

     Markets change. Times change. The ways to reach markets change. Everything is moving faster these days. Social media is the future.         

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Customer convenience

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     There is no argument. Customers and clients are the reason you are in business. Without them, you are pursuing a hobby.

     With this in mind, it follows that your main job is to sell them what they want. That keeps them coming back. Further, you must replace your present customers and clients--sooner or later you need to plan on losing every one of them. 

     And you must always be reaching out to add more. Nothing is more effective today than using social media to rein in new customers and keep present one happy. 

     Example: Sandra creates hand-painted scarves. She began her business by consigning her scarves in high end gift shops. She also created a website where she accepted orders. The business grew, and to handle multiple orders, Sandra hired a part time assistant who answered the phone, posted pictures on social media, and helped with office duties. Sandra devoted her time to creating, and she thought it was a good arrangement. Until, suddenly, she noticed several complaints on social media. Orders were going unfilled. Phone orders and complaints went unanswered--one complaint was weeks old and still not addressed. Customers were annoyed and they were passing the word around the net. Sandra replaced the assistant with someone more attentive to customers.

     Example: Phil operates a local auto repair shop. He has two employees and a single lift. Phil is frequently handling repairs himself, so he let the phone go to voice mail. Customers were not very understanding--some assumed that the shop was closed, others were annoyed enough to call another repair shop. Phil was losing business. Today, he has a part time person, mornings only, who answers the phone by the second ring and handles other office duties. 

     Example: Frank established his restaurant business in an area surrounded by corporate offices and other businesses. He specialized in quick lunches for people on the go. To attract more customers, he posts his lunch specials on Facebook every morning. He attracted even more attention when he set up an app--people could order as they left their office and sit down to their lunch when they arrived at his place. 

     In business, you must provide customers what they want, when they want it. It's all about their convenience, not yours.

     Social media provides a great mechanism to upgrade and extend your business. But you must stay on top of it--it is a daily activity.   


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Rear view mirrors

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     Looking back can be good or bad. It's good to remember what worked in your business in the past. And it's good to recall those things that did not work so well.

     Looking back is your rear view mirror. It is your rudder that will help keep your sailboat on course. 

     Example: Fran is a great believer in social media as a tool to build a small business. For some time, she has been teaching many clients how to use Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and others. She turned it into a viable small business of her own. Looking back, Fran could count many clients who greatly benefited from her expertise. She thought that all those clients were ready to take the next step. She devised a system that automated social media access for her clients. She now could place her clients on all sorts of social media. But clients resisted signing up for her new service. With little success, Fran finally realized that she was far ahead of the market curve. Her clients simply did not understand how her new automated service benefited them. She still offers the new automated service, but growth is slow. To prod signups, Fran is now taking an interim step--educating her small business clients into the benefits of automatically accessing many social media possibilities. 

     Example: Takisha is a hypnotherapist, seeing a client list that includes people with all sorts of problems. Physicians regularly refer people to her for help with pain management, grief, post-surgical adjustments, and the like. When a nutritionist friend suggested that they combine forces to offer sessions on controlling weight in people, Takisha turned down the opportunity. She thought it would lead her in a less-desirable direction. Months later, she realized her mistake--she missed an opportunity to grow her client base. The nutritionist who had approached Takisha had found another hypnotherapist, and, together, these two had established a booming new practice. They were holding regular paid private and group sessions for people who wanted to gain or lose weight, or simply to become educated on healthy eating.

     Looking back, all of us can see the mistakes we've made. Sometimes, these can become clues to better manage our businesses. 

     Taking a look in the rear view mirror should never be a cause for regret. Whatever you see should be a learning experience. 

     Learn from your rear view mirror. When you see something that did not work very well, learn from it. And when you see you made a mistake, learn from it. Use your past to find the path to a brighter future.  

Monday, September 21, 2015

Thinking ahead

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     Everybody thinks ahead. Thinking ahead is the stuff of dreams and hopes and planning and possibilities. 

     In business, you are continually sorting out the additional things you might do. You think through how to handle current problems. And you think through ways to grow and expand. 

     Example: Alicia is a veterinarian. She concentrates on dogs, cats and small "pocket" pets. Thinking about how to expand, she considered all sorts of possibilities. She made arrangements with a specialist in animal Reiki to offer these services on a regular day each week. It helped, but Alicia wanted to do more. She undertook training and got certified in animal acupuncture. Offering Reiki and acupuncture services has considerably expanded the market she serves--and is bringing more clients to her animal clinic. 

     Example: Josh has an extensive background in computers and all things electronic. He installs computer systems in small and medium size businesses. He networks the set-ups. And he trains employees of clients in the systems they use. Thinking ahead, he began offering new services and training in social media. Josh's clients were all over the map in understanding how to use social media and how it could help them in running their businesses. He began holding training sessions at client's offices. Then, looking ahead, he began setting up sessions that were open to the public. This attracted a great deal of attention, and Josh has added new clients of all his services.

     Example: Judy is an artist who makes jewelry. She set up her original jewelry business to consign her creations to high end gift shops. She also set up her own website. Thinking ahead, she expanded by establishing a presence on Etsy. This had the advantage of reaching a much wider audience. Then she heard about 3D printing and wondered if this process might represent a future way to turn her designs into jewelry creations. Investigating, Judy discovered that an artist was already using 3D printing to create jewelry. She figured that there was room for some competition, and so she decided to take the first step. She is now researching several small 3D printing businesses that will take her designs and turn them into items that will sell in the jewelry market. 

     Thinking ahead is an important part of your job as a business owner. You are sailing your own ship, and you must be ready for an unexpected storm. 

     Storms can be physical--think fire, flood, electrical failure, employees quitting, suppliers disappearing. You must be ready in case one of these things happens.

     Storms can also come at you from the marketplace. Thinking ahead can prepare you for economic downturns, fads and fashions going out of style, the possibilities of social media marketing, and the possibility that a premature expansion might bankrupt your business. Think ahead.

     Thinking ahead means you are sorting out various plans, different ways to address the marketplace and succeed. Always, always reduce everything to actual and projected numbers in your business plan.   

Friday, September 18, 2015

New market paths

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     Small expansions can point the way to new directions for your business. It's a way of testing the market possibilities. 

     You already do this. But do you view it as a test? A way to find new markets? A path toward future expansion? 

     Example: Becky is running a successful jewelry-making operation. It wasn't always so. She began years ago, gradually turning a hobby into a business. With an artistic flair, she turned small found objects into pins, necklaces, earrings. A brooch, for example, she made with buttons and bottle caps. She turned a bent spoon handle into a ring, and so on. But many of her ideas and designs remained locked in her head--for lack of found materials. Becky recently discovered 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, in which items can be created in plastic or metal. When office supply giant Staples began offering the service to the public, Becky tested some of her ideas. She is now headed toward expanding her jewelry-making operation using 3D printing. Her ideas will go into the computer and out will come creations far removed from the days she started as a hobby. Now, Becky can truly create using leading edge technology, and she will be offering limited editions of her unique jewelry.

     Example: Zack's family has been farming for many generations. His father decided decades ago to create an apple orchard. Acres of apple trees began producing many different varieties of apples, and Zack grew up in the family apple business. Most of the apple production was sold in the wholesale markets. He expanded his father's business by offering pick-your-own apples and selling at several farm markets. Then he added a big cider mill, bottling cider for both retail and wholesale markets. This provided new market paths for the farm's apple production. Zack spotted another new market path--the production of hard cider and apple wines. He is now getting licensed and installing the equipment to add another market path to the apple operation. He is busily setting out more apple trees, adding more acres of orchard to supply more apples in his expanding operation. 

     More examples: A chiropractor adds a nutritionist and a massage therapist, headed toward creating a wellness center. A computer repair technician expands by offering coaching and training in social media to small businesses. A consignment shop expands by offering collectibles on eBay, gradually transforming a local business into a national base and destination on its website. An attorney expands by tackling the elder care market. A cafe begins offering gluten-free and vegetarian meals--appealing to new market segments.

     And so it goes. New market paths are all around you. You cannot be all things to all people, but you can test one possibility at a time. 

     Alert business owners investigate and evaluate new market paths. The way forward is always there--waiting for you to take advantage. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Business distractions

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     Business distractions can lead you to more expansion and growth. Or they can lead you down paths that are detrimental to your business.

     Example: Jeff is a photographer. He has built up his business providing product shots for other businesses and corporations. He enjoyed a good and expanding reputation among clients, and referrals came in at a good pace. A friend of Jeff approached him to do some special photography--of a wedding and the reception. As a favor to his friend, Jeff agreed. It was a mistake. The job took Jeff beyond his comfort zone and expertise. In addition, the timing caused Jeff to forego an assignment for a major corporation. Plus, the friend became very demanding in follow-up. Jeff learned a valuable lesson--you cannot be all things to all people, even if they are good friends. He learned to avoid business distractions. 

     Example: Susan operates a hair salon. She was asked by one of her customers to help with a fund-raiser for a local charity. She agreed, and she was good at it. That success brought more townspeople to her door, asking her to help with other community efforts. Susan was suddenly overwhelmed with projects that took more and more of her time. While she enjoyed these philanthropic undertakings, her business suffered. She realized that she must rein in the community efforts in favor of running her own business. She resigned from the committees that were sapping too much of her time, and she began concentrating on the salon again. Susan put a business distraction in its proper place. She still helps out with community efforts, but keeps these distractions in check. 

     Example: Linda is a fiber artist who concentrates on making women's hats. The hats sell very well, especially those Linda decorates with pins she creates using pieces of satin and velvet, buttons and bows, and other things, including silk flowers. Customers began asking to buy the pins separately, leaving the hats behind. Linda faced a business decision. Is the market saying that the appeal for hats is ending? Or is the market saying that her future is in selling pins? Which one is the market distraction going forward? Linda decided to test the market by continuing to offer hats without pins, and she would sell pins separately--adding the pin selected by the customer. It worked out well for Linda who now makes more income for, in many cases, the same product. She solved a business distraction by segmenting the market, increasing her income in the process.

     Business distractions can sometimes point the way to a healthier business model. Other times, you can chase distractions at the expense of your business. 

     When a distraction presents itself in your business, get into your analysis mode. The marketplace is your guiding light. Rework your business plan.   

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Customer demands

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     Keeping your customers and clients happy can take lots of your time. It is time well-spent. You do whatever it takes to keep customers coming back. If they are not happy, they might not return.

     Customers and clients generally fall into several different categories. Some will complain about everything--it's who they are. Others are the silent types--you never hear anything from them, good or bad. Still others are actively involved with your products or services--you get referrals from them because they are naturally gregarious. 

     So, the demands of your clients and customers have effects on you and your business. It's up to you to sort out customer demands and act accordingly. 

     Example: Jillian designs and sell jewelry through her small shop and through her website. She uses social media to promote her jewelry and this drives customers to the website. She got an email from a customer complaining that the earrings she received were not the ones she ordered. Jillian immediately responded, telling the customer that the correct earrings were already on the way, and "just keep both pairs of earrings, our compliments." The customer thanked Jillian profusely and posted great reviews on social media. 

     Example: Paul operates a small auto repair shop. He has a single lift and two employees. Paul is frequently tackling repairs himself when the phone rings. He lets it go to voice mail, but no one was leaving a message. Paul realized that customers were not being properly handled. He hired a part time, mornings-only person to answer phones and other offices duties. Customers now always get a response when they call--by the second ring. 

     Example: Delano operates a health foods store with a small staff. He got called aside by a customer who complained about treatment by one of the employees. Delano thanked the customer and began watching his operation more closely. He noticed that the employee in question was indeed terse and quick to dismiss customers' questions. Delano began working with the employee to present a better attitude to customers. It has worked out well for Delano, the employee and the customers.

     Simple changes in your operation can sometimes make all the difference in the world dealing with customers. Other times, it can be more difficult to remedy the situation. It's up to you to do whatever it takes.

     Always listen to your clients and customers--whatever their complaint. Then, handle it. The goal is to retain the relationship over the long term. 


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Failing forward

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     Nobody wants to fail. Nobody plans to fail. Failure is not an option with owners of a business.

     But failure can engulf you and your business. When this happens, recognize it for what it is. Step aside and learn from it.

     Example: Jose saw an opportunity. He established a Texas style barbeque restaurant. It was an immediate hit and customers flocked to the place. As months turned into years, Jose noticed a drop in customers. He looked around at the industry in general. What he saw was an increasing interest in farm-to-table operations and in healthy eating establishments. His own restaurant continued to decline in spite of his use of social media to promote barbeque. Jose came to the conclusion that his menu was out of step with the changing times. The marketplace had moved on, his customers were an aging group, and it was decision time. He could continue serving a declining segment of restaurant diners, which would likely fail in the long run, or he could reinvent himself. He took an unusual approach. He continued to offer the barbeque menu--to caterers in the area that served organizations and other gatherings. The restaurant was redesigned, including the menu, to appeal to currently fashionable diner interests in healthy eating and farm-to-table items. 

     Example: Susan is a yoga expert. She offers individual sessions as well as group gatherings. Her business was successful, but the competition was fierce. She was suddenly working twice as hard just to maintain the same level of business. She could see failure looming. She decided to catch the wave of interest in yoga by teaching others. Today, Susan's business is thriving. She concentrates on sessions designed to teach others. Her sessions attract people interested in setting up their own yoga studios. These sessions attract attendees from a wide area, and she is increasing attendance using social media. She also has set up several podcasts and instructional sessions through her website. Susan successfully reinvented her business by concentrating on a market segment she previously did not serve. 

     Example: Growing up, Alex cut lawns for neighbors. When he graduated from high school, he expanded his lawn-cutting business to include suburban businesses and organizations that had lawns needing maintenance. When several of his corporate clients decided to plow up the lawns and plant wild flowers, Alex was attentive to the marketplace. He now is a wild flower expert, and he has grown his business. He still maintains a few lawns, but one by one, they are dropping away.

     When you see failure looming ahead in your business, it is time to transition. Create a new business model. If all else fails, close the door and start again in a new business. 

     Failing forward means paying close attention to the ever-changing marketplace. You can surf many marketplace waves for a very long time. Others, not so much. Catch another wave before you crash into the rocks.  

Monday, September 14, 2015


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     Redundancy is extremely important in business. Especially in small business. You want to back up everything.

     In small business, you are your own back up. There are no big corporate coffers full of cash. There are no extra employees you can call on. There is no extra computer setup. Fires, floods, and power outages can occur with little, or no, warning. 

     Example: Sue runs a small, but successful embroidery operation. She has one embroidery machine. She puts logos on company uniforms, adds names on caps and shirts, and handles work for local sports teams, organizations and other businesses. One day, her machine went down. Repairs would take weeks. She immediately made arrangements with another embroidery operation some distance away to handle current work. And she ordered a second embroidery machine. Now she has backup to handle future emergencies.

     Example: Mary runs a high end gift shop. The hottest items are handmade jewelry. She makes arrangements with artists to supply earrings, necklaces, pins and brooches that will appeal to her customers. Early on, Mary realized that artists worked on their own schedules, but Mary had to be able to supply a large selection for customers. She achieves redundancy by working with a large number of artist-suppliers. Her display cases are always full with more jewelry pieces always in the pipeline.  

     Example: Tom is a trained chef who started his own catering business. A fire broke out in his kitchen, destroying his operation. To keep up with catering jobs already booked, Tom quickly made arrangements with several restaurants to supply items needed to meet schedules. The important thing was to keep the catering business viable. It took a month to get his own kitchen back into full operation, but the clients continued to be served. Today, Tom has put together an informal arrangement with several caterers and restaurants in his area. This small organization can meet the emergency needs for any of the members. 

     Example: Frank has recently established his computer coaching business in his home. He handles several small businesses in the area. Then the power went down for several hours one day. He realized he needed power backup. He now has a generator to supply power without interruption in case of a power emergency. 

     Redundancy can be a valuable asset in small business. Power outages, fire, flood, equipment breakdowns, even employee absences can trigger serious problems in small businesses.

     Backup is very important. See to it before it happens.

     Looking ahead is one of the most important parts of running a small business. You are your own backup. Always have a plan in place--just in case the unthinkable happens. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Complain, complain

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     Some people spend their whole lives complaining. They seem to be looking for the next thing to complain about. And they find it.

     When your operation attracts a complainer, be prepared. When a complainer gets you in the cross hairs, it's time to go into action.

     You need to defuse the situation. You need to turn the complainer into an advocate who will spread good words about you and your operation. 

     Example: Janice began her business almost by accident. Her kids searched the net for the "right" backpack they wanted. Most of those commercially available were poorly made and were endlessly duplicated. Every one of their friends had the same or a very similar backpack. Then the kids hit pay dirt--they found a small supplier who made backpacks by hand to unusual designs. Janice bought one for each of her kids, and then she bought more to offer on her website to other kids. The orders poured in, and Janice was suddenly in a business of her own. When she has a complaint, which is rare, Janice takes care of it immediately. In fact, complaints get priority over other activities. When a boy complained that the straps did not fit around his growing shoulders, Janice sent straps for an adult man--no questions asked, no charge. The result was the boy singing Janice's praises on social media. 

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

     Example: Alice runs a pet supply store on Main Street. Next door on one side is a hardware store, and on the other side is a thrift shop. Customers frequently complained to Alice that they could never find a parking space. Owners of the other stores heard the same complaints. Alice took it upon herself to solve the problem. She contacted the town's mayor, and after months of wranglings with the town's bureaucrats, the town provided parking in the back of the row of stores. Today, customers enter the stores from the front or the back, and nobody complains. 

     Complaints should be taken seriously and solved. Complainers are everywhere. You must meet them and turn them around. Keep it positive.

     Success in business means taking care of business. That includes handling complainers--keeping your personal judgments to yourself. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Partnering businesses

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     Partnering with other businesses can help you grow and expand your own business. Two businesses coming together to hold events can attract much more attention than one business acting alone. 

     Events can take many forms. Popular types are open houses, informational meetings, seminars and workshops. People want to learn, ask questions, and discuss the subject of the day. Meanwhile, you have introduced your business to a new group of future clients. 

     Example: A computer expert partners with a local cafe. Everyone has questions about computing, networking, social media, and getting hacked. And everyone needs to eat. An early morning breakfast meeting is set up. While the cafe serves eggs and toast, the computer expert gives a brief talk about how to use social media and answers questions from the audience. Nobody minds the nominal charge, and both businesses benefit.

     Example: A hypnotherapist partners with a local book store. It's a free event. The hypnotherapist talks about the value of hypnotherapy in tackling stress, pain, addiction, and more. The book store sets up a display of books on the subject, as well as current best sellers. Sales of books are made to attendees and the bookstore makes new friends. The hypnotherapist walks away with new clients. 

     Example: An attorney partners with a financial planner. They discuss all sorts of legal and money problems people have. The attorney talks in general terms about what to do when you get sued, how to handle traffic tickets, types of business organizations, wills, and other matters. The financial planner talks about retirement planning, inheritance set-ups, how to deal with the ups and downs of the stock market, and more. Both take questions and set up appointments with potential clients. 

     Example: A landscaper partners with a garden center. They set up a series of workshops, showing homeowners how patios are built, how fish ponds are installed, designing specialty gardens, how to build fences and gates and more. The garden center offers all the needed materials. These sessions are free and they attract more customers for both the landscaper and the garden center. 

     Partnering with other small businesses can attract attention, build excitement, spread the word, and get new customers and clients. People like to go to events where they can learn something and ask questions. 

     To get started, make a list of possible partners. Talk with each of them. If you find interest, set up an event and get the word out on social media. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Meeting market demands

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     Markets are always changing. They are subject to fads and fashions--and changing directions. Sometimes new trends pop up and disappear quickly. Other times trends develop into more substantial opportunities. 

     To establish and grow a business means meeting market demands. Your job is to match what you do with what people will pay you to do. It's true for products as well as services.

     Example: Ella is a trained and certified nutritionist. Attracting clients to her business has proved difficult. She tried giving talks at health food stores, supermarkets and senior centers. It worked, but it did not work as well as she hoped. She noticed she got many questions about weight reduction and control. This was a market opportunity that she decided to try. She devised weight reduction programs and seminars for adults and children which she promoted on her website and over social media. When she scheduled these events, they quickly filled up. Some of the attendees became regular clients and referred others to Ella's programs. In addition, she partnered with a chiropractor to hold demonstrations and events. By re-packaging her nutrition programs as weight reduction and healthy eating programs, Ella has tapped into a market trend that is building her business.

     Example: Lisa runs a small bakery. She put two market trends to work to build her bakery operation into a national presence. First, Lisa noticed that shipping methods today (UPS, Fedex, USPS) had exploded in popularity. Quick, overnight shipping satisfied people's thirst for convenience. Second, Lisa noticed that social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others) provided a quick and cheap way to reach audiences far beyond the reach of her local bakery. Using her website to put everything together, Lisa began offering brownies and scones to anyone looking to punch up their meetings. Companies, organizations, even private individuals quickly bought into Lisa's new business model. She still has the small local bakery, but it has a greatly expanded back end operation. She employs several people to bake, package and ship the products to buyers every day.

     Example: Tom is a hypnotherapist. He helps people with eating habits, stopping smoking, pain management, and drug addiction. He was approached by a massage therapist who suggested that they take advantage of the growing interest in a well-rounded wellness center. Tom was open to the idea and they came to an agreement to join forces. Since then, the new wellness center has added an acupuncturist, a specialist in life coaching, and an expert in Chinese medicine. All of these activities draw people interested in wellness and benefit by being grouped together. The marketplace is thirsty for information about wellness, and to this end, they hold monthly informational events with demonstrations. 

     You run across market trends all the time in your own business operation. Picking and choosing which way to go in growing your business can be difficult. You might simply re-structure your business to better align it with markets. Or, you might take off in a completely new direction. 

    Market trends are never static. What works today might not work tomorrow. It take constant attention on your part. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Stepping up

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     Growing a small business means stepping up to the next level. Stepping up can mean stepping out of shoes you have been wearing.

     Nobody is good at everything. Some things are of great interest to you. Others, not so much.

     To step up and grow your business, identify those areas of doing business that least interest you. These are the areas you hire someone else to do the job for you. 

     Example: Javeen runs a health food store. He loves reading about and staying on top of the latest fads, fashions, and developments in healthy foods and nutrition. In the early days, Javeen did everything--ordering, stocking shelves, waiting on customers, keeping the place clean and tidy. As the store grew, Javeen hired an independent cleaning crew, and he hired a person to take care of customers. To grow the operation, Javeen began giving monthly free talks and demonstrations which he promoted on social media. This attracted more attention and brought in more customers. His next step in growing was to hire a person who did all the ordering and interaction with suppliers. Today, Javeen concentrates on the promotional aspects of the operation. 

     Example: Donna is a fiber artist. In the beginning, she created all sorts of things--scarves, hats, quilts, rugs and more. She sold through her own website, attracting customers through social media. She also consigned to gift shops and attended shows. These were the days she thought of as her "getting the business off the ground days." She has now stepped up to her "growing the business" phase, concentrating on specially designed, one-of-a-kind rugs. Today, all of her marketing efforts are centered around designing rugs to a client's specifications as to color, size, and materials. She has hired other fiber artists to make the rugs--under her watchful eye, of course. It is the design and the interaction with clients that interests her today. The time-consuming rug making is left to others she hires. 

     Example: Jon runs a small home improvement business. He can provide and install windows, siding, steps, painting, and take care of other homeowner needs. He has two work crews and has built the business over several years. He has a regular customer base and gets referrals--from satisfied customers as well as through social media and his website. Jon's interest centers around the work to be done, maintaining quality, and basking in customer satisfaction. He never did like the front end--estimating and selling part. So, to grow, he searched until he found a likely candidate to handle selling. It turned out that one of the people on one of his work crews was perfect for the job Jon had in mind. 

     Stepping up to the next level in your business is not to be taken lightly. You cannot handle everything, especially if you are to grow to the next level. 

     Growing a business usually means hiring people. Hire to your weaknesses. Find people who are better than you to do the jobs where you lack experience or interest. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Building walls

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     Owners of small businesses need to protect themselves against lawsuits, burglars, identity theft, and other foul deeds. 

     Example: Nora is a hair stylist. Her small, elite salon caters to a few high end clients. When she established her operation, she wanted to be located in an old, but recently renovated manufacturing building. It had high ceilings and yellow pine floors, lots of charm, and all the modern amenities. Nora found that the only available space was an upstairs loft, accessible by an outside stairway. She leased the space and settled in. Clients loved Nora's work with their hair, and they loved the setting. All went well until a client fell down the stairway and broke her back. The injured woman sued everyone--Nora, the building, the contractor who built the stairs and the manufacturer who supplied the materials. Nora had never incorporated her business, so she was personally liable--her home, her car, her savings were at risk. It took several years for Nora to extricate herself from the legal mess. Her salon is also now incorporated, a simple process that she handled in 15 minutes with her credit card over the phone with a firm she located online. Incorporating put a wall between her business and her personal assets. 

     Example: Bill runs a ceramics studio, turning out specialties he designs and makes. He concentrates on special glazes, fired in several kilns he installed. He also teaches small classes and takes on apprentices--this provides additional income. One morning Bill arrived to find the back door ajar and two of his kilns were gone. Overnight, thieves had broken into the place and made off with the two kilns and several pieces of pottery. Bill had no insurance to cover the loss, but he was lucky. The pottery, marked with Bill's signature, turned up on eBay, and the police found the thieves. Today, the kilns are back in Bill's studio, and he has insurance to cover any future losses that might occur. 

     Example: Judy is an attorney in private practice. She attracted an extensive client base. Then, the unthinkable happened. Her bank called. Her accounts had been wiped out. Judy suddenly had no funds of her own. Her identity had been stolen. It took her months to recover from the mess, and she was never able to recover any of the stolen funds. Today, Judy's identity is protected by an online firm that protects identities--credit cards, social security number, bank accounts, and more. 

     It can be easy to build walls to protect your business and your personal assets. Do it, or you are inviting disaster. 

     Building walls can mean many things--insurance, incorporating, video surveillance systems, identity theft protection, even a lock on the door.   

Friday, September 4, 2015

Changing directions

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     Business decisions are complicated. To home in on what you want to do, you must juggle all the pieces.

     Every day you match what you do and where you are going to the marketplace. The marketplace is where your business decisions make sense--or not. 

     If it makes business sense and it "feels right" you take the plunge. However, if your intuition causes you to hesitate, pay attention. That gnawing feeling (that something is not right) can sometimes save you from disaster.

     Example: Bill established his business designing websites for small businesses. His business was small but successful. Bill noticed that people in small business frequently had no interest in social media, no idea how it could work for them, and no concept of how to access it. He began offering clients a new service--he would coach them in the value and use of social media, and if they wanted, he would actually do the legwork to get them onto various social media sites--and maintain them. Bill still does websites, but it is a small part of his new business model.  

     Example: Linda is a chiropractor. Her client base was slowly growing, but Linda wanted more. She noticed that more and more clients were asking questions about nutrition, massage and other healthy living activities. Linda knew that it was a new marketplace coming to her door. She could expand by becoming a wellness center offering much more than just chiropractic. Her intuition told her to step carefully, so she began a growth path, making small changes. Once a month, Linda brought in a nutritionist for free talks about diet and weight problems. Then she began bringing in a massage therapist to give free short demonstrations, to explain different types of massage, and to answer questions. She got positive response by promoting on social media. By taking these small steps, Linda gained confidence to establish a full-service wellness center. 

     Example: Jameel runs a landscaping service. He started his business cutting lawns for residential and commercial clients. He began noticing that the market was changing. People wanted to get rid of their lawns, replacing with wild flowers, perennials and shrubs. Using social media, Jameel began offering gardening services in addition to his lawn maintenance services. It's a changing marketplace. Today, Jameel runs a full-service yard and garden business, helping people design and re-design yards more in keeping with their new interests. And he still maintains lawns. 

     When changing the direction of your business, it is useful to take small steps. In other words, you gradually move in the direction you want to go.

     The marketplace is always your guiding light when changing business directions. What made sense yesterday might not be viable today. And the business you are in today can change completely tomorrow.     


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Netting wider markets

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     Internet markets are wide and deep. You can reach out in all directions to attract clients and customers--no matter your business.

     Astute owners of small businesses can quickly grow and expand beyond the limits of the communities they serve. With a website and using the power of social media, small businesses can become big. 

     Example: David operates a small collectibles shop serving a suburban community near a large city. He specializes in board games, puzzles, children's books including paper cut-outs and coloring books, and small action figures. When he expanded his website to include ordering/shipping, sales increased. When he began posting on Facebook and other social media, sales increased again. Today, David spends most of his time filling orders and getting everything ready for a daily UPS pick-up. He takes a break now and then to wait on a new customer who wanders into his storefront. 

     Example: Catherine is a certified Pilates instructor. In addition to her growing list of clients, Catherine began offering instructional courses through her website, and she promoted these through social media. The educational materials are directed to two types of clients: those who want to simply learn more about Pilates, and those who want to become certified. Catherine does not offer certifications; rather, she gets people up to speed to become certified. These initiatives have expanded Catherine's business all over the country. 

     Example: Ellen is a nutritionist. To expand her client base, Ellen began offering free talks to organizations, wellness centers, medical groups and others. She posts nutritional tips on social media, driving people to her website. Ellen also wrote a short book on healthy eating and controlling weight. She published it as an Amazon e-book, and she promotes the book at her talks as well as on social media. This has generated more interest and brought her additional clients. One of her new clients is a supermarket chain. 

     No matter your business, you can increase sales and reputation and referrals using the Internet. The net puts your business in front of eyeballs unfamiliar with your business.

     Your website is only the beginning. Use social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and more represent opportunities just waiting for you to use them. Netting wider markets is a growth path you can easily take advantage of. 

     Most businesses have a website. But most of these don't use it to best advantage. You must drive eyeballs to your website, and social media can do the job. Best of all, social media is free for the most part.   

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Excuse shopping

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     People spend too much time looking for the next excuse. The problem pervades our culture on every level. 

     Looking for the next excuse is related to procrastination--but with a difference. And the devil is in the details.

     When you procrastinate, you simply put off doing something. When you look for the next excuse, you grab at a warm feeling to support your decision. You might procrastinate and do it later or you might go off in another direction.

     Example: Sam began his business designing websites for small business clients. Things went well for the first few years, then his business declined. People began taking advantage of the free websites being offered by companies--simple websites could be up and running at little or no cost. Rather than looking his new competition squarely in the face, Sam began bad-mouthing free websites when speaking with potential clients. When it didn't work, Sam began looking for the next excuse--the economy was bad, small businesses were reluctant to spend, clients didn't understand. Today, Sam has closed his business and is working for another company. He spent too much time looking for and embracing excuses for the decline in his own business, and not enough time figuring out how to grow into a better future--in step with the changing times. 

     Example: Susan is a massage therapist. She concentrates on several types of massage and has attracted a following. She wanted to grow, and she looked around for ways to establish a full-blown wellness center. It seemed to be a good plan, but everywhere she turned, she saw big problems. Where would she get the money? How could she establish a bigger place with a higher rental? What would attract others to be a part of a wellness center? She talked with nutritionists, hypnotherapists, acupuncture practitioners, yoga experts, even people in Chinese herbal medicine. All of them expressed interest, but how would they be paid? It all seemed to come down to money--and her lack thereof. Instead of finding a pathway through this money maze, Susan backed off, giving herself the excuse that the timing was not right, that the other practitioners just did not see the value of banding together in a single destination wellness center. Maybe one day. Susan is still running her massage therapy operation. Looking for the next excuse not to proceed.

     All of us fall into the false thinking of excuse shopping. It is the easy way out of today's problems. Blame someone else or blame anything. 

     When you spot a market opportunity, you sometimes must move heaven and earth to take advantage of it. Never give up, and never go excuse shopping. 

     The marketplace today is moving faster than ever. Stay on top of it. Pick the opportunity that makes sense, and go for it. No excuses.