Friday, October 30, 2015

Promotional pictures

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     You already know the value of using social media to promote your business. You snap those pictures all the time and post them on Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter or whatever.

     The whole idea on social media is to use pictures to attract attention. Wellness centers show pictures of hands working on a client's backside. A home improvement specialist shows pictures of bathrooms turned into spas. A bakery reaches out with pictures of awesomely designed cakes.

     But you don't have to use your own products and services to grab some eyeballs. Pets always attract attention as do close-ups of various things in nature.

     Example: Ted is as chiropractor. His website and his posts on Facebook always include his dog. The dog is big, active, friendly and lovable. Ted takes many pictures of the dog--showing him running, jumping, chasing a ball, carrying a stick, or curled up asleep. With his pictures, Ted is getting across the message of  an active, pain-free life style. His chiropractic message is not about bones and muscles--that discussion is on Ted's website, awaiting viewers who want to know more. Ted's dog is the message. The pictures on social media is upfront, attention-getting, and draws the viewer inside. 

     Example: Tom operates an independent pest control business. To promote his services, Tom takes close-up pictures of bugs and post them on his website. Close-ups of roaches, spiders, termites and ants are regulars on his Facebook pages. But he really made a hit when the town experienced an invasion of stink bugs. He posted pictures--not only of individual bugs, but hundreds of the insects littering sidewalks. The calls came in for Tom to get rid of the pests.

     Example: Susan operates a women's clothing and accessories shop. Her customers are well-heeled and discriminating. Susan entices them with close-up pictures of clothing patterns, stitching, buttons and the like. She rarely takes pictures of entire outfits, opting instead for the fine details and quality workmanship that her customers care about.

     Put your creativity to work in your promotional pictures. Close--ups of just about anything can be attention-getting. Pictures of pets and flowers can pop your message on social media.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Choosing directions

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     Managing a business is an art, not a science. You can use inputs from science and technology, but how you put it all together is unique to you. 

     It is a high wire act and you are juggling limited funding with marketplace realities. You must like this balancing act to be successful in building and operating a business.

     Artists who live by their creations, alternative health practitioners, technology businesses, restauranteurs and every other small business owner must tackle each day with gusto, choose among the many possibilities, and enjoy the process. 

     Managing involves many pieces. You motivate yourself and your employees. You watch the bottom line. You prepare for emergencies. You stay on top of technology. You stay alert to market opportunities. And, most importantly, you listen to your clients/customers.

     Example: Alex is an artist who paints in oils. His abstracts attract attention, but sales are not enough to support him and his family. He began doing portraits, but commissions are few and far between. At a show where Alex was displaying his works, he overheard someone say that there was nothing available priced low enough to be considered as gifts to friends. It gave him an idea. Today, Alex turns out many small paintings, quickly done, and reasonably priced. He frames them himself and sells them on his website, in high-end gift shops, and at shows. He has found a way to make ends meet.

     Listen to the marketplace. You gotta give 'em what they want.

     Example: Mary is an expert Reiki practitioner. She works from home, seeing clients at their place. Mary was approached by a wellness center to join the group. For a reasonable monthly payment, she would have her own room to see clients. With her certifications, Mary could now offer to teach others. And by being part of the wellness center, she is attracting more clients. It was a good directional choice for her business.

     Joining with compatible business partners can solve growth problems. 

     Example: Sue runs a small printing operation. She stays on top of the technology that has revolutionized the printing industry. Instead of listening to salespeople trying to sell her bigger presses, Sue opted for a newer, smaller, cheaper, technologically advanced press that could turn out short-run color work. She chose a direction that has propelled her into a narrow, but very profitable, market segment. 

     Technology changes everything. All businesses are affected.  

     Managing a small business means you stay on top of everything. You make all the decisions. Then you take out the trash and turn off the lights.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Promoting beyond

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     Promoting your small business is an everyday activity. When holidays approach, businesses tend to shift promoting into high gear. But you need to think beyond the holidays.

     In today's world, promoting your business is easier than ever. Social media promotions offer pathways to success that are quick and cheap.

     It is now October, and many business owners are already snapping pictures and posting them on Facebook and other platforms. They are anticipating the spending that goes on in November and December. 

     Example: Ella runs a high end gift shop. She specializes in offering hand made items by artists and artisans. Beginning in mid-November, Ella begins putting up pictures on Facebook--every day. Pictures are meant to attract attention to her website and to her store. They show jewelry in all lines, items in leather and wood, ceramics, glass and other unusual and one-of-a-kind creations. Ella's promotions work for the holidays, but what about January, February and March?

     Example: Pepe is a floral designer. His shop attracts and serves clients from a wide area. As with all florists, Mother's Day is the biggest day of the year for Pepe. He begins in March promoting the big day, and the orders begin coming in ahead of time. But what about June and the summer months? 

     Example: Myra runs a bakery. She offers all sorts of concoctions--specialty cakes, breads, cookies and others goodies. Her clientele includes businesses, corporations, private parties and others. They depend on Myra for the bakery items for holidays, birthdays, parties, meetings and other gatherings. To expand, Myra began offering to ship brownies anywhere to customers who placed orders on her website. This has considerably expanded her operation--accessing a much wider geographical area, but serving the same types of meetings and gatherings far beyond her town. 

     Of course, you promote for holidays. But don't neglect the rest of the year. With social media, every business can build by promoting year round.

     And when you've exhausted your immediate area, put on your thinking cap. How can you use social media and shipping to serve a wider area? 

     Promoting beyond the holidays and beyond your immediate geographical area is key to building your business. Get with it.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Social media promotions

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     If you don't use Facebook and other social media to promote your business, you are missing opportunities that are easy and quick.

     Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and other platforms are useful additions to your marketing toolbox. Everyone who runs a small business deserves to make use of them.

     First, it's easy to set up your business on social media. Even if you are not computer-savvy, you can follow simple directions and be up to speed and running smoothly very quickly. Just go to the site, and they lead you through it. You can buy an ad, but start out with the freebie route.

     Second, social media pages put a friendly face on your business. Everyone snaps digital pictures these days. Photos are easily uploaded to your Facebook page, for example. Social media platforms are different in their requirements, but I recommend beginning with Facebook. Get your feet wet and then check out other platforms

     Third, social media platforms make maintenance easy and cheap. You don't need an expert, like you might if you are developing your website. With Facebook, for example, you simply check in, post one of those photos you've taken, say a few words (the fewer, the better), and you are done with your promotion for the day.

     Fourth, social media platforms bring you new clients/customers. Social media spreads the word and brings in referrals. People tend to pass your photos around, getting your business in front of more eyeballs.

     Keep in mind that social media is not a brochure. It's not an ad--although they will sell you one if you like. Social media is more like a scroll--unfolding day by day or week by week. It's not static, it changes as you put more input up. And you are making the changes yourself.

     Photos are the key. Bakers photograph every cake made. Florists show every arrangement before it goes out the door. A massage therapist photographs hands working on a subject. A landscaper show one beautiful blooming plant after another. Pest exterminators show endless pictures of bugs. Mechanics at repair shops show hands fiddling with something under the vehicle hood. 

     Don't try to be professional. Aim for being informative, humorous with a little craziness thrown in for good measure. You're having fun, not taking photos to be displayed in an art gallery. 

     You can promote your business in many ways. Almost all cost dollars. But social media opportunities reach far beyond others and they can be free.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Changing business direction

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     Businesses change directions in two ways. They can drift into new markets or they can deliberately strike off down another road.

     When you spot your business drifting, it's time to evaluate whether or not you want to follow the drift. It might be the future, or it might be a dead end. Remember the video store?

     On the other hand, when you spot a new market opportunity, it can represent a direction you might want to check out. It might work, or it might not. 

     Example: A small machine shop was a family operation for many years. The shop had long ago installed the computer-driven machines to serve customers in aerospace, medical, and other corporate fields. Then, along came 3-D printing. This new technology could produce parts in plastics and metals. The machine shop owner was reluctant in the beginning to jump into the new field too quickly. But 3-D printing showed the promise of revolutionizing the industry. He installed one of the new machines, began training his people, and began turning out useful pieces--some of which could expand the market he served. He was changing the way his business would serve the marketplace in the future. 

     Technology can offer all sorts of opportunities to change business direction. Think how social media can point thousands of potential customers to your website. This has changed the direction of many businesses, exploding the reach into new markets.

     But things less sexy can change as well. Think food.

     Example: A local small farmer is producing lettuces, spinach, and seasonal greens and herbs. He spotted a new product in his fields--the flower buds produced in spring from last year's kale crop. It's fresh, it's local, it's kale, it's new--all the elements to excite the marketplace. Chefs are now using kale buds in various ways--sauteed, in soups, in omelets. The farmer also offers milkweed buds and day lily buds which chefs are using in the same ways. These are "new" products which were there all along, but whose time has come in the marketplace. 

     Changing the direction of your business offers opportunities to push more products and services into the marketplace. Think outside the box to come up with ways that work for you.

     Changing directions in your business can open up new avenues to growth, expansion and future success. Keep an eye on that business plan, however. You don't want to get ahead of your self.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Easy business expansions

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     Expanding and growing your small business is not difficult. In fact, it can be downright easy--when you think about it. You build out what you already do, or you make the leap into a new direction.

     Service businesses can be very easy to expand. A nutritionist, for example, can offer free cooking demonstrations to be held at meetings of various organizations. Therapists can partner with chiropractors to offer services to a non-competing group. Lawyers can expand into specialty markets--elder law and worker's comp cases are two areas. 

     Hard goods businesses can also be easy to expand. A bakery, for example, can begin offering goodies on social media and ship out to new customers far and near. Health food stores can add lines of fresh, organic pet foods to the product lines already being sold to humans. 

     Build on what you already offer when you think about expanding. Watch the marketplace for ideas, and then nudge your operation in a new direction. Some things work. Others, not so much.

     Example: Robert is a small independent website designer. He began in a small shop and reached out to potential customers. He expands his business by offering onsite services to small businesses in his area. He helps his clients--at their sites--to buy and install new equipment, network their systems, troubleshoot problems. He is taking it to the next level by offering training sessions.

     Example: June operates a small struggling frame shop. She expanded her business by offering local artists an opportunity to hang their works in her frame shop. She holds monthly openings, or meet-the-artist sessions, which are attracting a great deal of attention--especially since she began posting on social media. She is now looking for fiber artists and sculptors to expand further, and her framing operation now includes shadowbox types of frames to accommodate three dimensional art works.   

     When looking for ways to expand, remember your present clients and customers. They, too, might be heading in different directions. Or they might need a word from you to lead them into serving new markets of their own. Either way, they can represent valid business expansions for you to exploit.

     The marketplace is a moving target. When you take aim at one direction, you might hit or you might miss. But you keep trying. Never give up. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Inspire your employees

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     Every business, large or small, needs to optimize the performance of employees. No whips and chains. Just positive stuff.

     People appreciate being appreciated. Deep down, all of us crave acceptance. And recognition. That's why a simple "Thank you" goes a long way toward creating renewed enthusiasm and enhancing performance.

     Other ways to inspire your employees are effective as well, and they can be used in combination. Here is a laundry list of possibilities. 

     1. In very small businesses, handing out a $20 bill now and then for extraordinary effort can spur even greater effort and creativity in an employee. Or give a paid day off now and then. 

     2. Call everyone together and recognize superior performance in front of the group. If you have weekly or monthly meetings, you might do it then.

     3. Set up a bonus system to reward superior performance. You can get creative yourself in how you do this, how you select the person getting the bonus, the timing, etc.

     4. Set up an employee of the month program. Don't let it become routine. Make it a vital part of the on-going business. Use a plaque to which names can be added, inscribed on metal plates.

     5. Make up company tee shirts and hand them out at company picnics or other functions. These can be for a stated reason, or they can be part of the way you run your business.

     6. Go the extra mile. If your business is incorporated, consider giving out stock certificates to valuable employees. If parking is a problem at your place, consider putting employee names on parking places--yours should be at the end of the line, not closest to the door. If you don't have a company retirement plan, consider setting one up--you will need professional help with this. 

     Other options can be effective. Put on your thinking cap. Get creative. Little things that show your thoughtfulness and appreciation are often more effective than making a big splash.

    Whatever you do, do it with a "Thank you" to the employee. 

     Keeping your employees happy keeps you on the road to success. And let's face it. Without the commitment and hard work of employees, your business cannot succeed.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Making critical decisions

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     Decisions are a daily concern in operating a small business. Decision making becomes second nature. Most are small, but some are big. 

     One good way to tackle the big decisions is to use the if/then model. If this happens, then what do I do? If this doesn't work, then what is my second alternative? 

     If the economy goes south, then I'll concentrate on this group of products/services and let the rest slide. If this type of advertising does not work, then I'll shift to social media alternatives. If a big box store comes to town, then I'll begin offering things they don't carry.

     Example: Artists can have a difficult time connecting with the buying public. Juan loved to draw. Growing up, he honed his skills, including painting in oils. He attracted interest, but he noticed that people at shows and festivals bought pen and ink drawings of homes, buildings, bridges and the like. He thought about it, and he decided to concentrate on building a following with people interested in pen and ink. Doing these are easy and quick for Juan, and the word spread quickly. People now call him to come and do a drawing of their home, barn, and other local structures. This is now supporting Juan, and he uses his spare time to produce more oil paintings. His reputation is slowly spreading as an up and coming oil artist to watch--and buy.

     Sometimes an interim path can be the main road to the goal you want to eventually reach. Don't disparage baby steps to get you there. Put the if/then decisions to work in building your business.

     Example: Joel had time to plan ahead. WalMart announced some 18 months ahead of time that the company would be opening one of their big stores nearby. Joel feared for the future of his small hardware store, and he soon arrived at a "planning ahead" decision. If WalMart came to town, people would be buying everyday hardware items from them, not Joel's hardware store. So, he decided to move from his cramped, in-town store to a sprawling suburban lot on a main road. Simultaneously, he would change the direction of his business. Contractors and homeowners already came to Joel's place to rent the power tools and equipment they needed for a day or two. In his sprawling new location, Joel would have more room and could add more rentals. Today, Joel is in his new place, offering more and more rentals--including trucks and trailers. He has been able to add a repairman to keep the equipment shipshape. He still offers high quality hardware items and power tools for sale--concentrating on items not carried by WalMart. 

     Sometimes, owners of small businesses get comfortable with the business running itself. But the marketplace is always changing. It can take an outside force to kick start big decisions.

     You can never know what the future will bring. But you can get ready for some possible changes in direction using the if/then decision making tool.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pocketing cash received

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     No matter your small business, you will sometimes receive cash in payment for goods and services. It does not happen as frequently as it did in the past, but it still happens.

     It is tempting to pocket the cash. When you do this, however, you are stealing from your business. 

     Every business runs on some sort of accounting system. It can be simple and informal or it can be elaborate and formal. 

     The IRS can get very creative in going after business owners who pocket cash. Keep in mind that your own records can point to discrepancies that will give you away.

     Example: Robert used to run a one-man delivery service. He was very successful. He picked up groceries from the supermarket and delivered to customers who paid him in cash. He expanded to deliver auto parts to repair shops, restaurant meals to shut-ins, and he had an arrangement with a couple of pizza shops. The payments and tips went into Robert's pocket--until the IRS caught up with him. In an audit of an auto repair shop, and alert auditor noticed the delivery arrangement. This led them to Robert. 

     Once the IRS gets on a trail, they do not stop. These people have careers to protect. They are building their own reputation, and if you get in the way, you are toast.

     Example: June runs an upscale restaurant. She regularly sends out the white tablecloths to a laundry. This showed an IRS agent that the number of tablecloths that went to the laundry did not agree with the number of meals served. People who paid in cash were not being entered on the restaurant's books. June's tax return was adjusted by the IRS and she paid both a hefty fine and back taxes that they figured she owed.

     Example: Jon runs a bakery. When the IRS came calling to do an audit, he proudly showed them his books. He thought he had everything in order. What they found was a big discrepancy between the amounts of raw materials (flour, oil, sugar) that he ordered and the amounts of baked goods sold his account books showed. The discrepancy indicated that Jon was probably pocketing cash received for baked goods.

     Example: Kate is a massage therapist. An IRS audit of her operation showed that bank deposits did not agree with her appointment book records. The IRS agent accused Kate of pocketing cash, and she is still fighting with the IRS to resolve the matter.

     There are many legitimate ways to get money out of a business and into your personal account. Talk with your accountant or tax professional. Whatever you do, always deposit cash received in your business bank account. Pocketing cash is asking for trouble.

     Siphoning off and pocketing cash received by your business is both dangerous and counterproductive to the long term health of your small business. Better to spend your energy building the business. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Question yourself

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      You are running your small business. Or you are thinking about starting one. It's time to question--again--what you are doing and where you are headed.

     Want proof? Throw your thinking forward a thousand years. Archaeologists are sifting through the remains of our civilization. They are perplexed. What could explain the millions of miles of paved roads and the vehicles that must have used them?

     Gradually, the scientists home in on a theory. These ancient peoples were sun worshipers. They raced out of their homes at sunrise, driving around the roads to welcome the sun. At sundown, they interrupted their activities to drive around again to bid the sun goodnight. The highway cloverleafs were the temples.

     Any given set of facts can be explained in very different ways. It's true with scientists, and it's true with you and your business.

      Questions:  Am I in the right business? Am I trying to move too quickly? Am I on top of the changing marketplace? Is the money for growth being generated quickly enough internally? Do I really know my clients/customers? Do they really know what I do, and can do, for them? Am I headed in the same direction they are headed? Do I pay enough attention to their needs and concerns? What can I do to better prepare for tomorrow's business world? Should I change directions to better address tomorrow's marketplace? Am I even asking the right questions?  

     People who run small businesses are fleet of foot. You can change directions quickly. This is a great asset, but it can lead you into blind alleys. Like future archaeologists, you can come to wrong conclusions.

     Logical thinking is one of the great achievements of the human mind. But it is not the only tool you have. Intuition is the other tool. Always get logical thinking and intuition in sync with each other before you make that next big move. 

     Don't drift into changes that pull your business off course. Use logic and intuition to keep you headed in the direction you plan for. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Business friends

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     Business owners frequently don't know the difference between personal friends and business friends. Until you get the hang of it, it can be confusing. 

     A personal friend is someone you're comfortable with. You willingly share private pieces of your life. You enjoy being around personal friends.

     A business friend is a customer or client. These people trust you to provide goods and services. They feel you have integrity. The relationship is at arm's length and professional.

     Example: Irene operates a small gift shop. She is downright unpleasant with some customers who wander into her place. Instead of assuming a professional attitude, she immediately "likes" or dislikes" shoppers. She treats them accordingly, bringing her own attitudes and preferences into play. Because of unprofessional treatment, many potential shoppers leave and never return. Irene's business suffers because of her attitude. People who arrive in her shop don't come looking for a personal friend. Perhaps they were attracted by something they saw in the window, or maybe they were referred to the shop by a friend. They expect, and they deserve, respect from Irene. 

     Every business owner will encounter difficult and demanding customers. Sometimes these types of customers are people you'd rather not deal with. But you should be careful not to let personal preferences drive people away.

     Example: Bob does home improvements. He has a lifetime of experience in carpentry, painting, and those small jobs around the house--hanging a door, repairing tile work, seeing to a squeaky stair. His estimates are free, but sometimes when he arrives at the homeowner's place, he turns and leaves without even knocking. He explains that he has seen so many homes and dealt with so many people, he could quickly make a decision whether or not he wanted to deal with the person. 

     This is not professional. That old car in the driveway might mean that the owner is thrifty. Maybe the person just bought the house and it needs lots of work. Maybe, well, anything.

     You can run your business any way you like. But setting up to serve only people you would consider having as personal friends will severely limit your business future. Growth is best achieved by serving business friends in a professional, arm's length manner. 

     Your customers and clients are your business friends. They appreciate professionalism, and they will refer others to you. Personal friends are quite a different bunch of people. 

     When you let your personal "likes" and "dislikes" invade your business space, you run the risk of turning away the very customers and clients who can help you grow. 


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Business drift

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     All businesses tend to drift. Your business drifts with the marketplace. It drifts with the economy. It drifts with technological change.

     You notice your business being pulled this way and that. Change is different from drift. You might change with the changing marketplace--offering organic products to meet new demands.

     Drift is when you chase the easy sale and ignore the rest of the business. Your business is drifting when you begin catering to the latest fad in the marketplace--ignoring the thing that made you successful in the first place. 

     Example: Mary loved making women's hats. She loved designing them. She loved selecting different materials to use in the hats. She also loved to decorate the hats with pins she had made using buttons, beads and seeds. These additional items made the hats "pop" and pushed sales. As time passed, however, Mary noticed that customers asked to buy the special pins, and they left the hats behind. She was happy to be selling things, and she concentrated on turning out pins--even though the pins did not sell for many dollars. Then she got an order for 500 pins. She was suddenly in the pin business and the hats languished on the displays. What had been the accessory became the main product. The business had drifted, becoming something else. 

     It is gratifying to get a bunch of new orders for your products. In small business, it can also mean that the other items and lines you offer will suffer. Your business is about to drift into new areas--areas that might not be consistent with where you want the business to go.

     Example: John had worked on computers since his high school days. While still in college, he opened a computer repair shop. In those days, people would lug their desktops to his shop and he would get everything repaired and in shipshape. After college, John decided to expand his repair shop, addressing a change he spotted in the marketplace. Clients began asking John to come to their operation to install new computers and software, network them, and train employees in the use. Now and then, someone still brings a computer to his place for repair, but these days, John's business is primarily installing, troubleshooting, networking and training at clients' offices. 

     Sometimes technological changes can result in business drift that makes a lot of sense. But don't ever drift into lines of business that are inconsistent with your long term goals and business plan.

     Business drift happens all the time. Be alert to drifts. Before you let a drift change the nature of your business, check it out carefully.  


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Educating customers

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     Your clients and customers don't always know the best solution to their problem. This is an opportunity for you to educate them--and grow your business at the same time.

     It's true in many businesses--dentists and therapists, computing and technology experts, landscaping and home remodeling, gift shops and health food stores, gyms and auto repair shops.

     It's up to you to dig beneath the surface, make certain you identify the problems, and offer solutions to make clients happy. Or, take them by the hand and educate them on the many additional possibilities open to them.

     Example: Frank is an expert in computer technology, social media, networking and more. He realized that people in small business understand the value of computers in accounting and taxes, but that they have little understanding of the value of social media. Frank began informal sessions to educate his clients in how to use social media to grow and expand their operations. These sessions were so successful, Frank expanded them. Now he's teaching his clients the use of social media--and attracting additional clients to his business.  

     Example: Jim is a specialist in home remodeling. He brings lots of experience to his visits with customers. He provides much more than just free estimates. If it's a kitchen, he quickly sketches out some possibilities, asking questions about the special needs of the cook--islands for special work, hanging racks for pans, storage for small appliances, etc. For offices, Jim discusses what kinds of work will be done there--placement of lighting and windows, storage cabinets and racks or shelving. If children are in the house, he reminds the client that the children will be growing up and leaving--what will they do with the extra space? 

     Educating your customers can transform the selling experience. It can turn one job into an on-going relationship. It can also set up future sales.

     More examples: A dentist concentrates on selling smiles, not crowns and fillings. An audiologist reminds clients that no one pays the bill until 60 days of satisfactory experience have passed. A landscaper shows his client what the new flower garden will look like using all the computer tools in his handy laptop. Lawyers educate clients on the laws applicable to the case at hand.

     Make educating your clients a part of your business. An educated client will return to you again and again--and refer others to you. 


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Shipping charges

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     But wait! We'll double the offer! And shipping is free!

     We've all heard the pitch on cable for kitchen items or cleaning products. These pitches come fast and furious. They must work, or they would not be so plentiful. 

     There is a clue here that can be useful in any small business. If you sell online (and why aren't you?), take heed of the free shipping ploy.

     Sellers have learned that people hate it when you low-ball the price of an item only to tack on a shipping charge when they go to checkout. It's annoying to get all the way to checkout and then face another charge. When it has happened to me, I simply abandon the shopping cart and go to another website. 

     The thing that cable advertisers have learned is to include shipping charges in the price of the product and make a big deal of free shipping. Some sellers add a "handling" charge which can cost as much as the item itself. But they still get to emphasize that shipping is free. 

     Small businesses that sell through a website can tackle this problem in another way--by raising item prices. This accomplishes two things at the same time: you weed out bargain seekers and eliminate that annoying shipping charge.

     Example: Wendy is an artist who hand paints silk scarves with colorful and original designs. She sells at high end gift shops, shows, and through her website. On her website, she priced her scarves at $75 and up in the past and at checkout a shipping charge was added. Wendy decided to make changes. Today, all orders are gift-wrapped, priced at $100 and up, and shipping charges have been eliminated. She is realizing more sales. 

     Example: Ellen sells dozens of different teas through her website and ships to customers far and near. On orders of $25 or more, shipping is free. Under $25, buyers pay for shipping. It has worked well for Ellen. 

     Example: Tom sells all sorts of games through his website. They run the gamut from board games to older computer games. Some are small and lightweight, while others are large and heavyweight. His customers don't seem to mind shipping charges.

     Adding shipping charges to your sale can affect customers in different ways. Some are turned off by shipping charges. Others don't seem to mind. It depends on your market and how you work with it. 

     If your sales involve shipping, it will pay to experiment with the shipping charge problem. In general, the heavier and bulkier the item, the less concerned with a shipping charge a customer will be.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Build with social media

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     Social media offers many opportunities for establishing and building a small business. Start with your tablet, your desktop, your phone. Take pictures and selfies.

     With today's technology, you can build your business at home or in the local coffee shop. You can start with a single sale and grow from there.

     Example: Jack became intrigued with hydroponics. He thought that growing things without soil was simply amazing. He experimented in his basement, setting up racks of water-filled containers under grow lights where he began growing basil and lettuce. Next, he experimented with tomatoes. He gave some away to a neighbor who was a chef. This led to a conversation in which they discussed Jack's furnishing lettuce and tomatoes to the restaurant. Jack added to his basement hydroponic setup and today supplies several restaurants with fresh tomatoes and greens--year round. He has used social media to reach out to additional customers, and he is looking to eventually expand into an older, unused warehouse building--and serve a much bigger market.

     Example: Jill loves baking and discovered the many uses of ginger in cookies and cakes, even brownies and scones. She put pictures of her creations on social media and began building her business. Today, you'll find Jill's ginger goodies at corporate meetings, organizational gatherings, spas and retreats, as well as at upscale food stores. Jill's only sales force is social media, and her bakery is totally devoted to items incorporating ginger. UPS trucks come every day to take away packages being delivered to waiting customers. 

     Example: Takisha runs a pet supply store--no animals sold here, but everything needed for your dog, cat, or pocket pet. To increase traffic and sales, Takisha decided to add puppies--not for sale, but from local adoption agencies. She installed the puppies in the front window of her Main Street shop, and she posted pictures of them on social media. To build interest, she took selfies with each puppy and posted a deadline date (3 or 4 days hence) when the puppy was to be returned to the adoption agency. This created a sense of urgency and brought people into the shop where they bought all sorts of pet supplies--and sometimes adopted a puppy. 

     Your small business can grow and expand in direct proportion to how much you promote it. Today's social media provides a wealth of opportunity not available 20 years ago. 

     Don't think you have to be a professional photographer to take pictures for social media. You don't need museum quality. Just about any picture will do. Who can resist a picture of a puppy--and passing it on to friends?  



Friday, October 9, 2015

Multi-business promotions

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     Successful businesses promote. Ways to promote vary widely. What works for a therapist might not work so well for an auto repair shop. 

     Some promotional activities work well in many businesses. Open houses, networking events, informational sessions and demonstrations can work for just about any business.

     Two or more businesses can join together to hold a promotional event that benefits both businesses. The event can be easy to organize and cost little.

     Example: Spas and salons can bring in holistic practitioners to offer introductory sessions explaining their services. The sessions create buzz for the spas and salons, not only among regular clients but among referrals as well. The sessions can lead to more substantive sessions for nutritionists, hypnotherapists and massage experts. Such promotions can lead to permanent arrangements between the salon and the therapist, leading to the establishment of a wellness center. 

     Example: A small neighborhood restaurant brings in a group of musicians who perform Irish music on authentic instruments. The musicians do it for the love of the music--and a venue where they can practice and perform. People come to expect the music every Sunday afternoon, and the restaurant is more successful than before. Both parties win with this type of promotion.

     Example: A video production company teams with several computer experts to offer free sessions and demonstrations open to the public. The sessions attract people in business who get answers to their questions on computer equipment and software problems. These people also get an introduction to the marketing advantages of video. A local caterer has joined the sessions, furnishing food to the attendees. It has become a regular monthly multi-business promotional event.

     Example: A garden center hosts free sessions by experienced gardeners and landscapers. The events attract homeowners who contract with the landscapers and buy materials from the garden center. 

     Multi-business promotions can be very effective in attracting new customer streams. With these types of promotions, you are coming at prospective customers from a different angle of interest.

     To set up a multi-business promotion, think outside the box. What types of new customers do I want to attract? What are they interested in? What other non-competing businesses can help attract attention? 

     Once you've decided on a promotion, and once you've homed in on a partnering business, it's time to promote the promotion. Get the word out on social media--well in advance of the big day.  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Organic business planning

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     Business planning is not difficult. You already do business planning all the time. 

     It is all about marketing. It is all about customers/clients. No matter your business, your future depends on them. They are the foundation. 

     Today's customers tell you where you are. Tomorrow's customers tell you where you are headed. A formal business plan puts all this into perspective. And a business plan grows out of those future customers. 

     Figure out who tomorrow's customers will be for your products and services. How many customers can you attract? Turn all this into future sales numbers. So much for your current products and services. 

     Then, figure out what additional products/services you can add. Again, how many customers will these new products/services attract? Turn all this into future sales numbers. So it goes. 

     Examples: You are a chiropractor, and you're getting questions from present clients about the benefits of seeing a massage therapist. You run a restaurant, and you're getting requests for gluten-free preparations. You operate a small print shop, and you're asked for a referral to handle small mailings. You have a yoga studio, and people are asking you to recommend a nutritionist. You are an attorney, and you get a call asking for a recommendation for someone to handle a worker's comp claim. You are a landscaper, but can you build a patio? You can troubleshoot and repair my computer networks, but can you help me with social media? 

     All these examples are clues to possible expansions of small businesses. These clues come from customers/clients looking for products and services to better serve their needs. And they can point the way to your expansion.

     Clues come to you almost daily. Don't dismiss these clues. They are valuable planning initiators. Does the question trigger a possible expansion direction for your business? 

     Expansions can be as simple as adding a new line of products. Or you can decide to go off in a completely new direction. Either way, take a hard look at the market that will support the new direction or the new line. 

     Planning is a way of everyday life. It's organic. It's part of you. You already do the daily stuff. Now it's all about the future market. Turn it into numbers projected into the future, and you have your business plan.

     Don't go all wobbly when you are asked for your business plan. You do it every day. Now, put numbers to tomorrow's market.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Raising your prices

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     Most small businesses operate on a thin margin. Income scarcely exceeds expenses, leaving little room to grow. 

     If this describes your situation, you might give some thought to your pricing. You might be letting your competition guide your pricing instead of the marketplace.

     Markets for goods and services are all over the map. You can price low and attract bargain seekers. You can price to meet the competition and struggle to bring clients and customers to you. Or you can price higher and attract a higher end market segment. 

     Example: A hairdresser can struggle to make a living pricing haircuts at $10. Raise the price to $50 and the bargain seekers go elsewhere. Raise the price again, and you'll better define who seeks you out for that special haircut. By raising your prices you will serve fewer clients, but you can have a healthier bottom line. 

     Example: A baker will not sell many cupcakes carrying a price tag of $100 each. But that same baker can sell a creatively designed cake for a special occasion at $100 or more. Bargain hunters will buy cakes at the supermarket, but buyers who appreciate and can pay for creatively designed cakes will come to you. 

     This shows what can happen when you target certain market segments by raising your prices. Pricing positions your business in the public's minds. 

     Figuring out and targeting your client/customer base is crucial to growing a healthy business. Adjusting your pricing to a particular market segment helps you do this. You want to attract those who appreciate and will pay for your quality products/services and your superior customer service. You price to attract those types of people.

     Example: A fabric artist who designs and sells women's accessories priced competitively with WalMart will struggle to make a living. By raising prices for a hand-painted scarf to $100 or more, however, the WalMart shoppers are weeded out in favor of a more appreciative crowd.

     Example: A pet groomer who offers an inexpensive grooming service can double or triple prices by offering a little more. Get the word out to drop off your dog on your way to work and pick up after work. The groomer not only grooms, but "babysits" the dog all day. This convenience is worth much more to the customer. 

     Figure out what market segment you want to serve. Then set your prices to attract those people. You can build a healthier business by pricing to a higher end of the market. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Risky business

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     If your mother had not taken the risk of carrying you to term, you would not be reading this. If you had not taken the risk of failing, you would not be in business. 

     Life is full of risks. A tree limb can fall on you, but you walk under trees. An oncoming vehicle can swerve in front of you, but you still drive here and there.

     In business you are continually taking risks. You offer additional products and services. You tackle new markets. You change the way you manage.

     At every turn, you face the danger of failing. Small or large, failure is always a possibility. The small failures prepare you to take the bigger risks. 

     Many small businesses never grow and expand because of the fear of failure. The massage therapist who could expand into a wellness center, but doesn't. The landscaper who could expand into a garden center, but doesn't. The tax specialist who could expand into a full accounting operation, but doesn't.

     To grow a small business into a larger operation takes a dream, a plan, and a follow-up. Taking risks along the way is part of the game. 

     Of course, if you've built your small business to the size that you're comfortable with and you don't want to grow bigger, that's one thing. But if your dream is still not realized, then taking risks can get you there.

     Example: Mary established her small bakery and tried baking all sorts of goodies until she settled on the mix of products that brought in retail customers and wholesale clients. She let the business "settle in" for a few years. Then, Mary decided that the time was right for taking the next step. She took a big loan, expanded into a second operation. She was on the way to franchising neighborhood bakeries. By taking the small risks over time, she was following her long term plan--and the biggest risk of her business life.

     A funny thing happens to most business owners. They get into business and it works. Years of struggle establishing the operation finally are in the rear view mirror. 

     Then they become fearful that any changes will destroy what they have built. They begin to avoid the little risks, and the big risks are out of the question. They nibble around the edges of the business, never becoming what they could achieve.

     Never take unnecessary risks. And, before taking a giant leap, always think through what you are about to do. That fear of failure can serve you well. Just don't let it keep you from taking the big risks. Your mother didn't hesitate carrying you.

     When you run a business, you learn many things. Everything you do carries a risk, and not all risks turn out well. Learn from failure and keep on going toward your dream.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Expanding naturally

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     Expanding your business can be easier than you might think. It doesn't have to be a major undertaking. Rather, do more of what you already do.

     Of course, doing more means offering more of the services you provide or selling more of the products you offer. If you are alone, it means hiring someone to help. 

     On the other hand, you might be able to expand into additional markets without adding more facilities or staff. It depends on the business you are in. 

     Example: Linda runs a traditional cafe, serving breakfast and lunch only. By 3 p.m. every day, she closes the door, cleans up and heads home. To expand, Linda began offering breakfasts featuring farm-fresh eggs and gluten-free French toast. Newly added lunches feature fresh greens delivered every day from a local farm, along with cheeses produced locally and free range chicken. The expansion worked. More customers came, and some asked if Linda would cater dinners at their place. Linda took on some catering jobs and gradually expanded in that area as well. 

     Example: Tom used to be a small independent website designer. He expanded his business by offering additional computer services. It happened almost accidentally when a client asked him to set up a new computer system. Tom saw how he could grow the business naturally, as an extension of what he already did. Now, he goes to clients and does most of his work at their site--it includes setting up computer systems, networking the computers, training employees, installing new software, and troubleshooting problems. Tom today has two vans and four technicians on the road helping clients.

     Example:  Therapists, nutritionists, chiropractors and other specialists can have trouble attracting interest and turning that interest into paying clients. Many of these experts are single-person businesses, meaning that they meet one-on-one with clients. This means that the number of clients served is limited by the number of hours in the day. There is no flexibility when the appointment calendar is filled. However, you can expand by adding a junior partner who takes some of the work load. Or you can add new clients by offering free demonstrations and talks at other venues. 

      You might be missing opportunities to expand. Rather than jumping off a financial cliff and establishing a new business venture, look to growing your way into your new and bigger business.      

Friday, October 2, 2015

Social media markets

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     New markets are springing up for your products and services. Much of this market explosion is driven by social media. 

     Time was, the reach of your small business was local. You were limited to the geographical area you served.

     All that has changed for many small businesses. Social media is upon us, and you can reach a much bigger market. It's not just the local area but far beyond.

     Of course, much depends on the business you run. Hot pizzas get cold with distant deliveries, and hot stone massages depend on local clients. But many products and services can be delivered long distance.

     Example: Greg established a pet supply store in his town. His operation attracted attention, and his business is growing. He decided to tap into the market trend for fresh meat foods for dogs and cats. He promoted on social media, driving customers to his website. Orders came from the local area as well as from more distant places. Greg now ships fresh meat foods to customers far and near, and he has added expensive pet products to his offerings. He is tapping into the higher end market that is ignored or lost in the offerings by big pet product companies.

     Example: Rick operates a vehicle accessories store that serves a wide, but local, market. He carries hundreds of products, including mats, parts, finishes, and other items. To attract more customers, Rick revised his website and posts regularly on social media. Today, he ships orders coming from far and near.

      Example: Ella sells brownies--nothing else. She is not a baker, and she does not operate a bakery. She runs her business by arranging contract baking. She fills orders that arrive on her website. And she ships brownies every day via UPS and Fedex. Social media posts three times each week keep the orders coming in and the word going around. 

     Example: Dwayne is a CPA. He specializes in small business tax problems, accounting, and financial matters. He expanded his operation by offering webinars and training videos. These are sold over the net from his website. How to use QuickBooks and TurboTax are popular. This has led to Dwayne's expansion beyond the local area. Medium size businesses now fly him to their location to give seminars.

     Products and services can be sold long distance. Social media can reach out and bring clients and customers not reachable before.

     Expanding a small business is difficult. But social media today offers many opportunities to reach markets far beyond your local area.