Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Markets for one-of-a-kind things

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     Anyone can create a limited edition product. Artists and artisans do it all the time. Whether or not it will attract a buyer is another matter.

     Paintings, jewelry, and accessories are produced in one-of-a-kind pieces. So are sculptural pieces, special cakes, and motorcycles. 

     It's the market that rules. Artists can still starve in their studios waiting for the buying public. If you can grab the public's attention, then you're on your way. 

     Social media is a great way to reach out to large numbers of people. Take pictures of whatever you've created, post it to Facebook or other social media, and you get lots of eyeballs looking at what you can do.

     Example: Tom had a passion for motorcycles and owned several. But his business was the restoration of antique vehicles. When he had the time, he built a custom motorcycle for himself. At rallies, it attracted lots of attention. Tom began taking orders for custom bikes and gradually transformed his business. Today, he no longer restores antique vehicles. Instead, his shop is entirely devoted to the design and production of custom motorcycles for racing enthusiasts, weekend riders, collectors and others. Tom matched his talents and interests to a market opening and transformed his business. 

     To build your future, be alert to market trends and the interests of customers and clients. If you listen carefully, people will alert you to opportunities you might not otherwise see.

     Example: Jeanine makes gold and silver jewelry in her small home studio. With lots of experience behind her, she turns out rings, earrings, bracelets and other pieces for discriminating clients. Jeanine met Isabel, a compatible business partner, who hand-paints silks, leathers and other materials as accessories. Together, the two women opened a small working studio. It attracted immediate attention. Their combined customer base was similar, but they did not compete with each other. People were drawn to the handmade limited editions offered, and they referred others. The two women maintain separate Facebook pages, and this brought more people to the studio. Recently, they met Ed who produces fine wood turnings that are sculptural displays. Now, these limited edition artists are combining their talents into a single destination for the discriminating buying public. The three artists are discussing the possibility of expanding into a high-end gift shop with other artists. 

     Two or more artists can complement other talents and attract more attention than can any one acting alone. Always remember, however, that while your talents are the vehicles for your creativity, those vehicles are powered by the buying public. You must sell what you create.

     Markets for one-of-a-kind creations are out there. The key is to reach out and find the people who will buy your creations. Social media is the way to spread the word and find large numbers of customers. 


Monday, March 7, 2016

Flash on social media

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     So you discovered the value of promoting using social media. You regularly post pictures on Facebook and others. And it works.

     You can also do some simple things to increase the value of your social media postings. It begins with paying attention to the pictures you take and post. See to what's included in the pictures.   

     Do you know the value of flashy pictures? Do you include bling and flash in the pictures you take? Do you pay attention to the things that actually snag the most eyeballs?

     Example: A local dentist takes close-ups of toothy smiles showing teeth that are perfect and gleaming. Facebook entries emphasize the ease of getting that youthful smile back. Sometimes, the dentist's pictures show before and after. Other times, it's simply lips parting to capture that toothy smile. These pictures bring in calls for appointments. 

     Example: Eva operates an upscale shop specializing in women's clothing and accessories. She offers fashionable outfits from up-and-coming designers. Throughout her shop, Eva displays lots of flashy ornamentation and accessories. She changes her shop's window every week--taking pictures that she posts on Facebook. All her pictures show lots of jewelry, handbags and shoes in the latest styles. The social media postings draw shoppers, and her window draws in the curious. 

     More examples: Pet shops attract social media attention with puppies wearing flashy collars and coats. Hair stylists put sequins in the hair of party-goers. Attorneys specializing in elder care show smiling grandparents passing favorite things on to their grandchildren. Yoga instructors show photos of seniors throwing away their walkers. Food stores post pictures showing mouthwatering meals anyone can prepare in minutes, including the recipes. Garden centers show before and after pictures of nondescript yards turned into beautiful gardens.

     Turning your Facebook and other social media postings into compelling attractions is easy, quick and cheap. In fact, most successful picture postings cost you nothing except your time. And ingenuity. 

     Pictures on social media are not meant to sell. They are meant to attract attention, snag eyeballs, get passed around. 

     Get creative in your business. Use social media to promote and draw in more customers and clients. You're limited only by your imagination.  

Friday, March 4, 2016

Promoting with special events

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     Promotions can take many forms. Some work better than others. And what works for one business might not work at another. Or, what works this year might not work so well next year. 

     Special events seem to work every time they are tried. There is something about a special event that attracts more attention than run-of-the-mill promotional activities. 

     Example: Eric runs a popular restaurant. He has a clientele that regularly returns for lunch and dinner. He also has a very big parking lot, and it faces a main thoroughfare. To attract more attention, Eric decided to hold a special event. He made a few contacts and set a date for a hot air balloon launch late one afternoon. Eric posted announcements on Facebook and other social media, and the word went around as friends told other friends. On the day of the big event, and as the big balloon filled with air, the parking lot filled up--and so did the restaurant. It was the biggest day Eric had ever had. And he noticed that many new faces began showing up for dinners--they were all asking when the next balloon launch might take place.

     Some events can be one-time affairs. Others can develop into regular events that people can plan to attend. 

     Example: Mary operates a bar. She regularly promotes the place with big televisions playing, pool tables, poker games, and other activities to attract people. She decided to clear an area, install a dance floor, and bring in a band on weekends. It attracted lots of attention and new people. Today, Mary schedules bands ahead, announces on social media, and fills the bar on Friday and Saturday nights.

     Some events are entertainment. Others are educational.

     Example: John runs a garden center. He has greenhouses and displays of annuals, perennials, veggie starts, as well as the materials gardeners and landscapers need to construct pathways, fences, and even fish ponds. In the spring, John holds an all-day open house to show people how to lay pavers, brick and stone to do the things they want to do. The session attracts homeowners as well as landscapers. It's a special event that helps John spread the word in the community.

     Informational events can be held by any business. These attract people anxious to learn how to do things, what to expect when they come to your business, and enjoy a learning session with friends. 

     Promoting your business with special events is easy and can be very inexpensive--considering the free publicity you bring to your business.   

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Networking for successful growth

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     Everyone networks. You meet people at events, at gatherings, and many additional places. 

     You interact, have conversations, trade information. Networking is part of everyone's social life.

     So, why do so many business people hesitate when asked to attend a networking event? They approach the session with dread, apprehension and trepidation. It should not be so. 

     Example: Tom runs a restaurant. He was invited to a business networking event and went. Tom doubted that it would help his business, but he did not want to disappoint the friend who insisted he attend. When he entered the gathering, an unknown man approached, introduced himself, and asked Tom what business he ran. Tom described his restaurant operation, focusing on the farm fresh menu he was introducing. The man expressed interest, telling Tom that he was concerned about healthy eating--especially among his employees. It turned out that the man recommended Tom's restaurant to his employees and, additionally, hired Tom to cater an upcoming event. Tom was convinced that business networking events could be helpful to his business future, and he regularly attends other sessions. 

     Example: Mary is a licensed therapist, concentrating on family problems, marital relationships, and the concerns and problems of young people. To increase awareness of her operation, she decided to hold networking events open to the public. She went on MeetUp.com and set up an upcoming event. She ran the session like an open house, where people could meet each other in a relaxed setting, get to know about the therapies she offered, and she invited other business people to participate as well. At one session, the concentration was on nutrition, at another it was chiropractic, and at still another, a massage therapist demonstrated and answered questions.

     Turn any event at your place into a networking event. It is a social gathering. It is not necessary to call it a networking event. Any gathering will quite naturally turn into a networking event. 

     Promotional activities take many forms. Don't neglect the networking possibilities of any event you might hold.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Partnering for success

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     Promoting your business keeps it healthy and growing. You need to attract more customers--or you are losing ground.

     Yes, you can send out news releases now and then. Maybe they will get picked up and printed. Maybe not. You'll do better with social media. 

     You will have a better chance with news releases if you are announcing an event open to the general public. And one of the best ways to put together an event is to partner with another business.

     Example: An attorney specializing in elder law partners with a financial planner. They hold a session open to the public in which both discuss and answer questions about the problems of the elderly, the people who care for the elderly, and the special financial concerns that are involved. Announcements go out on social media. When the event day comes, the room is filled with potential clients for each business.  

     Example: A hypnotherapist partners with a chiropractor. You structure an event at the chiropractic offices. You blast social media (Facebook and others) with announcements targeting people who want to address weight problems and pain management. The event draws many people who get introduced to the ways chiropractic addresses pain problems and to the ways a hypnotherapist can help with overeating and smoking cessation. The partnering increases awareness and results in more client calls for both businesses.

     Example: A garden center partners with a landscaper. They structure an event for the general public at the garden center. People are attracted by the landscaper's talking about new garden designs, building fences and pathways, and designing new garden layouts. The garden center, of course, offers all the materials for sale. The event is announced weeks ahead of the all-day session on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media. Future customers are attracted to both businesses.

     Example: A frozen yogurt store has a large patio out back. The store partners with a local book store which schedules an author's signing at the yogurt patio. People are drawn to the event. And they get introduced to each operation. The word about the event goes around on social media, and both businesses get good promotional feedback. 

     To partner with another business, look for some compatibility. You target many of the same customers, but you don't compete. Use social media to promote the event. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Your customer is king

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     It's obvious. With customers, you can thrive and grow. Without them, you are headed downhill.

     Much has been said about customers. How to get them. How to make them happy. How to keep them coming back--and referring others.

     Customers are the reason you do a business plan. They are the market you are targeting. Customers are fundamental to any success.

     Example: In my own first business, my focus was on making my customers happy. The business was graphic arts/printing, and I gave out my home telephone number to all comers. I knew that they would need me day or night, and I wanted to be there for them. Few called me at home, but several did. The most important call came on Easter Sunday morning. The head of a major company/client needed a printed booklet delivered the next morning--an early Monday meeting had been called and he wanted to provide printed materials. I quickly gathered my team, and we delivered what he wanted to his boardroom by 7 a.m. the next morning. It meant working most of the night, but when I subsequently handed him the invoice, he thanked me and paid it right away. It was for a large amount, and we enjoyed a long term relationship for years. He also referred many others to me.

     Customers have problems of their own. Your business is best served when you solve their problems, on their terms, and in their time frame.

     Example: An attorney was engaged by a lady to draw up her will. She had some unusual requests, and the attorney listened patiently. But instead of leading the client through the problems, the attorney saw an opportunity to draw out the situation and increase his fees. He suggested a series of meetings to sort through all the details. This might have helped his cash flow, but the client saw it as annoying. She also suspected his true intentions. He lost a client that day--not only for the will, but for some large property transfers she subsequently made.

     Customers are not dummies. They come to you with a problem which they expect you to solve--whether it's to buy a dozen cookies or make that neck pain go away. They don't come to you to be manipulated.

     Successful business people keep focused on the customer. When you give them what they want, their loyalty will solve your problems. 

     Some customers can be annoying. Know the difference between the one you want to refer to your competition and the one who can be a future advantage to you and your business. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

New solutions, old ideas

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     Jump starting your business into a better future means re-thinking what you do. This can be very difficult.

     One way to think about changing is to consider some older ways of doing business. Updating yesterday's business ideas can be an eye opener.

     Restaurant example: Turning a breakfast cafe into a breakfast club can mean making drastic changes. Phil's cafe catered to an early morning crowd. It was attracting more and more corporate types and professionals who showed up early for his healthy breakfasts. He decided to concentrate on this market. Phil went on social media and announced that he was forming a special breakfast club for members only. The response was immediate and gratifying, and he decided to proceed. He established a closed-membership breakfast club--for a monthly fee, any member would get a key to the front door. Using their key, they could enter and order anything on the menu, or order ahead via a special app. This turned his cafe into a members-only club where corporate types and professionals met each other. The new arrangement became a special networking event for the business community. Phil took down all signage outside the place, replacing it with a simple "Breakfast club for members only" sign on the front door. All his promotion was done on social media. Phil's cafe became an updated example of the old club idea where people met and socialized while enjoying a meal. 

     Fiber arts example: Sue was a fiber artist. She made pins, hats, and other accessories for women, as well as some quilts. She also stocked materials for sale--beads, buttons, fibers, thread, knitting and crocheting materials, and other items. She decided to turn her place into a community meeting place where people could come and learn-by-doing. One day each week was knitting day, another was crocheting day, and still another was quilting. People came to learn techniques, do their thing, and enjoy the community setting where others with similar interests engaged in conversation. Sue promoted her "new" operation on social media and this attracted lots of attention for her business. She called it her new "quilting" bee, although some other activity filled other days. 

     These examples are updates of older gatherings. What's old is new again, as people re-discover the community. 

     Look to the past for ideas that can update and grow your business. You might be surprised at what you find.    

Friday, February 26, 2016

Creative social media successes

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     No doubt about it. Social media offers exceptional promotional tools for small businesses. 

     Think about it. You snap a picture, write a few words, and post it on Facebook. The picture attracts attention, the words point eyeballs to your business, and the referrals come in. 

     It's quick. It's easy. It's cheap. In fact, it can cost you nothing except your time. And the same can be true for Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more. 

     Okay. Your business doesn't lend itself to pictures. This can present challenges if you are an accountant, an attorney, a therapist, a financial adviser or in other types of businesses.

     An answer to this problem might be right in front of you. You are not selling on social media. You are attracting attention. You want those eyeballs out there to stop for a moment and look at your picture. 

     Example: Greta is a massage therapist. She used Facebook to post pictures of her hands hovering over a client's shoulders. But using the same, or similar, pictures every week seemed repetitive. She began using pictures of her new puppy--curled up asleep, running in the yard, eating a treat from her hand. Greta found that these pictures attracted more attention than those showing massage hands. 

     Example: Judy is a nutritionist. She uses Facebook and other social media to post pictures of healthy plates of mouth-watering foods. In one picture, she included her cat--curled up on a window sill with a small display of apples and other fruit. It brought in more responses than anything else she had done. 

     Example: John is a caterer. Instead of showing all the things he could prepare to make any gathering successful, he began showing a single flower in a vase next to a place setting. It has become John's branding on social media--he posts a different flower blossom twice each week. John has become the go-to caterer in his area.

     Any business can use cuddly kittens and playful puppies to good advantage on social media. And close ups of flowers always attract. Remember, you want to capture attention first and foremost. Create a good impression in viewers' minds, and they will remember you. 

     Perplexed by social media and how to use it in your business? You might be trying too hard. Pets and flowers can be an answer in any business. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Art, artists and artisans in business

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     Artists and artisans sometimes have a difficult time in business. It should not be that way. Furthermore, we are in transitional times.

     Largely, the market for art works depends on discretionary income. People who can afford realistic prices for art are mostly in higher income brackets. But changes are afoot in the marketplace for art.

     Young people are spending more on art, artworks and handmade things than ever before. They view the marketplace with eyes quite different from those of previous generations.

     Example: Lisa bought a gift shop. It was a traditional operation and sales were declining, so Lisa got the place at a discounted price. She had an idea to make it into a very different type of operation. She began contacting artists and artisans in her area and beyond, arranging to carry their works on a consignment basis. Soon, Lisa's shelves were bulging with handmade jewelry, glass, small paintings, clothing accessories, items made in wood and iron, and more. Daily, she posted a new item on Facebook, and more people were attracted to the shop. Gradually, Lisa expanded the gift shop and turned it into a successful operation. 

     Example: Jonah worked only in oils. His paintings were very large and commanded high prices. He had some gallery showings and sold a few of his works, but it was not enough income to sustain Jonah. He decided to produce a series of very small oil paintings, quickly produced, and priced reasonably. He was targeting the gift market (like consignment gift shops) as well as attendees who came to shows where he displayed his works. He also put these smaller works on social media. The small works sold well, providing Jonah with income to support his ultimate goal--to produce large oils priced to a different, and higher-end market. It was a transitional marketing strategy for Jonah that worked for him. 

     Example: Judy was a fiber artist. She made scarves, hats, pins, belts, and other accessories which she sold directly from her working studio. In the beginning, Judy priced everything low to compete with department store merchandise. Judy decided that there was a good market for handmade, one-of-a-kind items, and she decided to emphasize the fact that her items were direct from the creator. When she doubled her prices, she lost some customers looking for a bargain. But overall, she realized more total income and built a new following on social media.

     Secrets to success selling art lies in the marketplace. Figure out your target market. Then go for it, and never look back. 

     All artists and artisans are creative types. Put some of your creativity to work for yourself in that vast marketplace out there.    

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Double headed promotions

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     In today's technological world, there are many opportunities to promote your business. Many owners use Facebook and other social media to good advantage. They are cheap and they work.

     But don't neglect combining social media with older, tried-and-true methods. To promote, you need all things working together.

     Example: Katy is trained and certified in acupuncture. She set up a place and has a growing list of private clients. To grow more, she set aside a large room where several people can lie down, relax in a communal setting. These are short, inexpensive, stress-reducing sessions. It's quiet and no cell phones of other electronics of any kind are allowed. It's the new community-based acupuncture, and Katy posts regularly on Facebook and short explanations on LinkedIn. Many corporate types come in to get relief from their stressful positions. In addition, Katy offers discounts to those who bring a friend with them. This has expanded her private client base.

     Example: Ellen runs a small neighborhood restaurant. Her reputation is spreading because more and more people are showing up. To speed up growth, Ellen decided to take a double headed approach. She posts pictures of meals and desserts on Facebook, and she offers coupons for $1 off any meal. The coupons are printed and she gives several to people as they pay for their meal. Also, the coupons are pictured on social media. More new faces are showing up.

     Example: Frank runs a fitness center, concentrating on healthy living through exercise and healthy eating. He promotes on social media and has been pleased with the results. But he wanted more growth. So he decided to set up and hold a community networking group. Frank went to MeetUp.com and set up a group. He structured it to attract people concerned with healthy eating and light exercise. His monthly sessions attracted attention and became a popular community gathering. Frank began spreading the word on Facebook and LinkedIn. This attracted even more to the MeetUp sessions. Frank doubled his client base.

     Structuring two or more promotional ideas together can work much better than just using a single idea. Social media offers opportunities to do just that--and it's easy, quick, and cheap to do.

     Promoting your small business has never been easier. Don't neglect using older methods combined with the newer social media possibilities.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Jump starting business growth

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     Sometimes, an opportunity comes at you. Your business is rocking along, and then, out of nowhere, you get the chance to jump start it to the next level. 

     Example: Dave and Jim were buddies in high school and both were into fitness. They spent hours in the local gym working out and playing sports. When they graduated, they talked with the owner of the local weight training center about how to open a gym. Their idea was not to compete with weight training but to have an up-scale fitness center--offering weight reduction programs, healthy living, with a smoothie bar with vitamins and supplements. To their surprise, the owner proposed that Dave and Jim take over the weight training center and turn it into what they had in mind The owner offered to structure a loan to cover the payout over several years--and he offered to help them with advice during the transition. Dave and Jim were suddenly in business and on their way.

     Example: Bill runs a landscaping service. He cuts grass, trims shrubbery, helps homeowners put plants in their yards. He parks his truck and trailer behind his own house, and his garage is full of equipment and materials. Inside, he turned part of a bedroom into a small office setup. To grow, his wife reminded him, he needed to get the business out of the house, out of the garage, and out of the yard. To expand, Bill looked around. He found a small garden center owned by an elderly man who was willing to enter into a lease-purchase agreement, selling the place to Bill. After carefully projecting the numbers, Bill jumped at the chance. The elderly man was looking for an income for his declining years, so they agreed to a payout that Bill could afford over the next 15 years. If Bill defaulted, the elderly man could repossess the place and sell it again. Today, Bill has expanded his landscaping services into a full-blown garden center attracting many more customers. With the expanded business, he has never missed a payment. To keep an eye on things, the elderly man still putters around the place, helping Bill with the operation and providing invaluable advice. Both are winners.

     Expanding your business by taking over another business can be a good growth path. First, find an operation that can step you into the future you want. Second, do a business plan. Third, work out an agreement acceptable to both parties--under advice of an attorney. 

     You are looking to increase your customer base when you take over another business. Pay close attention to that customer base--yours and that of the target business. It's all about the customers. They determine success.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Expanding wellness businesses

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     There is a great and growing interest in health and healthy living. Wellness therapies have exploded in recent years. 

     Therapists face special problems when it comes to the business end of their operation. Too many work alone. Individuals offer therapeutic massage, marriage and nutritional counseling, reflexology, yoga, meditation, and other therapies.

     Instead of several people coming together to create a small business, therapists are frequently one person businesses. The market, while growing, can be thin and clients few.

     Example: Joyce's specialty is reflexology. Over time she developed a client base passionate about her services. She traveled to them. To get her own office, Joyce partnered with Ella, who specialized in deep tissue massage. Together, they leased a large space--they were planning ahead. Then they attracted a life counselor and a nutritionist to join them. Next, they added yoga--one expert who had a following of individuals. Soon the business had grown to the point they needed a receptionist to schedule appointments. Recently, Joyce and Ella have talked with a practitioner of Jin Shin Jyutsu about joining the wellness center.

     Establishing a bigger wellness center is one way therapists can grow. By bringing together several  specialists, a wellness center can attract more attention and clients than one therapist acting alone. There is a definite spillover effect as well--clients talk to one another and a social media presence spreads the word around. 

     Example: Stan is a chiropractor. He, too, needed to attract more clients. He did not want to expand into a wellness center. Instead, he brings in other experts talking about their specialties. The events are open to the public. A nutritionist talks about healthy eating and fields questions from the audience. At another session, a hypnotherapist helps people stop smoking. Later, an expert in Chinese herbal medicine talks about treating ailments without pills. These experts do not practice at Stan's place, but the other experts get referrals--as does Stan for his chiropractic. 

     If you are a therapist, you might benefit from partnering with other therapists to create a wellness center. Or, like the chiropractor, you might turn your place into a healthy living information and education center. 

     Whatever you do, keep you long term plan firmly in mind. That great marketplace awaits, but don't venture out into unknown territory without a firm plan.   

Friday, February 19, 2016

Managing your cash flow

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     Small businesses face big time cash flow problems. Outgoing invoices or bills don't get paid on time. And incoming bills for rent, electric, supplies and more demand payment. 

     You are your own backup of last resort. A certain amount of prudent juggling can see you through--usually. But sometimes that is just not enough. 

     Example: A small manufacturing business solved the ups and downs of cash flow by putting in place a revolving line of credit with a local bank. It was for a significant amount of money. When incoming cash did not meet the outgoing cash requirements, the owner hit the revolving line of credit for a cash infusion. It was a short term loan. When the receivables came in, the loan was paid off. Problem solved. 

     Example: An even smaller business handled the ups and downs of cash flow in a different manner. Due to its small size, this business was not eligible for a revolving line of credit. The owner juggled outgoing payments for materials and supplies, balancing bills with cash to pay them. When a shortfall still existed, he held his own paycheck until the bank account could handle it. He always wrote his paycheck, but he threw it into the desk drawer awaiting the day when it would clear the bank account. Sometimes, this took weeks.

     Example: A pet store owner sometimes did not have enough cash on hand or in the bank account to pay for supplies and goods for resale. She used credit cards to pay the bills on time, taking advantage of any discounts offered for on-time payment, and then she set aside funds every week to cover the credit card charges that would be coming on the next billing cycle. By paying off the credit card on time when the statement came, she gave herself a free loan. This, of course, does not work if you simply let credit card charges pile up--you'll owe big time interest charges.

     The marketplace and the economy can throw all sorts of problems at you. In small business, one of the worst problems you'll face is the problem of cash flow. Be prepared when your cash flow stops flowing. 

     Your ingenuity is what got you into business, and your ingenuity will keep you going. You can build on what works, and you can discard what does not work.  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Get with it on Facebook

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     If you don't use Facebook to promote your business, you're missing big time opportunities. Facebook can help you grow and expand.

     Just to be clear--I don't have any connection with Facebook (other than a page of my own), and I don't get anything from Facebook by this writing. Facebook is a valuable addition to your marketing tool box. And everyone in small business deserves to take advantage of it.

     First, a Facebook page is easy to set up and use. Even if you are not computer savvy, you can follow the simple directions and be up and running in about five minutes. Just go to Facebook.com and begin.

     Second, a Facebook page puts a photo face on your business. Everyone snaps digital photos these days. Photos on Facebook do NOT have to be professionally done. And they are easily uploaded. 

     Third, a Facebook page is easy to maintain. You don't have to hire an expert. You simply check in every day and add more photos and comments. Quick and easy.

     Fourth, a Facebook page brings in new business. As people "like" the things you put up on your page, they pass them around. This puts your business in front of more eyeballs. 

     Keep in mind that your Facebook page is a living thing. It's like a scroll that keeps unfolding day by day. It attracts attention because it is not static. It changes. And you make the changes yourself. 

     Photos: Bakers photograph every cake being made. Florists photograph every flower arrangement. If you sell eye glass frames, get up close and personal--photos can show eyeballs peering through frames. Auto repair shops show a mechanic's hands fiddling with anything under the hood. Pest exterminators can take endless pictures of bugs. And anyone can attract attention with photos of kittens, puppies, flowers--the idea is to capture the viewer, then add a short comment from you.

     Some small businesses post pictures on Facebook almost every day. It keeps them in peoples' minds. It keeps people coming back. It spreads the word about your business. And for the most part, it's free.

     Promoting your business once cost a significant part of your budget. Along came Facebook. Yes, you can buy ads, but you can attract lots of attention at no cost. Ain't America amazing?  


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Running twice as fast

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     Today's world is very different from that of yesterday. And tomorrow's world will be even more unrecognizable.

     A degree of certainty is required when you run a business. Right now, your operation is caught up in a juggernaut of change.

     Just consider energy. Without electricity, your computer will go dark, banks and supermarkets will close, gas stations will shut down, and all your appliances will become useless--unless you have a generator.

     Hydroelectric and nuclear plants produce significant streams of electricity. Solar and wind farms produce electricity in relatively small amounts. Oil and gas produce electricity big time. Coal, the biggest generator of electricity, is being banned.

     Like it or not, we live in an age that depends on electricity. Owners of small businesses need to think about the days of brownouts, or, worse, crashes with no power for a month or longer.

     Other uncertainties will affect your business in the future. We are in a continuing debate on health care. Is the future in small, community-based, privately run health or wellness clinics? Or big government bureaucracies? Is another health care system on the horizon?

     Another uncertainty is genetically modified foods. These pervade the food chain in this country--not so in the rest of the world. A reaction to GMO foods is afoot--some cities and states are trying to ban GMO foods, or, at least, label them. 

     Still another uncertainty is the future of 3-D printing. This new technology is already producing devices that will forever change manufacturing--both large and small. 3-D printing companies are already making parts for the automotive industry, aerospace, health care, home and personal products--including jewelry, lighting fixtures, shoe wear and more. Recently, a 3-D printed automobile appeared on TV news. 

     All that, and the 300-pound gorilla is already among us. Computing technology, the Internet, and communications advances have revolutionized the world in just 30 years. This revolution is just beginning. 

     Business owners tend to get enmeshed in today's problems. Give some thought to where we're headed. Thinking about trends will help you better structure your business to survive and prosper.

     Uncertainties are everywhere. In the past, we had time to absorb one uncertainty before the next one hit. No longer. Today, we must run twice as fast just to stay in the same place. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Kick it up a level

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     So you are rocking along in your business. You got it off the ground, and things seem pretty stable. But you worry.

     People are buying your goods and services. Your bottom line is healthy. Still, you worry about tomorrow.

     You know that the marketplace is changing. The younger crowds have different interests. People in middle age are moving on. The older crowds are, well, getting older. The crowds are changing, and you worry.

     Restaurant example: Bob runs a popular eaterie. People stop in for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bob noticed that receipts were level over the past year. Sure, there were ups and downs with the seasons, but that was to be expected. He decided to add music, and he tested it by inviting a local Irish band to entertain on Sunday afternoons. The group played traditional Irish musical instruments, but they had trouble finding a place to practice. Bob's invitation to them solved their problem. They played for three hours--they called it a practice session, diners at the restaurant called it entertainment, and Bob called it a success. The restaurant attracted new people on Sunday afternoon, they came back for meals on other days, and they spread the word. Bob had kicked his operation up to the next level. Now he's considering adding music on other days. 

     Hair salon example: Sue specialized in high end hair cutting and coloring. Her salon attracted a steady clientele, but Sue wanted to expand the operation. She noticed the growing interest in the marketplace for health and wellness products and activities. She took a two-pronged approach. First, she brought in organic and natural hair care products including colorants, and she promoted the lines on social media. Second, she arranged with wellness practitioners to come in on Tuesdays to talk about their specialties, demonstrate activities, and answer questions. Many new people showed up to learn about chiropractic, massage, nutrition, hypnotherapy, and many types of yoga. Sue is building the basis for a full-fledged wellness center that she plans to establish in the future.

     Any business can be kicked up to the next level. Expansions that grow out of current business activities are always open to you. They can carry you step-wise into growth situations. The key is staying on top of the marketplace--where people are currently, and where they are going. 

     Before you try to kick your business up to the next level, always do the critical thinking of your business plan. A plan begins with knowing the marketplace--where it is, and where it is headed.   

Monday, February 15, 2016

Postcards from tomorrow

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     Few people claim to be able to predict the future. Those who do are usually wrong. I'm talking about predicting future events, not today's weather forecast for tomorrow. 

     In business, we project where we want to be in the future. We set goals. And then we begin taking steps to get there. We ignore this at our peril. Stepping into our future business is prudent. 

     There is an element of caution in the steps we take in business. We see a possible expansion, we take a preliminary step in that direction, and, if it works, we might proceed. Because we are committing time and resources, we've learned to exercise caution. If not, we can be courting business failure.

     Example: When videos became the rage, John opened a video store. He obtained a beginning stock of video cassettes, rented a store front, and held a grand opening. The store quickly became a destination. John rushed to sign another lease on the empty store next door. His operation blossomed, and he vastly increased his stock videos. Then a national video chain store came to town. If that were not bad enough, technology moved on. There was less demand for videos. Within ten years, John's store had shrunk back into its original space and he struggled to meet the rent. Today, he has closed both stores but he still offers videos--from a dispensing machine. 

     Tomorrow has a way of coming at you. No matter how carefully you might plan, tomorrow will surely bring surprises. Be ready.

     Example: Ben operated a machine shop for many years. He had about 10 employees, supplying precision-machined products to the aerospace, automotive and health care industries. Then, the age of 3-D printing dawned. Ben scoffed at the idea that this technology could ever be a threat to his machine shop. So, he refused to install one of the new 3-D printing machines or hire a programmer with the skills to operate it. Today, Ben is down to 3 employees while a competing operation is snapping up his customers--supplying their needs with their new 3-D printers. Ben missed his opportunity.

     It's not just technology that changes--and changes rapidly. The marketplace changes as well. People today are quite different from the people of yesterday. They demand different products, different services, and different customer service. 

     Today's marketplace is not yesterday's marketplace. And tomorrow's marketplace will not be like today's. Make sure your business is positioned to meet tomorrow's marketplace. Think about it and get ready.     

Friday, February 12, 2016

Ignoring advice

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     Okay. You have an idea. A great idea. You want to start a small business. Or, you want to take your existing business in another direction.

     In your excitement, you mention it to several people. You discuss your idea with several friends and acquaintances.

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

     Everyone said it would not work. There would be technical and legal problems. No one would be attracted to bid on stuff they had never seen in person. 

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

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

     When you are in business, or when you want to start a business, your friends will offer advice--whether or not you ask for it. They feel compelled to offer advice--mostly negative. But that's one of the main reasons they themselves are not in business. 

     Business is all about optimism, confidence in yourself, and seeing a path into the future. If the opportunity is real and your gut feeling tells you to proceed, then by all means, go ahead. You will never know if success is around the corner unless you take the risk. 

     Before you jump, always do a business plan--concentrating on the market. The numbers you generate in the business plan will be the best advice you can take advantage of. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Expanding your customer base

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     Your customers determine your business future. It's not your brilliant idea. It's not that new mousetrap. It's not how many certifications you have. It's the customers.

     All those paintings you labored over will still be hanging on your wall--unless someone buys them. That outrageously complex computer game you devised will not turn into a business--if no one buys it. And that new beer you brewed and bottled will remain on the shelves--if no one buys it.

     Example: Mary got trained and then certified in Reiki. She rented a small space where she could see clients. And she waited--and waited. Some clients came, but they were few and far between. To increase awareness and interest, Mary held a free open house where she demonstrated the benefits of Reiki and answered questions from the people who showed up. A few people became clients. To spread the word even more, Mary began posting on Facebook. More people called for appointments. To grow even more, Mary began holding classes to teach others the ins and outs of Reiki. She is still expanding. The next idea she wants to tackle is Reiki for animals. 

     Example: Bill serves breakfast and lunch in his small cafe. He noticed a trend in his area--people were increasingly interested in farm-to-table foods. He began promoting farm-fresh additions to his menus--organically raised greens and eggs laid by free range hens. All this attracted more people to his cafe--including younger people. His former standbys were tradespeople (electricians, plumbers, construction types), and they also took an interest in the new items on Bill's menu. His customer market had changed, and now he stays on top of trends. He even offers gluten-free waffles and pancakes that are eagerly snapped up by people. 

     Don't neglect what's happening in the marketplace. You can expand your customer base if you stay on top of marketplace trends. The market is continually moving, changing, and offering new possibilities. Catch the wave and the market will reward you with growth possibilities. 

     Doing the same things, day after day and year after year, can be a good thing. You are building your brand in the minds of customers and clients. But don't get stuck in your ways. Keep a keen eye on the market. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

More about your planning

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     The heart of business planning is the marketing component. It's the market that will help you be all you can be. With a market out there for your goods and services, you can grow and expand. Without it, you will not go anywhere.

     When you apply for a loan, however, the lender wants as much information about you and your business as you can provide. The lender can be a bank or a private party, but the request will come for you to provide a formal business plan. 

     Example: In one of my own businesses, I once applied to a bank for a substantial loan. The bank wanted to know all of my personal history as well as the complete background information on my business. So much for five years history. Then, they wanted to know how I had arrived at the $100,000 I was requesting. They were concerned that I might be requesting too little or too much.

     Questions: How would I spend the funds? How did I know that I was requesting enough? How would I pay them back? How would I handle sales problems as they surely would arise? How would I handle competition? How would I ride out a general economic downturn? How well did I know my industry? Was the market on an upward trend?

     Their questions seemed endless, but I had to admit that they were pertinent. After all, the bank was considering putting $100,000 on the table. They wanted assurances that I could be trusted and would pay back the loan.

     Then came the kicker. Not only did they want written answers to their questions, but they wanted everything turned into numbers. And they wanted the numbers projected forward for five years.

     Reducing verbiage to hard numbers is like wringing all the water out of a wet towel. When you do the numbers, all the crap disappears. Your history to date and your projections into the future is where the rubber meets the road. 

     The numbers give validity to all that you say in a written plan. This is where you convince someone else that they can believe in your market projections.

     Even if you are not going for a loan at a bank, you owe it to yourself to do some serious planning. You don't need a lengthy written plan for your business. But you do need to do some serious thinking about the years ahead. Just remember that planning is putting numbers to the future market. It's hard to fudge with numbers.  

     Don't neglect the planning part of running your small business. It's some of the most important work you'll ever do.   

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How to start planning

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     Planning is difficult for some business owners. But planning is necessary. If you are in business, you have done some planning. You might have done it without being fully aware.

     Whether you are just starting out or you are currently running your business, you will do well to put yourself through the planning process. So, how do you begin?

     A business plan matches you with the market. Your plan gets the marketplace firmly in mind, and then you can offer your goods or services. When there's a match, you can begin to see how you can grow into your business future. 

     Questions: Is there truly a market for my goods or services? How big is that market? What part or parts of that market can I serve? What is the future of that market? Is it growing or contracting or stable? Can I put numbers to how much of that market I might capture? What's the impact of technology? What's the competition already in place?

     More questions: Is this market new, and, if so, is it likely to continue? Is it bricks-and-mortar based with a simple website presence? Can I reach out to expand via social media? Can the market be addressed entirely on the net? What's the best way for me to proceed?

     Many more questions will occur to you. Some will be related to the overall economy. Others will be related to the particular industry you are in. I've found it useful to jot down questions/thoughts/ideas as they come to me. I throw these pieces of paper into a box. I call this my idea box. About every 2 or 3 months, I go through everything.

     Using the questions and the idea box, my planning is accomplished. Of course, no bank will write a loan based on this. But this is the beginning. To get it organized and written down into a formal plan, you will need an outline. Contact your Small Business Development Center for help--it's free. Or, do a Google search for "Business plan" and you'll get many possibilities. 

     This is drawn from my personal experience. It has worked for me in starting and operating 4 small businesses. You'll find your own way.

     Planning in business is done all the time. You don't get far without a plan. Always remember, however, that the most important part of planning is the market. After all, you cannot sell anything unless there's a market for it.     

Monday, February 8, 2016

Finding a new employee

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     Finding a new employee can turn into a real problem. Most good employees already have jobs. You can hire a new employee away from another business, but it will cost you.

     To find a new employee for your business, first define what that new person will contribute. New employees must fit into your overall business plan. Where do you want to go? And how can a new person help you get there?

     Many people who apply for a job don't have basic skills. They don't get to work on time, they cannot read or write, they don't know how to answer a business phone, and they don't know how to apply themselves to a problem, solve it, and move on to the next problem. 

     In my own experience, I have placed an ad in a newspaper. Bad idea, especially in today's world. I dreaded the responses because a wide range of unqualified people showed up.

     Good employees have a sparkle in their eyes. They have learned self-discipline. They want to learn new things. They want to be a part of the business. They want to contribute to the success of something bigger than themselves. They want to feel good about what they do.

     Through trial and error, I learned to look beyond the experience of the person in front of me. I learned that I could teach them the specific tasks I wanted them to do. I learned to look beyond the resume--in fact, it they arrived resume in hand, I simply laid it aside and began a conversation.

     I always wanted to know if the applicant had served in the military. If so, then I knew self-discipline had become a part of the person. Military people have learned the importance of a team effort and they have learned to respect others. With these basics in place, I could teach them everything they needed to know.

     Our public schools today are too frequently little more than baby-sitting operations. Students are not taught to engage life. Anything goes--there is little self-discipline. Educators experiment with the lives of our young people, coddling them, and not preparing them for the real life situations they will face later on. It is a huge disservice to the youngsters. 

     When you go looking for your next new employee, forget the resume. Resumes can be manufactured--and many are. Look instead for fire in the belly and self-discipline. Look for a person who can contribute to the team and help get you where you want to go in your business. Look for someone who has the potential to eventually replace you. 

     To find that next new employee, have a conversation with the best employee you currently have. Good employees know other good people. Ask them to refer a couple of prospects to you. Take it from there.