Friday, January 29, 2016

Your Internet future

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     So, how do you exploit the Internet to grow your small business? It depends on what you are doing. And it depends on where you plan to take your business down the road of growth and expansion.

     You can do what many business owners do. Put up a website and revise it from time to time. When people visit, they see the same thing--month after month. Soon, nobody bothers to come to your website. If you don't refresh your website every week with new content, the search engines stop directing people to your site. 

     You can use social media to drive eyeballs to your website. Jump on Facebook at least twice each week and post a picture along with a few words. People are reminded that you are still there for them. They "like" you and perhaps pass your post on to their friends. Circles grow, and your business attracts more people.

     There is a third way. It combines all this, and it can change your business into more than you ever dreamed it could be. Get your website active and keep it active with fresh content. Drive more people there with social media. 

     Example: Sue loved to bake brownies. She experimented with different recipes, she baked for friends and relatives, she gave them away to church functions, she even landed a couple of customers--corporate meeting planners. One of these people suggested that Sue develop a website through which they might place orders. Sue jumped on the Internet with her own website, and she began posting on Facebook with pictures of scrumptious brownies. Suddenly her business exploded. Today, Sue oversees the baking of her brownies in a commercial kitchen and she ships brownies all over the country. Smart use of the Internet has grown her business beyond her wildest dreams.

     Example: Justin worked in a major corporation. Then, he inherited his aunt's consignment shop. He decided to make a life-changing career move. He resigned his corporate position, and he devoted full time to building the consignment shop. He concentrated on high-end items and those with a hot market. He invited artists and artisans to consign to his shop. He turned his website into a go-to destination, and promoted heavily on Facebook and other social media. He set up an eBay type store. He concentrated on selling at the store, through his website, and on eBay and other sites. Most of the items arriving at the store, he photographed and posted on social media--every day. Justin turned his aunt's consignment shop into a much more active business.

     The Internet holds futures not yet dreamed of. Owners of small businesses need to catch the wave and ride it to success. 

     Put on your thinking cap. And get on the Internet--in all forms. Social media might be the greatest thing since sliced bread to grow and expand.   

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Networking promotions

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     This is NOT about business card exchanges. We're talking networking meetings that you set up yourself. 

     Networking meetings are good promotional settings for small businesses. A networking meeting puts the focus on the small businesses that serve a community. They can serve both the neighborhood and the surrounding area or region.

     Every small business needs more clients and customers. Therapists and small farms serve the local community. Florists and caterers and salons reach out beyond their area to attract more customers. 

     Networking meetings are easy to set up and operate. Consider doing a networking meeting yourself to increase awareness, promote your business, and get more referrals.

     Example: Frank operates a fitness studio. Exercise machines and free weights keep clients busy, and Frank offers personal training. To increase his client base and get more referrals, he decided to hold networking meetings. But he did not use the networking name. He put the word out on social media that free demonstrations would be held in the evenings of the first Tuesday of each month. He envisioned the meeting as an open house for other business owners, fitness enthusiasts, corporate desk people, and the general public. He got a local caterer to furnish snacks, a local student band to play a short program, and Frank gave a brief talk about fitness programs especially geared toward people with weight problems, and he answered all the questions. He did not try to sell anything or sign up people for his fitness programs. The monthly open houses are fun and informational, and they have become a go-to destination every month. Franks sees new faces joining his operation.

     Example: Sandra is a marketing consultant. She was dissatisfied with the handful of business networking groups in her area. So she decided to start one of her own. She spoke with a local restaurant that had a large meeting room. The room was never used in the mornings, so the restaurant owner agreed to let Sandra hold networking meetings there once each month starting at 7 a.m. People arrive, spend a half-hour milling around, talking with each other, and making new contacts. Sandra arranges for a special speaker for each meeting who discusses a subject of general interest--subjects like social media, mortgages and reverse mortgages, lease negotiations, and the like. There is a $20 charge, but it includes a continental breakfast furnished by the restaurant. Sandra puts the word out on her website and Facebook page. She also has a site--free for the asking. Her networking sessions have become so popular she is thinking of holding a second one each month in another town. Her marketing consulting business is expanding. 

     The key to success with networking meetings seems to be the attraction of business people getting together--with a little food, informative speakers, maybe some music. 

     Networking meetings are NOT business card exchanges. Networking meetings bring together people with similar interests and problems. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

It's now or never--just do it!

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     Thinking about starting a business? Stop second-guessing yourself. No matter your situation, no matter the economy, the time is now. Start that business you've been thinking about, and never look back.

     Think it's too early in life? Consider the 10-year-old boy who shovels snow for his neighbors. He went on to establish a landscaping business.

     Think it's too late in life? Consider the 79-year-old woman who established a bagel shop. She later sold out and retired--again.

     Example: Consider the lady who worked in Corporate America and rushed home every day to the thing she really loved--making pots, creating at her potter's wheel. When she was ready, she took early retirement from her fancy position and set up her own pottery operation. Her special glazes attracted lots of attention, and her reputation spread. Today, her pottery commands high praise and high prices.

     Adults are frequently locked in pursuits they little enjoy. Some rush off to change career directions--still with the comfort of a regular paycheck. Others start a business built around a compelling interest. They are looking for more fulfillment than that left behind. 

     Example: Consider the man who spent his spare time working for a local contractor. He honed his skills in painting houses, replacing gutters and windows, repairing stairs, tackling minor plumbing jobs and more. His long-range plan was to own 2- and 3-family apartment houses that needed work. He was setting himself up to do the work, or at least he would know how to judge work he hired done. Today, he owns and manages several small apartment houses and is building up a significant retirement nest egg.

     Starting a small business is a now or never proposition. I'm fond of quoting the Good Witch of the North in the Wizard of Oz. "The place to begin is at the beginning," she told Dorothy. As we all know, we make our own beginnings. 

     If you are stuck in a job you don't enjoy, start making plans to leave. Start your own business built around something that causes you to jump out of bed in the morning. Your dream becomes your alarm clock. 

          There is never a "right time" to start a business. Get your thinking straightened out. Stop wasting time. Get at it.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Intro to crowdfunding

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     Small business begins with an idea. To turn that idea into reality takes money. Sometimes, it takes lots of money.

     Not all small businesses can attract the funding they need. A therapist's office, for example, will not get much of a hearing at the local bank's loan window. The same is true for an art gallery.

     Likewise, a start-up farm or landscaping business needing funds to get off the ground will be hard-pressed to find a loan. You either use your own money or you tap into a network of friends and family.

     On the other hand, some business ideas can attract attention. Establishing a new wellness center in town can attract funding from the community it will serve. And a new computer game might get funded by perfect strangers looking to invest in technology.

     Crowdfunding -- One of the hottest funding mechanisms today is crowdfunding. And it is being used to fund some operations.

     Crowdfunding is exactly that. The funding dollars come from crowds of people unknown to you. You go on the net, tell people what you want to do, and the dollars might roll in from the crowds that see your proposal.

     Or they don't. The successes that have used crowdfunding get lots of publicity. While the high fliers have raised mullions, most raise a few thousand at most. And some get no interest at all. 

     Third party businesses have sprung up to handle the process. They work like a dating service--sort of. Your business or idea needs funds. There are many out there who have a few extra dollars. The third party provides the platform where everyone meets and agrees to whatever rules apply.

     To begin, do your research. Google "crowdfunding" and you'll get lots of possibilities. Among these, sort through the platforms you might use. Some sites you'll find are Kickstarter, Fundable, Indiegogo, EquityNet, Microventures, CircleUp, and Selfstarter. There are many more.

     Some have minimums and some impose a time limit on the process. Others require an equity position in your business. Some won't take non-profits. And then there are those that just bet on the individual. 

     Know where you are headed before you jump into this pond. The platform in this business--is a business itself. Somehow, they must get paid for the service they offer. Dig into it. 

     Crowdfunding can be a godsend for your small business. Before you go for this, however, always do your business plan.    



Monday, January 25, 2016

Raising your prices

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     Many small businesses operate on a thin margin. Income scarcely exceeds expenses, leaving little to grow and expand. 

     When this happens, owners should give some thought to raising prices. You might be letting your competition guide your pricing--instead of the marketplace.

     The market for goods and services is all over the place. You can price low and attract the bargain seekers. You can price to meet the competition and struggle to bring clients and customers to you instead of to your competitors. Or you can price higher and attract a higher end market segment. 

     Example: A baker will not sell many cupcakes priced at $100 each. But that same baker can sell a creatively designed cake for a special occasion at $100--or more.

     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 to $100, and you define a market segment of people who seek you out for your special cuts. 

     These two examples show what can happen when you target a certain market segment. Your pricing will position your business in the minds of your potential customers. You are branding your business.

     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 clients/customers who appreciate--and will pay for--your quality product/service and your superior customer service. You price to attract these 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 scarf or hat to $100 or more, the WalMart shoppers are weeded out in favor of a more selective and 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 your dog off on the way to work and pick up after work. The groomer not only grooms but "babysits" the dog all day. The client will pay much more for the convenience. 

     Figure out what market segment you want to serve. Then price accordingly. Price too low, and people think you product/service is not worth much. By pricing higher, you define the market you want to serve and you end up with a much healthier business. 

     Pricing must match the quality of your goods/services and your customer service. Brand your business with the prices you charge. Target your customer base with your pricing.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Get help from social media

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     Many owners of small businesses think of social media as a one-way street to sell something. You put your business up on Facebook, and buyers come calling. 

     There is much more to it than that. Putting up a picture on Facebook or other social media attracts attention. You get the eyeballs for a few seconds. They might read the words you've included, or they might not. They might hit the "like" and pass it on, or they might not. They might click on your website handle, or they might not. Lastly, they might leave a comment, or they might not. 

     People have a short attention span. The picture you post on Facebook can be just about anything--street scenes, the newest product you offer, close-ups of hands massaging someone's back, a cake you've just baked and decorated, a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. Birds, flowers and puppies always attract attention. 

     Example: Heather is a Reiki expert. She has a local clientele that is growing. When she went on Facebook and LinkedIn, a funny thing happened. She expanded in a way that she had not considered. Not only did she begin pulling clients from farther afield, but several people pointed her in a completely new direction--teaching Reiki long distance. She reworked her website and now offers courses on Reiki over the Internet. She put together a webinar and attracted even more attention when she began posting on Facebook twice each week. 

     Example: Patrick runs a cafe offering breakfast and lunch only. He was somewhat reluctant to create a Facebook presence. When he did, he got some comments back that helped him expand. His current customers were mainly trades people--electricians, plumbers and contractors stopped in for breakfast or grabbed a quick lunch. Also, Patrick had a sprinkling of professionals and office workers. Patrick noticed comments from office workers who wanted to eat "healthy" breakfasts and lunches. He began adding items to the menu and saw that just about everyone was ordering "healthy" including the tradespeople. Patrick had caught a market wave by listening to social media feedback. He now posts on Facebook every day--specials and stand-bys.  

     Feedback from social media can help small businesses stay on top of current trends and grow. When you listen, people are more likely to tell you things you will not hear in person from them. Sometimes it takes reading between the lines of comments, but the feedback is there.

     Look at social media as a promotional tool. It's fast, and it's cheap--free in most cases. Success comes only when you use it, and that's up to you. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Planning your future

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     Every small business needs a road map into its future. If you are driving to a distant city, you will do well to consult a map--it will tell you which fork in the road to take. Likewise, you deserve the many benefits that a business plan can give you.

     Business plans force you to face your future. It becomes a sounding board for you as you move forward. It can help you stay on track, moving toward that successful operation you have in mind. It can help you put all the day-to-day distractions into a longer range perspective.

     To get started on your business plan, you need to do some work. If you need an outline of a business plan, do a search "Business plans" on the net. Some are free. Others are come-ons to get you to buy in to additional services. Go for the freebie.

     A business plan basically boils down to the expected market for your goods and services. Without selling into a market, you don't have a business. Defining the market and the expected sales to that market is the place to begin--everything else depends on this. 

     Who are your target clients/customers? How will you attract them to your business? What is the present and projected competition? How will you price your products/services? How much will they spend? Why will they keep coming back? What other market questions pertain to your business--and your future?

     Answers to market questions must be turned into numbers. A business plan is much more than words. When you turn all your wordy answers into numbers, reality sets in. Numbers bring brutal honesty.

     This is not to disparage intuition. Sometimes, you can feel in your gut a market developing. You want to serve and exploit the possibilities. But translating your intuition into hard numbers can put a better face on your business plan. And save you from disasters.

     Only when the numbers work do you proceed to put your plan into operation. If the numbers identify a glitch, solve it before proceeding.

     Example: You might identify a market segment that works on paper, but it is not big enough to justify going entirely in that direction. It might be a sideline or an additional source of revenue but not much of a business in itself. If this emerges on paper with the numbers, then you don't want to head off entirely in that direction. Sidelines can be important in any business, and they might develop into full businesses in the future, but it's a watch-and-wait proposition. 

          Many people in small business try to plan in their heads. This is a mistake. Getting your plan out of your head and onto paper will identify paths and problems that you won't otherwise think about. 




Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Searching for loans

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     Every business needs funding to expand and grow. Some businesses generate excess cash internally and use it to gradually get bigger. Others go outside for a loan.

     Small banks have traditionally been there when you needed them. They were the go-to place for expansion funding. That's changed. New and onerous regulations have put many community banks out of business, and those that survive are reluctant and wary--because of the regulations imposed by the federal government. 

     Technology is galloping to the rescue. Players other than small banks have moved into the loan market. There are today dozens of lenders who are anxious to lend money--either to you personally or to your business.

     Example: Lending Club does personal loans up to $35,000 and business loans up to $300,000. This is not some questionable upstart--it has a history dating back more than 5 years. Lending Club is a peer-to-peer lender that made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange back in December, 2014. It is an online marketplace that puts people like you in front of prospective investors. You agree to a fixed rate for 1 to 5 years of monthly repayments. The funding agreed to shows up in your bank account in a few days. You apply online and get approval in as little as a few minutes. Yes, fees are involved and an interest rate applies, but these can be less than you pay on credit cards. This is not a recommendation; rather, it is a possibility for you to thoroughly check out before taking any plunge. Go to for more. 

     Example: Another possibility is Prosper Marketplace. This company offers fixed rate unsecured loans from $2,000 to $35,000 with a 3 to 5 year payback. Rates and choices can vary depending on your situation. There is an online application and turnaround is faster than you might expect from your local bank. Again, this is not a recommendation; rather, it is a possibility for you to thoroughly check out before agreeing to anything. For more information, go to

     Example: There are is another online lender providing loans to small and medium-sized businesses only. For others, do a search "Business Loans" and check them out. All of them will check you out.

     Whatever you decide, make certain that the path forward fits into your long-range business plan. Using credit cards to fund your business, for example, is a bad idea. 

     Any lender will want confidence in you and your plan for the future. So, do your business plan--showing that you will be able to repay the loan.      

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hiring a new employee

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     New employees need to be trained. You can train a person to do just about anything. What you look for is someone who knows how to apply himself/herself to the tasks at hand, comes to work on time, has an interest in what they are doing, and shows self discipline and integrity.

     You are always short-handed. Never do you have all the help you could use. So you tend to do everything yourself.

     But you can be overwhelmed. It's causing you stress, you don't get enough sleep, and you could use a vacation--never an option when you are operating a small business.

     If you cannot afford to add a full time employee, consider a part timer. High school and college students always need a little extra money. Hire one for 4 hours a day. Retirees also can use more money and many want to remain active. Hire one for part time--they make good employees.

     You might consider bringing in an intern. Not every business is appropriate for an intern. But a law office, a chef, an insurance agency, a small advertising firm, even a grower of plants and others can bring interns into their business. Interns work for the experience and little pay is involved. It helps you and it helps them. To find someone, talk with your local vocational schools. 

     If you decide to add a full time employee, consider the position carefully. This is an opportunity for you to extend yourself. It's a time to carve out those activities that take up lots of your time and turn them over to the new person. Or, it's a time to bring in new talent--someone who can do things that you don't know how to do or no longer want to do. In this case, write down the things that you expect the new person to do--be specific and discuss it with them so they get off on the right footing.

     Whichever path you take--part timers, interns, or full time employees--you are extending yourself. Then, you can concentrate on the parts of the business that you enjoy and the parts that are critical to the future of the business. Extending yourself allows you--and the business--to grow.

     It's time to grow when you are overworked. Just make certain that your new hire fits into your long-range plans. 

          Always bring your business plan up-to-date before hiring anyone. That new employee must fit into your business plan.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Space size and location

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     Every business needs space to operate. Even a virtual business conducted entirely on the Internet requires a place somewhere that anchors the business.

     I'm not talking about making calls and contacts as you sip a latte in the local cafe--you still need a space somewhere else. Setting aside a corner of a room at home can suffice, but some small businesses require a warehouse to house the goods they hope to sell. 

     Location: Some businesses can be run out of your garage. Others benefit from a high traffic location. Still others are unique enough that your clients/customers will seek you out, no matter where you are located. And then there are those that only ship--filling incoming orders.

     Consider locating or expanding your sporting goods shop in a farmer's country barn. A used car lot might benefit from being located on a busy thoroughfare, but a travel agency can attract people to a website in your home office. A frozen yogurt operation can do well on a small town's Main Street or in a mall, but a shop that repairs machines can be located in a rural area.

     Two things are of major importance when considering location--your business plan for the future and pertinent zoning regulations. Is there a location impact in your plans? Is the neighborhood in transition--where is it headed? Are there plans afoot to raze the building in 3 or 5 years? Talking with a local real estate professional can provide some answers.

     Size: Some business owners walk into a prospective space, make an intuitive guesstimate about the size, and sign on the dotted line. A much more prudent approach is to look to your business plan for clues.

     If you are opening a coffee shop, cafe or restaurant, what's the number of tables you need to generate the income you've projected in your business plan? What percentage of the tables can you fill? If you are performing accounting services for clients, how much space do you need as you grow and hire additional employees? 

     If you are a therapist or chiropractor planning to expand into a wellness center in the future, can this space accommodate those plans? Will you need open spaces? A big reception area? A series of offices? Will you be able to expand here or will you be searching again in 3 years?

     Homing in on space size and location is important to your future. It goes to how big a market you plan to serve, how you will attract your clients and customers, who they are and where. 

     All of these considerations flow from your business plan. And your business plan depends first and foremost on the market out there.   

Friday, January 15, 2016

Your daily hustle simplified

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     It began many years ago when I was in college. To pay my way, I always had two or three part time jobs. Classes were mornings, so I had the rest of the day to earn my way.

     At some point I began keeping a handwritten list of things to be done. It was always with me. As I thought of things, they went on the list. As the list sometimes grew, I began keeping a list for today and another for later.

     I found it very useful. I didn't have to clutter up my thinking trying to remember all the things facing me. I simply consulted my list, checking off things done and adding additional items as they occurred to me. A quick jot on my list and I moved on to more important things.

     Keeping a daily list organizes you--and your day. It frees up your thinking to concentrate of other things--like being creative, dreaming, planning, thinking through ideas. The daily grind is kept in strict perspective. Meeting schedules becomes a breeze.

     Joining Corporate America after college, my daily list grew. It included items with a star beside some of them. These were things important to the boss. They took priority. My desk was a mess, but my list was very organized. And it organized me.

     When I left Corporate America and set up my own business, that's when the list came to full maturity. Follow up with a customer. Meet the banker. Update insurance coverage. Do some tax planning with my accountant. Order supplies. Interview a prospective employee. Take out the trash.

     I began keeping a weekly list--in addition to the daily. Attend a network meeting on Wednesday. Meet a new client on Friday for breakfast. Call three new suppliers and home in on one to deal with.

     In your business, the lists you keep become a record. All the dates exist in papers you've collected, but your list pulls everything together in one place.Yes, these days you can keep lists on some electronic device, but the electric goes down, the batteries need charging, the thing can crash on you and you're left hanging.

     Retired now, I still keep handwritten lists. I don't worry about viruses or breakdowns or the electric disappearing. Critical things to do today get checked off as I consult my daily list two or three times every day. 

     No matter how you do it, get the crap out of your head and onto a list. You'll then have more time to think about the important things. Free up some brain cells to dream about next year--instead of increasing your stress trying to remember what is waiting your attention.

     A daily list is a good way to collect information you'll need for your business plan. No mistake about it, you need a business plan.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Your business core

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     Businesses have a way of pulling you in various directions. No matter what you operate, you will be tempted to head off down a side road.

     More people are turning to therapy to achieve weight reduction, so should a nutritionist go off in that direction? More people are looking for healthy meals, so should you turn your cafe into only farm fresh, vegetarian meals? 

     You created your business using your dream. That dream is your core. Messing with it can destroy your business. Be careful.

     Example: Jennie opened a bakery. She was inspired by the looks of kids when they sampled her brownies. Her baking passion caused her to expand into high-end, high priced cakes. It was a good move. The business thrived because she took advantage of a market that was ripe for the taking. But she missed the children's faces. She kept the high-end cake part of her business, but she brought back the brownies and added cookies. One evening each week, Jennie holds an open house. Kids are invited to sample the goodies at no charge. Their parents buy more to take home, and they remember Jennie when they need a high-end cake.

     If you move away from your business core, you are leaving something behind. Maybe you can incorporate a new direction with the old direction and be the better for it.

     Example: Josh is an environmental engineer. Frequently, he gets caught up in the lengthy permitting process for a project. Getting permits in place means keeping abreast of all the local regulations and permits, and this sapped his time and energy. He decided to put part of the process onto his clients--he began requiring them to go for permits and deal with the local bureaucracies. This left Josh with more time to devote to his first love--environmental engineering. But clients resisted his new procedures, and he lost some work because of it. He did a U-turn and, again, as before, began offering to handle the whole project, end to end.

     What saves you time can weigh heavily on your customers. Changing the way you offer your goods and services can have dire consequences in the marketplace. People know what they want, and they come to you to provide it.

     Your business core is who you are. You can grow, expand and even go off in a new direction. Just be careful messing with your original dream.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Beyond the daily grind

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     You've done it. I've done it. It happens to everyone, all the time.

     We tend to pigeonhole each other. We remember Judy who leads the meditation classes. But she is also an expert massage therapist. Who knew?

     Running your business, you must guard against this. Your clients and customers tend to remember you for one thing only. While everything you do might be related, you need to point it out.

     It's a problem. You must tell, remind, inform and otherwise educate your customers and clients. If you don't, they might not think to call you when they need another service that you offer.

     Example: You hired a web designer and you were pleased with the result. Then you needed someone to set you up on social media sites. So you called your web designer and asked for a referral. That's when he told you, "I can do that." You had thought of your web designer in only one way. And he had not informed you of the other things he did.

     Example: Clients depend on your accounting firm to handle their taxes. But they are not aware that your firm also helps business owners prepare for the eventual sale of the business. You must remind them from time to time that you have additional expertise. When the time comes that they need your other services, you get the call.

     Example: Regular diners are happy with the healthy meals they enjoy at your small restaurant. But they forget that you also run a catering operation. When they need to prepare for that corporate meeting, they call a caterer. You've missed an opportunity because you did not remind them that you also cater events.

     Reminding people of all the things that your business does should be on you do-do list. If you depend on them to remember that you can cater their next meeting, then you are depending on them to do your selling for you. 

     A gentle mention, tucked into another conversation, can be a valuable part of keeping your customers and clients informed. And coming back.

     Get beyond your daily grind. It's not enough to provide your customers and clients with what they want at the moment. Remind them of all the things you can do for them. 


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Freebie promotions

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          to help you better manage your small business

     No matter how many times you hear the "free" word, it moves you. It is a magic word that people in small business can use to attract attention.

     You hear it and read it all the time. But you don't have to sell on television or mobile devices to take advantage of the "free" word.

     Example: Any small business can offer free workshops, seminars, demonstrations, information sessions, open houses, and the like. People are hungry for information and will attend free sessions. Chiropractors can explain just what chiropractic is--and offer short free demonstrations. Music and dance studios can show just what classical, modern, hip hop and jazz dancing is all about. Restaurants can hold cooking sessions. Accountants can talk about taxes--always a concern for small business and the general public. Any food place can offer a "free" sample table.

      Example: A fitness operation or massage therapist can set up free demos and introductory sessions. People attend, discuss, ask questions and perhaps sign up. The same holds for yoga and it is an hour well spent by the business owner. Even if no one signs up, a good impression is made--and the word spreads in the community. 

     Example: Many construction outfits and home improvement businesses charge a fee for an estimate. The company's reasoning is that it costs them to send out an estimator. In today's world, this can leave a bad impression. People expect estimates for free. Put the word out that your estimates are free--and emphasize it. This just might be the edge that gets a new customer to call you instead of your competitor.

     Use social media to get the "free" words out there. More will be passed around among friends, and this can get you referrals. 

     Freebie promotions should be part of your promotions. Promotions that include the word "free" work better than those that don't. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Networking promotions

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

     Networking expands your business reach. You find more clients and customers at networking sessions.

     A networking meeting brings together business people, owners, professionals, and others in the community. You build a network of people who get to know you and what you do.

     Many networking groups exist. Some are local undertakings, others are local chapters of international groups. Look for networking groups in your area. Check the local chamber of commerce, and check out groups listed on

     If you don't find one to your liking, start a networking group of your own. It's easier than you might imagine.

     Example: Ralph is a chiropractor who runs a wellness center. He has been expanding over the past several years--adding a nutritionist and healthy foods experts, a certified hypnotist who does classes in weight management, a massage therapist, and more. Ralph tried several networking groups and was disappointed in all of them. They were too structured or they were to limited or they charged too much for the benefits realized. He decided to hold his own networking sessions at his place. He put the word out on social media, and he set up his own site on Once each month, his place is filled with local business people and professionals anxious for a relaxed evening out, meeting new people, discussing problems--while having a little refreshment. Ralph gets local caterers, bakers, cafes and others to furnish hors d'oeuvres and other goodies for the monthly meeting. There is no cost to Ralph, and it gives them exposure they otherwise would not have.

     Many businesses have space available to accommodate a small group. Restaurants, wellness centers, fitness centers, music centers, artists' studios and others have space enough for a small networking meeting. 

     Networking sessions are not places to sell your goods and services. They can expand your sphere of influence, however. And they get you referrals. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

See to your window dressing

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

     Small shops and stores have opportunities not available to online operations. It's the window they have on the street.

     Dressed up windows get attention. Drivers slow down when a decorated window catches their attention. Strollers on the sidewalk stop, look and come inside. 

     Window dressing is becoming more important than ever. We are seeing more and more millennials opting for apartments and homes in small towns and cities. They are foregoing the flight to the suburbs. And they are supporting the small shops and stores within walking distance.

     Example: Bill runs a small cafe on a town street busy with foot traffic. He deliberately set up his kitchen in the front window. People walking down the sidewalk are suddenly confronted with Bill and his helper busily preparing meals--just beyond the big plate glass window. People stop, watch, and are suddenly hungry. Bill has successfully turned his cafe into entertainment--a marketing strategy that can work in many businesses.

     Example: Greta runs an upscale consignment shop specializing in "gently worn" women's fashions. Consignments come from professionals, executives, and women in the entertainment field. Dresses, gowns, outfits, coats, boots, handbags, jewelry and other accessories fill her shop. Greta changes her shop's window at least twice each week. She takes pictures of the window, including close-ups, showing detail and labels, and she posts them on Facebook daily. Greta does no traditional advertising. She uses only her window and Facebook to enjoy success.

     Example: Lisa runs a high-end gift shop. She offers handmade items from artists and artisans. She changes her shop's windows once each week, highlighting new items. The streets of this small town are full of window shoppers--they work and live here, they come from nearby towns and cities. In Lisa's shop, they browse through pottery and glass items, small furniture and turned wood sculptures, jewelry and fiber art, and hundreds of other items. Frequently, Lisa clears out one window and invites an artist to set up an easel and create a painting--this always draws a crowd. Pictures go up on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and other social media. This is the extent of her advertising. 

     Turn your store's window into the focus of your business. This is where you connect with the community, the passing parade. Extend the window's reach by using social media.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Growing with Facebook

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

     If you are not using Facebook to grow your small business, you are missing a big opportunity. Facebook is easy to use and you don't have to pay for it. 

     Promotions on Facebook begin with putting your small business up on the Facebook site. They lead you through it--and it is simple. Then, start uploading pictures--you're snapping pictures all the time, aren't you?

     Pictures attract attention. They don't have to be professionally done. But they should be interesting--a close-up of a slice of cake if you are a baker, a street scene if you're a cafe, a new product you're offering. Even attorneys can announce free sessions on writing wills. You get the idea.

     You post a picture on Facebook with a few words and you're done with your promotion for the day. Posting once a month won't get much return. But if you post two or three times a week, the response can be significant. It all depends on your picture--it needs to grab eyeballs. 

     Example: An upscale consignment shop specializes in fashionable women's clothing. A manikin is dressed in every outfit or dress or coat that comes in. A picture goes up on the shop's Facebook page. Handbags are shown with a close-up of the label. Boots and scarves and sweaters and more show up on the Facebook pages every week. The shop attracts widespread attention. Women call and reserve items to be picked up later, or they rush by after their workday. Facebook has helped turn this consignment shop into a destination. People "like" the page and pass it on to their friends and acquaintances. Referrals come in. 

     Example: A massage therapist posts pictures of hands working on clients--never showing a face. Pictures of hands massaging shoulders, necks, arms and legs trigger all sorts of responses from people seeing the pictures on Facebook. The response is more calls for more appointments from more people. 

     Example: Retail operations can show pictures of new products, new items being used, along with announcements of sales, discounts, gift certificates, and events set for weekends. Close-ups of jewelry, potted plants, baked goods, clothing, a deck under construction, and just about any other item can get a response on Facebook. When you run out of things to photograph, take pictures of pets. No matter your business, puppies and kittens always attract attention--and get passed around. 

     People in small business need all the publicity they can get--especially when it is free. Take advantage of what Facebook offers. No matter the business you're in, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how well Facebook can promote what you do.

     Facebook is one of the best promotional tools for small business. And, just to make it clear, I have nothing to gain by recommending Facebook. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Managing your small business

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          to help you better manage your small business

     Managing a small business is difficult. The basic problem stems from your being too close to the actual work. In fact, you might be the only employee, so everything falls in your lap.

     You handle sales, production, customer service, ordering materials and supplies, scheduling and everything else that comes up. Then, you turn off the lights and take out the trash.

     The head of a big company has other people to handle all these pieces of the operation. To use an analogy, the head of a corporation is like the conductor of a symphony orchestra. The strings and woodwinds and percussion players play their individual parts, and the conductor puts it all together to the delight of an audience--or customers.

     That might be you one day. Meantime, your small business is you. You play all the parts and put it all together.

     To manage your small business so that it grows in an orderly fashion, you must pay attention to planning ahead. Planning turns growth into an orderly process. Planning sets milestones to help you know you're on the right track.

     First, set your long term goal. This can take some soul-searching on your part. A massage therapist, for example, can set a long term goal of growing into a wellness center--offering lots of different therapies.

     Second, set some milestones that, over time, will head your small business toward that long term goal. This is a matter of working backward from the long term goal to where you are now. Tie your milestones to target dates in the future A plumber, for example, might set a milestone in the future to add another service van and another employee.

     Third, each milestone will require that you answer certain questions. Will the consumer market you serve support each of your milestones? What effect will technology play? Will you need outside funding or can you grow using only internally-generated funds? Can you use a business partner? Will you need additional space, equipment, employees, or other inputs? Can your business growth pay for all this? 

     Fourth, turn all this into hard numbers for each milestone with a projected date. Make certain that projected income from your projected sales efforts more than covers projected expenses. This can be difficult. But numbers have a way of turning idle dreams into hard realities. 

     There you have it. You have just created your business plan, your road map to your future. It is the way you manage your business.

     Planning ahead helps you sleep at night--after you take out the trash and turn off the lights. 


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Fast casual food take out

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     to help you better manage your small business

     Restaurants and cafes are difficult to operate. Many start-ups do not survive. It is a tough business. 

     Today's owners of restaurants and cafes are noting a new trend. It's not just a quick sandwich you pick up at the health food store. It's more like fast casual, like a whole meal to go. It's take out carried to the next level. 

     You can attract new customers if you offer fast food take out. You create dinners designed around popular menu items, and you offer these as fast casual, or take out. You relieve customers of the chore of going home and preparing a meal. 

     Example: Gustav noticed that take out was becoming more than take out. People called to order a meal that would be ready when they arrived. They would pick it up and head home to feed the family waiting on dinner. Gustav expanded his take out menu and he posted pictures of mouth-watering meals on Facebook with a simple caption: "Everything here is home made." Interest exploded. Gustav had tapped into the growing trend of people demanding fast casual meals--to eat at home.

     Example: Miranda runs a small cafe, serving only breakfast and lunch. Responding to several customer requests, Miranda began offering home cooked dinners for them to pick up and enjoy at home. She began by offering one entree, prepared and ready to pick up between 4 and 6 p.m. each day. This expanded her restaurant into the dinner meal preparation, but she does not serve dinners at the restaurant. This held costs down, but expanded her business. When she began tailoring meals to customer's desires, she expanded even more--these included gluten-free meals, sugar-free preparations and vegetarian dishes. "It's like having your own personal chef," reads the caption on her Facebook picture postings. 

     The take out food concept has of course been popular for a very long time. It is a perfectly designed concept, however, when you use it to help people avoid home preparation of meals--especially when you emphasize the home cooked idea. 

     And I didn't mention pizza once.

     Tap into the fast casual "home made" food market. You are using yesterday's take out idea--updated to today's interests and needs. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Increasing your sales

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

     The days of the hard sell are long gone. Yesterday's used car salesman is dead and on the way to being forgotten. 

     Social media has turned people loose. Today, it's all about the buyer, not the thing being sold. Services and products have become almost an afterthought. It's all about "How can you help me?"

     People today search out ways to meet their interests--just like they always have. But the ways and means differ. Older conversations across the picket fence have been replaced by likes and tweets and selfies. 

     Brands are still important. Those enjoying success, however, have now taken on a new dimension. It's not about what's being sold. It's about who's buying. 

     Pushing a product or service today has more to do with the pushee, not the pusher. Big business has been a big pusher in the past. Today, the siren song they sing is more likely to reflect the target's tune. 

     People in small business have always done this. It's because they are closer to their clients and customers. Today, the space between them has been reduced even more. Small business is truly a community player.

     Owners of small businesses answer the concerns of their clients and customers. After all, they are usually standing face to face.

     Social media has brought buyer and seller even closer together. Social media gets them up close and personal. The distance between pusher and pushee has been revolutionized by social media. 

     Small businesses have been quick to understand the promotional power of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and all the others bring large numbers of people together, becoming better informed and educated and more anxious to participate.

     Get the information out there, and the product or service will follow. Clients and customers already know the brands. They are now drilling down to match their interests with your products and services. Social media fills the gap between your website and the sale. 

    Branding is still important, but your small business is its own brand. Selling is all about who's buying. It ain't the product or service.  

Friday, January 1, 2016

Leave corporate, start your own

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

     Many people dream of leaving the corporate world to start a small business of their own. It's a big move, and it takes careful planning.

     Before you jump, do your homework. Jane simply resigned her position at a big corporation, rented a store and began selling chocolates. It was a hard lesson learned--she failed. In her second business, Jane did lots of careful planning before she began selling chocolates using her website and social media--without a shop. She had better luck.

     Home in on your interest. A small business can be built around any interest you might have--collectibles, food, clothing, artworks, consulting, design, wellness, the list is endless. Any interest represents a market.

     Study the market. No business survives without clients/customers. Who are they? How many can you attract? Why will they spend with you? What is your competition--and how can you beat it? How can you use social media to promote and build your business? 

     Get a part time job. Target the industry where you'll be starting your business. Get some experience in the trenches. Study eBay and Amazon before opening a store. Help out at a greenhouse before you begin growing plants for sale.

     Write up a plan. You can plan in your head, but writing it down forces you to create a step-by-step process. A written plan gets your priorities sorted out. Then, reduce everything to bottom line numbers. Numbers force reality. Total sales less expenses tells you if you are healthy.

     Get a handle on funding. No matter what you do, you will need money--to get started, to get the business off the ground, and to survive for a year or two. Do you self-fund? Borrow from Aunt Sallie? Get a loan from a bank? Go for crowd funding? Will the business generate enough bottom line cash to pay your salary AND support future growth? 

     Longer term planning. Look ahead to future retirement and fit your business into this thinking. Can you eventually sell the business? Can you keep the business running in your golden years? Are you planning to establish the first of many franchised operations? 

     Leaving corporate and starting your own business is a big move. Corporate America and Small Business America occupy different planets, speak different languages, require different attitudes. Do your homework upfront and you can avoid some pitfalls later. 

     In small business, you are the juggler of...everything. And the most important thing you juggle is planning ahead. Neglect planning and you are flying blind.