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 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 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. 


Friday, February 5, 2016

Getting paid on time

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     If you run a service business or small manufacturing operation, you do the work and then you wait to be paid. The wait can be long. Meanwhile, your payroll and other bill continue.

     It's particularly frustrating if you are dealing with large companies. They have procedures, and your bills can languish in the bowels of their accounts payable departments. 

     You can do some things to speed up the payments process. Here are three things I have used myself in businesses I've operated.

     1. Change your terms. Offer a discount for payment within a short period of time. I've used 2% discount if paid within 10 days. When invoices arrive at a company's accounts payable department, those with discounts get quicker attention. For you, it's a way of using their system to prioritize payment of your invoice. 2%-30 days also works well.

     2. Set up progress payments. This method depends on the business. If you are providing significant inputs of labor and materials to accomplish a job that stretches over time, set up contractual milestones that trigger partial payments as the work progresses. As project phases are completed, send appropriate invoices, referencing the negotiated agreement. I've used this in a printing operation where big jobs could stretch out over several weeks. Construction businesses use this all the time, as do consultants in various fields.

     3. Develop a close relationship with the contact you deal with in a big company. This is key. The contact might be a low level manager or a senior vice president. But if you're not being paid in a timely manner, a face-to-face conversation with your contact in the big company can put pressure to get your invoice paid. Calls to the accounts payable department will be of little value in resolving a problem--or, in some cases, a friendly call might be of great help. 

     I once had a serious conversation with a senior vice president of a major corporation about this. His company was three months in arrears and still ordering. He had approval authority and he would sign off on invoices and forward them to the accounts payable people. There, my invoices would linger. In our conversation, I told him that I was continuing to provide services, but it amounted to providing financing to his company. He suddenly understood and corrected the situation.

     In a way, my small business was providing financing for his big company. By not paying my invoices, they were in effect getting a loan from me. Big companies do this to small suppliers, the thinking being that they can easily replace small suppliers with others clamoring for the business. Meanwhile, the bottom line of the big company looks better. 

          Getting paid quickly is crucial to the health of your small business.                  Never yell, but use quiet pressure to get paid on time.   

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Holidays for everyone

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     Employees expect paid holidays. But in today's world, it can mean problems for a business. Just which holidays are paid?

     Years ago I knew a business owner who solved the problem in a very unique way. As his business grew from 5 to 10 and then from 10 to 20 employees, the people he hired represented different ethnic groups and backgrounds. His business was open 7 days, 365 days a year, and he had everyone working together like a well-oiled machine--except for the holidays.

     The company started out in the 1970s with 9 paid holidays--all designated. The business was open on these days and there was always a scramble as to who would be working. The holidays were New Year's Day, President's Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition, the company paid 3 personal days each calendar year. All in all, there were 12 days off with pay each year (not counting sick days or vacation days). 

     As the years went by, the business grew, and complaints about the holidays began to roll in. A Jewish man wanted to take Jewish holidays. An employee from Egypt wanted Islamic holidays. An African-American wanted to take off on Martin Luther King Day. A Chinese guy wondered why he had to take off any holiday. An atheist refused to take off Easter and Christmas. And a Buddhist wanted to take off on his birthday.

     The owner of the business solved the problem in a very unique way. The company dropped all holidays, leaving no official ones. Instead, every employee was entitled to, and paid for, 12 personal days during each calendar year. They could be taken no more than two days together, and at least one week's notice had to be given in writing. The 12 days could be taken or not--if not taken, they were not carried forward into the next year.

     The solution tossed the holiday problem squarely into the employee's lap. Interestingly, some of the loudest requests for religious holidays are now spent elsewhere during the calendar year. One employee began taking Groundhog's Day and another opted for Halloween. 

     You might consider this option in your own business. Whatever you do, however, make certain you are in compliance with all the regulations coming at you these days. 

     Contrary to popular belief, business owners do not get any time off. You carry your worries with you wherever you go. While the lawyers and busybodies who write the rules relax on Memorial Day, you are hard at work. 


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Listening expands your biz

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     Sometimes an idea to expand your small business comes at you from an unexpected direction. Even after you do careful thought and planning, good expansion ideas are where you find them.

     Listen carefully to your current clients and customers. They can point you in a completely new direction. Of course, you always listen to them. But do you listen carefully? 

     Example: Mary runs a salon and spa. When she noticed that many of her clients were undergoing cancer treatments, she felt badly for them and wanted to help. She decided to add oncology esthetician services. After doing a search, she found an independent certified esthetician and made arrangements to offer the service at her place. Mary had expanded the services she offered, and it attracted additional people. When she posted the service on Facebook, many more arrived.

     Example: Alex runs a landscaping business. He did lots of fall cleanup, winter pruning, spring planting, and year-round mulching. Many of his customers had questions about shrubs and perennials that Alex could not answer. He thought that this might be an area for expanding, so he contacted a garden center. They came to a partnership understanding and each began offering the other's services. Alex now has a bigger base of customers and regularly refers people to the garden center. He is now expanding into building gates and fences, laying brick and stone to create walkways and seating areas. The relationship with the garden center has been greatly beneficial to both.

     Example: Law school and the bar exam behind her, Sue opened her own law office. She found herself handling traffic tickets, real estate closings, drawing up wills, and doing business partnership agreements. When a client asked about worker's comp, Sue saw an opportunity. She began concentrating on worker's comp cases, and she soon found it necessary to add a partner to her growing firm to handle all the work. Her reputation is growing and referrals regularly show up at her door. She has now become the go-to lawyer for worker's comp cases.  

     New directions for your business come at you all the time. Pick the good ones, test them out, and select the best.

          Before heading off in a new direction, always do the numbers for your            business plan. It's that projected bottom line that keeps you focused.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Cause promotions

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     Cause promoting, or cause marketing, is not new. Small businesses have been helping local causes ever since they first supplied uniforms to local ball teams. 

     Small businesses improve their reputation and sales efforts by supporting local causes. Cause promoting is not only the right thing to do, it's good for business--spreading the word out into the community. 

     Examples: It's the local veterinarian who sponsors pet adoptions once a month. It's the local restaurant that opens up its party room to local charitable events. It's the local fitness center that sponsors a Walkathon for the benefit of cancer survivors. It's the local health food store that brings the Bloodmobile to its front door once each month. It's the local dentist who pays kids to bring in all the Halloween candy they've received. It's the local bakery that donates food to local food banks.

     Big corporations put together big cause marketing campaigns to sell more product and enhance the company's image. Pink campaigns are so prevalent that the word "pink" has become synonymous with breast cancer research. Every time you see the word, you think about the contribution being made to a good cause. 

     Even small businesses have jumped at the chance to become part of local "pink" campaigns. Funds raised go to cancer research, and the reputation of the small business spreads in the community. 

     When CVS announced a campaign to remove all tobacco products from their pharmacies, the company's reputation was spread by the media--amounting to free advertising. CVS got widespread free publicity and improved the company's image in this cause marketing effort. 

     Small businesses are an integral part of the community they serve. It's a natural extension of that idea for businesses to be involved in cause promoting. Help the community and your small business is helped at the same time. 

     If your business is among the examples, you have a starting point. If not, put on your thinking cap and find a way to promote your business with cause promotions. 

     Cause promotions must be themselves promoted. Post your cause promotion on social media--it's easy and free. Cause promotions put a positive spin on your business and bring you some new people.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Easy, cheaper ways to promote

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     Promote inexpensively to grow and expand your business. Gone are the days when it cost an arm and a leg to advertise. 

     Here are three easy and inexpensive ways to promote. Reduce your advertising budget and use the cash for other things.

     Social media: Much of social media is free. You don't have to buy an advertisement in order to take advantage of the power of social media. Facebook is a very good example. Many small businesses have jumped on the Facebook bandwagon to spread the word about their products and services. You'll need pictures, but you're snapping pictures all the time anyway. Pictures posted need not be professional. A closeup of a decorated cake will certainly attract attention, as well as a bouquet of flowers, a piece of jewelry, a trendy new outfit. More than Facebook is waiting for you to explore--Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and more. All of these can direct attention--and new buyers--to your business. You should have a website, and it should be up to date.

     Events: People are hungry for information, and you are expert at what you do. Put these two together, and you can promote your business very inexpensively. Hold an open house and give free demos and explain the benefits of acupuncture, massage, yoga, healthy diets, or whatever it is you offer. Hold informational meetings at clubs, senior centers, non-profit group meetings and other gatherings. Computer experts can advise dealing with viruses and how to recover from a crash. Accountants can explain new tax laws. Attorneys can advise what to do when you get sued. Chiropractors explain the benefits of chiropractic and answer all the questions. 

     Classes: Classes can take the public's hunger for information to the next level. Schedule a series of classes for beginners and another series for advanced students. Bakers teach cake baking and decorating. Potters teach throwing pots and making glazes. Accountants teach people how to simplify record-keeping. Landscapers teach garden design and how to lay pavers for walkways and seating areas. Any business can schedule classes evenings and weekends when people have free time. Attendees will pay you for classes, help spread the word about your business, and bring in referrals.

     Promotions can cost next to nothing. Of course, you'll be spending your time and maybe coffee and cookies. But social media, events and classes cost less than print ads. And the argument can be made that these are more effective.   

     Social media has revolutionized advertising. You might still use print ads, mailers, and other things that still have appeal. But don't neglect the elephant in the room--social media.