You have to do more than just, BE THERE.

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In today’s world, there is a lot of noise in the marketplace. For that reason, your business has to do more than just BE in the marketplace. You must stand out, rise above the noise and get noticed. How do we do this?  Here are a few things to consider:

Be clear about why you are different

Consumers can choose to spend their money with you or a competitor. What are you doing that is compelling enough to make the customer come to your door over the other choices? Be different! Do things in such a way that it would seem crazy for the customer to go anywhere else. Once you know what makes you different, own it, protect it and make sure you can communicate it effectively. If you cannot articulate your value proposition, you will simply blend in.

Find the tactics that work best with your target market

Your client base make not take kindly to a highly animated, screaming salesperson trying to sell cars every weekend.  They may be more receptive to a quiet email newsletter or a radio spot during the morning commute.  You have to know what resonates with your target market and learn to use it effectively.  A great message about what makes you different is lost if it can’t be delivered at the right time and in the right format. Find out where your customers “hang out” and be there.

Don’t just BE, be useful!

Many businesses simply try to outsell the competition. They try to have more sales, better sales, lower prices, bigger giveaways and the list goes on. And while this works sometimes, you clients become programmed to wait until you are giving away your services before they will buy. Rarely does this create loyalty. Instead, be a resource. Be a useful source of information about your product or service. Publish how-to articles, provide industry news and support local community events. Your clients will grow to seek you out when they have a question or need advice.  Sales will follow.

The next time you have a chance to observe the activity in your market, take note of the value propositions that are getting noticed. Seek out the tactics that competitors are using to get noticed and don’t just BE. Be useful!

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How well do you know your own business?

It is a challenge to keep a small business afloat. There are regulations, customer issues, employee problems and marketing short-falls that cause daily angst. The average business owner struggles not only with the fires they face daily but also the unknown “gotchas” they haven’t discovered yet.  So, how do you minimize the stress? Knowledge!  Always be focused on learning.

Know Your Customer

When is the last time you really sat down with a customer and just listened to their observations about your business and the challenges they are facing in their daily life? You should always be on the lookout for opportunities to speak to customers and learn things like how they perceive your marketing, what causes them to buy your product over the competition, what they don’t like about your operations. The more in touch you are with your customer, the more effective you will be with marketing and the more successful your product or service will be.

Know your Competition

Many entrepreneurs get a sick feeling when a new competitor comes to town or an old competitor scores a big win. However, both of these situations are actually positives. They point to a market that truly needs your product or service. Instead of losing sleep over the competition’s success, use their win to increase your knowledge. How did they win that new client? What marketing was used to reach the customer? Why did the new competitor choose the location they did? What can I do to capitalize on the surge in market interest my competitor is generating?  The answer to these questions and more will help position your business to be the market leader for your product or service.

Know your Numbers

You can’t manage what you don’t measure as they say.  The financials in your business measure the effectiveness of your efforts as a business owner. Sit down with your financials at least monthly. Compare this month to last. This quarter and this year to last year. If the trends you see are not favorable, dig deeper. What caused the negative trend? Can you pinpoint an operational or marketing event that caused a peak or valley?  Is it possible to avoid the negative or duplicate the positive event? Many small businesses do not keep reliable financial data. If the business survives, in most cases, the owner is working harder than they need to and spending more than required to get the results they are experiencing. Knowledge of your numbers will help you work smarter, not harder.

It seems cliche but, knowledge is power. Especially in business.  The more you know, the fewer your mistakes and the more effective you will be with your time and resources.

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How creative is your marketing?

We all can agree there is a lot of “noise” out there. No matter what market you are in, it is hard to put together a message that resonates with your target market.

So, what are you doing to be creative? What is your best marketing idea? If your idea is simply a different flavor of what everyone else is doing, you will not get the attention you are seeking.

Think bigger!  Get more creative.  Big, creative ideas don’t have to be expensive, they just have to rise above the noise.  Here are a few examples to get your thoughts going:

  • A local CPA firm offers to do free tax returns for single mothers and widows.
  • A barber shop owner offers haircuts to friends of their clientele if that person is going on a job interview and can’t afford it.
  • A website design company offers free classes on how to only buy what is needed for a basic DIY website.
  • Take on a cause worth supporting and keep it to yourself. The message that gets out from your customers that find out about it is so much more powerful than you spreading the word.
  • A lighting company sent clients a small box of Christmas lights to, “brighten their day!”

None of these ideas cost the business owners much money but, the returns can be monumental through customer engagement. So, on your next marketing push, think differently and get creative!

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Cash flow problems? 5 ways to improve your small business cash flow…

Increasing revenues and profits are great ideas but improving cash flow makes it easier to sleep at night. (If you thought all of these (revenue, profit, cash flow) were the same, we need to talk!) Here are a few quick tips to help improve your cash position at the end of every month:
Launch a marketing campaign – If you are going to increase revenues in an effort to generate more positive cash flow, you need to get the word out. Direct-marketing focused on gaining new customers is a great way to get things started. Your marketing plan should include several direct and indirect marketing campaigns throughout the year.
Increase your prices – Chances are, the last time you walked out of a store or opened the mail, you found yourself cursing and mumbling about how prices just keep going up. The fact is, the cost of doing business changes all the time and you may need to raise your prices as well.  When was the last time you did a price-check to be sure you are staying competitive? Many entrepreneurs will go several years without raising prices because it’s too scary.  Not having cash in the bank to pay the bills is horrifying!
Upsell your existing customers – The easiest, fastest way to get more cash flowing through the company is to sell to your existing customer base.  They already know you. They trust you. And, even better, you know them and their habits. Get into your customer database and find out who is about to run out of a consumable item you sell. Wake up a client that hasn’t bought from you in a while. Reach out with a special deal for existing customers. What, no customer database? Maybe establishing a process to gather customer data is where you need to start.
Get more return from your assets – What equipment do you own that could be made more efficient? Do you have space or machinery that could be rented out to other small businesses? Are there people in your business with skills that could be marketable in other ways to your client base? Maybe your bookkeeper is also a whiz at office organization. Is that a sensible service you could add to your portfolio?
Decrease expenses – Everything mentioned to this point involves improving cash flow through increasing revenues. However, every dollar increase in revenues will have a proportional increase in expenses. If you want an immediate positive impact on cash flow, reduce expenses. Labor and cost-of-goods-sold are always an obvious place to scrutinize. Taxes can take a big bite out of your cash flow also. Are you using a tax professional or just winging it and hoping you are getting it right? The debt you carry and the recurring payments for services like insurance and long-term contracts can and should be shopped regularly to be sure you are getting the best deal and finance terms.
All this sounds so simple and yet many business owners just keep on with “business-as-usual” and waste their hard earned cash. Don’t fall into that habit.
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5% rise above the competition: Implement your strategy

Only 5% of companies execute their strategies. – Doug Dvorak

You ponder, plan, create action lists and strategies for hours. You can probably point to at least one strategic plan created for sales, operations, growth, expansion, start-up, a new product launch or hiring additional employees that you toiled over and then just set aside and went on with business-as-usual.

The good news is, your competition is probably doing the same thing.  So, if you simply focus on the plans you’ve worked hard to create, you have a great chance to move ahead of your competition.

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How do I know my marketing is working?

We need to address the question of how to know your marketing is working. You put a lot of time, money and effort into getting the message out about your business. It would be great to know if all that work is actually making an impact. So, how do we know if our message is being received?  Here are some good tests to see if you are getting it right…
Do a Networking Test – When you go to a networking opportunity, it is customary to meet new people and ask them about their business. You need to do this a LOT! However, I would also encourage you to strike up conversation with someone who already knows you and ask them to tell you about YOUR business. Listen to their description of what you do and how they position your product or service. Did they get your core message right? Is your business coming across as a unique and useful solution in the marketplace or just another company in the neighborhood?
What’s your story? – Chances are you know why you own and operate your business. You know what drives your existence and you are passionate about your mission because of something noteworthy in your past. The question is, who else knows? Customers want to connect with a person, not just be associated with a business. Is your story on your website? Ask your employees if they know how the company came to be what it is today.  Does your best customer know why you do what you do?  If you don’t have a story, people can’t connect. If they don’t connect, you are losing out on a golden opportunity for them to spread the message to others.
Do you stand out in the crowd? – Differentiation is crucial to sustainable success in any market. I ask clients with products, “If I saw your product from across the room, or on a crowded store shelf, would I know it was yours?” The same question can be asked of service businesses. If someone saw the result of the services you provide, would they know who did the work? Would it be for positive reasons? You will make marketing exponentially more difficult and expensive by being just like everyone else. You have to be the “Tide” of the laundry soap aisle or the “Starbucks” of the coffee scene. Find what makes you different from everyone else and own it! Most of all, get others to share it.
How full is your sales pipeline? – Are you working hard delivering your product or services or do you spend more time prospecting for new clients? Obviously, you have to balance both but, look at your lead generation sources. How many prospects came to you on their own versus how many you had to go out and get? If your marketing is not leaving a lasting impression, you will have to work harder to fill your sales pipeline.  Solid, consistent marketing will gain momentum and generate a certain percentage of prospects on it’s own. If you aren’t getting a few “out-of-the-blue” leads regularly, your marketing is not being effective.
When it comes to marketing, I’ve carried the same advice with me in all my business endeavors.  Don’t spend a dime on marketing that you cannot track. Whether it’s through the methods above, solid analytics or internal checks and balances, take the time a make sure you know your marketing is working.
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Entrepreneurs want to retire too!

When you are starting a business, you may have visions of retiring early or building a nest-egg to live a fancy-free retirement sometime in the future.  However, most business owners find out early on that putting away cash for retirement is difficult if not impossible when you are struggling just to cover operational costs.  It’s common practice to leave “Retirement” off the income statement but be warned, this is a bad habit to start and a hard one to break once cash flow does allow for investment in retirement. For that reason, you should set up a retirement plan for your business as soon as possible.  According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Inc., even companies without employees can have plans to shelter income for retirement purposes.

“Among major corporations, 401(k) plans have become common, but even the smallest of businesses can have a 401(k) plan for retirement.  One-participant 401(k) plans, known by names such as Solo 401(k) and Uni-k, are available. For some business owners and self-employed individuals, Solo 401(k)s may offer a chance to save more for retirement with tax advantages compared with other small business retirement plans.

The name is somewhat misleading, as these plans are not necessarily limited to one person. A business owner’s spouse also can participate, if he or she is an employee of the business. Multiple owners or partners, and their spouses employed in the business, can participate in a Solo 401(k).  However, a business with any common-law employees is disqualified so, having an employee other than an owner, business partner or shareholder will rule out a Solo 401(k).”

If this is a confusing issue, don’t worry. That is why you have an accountant. Work with those who know your finances and your business best and set up a plan that works best for you now and in the future. Many banks have specialists in retirement and investing and they can be a good resource in setting up your plan however, an accountant that knows your business will likely be your best source of information.

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