Will this be a happy New Year? 4 things to get started right

Some of us woke up the day after New Years ready to launch into a new field of opportunities. Some, just woke up and decided to do what they have always done. And then some of us woke up and wondered, “What now?”
No matter which of those scenarios match your outlook on the new year, there are a few things you should be doing right about now, if you haven’t already.
  1. Close the financial books on last year. Do some analysis on what went well and what didn’t. Use this time to prepare for tax filings and make decisions on the changes you need to make to be more profitable in the new year.
  2. Revisit your business plan and your marketing plan. Compare your projections for last year to what actually happened and adjust your planning and scheduling so you are more effective with your business operations in the next 12 months.
  3. Set or reset your goals. This should fit in well with steps one and two but many business owners will analyze the numbers and the plans and fail to take the final step of setting goals to drive improvement throughout the coming months.
  4. Schedule time to learn and recharge. Right now, it is a natural tendency to be energized for a new year but, if you don’t make an effort to set some time apart to recharge the mental and physical batters, that enthusiasm will soon disappear. Add a few learning opportunities to your schedule as well. Industry conferences, seminars and short workshops can be just the thing to re-ignite the fire as the year passes by.
Your unique business will have more items to add to this list but, this is a good start.
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Posted in Editorial Comments

Social Media, lots of work but you MUST be there…

In our offices, we have many opportunities to assist small businesses with their online strategies. Websites, email campaigns, social media, ecommerce and other facets of being online are all normally part of the discussion. Clients usually  accept that they need a website and they typically see the value in email campaigns but, if we get any push-back, it is normally on the subject of Social Media.

A client once told me, “I have no interest in getting into social media. I don’t have the time and I don’t want my clients talking bad about me on the internet if something goes wrong.” While there are many things wrong with this statement, lets go over a couple of the biggest issues regarding this statement:

I don’t have time…

OK, yes, social media can take a ton of your time. Many of you have heard me warn a class about assuming social media is free due to the time it consumes. However, a client that worries about the amount of time that will be sucked up by social media is normally going about it in the wrong way. You MUST have a  strategy for social media before you get into it. Identify only the platforms your clients hang out on and focus on those. Chances are, you only have to be on two or three social media platforms to reach the majority of your clients. If you are trying to use ALL of the platforms, yes, you are wasting a lot of time. (Need help figuring out WHO is on each platform, contact us for assistance.)

Another time saver is to leverage existing content. If you are blogging, creating marketing materials, or event email campaigns, use that same content to post on your social media platforms. Many websites can be set up to auto-post your content to your social media accounts when you upload it to your site.  WordPress has this function if you use it to manage your website. Constant Contact will auto post to your social media as well.

I don’t want my clients talking bad about me…

Well, I’ve got news. Whether you are on social media or not, your clients are already talking about you. The good, bad and the ugly are being tossed around on social platforms every day. If you are not engaged, this content will float around indefinitely without the opportunity to address it.  You need to be on social media to listen to the feedback your customers are providing, promote the positive feedback and address the negative experiences being shared. If you aren’t there, how will you learn from your customers?

Using social media is a must these days. Create your strategy, manage your time with the tools you may already have and learn from your customers.  Before you know it, you will begin to wonder how you ever got along without social media!

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Posted in eBizNut, Technology News

Marketing shouldn’t be a task, it should be an interaction

As a small business owner you have probably thought about how you will market your product or service. You hopefully have done market research, tested a few marketing strategies and formulated a marketing plan.  These are all highly recommended steps in becoming a successful marketer.  However, if you allow these tasks to be the primary focus of getting the word out about your company, you will find it difficult to be successful.

Think about your last purchase of a product or service from a company. Chances are you chose the seller based on a promotion or prior knowledge of the business. You knew what to expect throughout the transaction and you were fairly comfortable with the process of the sale. If any part of this interaction had gone wrong, you would not have made the purchase. The key word here, “interaction.”

If your customers feel like they are being “sold” or if your marketing comes across as just another step in the process to separate the customer from their cash, you will reduce your chances of success.  You have to make a connection. You have to interact with a client, not “sell” them.  Here are a few tips that might help you move from marketing to interacting:

Be helpful, be a resource.

If you are constantly in sales mode, customers will avoid you. They will unfriend you online and do their best not to set foot in your establishment. If, however, you welcome customer questions and provide sound advice (even if it means losing a sales opportunity) then customers will look forward to interacting with your business. In fact, you will likely become their “go-to” resource when they think about your product or service.

Flexibility shows you care about the customer.

If you are an insurance agency and you are promoting an insurance product to families, you have to be willing to work outside the normal 9-5 model. If your marketing successfully generates leads but you are unwilling to meet with clients after-hours or over multiple appointments, the client will feel you don’t really care about them as much as you do your own schedule and the process you have set for the sale. You will lose your opportunity to interact with the client, even though your marketing was successful.

Pick up the phone and listen.

If you have ever been in one of our marketing classes, you have heard it said, “You will sell more by listening than you ever will by talking.” In this digital, virtual world we have a tendency to hide behind email and social media.  Get in front of your customers and ask them what they want. Listen to why they are working with you and how your product or service solves their pain points.  Talking directly to the client opens up opportunities you cannot see in a digital world. It allows the client to interact with you on their terms and it shows a genuine concern for their needs.

Hopefully, you will take a step back from your “marketing” and start interacting with your customer base. You will find that the two go hand-in-hand and the process will be more of a natural extension of being human and less of a sales transaction.

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Posted in Sales & Marketing

Get into the “Gig Economy”

happy employees

Many of us already know what we want to do as an entrepreneur. Others are still kicking the idea around, searching for their place in this new “Gig Economy.” Here are a few side hustles to consider if you are still in that “search phase.”

Event Planning – Do you like to organize the party and put your touch on important life events? Not everyone does!

Tutoring – Use that special skill or artistic trait you have to start your next business. Math tutors, music teachers and artists are in great need these days.

Bookkeeping – If you enjoy keeping track of the numbers, balancing checkbooks and creating financial reports, you are among the few. Turn that passion into a side gig and help your fellow entrepreneurs.

Content Generation – Writing, graphic artistry and website maintenance are all in great need with all the content we put out these days. Most people don’t have the skills or the tools to produce solid, quality content for an effective marketing campaign. If you are a natural, you might have found your place in the market.

These and many other ideas abound on the internet. Check out sites like Upworks, Freelancer and Guru to see what others are doing and how you might join in.

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Posted in Business Planning & Strategy, Editorial Comments, Small Biz Resources, Two Minute Tips

Success in business is normally a team sport…

Steve Jobs once made the comment that it makes no sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. He went on to say that he hired smart people so they could tell HIM what to do.

Many small businesses don’t have the luxury of hiring any “people” but, successful entrepreneurs make an effort to surround themselves with coaches, mentors and confidants. Those of us who have done this know that it is difficult and time consuming to find that right mix of advisors who will have a genuine interest in the success of our organization while being brutally honest about our choices and suggestions. It is also painful for a business owner to accept constructive criticism from someone about their business. So why assemble a team we may not like to follow?

Certainly, we like to be in control of our own path. That is why many of us became entrepreneurs in the first place. And, I think we have all received bad advice from trusted sources before but, these experiences of the past should not cloud the advice received today. The key is to assemble a team you trust, get a complete understanding of where their advice is grounded and communicate why you feel the advice is contrary to your intended path.  You will find it much easier to act on the advice and your advisory team will be more likely to stick around for the long haul because they will feel you are genuinely interested in their input.

So how do we start putting together the brain trust? Here are a few tips on how to assemble a good advisory team:

Look for gaps in your skill set – None of us are experts in everything and, even if we are good at many facets of running a business, there are some things we just don’t like to do. Fill these gaps in expertise with people who are passionate about that area of running a business. If you are not the best sales person and dread making calls on customers, find a sales professional and allow them to coach you through the process of improving your skills (or maybe, help you find a good sales person!)

Find someone who has fought the fight – It’s pretty obvious to say you should have someone with industry experience on your advisory team but not just anyone will do. Set your sights on someone who has seen success AND failure in your industry.  If you pick someone who has always made the right choices and never experienced challenges along the way, they will not be the best resource for you if you are struggling.

Cover all the bases – There is an acronym we use when we describe the core members of an advisory team for any small business, BAIL. This stands for Banker, Accountant, Insurance Agent and Lawyer.  As a business owner you are likely to need all of these services at some point. Build this core team and get them to know each other so you are all on the same page regarding your business plans. The idea is that you should not be contacting your lawyer for the first time when you are standing behind bars! Build relationships ahead of time so you are ready when opportunity or tragedy knocks at the door.

Assembling your advisory team may take time. Some of the team members may work for you, others may be outside professionals and still others may be retired experts looking to stay active. There are many people out there who would be honored to help you grow your business and would freely give you their viewpoint on the challenges you face. So, you should not have to pay by the hour for these services however, it might be advised that you pick up the lunch tab after the meeting!

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Posted in Business Planning & Strategy, Small Biz Resources

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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Posted in Business Planning & Strategy, Sales & Marketing

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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Posted in Business Planning & Strategy, Sales & Marketing, Small Business Finance

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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Posted in Small Business Finance

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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Posted in Business Planning & Strategy, Dollars & Digits