Entrepreneurial spirit in small business
An entrepreneur is a professional who discovers opportunities and determines how to leverage those opportunities into greater success for the organization. Entrepreneurs have vision, passion and drive. They see opportunities where others see only risk. They tend to be optimists and believe that they can succeed even when others tell them they cannot. Entrepreneurs develop ideas, sure, but they are also willing to get their hands dirty and do the work necessary to make their vision become a reality.
This spirit of entrepreneurship starts with understanding your colleagues and coworkers. Today’s workers want more than just a paycheck; they want to feel a sense of ownership. A true measure of leadership is to create a culture based on dependability and genuineness and a sense of belonging. Business owners must live the core values of their company’s culture and demonstrate their sincerity by getting really excited about the work they’re doing. Enthusiasm is contagious!
Effective communication is also a hallmark of entrepreneurial spirit. Leaders must be very open and deliberate in their communication. Keeping those they serve “in the loop” about what’s going on within the company and sharing information gives a sense of transparency which creates employee and customer “buy-in.” Knowing what’s going on helps people to feel connected to the company. Successful entrepreneurs strive for over-communication.
Even with the above, entrepreneurial spirit would be nothing without a committed staff. To thrive, people need to feel respected and supported. Great bosses show THEIR commitment to their staff and business by providing needed support, training and resources. They invest in professional development to show their employees that they matter to the overall outcome and growth of the company. It’s important to celebrate and reward exceptional work and acknowledge employee value.
One of the most difficult, yet more important, areas of entrepreneurship is developing and maintaining clear rules. Great owners protect their businesses with clear, ethical guidelines and a zero-tolerance enforcement policy. Ethics matter to employees. It’s easier to be committed to an organization with high ethical standards. And, effective leaders lead by example! For instance, when three of his employees were killed in a robbery, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz didn’t contact media or his legal team but instead spent the week with the other store employees and the families of those who were killed. His actions spoke volumes about his expectations and ethics.
To be believable and relevant takes a continuous effort. Building a positive culture is an ongoing process that must be adaptable and responsive to changing times. This ideology and spirit is the foundation that transforms mediocrity into something exceptional. Be exceptional!
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Prospect for your small business – and strike gold!
Finding new customers is, without a doubt, the most difficult and stressful aspect for any business seeking to grow or expand. There are many ways to make prospecting for new clients less like a chore and more like extending your amazing family.
Prospecting is more of an attitude than a cumbersome and difficult activity. Since you can’t predict where your next customer lead will develop, it’s good to always have an open mind and spirit for embracing the unknown. You can generate leads almost anywhere, from your child’s basketball game to the grocery line to sitting in the waiting room at the auto shop…or even in the Santa line at the mall. Don’t think of prospecting as quoting product features and service benefits; rather, think about it as relationship-building and giving people a reason to believe in you and your company—and a reason to buy. That’s the magic of any season!
It’s very important that you take the time to devise a realistic and workable plan of engagement before trying to generate any leads. Being strategic, but real, makes a world of difference. You wouldn’t give a speech about the merits of your company without first planning what to say and how to say it. And you’d certainly try to be as engaging as possible if potential investors were in the crowd. The same thought process should be adopted before you begin to prospect for individual clients. The right combination of research, planning, and implementation can increase your market presence and make your company and its mission known to your newly targeted audience.
Prospect development is a habit. Make it a part of your daily business life and create a rhythm. Here are just a few ways you can get started:
1. Begin every day by making five new contacts.
2. Know your data. Data tracking tools should be your trusty, prospecting sidekick.
3. Own your inner tech geek. Constantly be aware of new and innovative technology tools, and know how to leverage the technology you currently use.
One of the easiest ways to start to familiarize folks with your business is to create an online persona and presence through social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Leveraging these online communities can provide your small business affordable ways to communicate with potential customers; you can create a “voice” for your business online and connect with “fans” or “followers”, which eventually will lead to sales or referrals. This will strengthen your current network and expand your reach.
4. Always be willing to help and listen, instead of close the sale.
Ask your satisfied customers for their feedback and for permission to spread the word to their friends and colleagues through online vehicles. Chances are you have more fans than you know, so use the power of referral marketing
5. Become a leader in your industry – be a part of the digital and live community of “movers and shakers” in your business.
Post meaningful blogs to your own website but link to other social media sites, as well. Post responses/advice to blogs that are local, industry related, product & services related, etc. Make sure that your online signature includes all of your contact info.
Conferences, trade shows, seminars and civic organizations can be great resources for prospective customers. Attending industry events is a great way to meet colleagues and to build a network of professional associates in the industry. Also, consider partnering with other businesses; forming an alliance with people in the same market can be mutually beneficial.
Volunteer and support local causes. Get your company’s name in front of other local business owners by volunteering with various civic organizations. This is a great way for your company to gain positive recognition. Finally, invest in the next generation. Speaking engagements, career days, etc., can garner interest in your company by both future employees and the people who support their growth.
No cost/low-cost prospecting is a business ideology and requires careful planning.
Here are some helpful hints to remember:
- Work on your network. Stay in touch and use mutual support.
- Keep business cards in your wallet or purse at all times, and pass them out anytime you have an opportunity to meet someone new.
- Positive word of mouth is powerful. Create a referral program among your current customers.
- Connect with local realtors to find out about new residents in your area, or check with local churches to find out about new members.
- Speak at local events such as chamber meetings, school functions, award banquets, local radio interviews, etc.
- Sponsor groups and events: Little League or bowling teams, a trophy or scholarship, a job fair, a trade show booth, neighborhood cookout, promote your business/team during a walk-a-thon or other fundraiser.
- Web Listings. Get your website listed and let prospective customers find you.
- Ask if you can link your website to another business associate’s site—and return the favor!
Building strong customer relationships provides the foundation for your business growth
According to a well-worn business adage, "Customers don't buy products, they buy you." In essence, building strong customer relationships is essential to the long-term health of your business. It’s critical to focus on every aspect of the customer experience to ensure repeat business. From the very first encounter, be sure to show a sincere interest in your customers and remember their preferences.
Often customers will both recognize and appreciate that you are paying attention and making a conscious investment in them. Not only does this increase the chances for an immediate sale but it also makes it more likely that your customer will speak highly of you and your business to his or her friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances.
According to Retail Active, a mystery shopping and brand audit company:
- Repeat customers spend 33% more than new customers.
- Referrals among repeat customers are 107% greater than among non-customers.
- It costs six times more to sell something to a prospect than to sell that same thing to an existing customer.
Clearly, the best use of your marketing budget is to nurture and develop your relationships. Remember, people like to do business with those whom they like. Show your customers that they are more than just a “sale.” Instead, treat them as a valuable partner and in turn demonstrate that you have a vested interest in their business. With a little effort, you can learn about your customers’ unique needs and provide your product or service when it is most beneficial to them.
One example of such unique customer service involves Sainsbury’s, a supermarket chain based in the UK that received a letter from a little girl named Lily. Lily thought the company’s “tiger bread” more closely resembled a giraffe and, with the help of her mother, wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s expressing this sentiment. Sainsbury’s customer service department responded to Lily with a cute letter about the origins of the tiger bread name, which Lily’s mom quickly posted to her blog. The letter eventually went viral and provoked public support for changing the name to “giraffe bread.” Seeing an opportunity, the company not only changed the name, but gave Lily the credit, no doubt garnering new customers and building loyalty among existing customers.
The bottom line: customer satisfaction and customer loyalty are on-going processes that you must strive to develop every day with every interaction and with every transaction, no matter how big or how small. And it is an effective way to grow your business without substantially increasing your budget.
So, try to find some unique and sincere ways to acknowledge and thank your customers. Examples include hand-written notes, webinars, “wowing” a customer with something over-the-top, book gifts and loyalty programs, among many other great ideas. The holiday season is also a great time to begin a customer service initiative that acknowledges the thankfulness and joy you feel for a client’s investment in your business. A simple acknowledgement that someone is valued will go a long way in your retention efforts—and it could even make you stand out from your competitors!
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Partnership Marketing is a smart way to grow your business
Today’s smart tip is an amazingly cost-effective way to spread the word about your small business. “Partnership Marketing” is a way of developing relationships with other companies that share similar lists of targeted customers.
How partnerships develop is malleable and can take many forms. No matter the nature of your partnership, a collaborative arrangement is a great way to do more with less. It can provide new opportunities for growth while preserving valuable capital and resources. You’ll have a greater presence in your traditional market plus your new alliance will open up opportunities with a broader range of customers.
Cross marketing is one way to partner with another local company. Perhaps you have a business cleaning windows. Joining with a carpet cleaner might double your impact. Together your businesses can offer a complete suite of cleaning services for home and office, while sharing new and existing clients and improving customer relationships. Cross marketing is a scenario in which everyone wins!
Sponsorship opportunities offer the possibility of partnering with a non-profit organization’s event, such as a 5K run or school fundraiser. Through these events you’ll gain greater exposure and brand recognition. The goodwill generated can also result in inclusion on preferred supplier lists or networking lists of patrons attending the event.
To begin partnership marketing, look at your client list. Is there someone who does business with your company that would make a lucrative and useful collaborator? Creating an alliance with a key customer may be a great way to solidify and grow a mutually advantageous relationship over the long term. Or, consider piggyback partnering with a company that has a particular strength in an area where you lack expertise.
Teaming allows both companies to leverage each other’s expertise while maintaining their own customers. If a contractual obligation becomes too large for one company to handle on its own, a reciprocal agreement creates opportunity to share the overflow business with the sister company. In this way, neither loses a client nor has to hire additional help. Alliances can add significant value to a business plan without increasing cost or overhead. It’s an intelligent way to extend your reach without limits.
The key to a successful partnership is finding a business that complements your own. When you’ve formed an effective team, you’ll get more marketing muscle for a lower price point and reach more prospective customers than you would on your own.
As with any business opportunity, learn about potential pitfalls before getting started to ensure you maximize your results.
Points to remember:
- Get to know your potential partner. Both parties should share the same business philosophy.
- Agree to terms before you begin working together.
- Have a plan, complete with targets and goals.
With a little planning, you’ll be reaping the benefits of partnership marketing – a tremendously powerful tool for small businesses everywhere!
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Rethink, reinvent and relaunch
The world is changing at a perpetually increasing pace. How well is your business keeping up?
Take a look around. Texting, Facebook, Twitter, and the growing plethora of social media offerings have forever changed our mobile communications landscape. According to Nielsen, more people now access the Internet using cell phones instead of PCs.
Consumer behaviors are also clearly changing in response to these technological innovations. From Baby Boomers to Millennials, the populace is becoming savvier to online buying and selling. They’re also more willing to share their thoughts about products and services through online reviews. Focusing on new ways to attract and keep customers in a generally lukewarm market will give you a powerful edge over your competitors.
Here are some quick tips to trigger your thought process.
Rethink Your Business: Outsmart Your Competition
Many small business owners consistently keep tabs on their own business, getting bogged down with internal challenges, but they neglect to stay on top of competitors’ actions.
Do you know what your competition is up to? Learn what they’re doing – or not doing, as the case may be – and do it better.
For example, a 35-year-old entrepreneur was able to dramatically transform his parents’ traditional retail wine store by launching a website that provides online reviews of wines – something his competitors hadn’t done. This small business owner grew the audience for his website by adding video blogging, which led to his appearing on television, speaking at national thought-leadership conferences, and becoming an author. He now has over one million followers on Twitter, and the store has grown from a $3 million business to $50 million in annual sales.
Reinvent Your Business: “Wow” Your Customers
Are you delighting your customers? Complacency may trap you into believing you’re doing all you can to keep your current customers happy. With all the competitive “noise” in the marketplace, you may need to go above and beyond the ordinary so that your business has the all-important “wow” factor that makes it really stand out.
This concept is highlighted by the story of a supermarket bag boy who singlehandedly grew customer loyalty and repeat business in a way that was amazingly simple. On his own initiative, and without the store manager’s knowledge, the bag boy wrote a short inspirational note each day before work, signed it, and made enough copies to drop into the bags of each shopper. The notes were a huge hit with customers, who started shopping in the store several times a week instead of once a week and also told their friends about the personal service.
At little or no cost, these notes revolutionized customer service for the store, built customer loyalty, attracted new customers and grew sales. A small touch, with big results.
Do Something New Every Month
Avoid the trap of relying on special pricing and promotions to drive traffic. These tactics can hurt your bottom line and don’t create the continued service that encourages growth. Instead, generate ways to bring customers back again and again.
For example, an Orlando-area store that sells women’s clothing and jewelry creates unique, themed T-shirts each month that the owner sells to elicit increased foot traffic. The shirts help raise money for charitable causes at the same time. One month it might benefit a homeless shelter while the next month it might support a cancer initiative. Employees wear the T-shirts, which feature the company name, along with jewelry and other clothing sold by the store in order to encourage additional purchases.
Customers entering the store will frequently buy the latest in the T-shirt series, along with items they were already planning to purchase. Supported by a monthly email newsletter and a Facebook page with over 4,100 “likes,” the business continues to thrive, even during soft economic times.
New Advertising “Punch”
Do you know how well your advertising is working? With today’s tools, metrics can help you tailor your advertising “spend” for maximum effectiveness.
For example, web analytics can tell you exactly how well your website is converting traffic into sales. Learn to utilize date and web analytics to design an advertising campaign that packs power behind its punch. Simply analyzing information isn’t enough. Use what you learn to reach your maximum potential ROI. Social media campaigns can be constructed to target very specific groups (age, gender, interests, etc.) with remarkable precision, punching up your presence where you want it most. Customer reviews, both good and bad, can be used to influence perception simply by the way you respond.
A tip: Running smaller ads with higher frequency will keep your company name “on the radar screen” on a more regular basis.
Traps to Avoid
While Groupon and LivingSocial may draw an instant flow of new customers looking for great deals, be sure to construct your offers in a way that encourages repeat business – not just a one-time purchase. Also, remember that it's easy to get caught up in non-value-added work. Look for ways to eliminate tasks that do not generate revenue. Consider outsourcing various tasks on a project basis. Delegate low-value tasks to your employees, while you focus on building your business.
By “thinking outside the box” while still using proven marketing strategies, you can reach new demographics, delight your customers, and build a stronger referral base to drive new sales.
Your newest customers are waiting. Do you know how to find them?
Savvy small business owners consistently search for smart and efficient ways to grow sales. Challenges arise when companies seek a “magic pill” to trigger growth versus well thought-out business solutions. Some business plans focus on extreme promotions, others utilize clichéd practices such as making everything “family” focused, but these practices don’t always lead to success. Valuable customers are out there. But who are they? And how do you reach them?
In this blog post you’ll discover four sound strategies that can help your business attract new customers and put your company on a path toward prosperity.
STRATEGY #1: Learn Why Customers Buy From You
One of the best sources of growth is often your existing, local market. Has your company reached the market saturation point? Probably not. You erroneously may be underserving a wider customer base that’s right in your backyard.
Do some research and find out for yourself:
- Who are your customers and why do they buy from you?
- Does your company offer a unique product?
- How sufficient is the level of customer service you provide?
- Are your business hours convenient?
Depending on your business, capturing this information may be easy. Simply ask! Verbal feedback can be a great way to gauge customer perception, and most customers will be more than willing to provide their suggestions when they sense a genuine interest in improving your business. Customers recognize and positively respond to businesses that take their concerns into account. You are likely to uncover valuable insights that you can build upon.
If direct customer feedback isn’t practical, then comment cards or inexpensive online survey tools like SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang can yield great information. To boost participation, you can opt to reward those who respond with special recognition or a discount on their next purchase. Additionally, there are now many online, crowd-sourced review sites, such as Yelp! and Travelocity, that are a great resource for customer comments and feedback. Establishing a presence on these sites and responding to all comments with positivity also will boost your market presence. Since most people respond more to word-of-mouth marketing (we discussed this in a previous blog post), this is a great way to get your name “out there.”
Your existing customers are very valuable, and they may provide a gold mine of information you can use to successfully connect with new customers.
STRATEGY #2: Learn More About Your Customers
What unique characteristics do your customers share that can spark additional sales for you? Understanding these traits may allow you optimize your focus on high value clients. As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and with high-quality, focused information you’ll be able to target and expand your presence. Perhaps there’s a demographic segment your business is serving particularly well? Knowing whether your business appeals to a particular age range, gender, socioeconomic group, occupation, or ethnicity and adding this knowledge to your tool kit can help you create a higher propensity for these consumers to do business with you in the future.
As you begin to understand which customers patronize your business, then you can start matching your marketing program to their buying habits. For example, if your key demographic is pre-Generation X, you may want to reach out to them through print advertising or other media in which they are most likely to gather information. A younger demographic may be reached more effectively through online search results and web advertising. Other groups may be best reached through face-to-face encounters, such as state and community fairs, or other networking opportunities.
Hint: Don’t forget to ask these new customers for referrals so that you may more powerfully extend your reach.
STRATEGY #3: Learn More About Your Competitors
A tool you’ll find helpful in discovering how to better position your business is a SWOT chart. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis is a great way to understand elements of your business from a different point of view, namely that of your competitors. There are many options for web-based SWOT analysis software. These vary in price but are valuable tools for creating colorful, personalized, collaborative diagrams that you can share with your team. When you look at your business from the perspective of your competitors, you’re likely to uncover hidden strengths to capitalize upon, and areas to reassess that have a lower return on investment.
SWOT analysis could demonstrate that your company is competing on price with a multitude of other businesses, while uncovering that you provide an edge on a service that competitors are not as capable of delivering. Knowing this information could enable you to focus on higher-margin sales, and reduce time spent chasing low-margin business.
STRATEGY #4: Learn More About Yourself
Geographic expansion is one of the most common ways to grow your business, but it also is the most complex. With expansion comes great opportunity, but also added responsibility. Difficulties in communication, human resources challenges and much more can arise, so it’s paramount to plan carefully and follow that plan closely. When considering this strategy, carefully evaluate how and where to expand. Ask yourself:
- Am I able to handle multiple locations?
- Do I have the resources to support this new sales channel?
- Am I opening my new location in a market that has a high demand for my product or service?
- Are the market segments I plan to sell to at the new location large enough to support my sales plan?
- Have I done a SWOT analysis on existing competitors in order to develop a proactive marketing plan?
If you can answer “Yes” to all of these questions, then you’ve taken the first step. You’ll then need to hire new employees, stock additional inventory, increase your marketing budget, and acquire new fixed assets. Consider the need to create new processes in order to maximize your chances for success. One option may be to extend your physical service area to surrounding towns, adding only incrementally to your investment while providing an opportunity to grow smartly without being encumbered by the significant expenses of a new location.
When planning to take your business online to attract new customers or build relationships with an existing audience, other considerations can come into play. Decide whether you would like local customers to order products online for delivery (such as a pizza shop), or request service calls (like an air conditioning and heating company). If your business is such that you can ship products regionally or nationally, your online requirements may be different. Whichever way you go, whether local, regional or national, be sure to create a solid marketing plan to support your objectives.
Opening a new “bricks and mortar” location can require a significant investment, both in time and money. Start by using the strategies described in Steps 1-3 to ensure you’re making the right business decision. With a better understanding of how your business reached its present state, you’ll have a solid foundation from which to grow.
Taking steps to capture information about your existing customers and using that knowledge to develop one of the four strategies you’ve just read about can put you in a powerful position to outdistance your competitors in a challenging market.
Verizon has many tools to help you grow your business. We are here to help. Click here to get more expert advice and to see special offers.
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Build “buzz” and boost your business – 5 tips to optimize your social media strategy
Did you know that consumers overwhelmingly believe word-of-mouth recommendations, such as those found on social media, over all other types of advertising? Studies, such as Nielsen’s Trust in Advertising, show that prospective customers increasingly rely on word-of-mouth postings of their friends, family, and acquaintances to make purchasing decisions. From which car to drive to which toothpaste best removes tartar, traditional marketing isn’t what entices customers to buy; in fact, overwhelmingly, it’s the court of public opinion that does.
Social media savvy has become a "must-have" in your business development toolbox. With literally dozens of social media sites to choose from, the choices and best practices for promoting your business can be overwhelming. Awareness of the different social media platforms and the unique tools they offer can be enormously beneficial. Previously for personal-use-only, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Yelp! have evolved into powerful business platforms, and they’re all free! Some of these also offer premium services at a cost that is worth considering as your business grows. The key to getting optimal results via social media is determining which vehicles are best for your business.
This blog post provides tips for developing a powerful social media strategy for your business. From customer demographics to data tracking, some proven tactics will help maximize your success while staying within budget. By following our 5 Step Process below, you can begin to select the right tools for your business and build a dynamic social media presence for your company.
Step #1 – Meet Where They Tweet
Different sites cater to different audiences, and choosing those that attract your target client is crucial. Whether your business focus is technology, retail, construction, or medicine, there is a social media platform that best suits your business.
With over 1.49 billion users, Facebook is the largest social media channel, so regularly posting updates and promoting special deals to a Company Page could quickly attract new business while enabling your current customer base to share your business with their followers. Additionally, Facebook is a fantastic option for businesses, such as retailers, whose customers might require direct conversation regarding a product or service.
LinkedIn, with over 380 million members, is one of the foremost business-to-business social media solutions. The key to LinkedIn’s success is the ability for professionals to network with one another through personal business connections. Their search features provide means for potential customers to find your business through keyword searches and recommendations posted by other customers, clients, or non-client business connections. Another favorable aspect of LinkedIn is as a publication tool, which allows companies to share relevant business posts. These articles offer insight into industries and are easily shareable so that your visibility increases through your areas of expertise. This is a fantastic platform for specific types of companies, such as leadership development, counseling services, or other businesses with something to teach others.
Now reaching 304 million active, monthly users, Twitter is highly useful when businesses want to get short bites of information out to a large number of followers. Its user-friendly capacity to quickly “push out” your message makes it a prime tool for marketers that don’t need a lot of customer interaction but want quick word-of-mouth sharing capabilities. Plus, by observing Twitter trends companies can better determine areas of interest to their customer base and adapt plans accordingly.
An interior designer’s work may best be showcased on social media channels like Instagram and Pinterest, with 300+ million and 75+ million users, respectively. Both are examples of visually driven sites that facilitate online display of a portfolio, which can then be followed by fans and shared with friends or colleagues. Similarly, “before” and “after” photos from small business owners such as house painting companies or carpet cleaning companies can be posted. Shop owners may post featured lines of products, subsequently benefiting by those products being promoted via their followers or fans through their personal networks.
To augment standard social media channels, videos are a highly effective way to engage customers and launch a new product or service. YouTube, the second most popular search engine on the Internet, enables a small business to easily drive video news and information to an interested audience, in effect leveling the playing field vis-à-vis larger competitors. Think of YouTube as a cost-effective way to create commercial content without the expense of buying airtime on television. Creating your own “YouTube” channel with several videos is easy, cost-effective and enables viewers to visually share information across their own social networks – which may include future customers for your business.
“Review sites” can be a powerful tool for companies that leverage high customer ratings as a way to attract new business. Among the most popular review sites are Yelp! and TripAdvisor. A restaurant owner may find review site Yelp! best to post menus, prices, and location information, while TripAdvisor content includes hotel information, photos and advice for business and vacation travel.
Action: If you haven’t done so, open a free account on a social media network that makes sense for your business. Then, find the sites that most closely match your customers’ interests and behaviors. By checking out the content on each site, you’ll get to know which is the most productive vehicle for your business.
Hint: Reserve the same “username” on each network to preserve your brand identity.
Step #2 – Be Methodical and Start with One Network
Start small. Taking on too many networks at one time can be overwhelming unless you are already familiar with the platform. Get to know and use one site that you think is best for starting your social media marketing effort. One way to feel confident you’ve made the right choice is to see where your competitors are and what they’re posting to their accounts.
Action: Once you’ve selected the best network for your business, complete your online profile, get actively involved, and update your page often. To build a following, you should post content frequently – at least a few times per week. The frequency depends on many factors, from information you need to share to how users interact with your posts. There is a fine line between engaging and annoying, so it’s important to find a balance.
Once you’ve become comfortable with the first site and you’ve started to develop a loyal following, you can branch out to another social media network. It won’t take you much time, but be sure to maintain your presence. Social media is not a spectator sport!
Step #3 – What to Post
Social media is not about “selling” – it’s about creating an online presence, building a community of followers, and enabling your followers to spread the word about the great products and services your company offers. It’s important to remember that time is a commodity that many people don’t have or, at the very least, prefer not to waste. Making your content relevant and captivating will entice consumers to read and share your posts.
Action: Think in terms of creating a conversation about your company. On Facebook for example, you’ll want to encourage followers to “Like” your company page or to post a positive comment about their dealings with your company. On Yelp!, encourage a customer who’s had a positive experience to post a review. Both instances are great “word of mouth” referrals resulting in powerful endorsements of your business.
Hint: Be a source of great information. Post content which readers may find educational or valuable, and you’re sure to attract a wider following as they share the experience with their own followers. You’ll be regarded as an expert rather than as someone always trying to make a sale. The more “Likes” and positive reviews you receive about your content, the more powerful your social media online presence will become.
Step #4 – Stay Connected
Social media is available to your customers around the clock, but that doesn’t mean you have to log in to post content at all hours of the day. There are many great tools available, at little to no price, that will allow you to plan your posts and updates in advance and post them on a schedule that you determine ahead of time.
HootSuite.com, Spredfast and Buffer are all sites worth checking out. These platforms will enable you to send posts to multiple social media sites automatically and track user data, allowing for better time management to meet your business needs. Just as there are tools to simplify and automate the sending of posts and updates, there are excellent tools to monitor all of your social media pages in one place, too.
Action: Be sure to monitor your brand frequently. You should always acknowledge positive comments, as this is the type of word-of-mouth marketing businesses should leverage. Also, check your pages and respond quickly to any negative posts in a positive manner. Negative feedback is inevitable, but perception is all about how you handle the negativity and reframe yourself. NutshellMail will aggregate the activity in each of your accounts and deliver it in one email at the dates and times you specify. One remarkable feature of this free service is that you can respond to posts or status updates directly from the NutshellMail email, saving you from having to log into each site.
Hint: It’s a good idea to periodically check the major search engines to see how your social media activity is appearing in SEO (search engine optimization) results. SEO can take your marketing efforts from barely making an impact to quickly reaching new customers and elevating your business. Google, Yahoo and Bing catalogue Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter activity; so updating your profile on social media sites from time to time may have the side benefit of increasing your ranking on these and other search engines.
Step #5 – Quantify Results
Results of your social media activities are easily calculated using “analytics” tools, which are widely available – many of them nearly real-time. “Dashboard” data will give you insights into how your content is resonating with followers. The dashboard is a management page available through the social media sites, which includes the aforementioned analytics tool. Tracked data can include how many views or visits you get, trends, and the number and quality of comments.
Action: Check results frequently to assess how well your efforts are paying off, and be willing to modify your content and delivery strategy for optimum results.
Hint: Activity trending upward will give you the confidence that you are becoming a trusted source of information, which over time will build loyalty, increase dialogue, and elevate the number of customer referrals you receive. A downward trend will indicate that a change in strategy is needed. Often minor changes will dramatically improve your outcomes, and they’re easy to implement.
Whatever your business, whether business-to-consumer or business-to-business, be proactive in promoting your online presence. Encourage your customers to follow you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or wherever you have a social media presence. You’ll reap great rewards as you build relationships, enhance the value of your brand, increase dialogue with your most valued customers, gain endorsements and testimonials, and establish yourself as an expert. Following these tips will give you a strong head start in the world of social media for business.
Just as with other forms of promotion, however, you’ll need to give your efforts time to take root. A generally accepted rule of thumb is to allow 6 months of steady effort to establish your business via social media and begin to see results. By implementing some of these ideas, you can tap into new demographics, delight new and existing clients, and build your customer list at little or no additional cost.
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Searching for entrepreneurial success in mid-life?
Starting a new business can be rife with headaches, risks, and pitfalls. But it also can be an incredibly rewarding experience that can change one’s life for the better. Most entrepreneurs who start their businesses in mid-life utilize skills honed through years of experience. Yet, like their younger counterparts, they also face a wide variety of business development and planning challenges that no amount of work experience can mitigate.
Today’s blog post focuses on many of the traits, skills and characteristics required for entrepreneurial success, with an emphasis on the mid-life entrepreneur, in particular.
Qualities of successful entrepreneurs There are six important qualities that all successful entrepreneurs must either possess or develop:
- Ability to wear many hats
- Superior money management skills
- Ability to adapt and thrive when faced with rapid changes
- Ability to network
While mid-life entrepreneurs have the advantage of maturity, all entrepreneurs - regardless of age or experience - must continue to develop these important skills as their companies grow. Entrepreneurial success requires learning the multiple facets of operating a business. But even the most successful entrepreneurs may need the guidance of outside experts to assist with one or more areas of the business. You can locate assistance through a local U.S. Small Business Administration office (see www.sba.gov for a location near you) or through online searches or research at a local library. You also should ask other entrepreneurs for consultant referrals.
Money management skills are critical. It is imperative that you find an expert who can be a sounding board for financial topics. Consider speaking with a banker or financial advisor, or seek advice at the U.S. Small Business Administration Website.
The ability to thrive during rapid change is an invaluable skillset all entrepreneurs should try to cultivate. To succeed in today’s dynamic marketplace, it’s important to become a lifelong learner and to be malleable as changes occur. There are many ways to embrace change and to stay on top of trends: From reviewing relevant publications to joining groups of like-minded people to hiring employees who complement your knowledge and skill set.
Above all, self-confidence will guide you through challenges that are sure to arise. Cultivating your inner-strength and expertise are critical components of success. It is never too late for entrepreneurs to gain new skills, competencies, and self-confidence in targeted areas. Consider taking classes at a local university or community college, or networking with groups that focus on developing your particular skill set and leadership potential. As the saying goes, “Patience, persistence, and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success!” (Napoleon Hill). Patience is required to see your efforts turn into results, while persistence and sweat-equity will reap rewards for all entrepreneurs.
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Show me the money!
As the saying goes, “Money makes the world go ‘round,” and for an entrepreneur or small business owner, it can be a central part of his or her business world. Money is a requirement for business expansion. There are multiple ways to acquire funding. The more you learn about these options, the easier it will be to make a sound decision. A good place to start is with other business owners you know. Talk with those that have recently gone through an expansion and learn from their experiences.
Let’s take a look at a variety of approaches to acquire funds for business expansion...
Your local bank
The most familiar forms of financing small businesses include borrowing money from your bank, such as:
- A secured loan establishing a line of credit against tangible assets (like real estate or equipment owned), allowing you to draw against your credit as needed
- An unsecured business line of credit with a personal guarantee
- Utilizing open credit on business or personal credit cards
- Factoring receivables, which involves selling your receivables to a third party to improve cash flow (this can be completed both through banks and other institutions who deal in factoring)
All of these approaches may be good options in certain circumstances. Bank loans sometimes are challenging to acquire but easier to secure if the small business has significant collateral or a long financial track record. Using personal credit cards is an option which should only be used if the business will generate enough cash flow to quickly pay the credit cards down; otherwise, there is a potential for high interest payments to offset the gain.
SBA Loans are another option for some small businesses. Funding is available through SBA Express Loans for small business owners, and SBA Patriot Express is available for veterans, active duty (participating in TAP), reservists, and current spouses or widowed spouses. More information on these loans is available at www.sba.gov.
Other SBA grants and loans also are available for women/minority owned businesses, businesses involved in energy efficiency, disaster-struck areas and specific groups like farmers. Some states/cities also have loan programs to support designated urban areas.
Family or friends
Close friends or family members may be a potential source, but beware the pitfalls that financial ties may have on these valued relationships, especially if your expansion plans don’t yield the agreed upon return. Sometimes, family or friend loans are done with a handshake agreement; however, a more formal, written agreement may benefit some individuals and help protect valued relationships.
Less familiar forms of financing (especially for relatively new businesses) include seed funding, crowd funding, angel investing and venture capital.
- Seed funding is a form of securities funding where an investor purchases part of your business (normally early in the business’s creation) and maintains that partial ownership.
- Crowdfunding is relatively new and includes companies like Kickstarter. There are over 450 diverse, crowdfunding platforms. These are all located on the Internet and allow individuals to invest in companies they're interested in.
- Angel investing is when an affluent individual, or a group of investors, provides capital to a business for convertible debt or ownership equity.
- Venture capital is primarily generated through venture capital firms for early stage, high-risk/high-return (potential) start-up companies. Normally, companies that acquire venture capital possess a novel technology or unique business model.
Aside from direct loans or grants, other options include:
- Alliances with other businesses: This involves forming partnerships with complementary businesses. For example, a lawn mowing service might partner with a nursery so that each promotes the other to their own customers. This can help build revenue streams for each party.
- Licensing/franchising your business: This involves allowing other parties to open your business (or use your name/products) in other locations when they pay a licensing or franchising fee to you (common with restaurants, etc.). There are obligations for each party to support the franchise, and both parties must fully understand their obligations.
With so many options, it is up to you to decide which path makes sense for your business. All forms of loans and borrowing come with some degree of risk. It is always prudent to ensure that your cash flow can support the loan requirements. It also is wise to consult with a trusted, outside financial/business expert when acquiring loans.
Enjoy the process of exploring funding your business. There are many options for your business today and for your business tomorrow. In addition to www.sba.gov, you may enjoy exploring www.encore.org, and www.nase.org.
Networking is today’s most effective marketing tool for small business
Maintaining existing customers and finding new customers in an ever-changing market seems to get progressively more challenging. Savvy small business owners have found that smart networking has become one of the most effective tools in their marketing arsenal, providing a level of trust that advertising and marketing cannot deliver.
The best business networking groups operate as exchanges of business information, ideas and support. The most important skill for effective business networking is listening; focusing on how you can help the person you are listening to rather than on how he or she can help you is the first step to establishing a mutually beneficial relationship. Make the conversation all about them and not you. People love to talk about themselves. If you allow them the freedom to talk about themselves, you will be remembered as someone who took the time to get to know them. Remember, networking is not about the quantity of business cards you collect. It's about relationships.
Joining networking groups online can also help you discover small business opportunities. Find topics and discussion groups that relate to your business needs. Discuss some of your interests and small business ideas with other entrepreneurs who might offer valuable insight. Look for opportunities to provide or receive products and services from businesses you are networking with. Add like-minded small business owners to your list of contacts.
With the rapid growth of social media and its ever-accelerating adoption by the business world to extend marketing reach, you can easily learn to leverage technology to raise awareness for your brand, target a broader segment of customers, and quickly deliver high impact information about your product or service.
The challenge for the business owner is always to find a way to balance cultivation of this all-important network with the daily demands of running the business. The secret lies in doing a little up-front homework to identify the networks which will benefit your business the most.
One of the best online resources with a broad range of networking meetings is Meetup.com, with over 22 million members. Other great online sources include LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Taking the time to build a deep, strong network can provide a business owner with a steady referral stream, repeat customers, and opportunities to expand into new markets without spending hard-earned dollars on traditional marketing.
Reap the rewards so many small business owners have experienced through smart networking – it’s today’s key to success for small business!
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Keep your business green throughout the year
Does your business experience sales peaks and valleys based on either the day or the season? For many seasonal or time-sensitive businesses the peaks are often optimized and the valleys are opportunities. Let’s look at ways to maximize sales, cash flow, and time for a business that experiences such highs and lows.
Ideas to expand a seasonal business:
A seasonal or time-sensitive business can be extended to other periods. Look to your off-peak periods for ideas. For example, if your store sells Christmas ornaments, consider expanding into décor for other holidays like Halloween or Valentine’s Day and rotate your stock to cover multiple seasons. If you have a coffee shop, you could offer pre-prepared products or meals that could be purchased for other parts of the day (e.g., take-home dinners). If driving incremental sales during non-peak periods is important to you, there are multiple ways to achieve this objective:
- Repurpose your resources by creating a complementary business. For example, a landscaper could have a holiday lighting business or a snow ski school could offer physical fitness classes during the summer months.
- Utilize non-traditional sales channelsto extend your selling season. For example, a retail popcorn store that peaks during the holidays might sell their popcorn at live events such as football games or concerts. This “take your product to your customer” strategy involves delivering your product to your customers vs. them coming to your store.
- Expand your product line to fill seasonal gaps by repurposing your square footage (virtual or actual) for other products lines. For example, if you own a fishing goods store and most of your business is done in the spring and summer, you could offer specialty ice-fishing and cold-weather fishing goods on-line. In-store item samples can be displayed as order-prompts with your website address, so you’re your customer can easily order on-line.
- Add a location (virtual or physical) that expands your business model. For example, if you have a catering company that is busiest on the weekends, you could supplement this by starting a business lunch catering business.
- Transform your products to meet other purposes or demands.For example, if you are a realtor whose primary business is spring through fall, consider using your property evaluation skills during the winter. You could start a property consultation business to help potential sellers prepare their property for sale. Or, if you have a catering business that is busiest during the holiday period, consider teaching cooking classes to your clients during the non-peak season.
And, don’t forget the media when you are taking your business to a new level. Invite local writers to your establishment or offer special services to them. A good relationship with the media can create bridges to new consumers. Keep in mind that your Facebook, LinkedIn and web pages are all part of your media plan and should reflect your news.
Maximizing a strictly seasonal business:
If you strictly want to maintain your current, seasonal business model, consider developing a communications plan to stay in close contact with your customers during the off-periods. For example, if you have a bed and breakfast that is busy during the winter months, consider reaching out to your consumers in the off-season. You could send them direct mail pieces, email blasts or newsletters to remind them of their visit and encourages them to return next season. The key is to be “top-of-mind” with your customers when they are making decisions for their next winter trip. Similarly, a business that is not busy after 5 p.m. might send email blasts to customers a few hours before they leave work to remind them to “stop in” after work.
If a seasonal business is optimal for you, consider a plan to maximize your time during lighter business periods. This might encompass activities like physical business improvements and marketing plan updates through tax preparation and visiting with potential suppliers.
Seasonal businesses often have two accounting challenges that can be focused on during lighter business periods. The first involves late payments on invoices. According to a 2012 Wall Street Journal survey, 64% of small businesses have unpaid invoices over 60 days old. There are ways to reduce this including terms on invoices over 30 days. Consider such a policy if you are experiencing late payments. On the flip side, ask your suppliers for flexible terms when purchasing from them in order to have closer timing of your expenses and sales.
The other area of special importance for seasonal businesses is cash flow. Cash flow is extremely important for seasonal business owners. Past actual cash flow is a reasonable projection for future cash flow. Careful tracking of cash flow will help you make optimal decisions for future growth, expansion or change.
So, whether you decide to move your business beyond current seasonal ventures or maintain your current approach, seasonal and time-sensitive businesses have many opportunities for growth and optimization. And, as we enter the very beginning of the holiday season, we hope that these ideas generate helpful thoughts about your small business!
Change: The Power to Grow
Change. Those six little letters hold great power. Change is the booster engine in a business life cycle. It has the power to create positive results for a business including innovation, growth, cost reductions, improved customer loyalty, and greater employee morale.
So, why do business owners sometimes resist change?
Sometimes “staying the course” is more comfortable since shifting the course sometimes represents the unknown; however, change is the catalyst for future growth and can create great results.
Change is an opportunity:
When presented with change, be responsive and adaptive. View change as an opportunity to grow your business, your team and to learn and grow.
Look for opportunities to maximize change. If you find that you have a great, creative idea that can potentially grow your business, execute your initiatives to separate you from your competitors. If macro business trends are changing around you, and you are using old technology or a process/product that may become outdated, it is probably time to consider a change.
Opportunities for change present themselves often, so look for the ones with the greatest potential to grow your business.
How to Positively Incorporate Change
Change can be the best thing that ever happened to a business. Change can create innovation and move your business to a new place.
The easiest way to incorporate change is simply to focus on the positive outcome the change will create. Focusing on the positive will decrease stress and increase your desire to innovate and grow your business.
A small shift in thinking, attitude and actions can create positive results for small businesses.
- Incorporating new supply chain technology innovation has resulted in reduced time between order and delivery of finished goods, reduced inventory of finished goods and better management of on-hand components (e.g. online ordering, just-in-time fulfillment, advanced ordering for food delivery, etc.). Small businesses can adapt supply chain innovation to reduce costs. It is often useful to watch changes at large corporations like Wal-Mart to model adjustments for your small business.
- Creating custom products for specific users have created a more loyal consumer base for companies like eyewear manufacturer Warby Parker. Warby Parker sells online, utilizes buses with sample inventory that travel to key cities, and has a limited number of showrooms. By designing glasses in-house and avoiding the overhead of physical stores, the company is able to lower the cost of its glasses. The consumer feels like their glasses are custom-designed at a fair price. This company has embraced the consumer’s new acceptance of shopping in non-traditional ways for traditional items. So, if you are thinking of new ways to sell your products, consider non-traditional ways to create, advertise and distribute your product or service.
- On-line business models have changed the way some small business consumers shop and the way that small businesses reach their consumers. No longer are curators of original products and product resellers limited to shops on Main Street, they are now able to take advantage of the opportunity to change and sell their products on sites like Ebay and Etsy. So, consider new ways to sell your products via the internet.
Find Ways That Your Business Can Change
Find needs that your consumers have that are not currently being met, create solutions to meet their needs better, and then incorporate those changes in your business. To help determine what you may need to change, talk to your customers and get their insight around these questions:
- Is there something I could change that would make you (my customers) happier?
- Is there something I could do to improve my products and/or services?
- Is there a way that you (my customers) would be more loyal to my products and/or services such that you would never think about buying from my competitor?
One or two of those questions may result in an answer that you could use to strengthen your business.
Look Around and Embrace Change
Ideas are always out there to help you grow and change your business. Other resources to consider include: Encore: www.encore.com, U.S. Small Business Assocation: www.ussba.gov, and the National Assocation for the Self-employed: www.nase.org.
Now, what could you change in the immediate future to grow your business?
Keeping It All in the Family
Family-owned businesses have historically been the backbone of the American economy, making up approximately 80-90% of all enterprises in North America. With this large of a percentage there are some good reasons why there are a variety of best practices that have grown to support this business model.
There are generally two areas that family businesses should pay close attention to:
1) family dynamics, as it applies to the structure of the business, and
2) financial considerations around operations. Family dynamics can affect how a company operates as people tend to bring their family ‘roles’ into the company.
The patriarch/matriarch will often be in charge and sometimes, younger relatives fill in the support roles with little decision-making ability, as per the typical family structure.
In order to evaluate those roles and to head off potential family ‘traps,’ consider a few of these pointers. One of the most important is to make sure there’s a captain of the ship and a clear chain of command. Identify who will be the final decision maker and make sure that person is empowered to make those decisions. Also make sure to have a clear plan for transferring that power when the time comes and make sure everyone is in agreement.
Don’t assume a family member’s skill sets based on how they perform within the family. Perhaps have an outside advisory team or a mentor to evaluate outside of family perceptions. Sometimes it’s good to have fresh eyes that can evaluate outside of the family structure. In addition, an advisor can help you strategically plan the future transitions of power as the business evolves.
If you have employees that are not family you must make sure to not set up preferential treatment for family members and not employees. Any sort of perceived preferential treatment can undermine employee loyalty and productivity. Maintain separation between the business side and the family side. Try to limit work talk during family time and vice versa. Start being conscious of when you are having conversations with family outside of work that last for more than 15 minutes at a time. If non-family employees see a fair and professional environment it will be easier for all.
Having a clearly defined chain of command is especially important when it applies to the financial health of a company. Money is always a high point of contention when it comes to family arguments. By having a structured process around those decisions you can help remove built-in emotional triggers that don’t benefit the situation. Perhaps you have a board of family members with each having a weighted vote or maybe you just have one person with the understanding that they have the final veto.
Having this decision-making process is also beneficial when evaluating business tools. Often there can be a generational gap in a company that can cause friction when dealing with technology solutions or scrapping old and expensive systems. Adopting modern cost-effective solutions is easier when your family is starting a business today. If your business is older there may be legacy systems and often the founders of the business are more invested in having them and less open to scrapping them. Make sure to frame that with your decision process and have a strong use case to convince reticent stakeholders.
Lastly, make sure to clearly separate business and personal finances. Have separate accounts, credit cards and stay within your budgets for both. When tax time rolls around doing so will make it much easier on you and your accountant.
The good news is that most people polled about their business would not go back to a non-family corporate routine and feel that it has strengthened their family bonds overall. The key is defining what your expectations are amongst the family and continually communicating on the success and failure of the business model.
The Perks of Being a Small Business Owner
Many people assume the most significant perk of being a small business owner is being your own boss. While this is often cited at the top of the list, many small business owners identify several other perks they never considered when they started their business, some being lifestyle related and others financial.
Some of the lifestyle perks are obvious, including:
• Better control of your work/life balance
• Having your ideas generate revenue
• Being able to work more efficiently
• Creating an atmosphere more conducive to how you work.
While these are all good reasons to be a small business owner, there’s more. Entrepreneurship and being able to realize your vision as a tangible business can give you a sense of accomplishment. Small business innovation and entrepreneurship drive our economy and place you among a class of leaders that can open up other business and networking opportunities. Being a business leader means you have hands-on experience with every aspect of your company from marketing to logistics.
A perk that can give great professional and personal satisfaction is being able to build and grow your own team. If you are an inspirational leader, you not only get to see the fruits of your labor but also get to witness the occupational growth of your employees. At the end of the day, being able to provide employment to others can be one of the most rewarding aspects of owning a small business.
In addition to choosing your team you can also choose your client base and the vendors you work with. Often larger companies have a limited client list, or vendors that you must use regardless of whether you think they are right for the job. Being able to choose your vendors means you can better control the quality of your products and services. In addition, you are able to work with clientele that perhaps fits your lifestyle and business vision more closely.
Financially, the risks and rewards are all yours -- although the risks can be reduced by using technology to replace expensive infrastructure that historically has been strong hurdles to running a business. Cumbersome and expensive servers can be replaced with cloud solutions, and expensive point of sale infrastructure can be replaced with tablets and online commerce. Fiber-optic networks are the best choice to run these solutions. Guidelines on what type of solutions are best for your business can be found at smallbizready.com.
As a small business owner it’s about you focusing on your passion and realizing your dream. Harness this passion and direct it towards your business goals. Your quality of life will grow with the success of your business.
Actionable Ideas for Time Management
As the sayings go, "time is fleeting" and "time is money." No one knows these concepts better than you, the small business owner. Here are a few suggestions to help you manage your most limited resource: time.
1. Focus on your target consumer. Avoid trying to be all things to all people. Decide on your most profitable target opportunities with growth potential--narrow your focus and broaden your appeal to that audience. Identify what their needs are and how you can best serve them. If you have gaps in meeting your top customer needs, focus on expanding your capabilities to meet those needs.
2. Differentiate your business. Create differentiation between you and your competitors by providing a service or product that few businesses offer. By differentiating you can focus on your key differences. This helps you save time by providing a focal point for your promotional efforts.
3. Build a team. Decide on the type of person you want on your team. Search for those personality traits and work styles, as well as needed skills, when adding to your staff. Many people can fill a position, but few will complete your team. The right choice in team members can then grow and take projects off of your list.
4. Use your best assets: a smile and a thank you. Tell your customers and employees how much you appreciate them. Write them a note. A smile and a thank you are great competitive tools and will be contagious with your employees. This approach will help you retain customers and you won't need to spend time finding replacements. (Don't forget word of mouth is still one of the best way to gain new customers.)
5. Solve the right problems. Focus your time on the problems that you can manage and impact. Don't worry about or spend time on issues that are outside of what you can control.
6. Short lists vs. long lists. Long lists are appealing but at the end of the day, 3 to 5 items may be all you normally get accomplished, so why have a long list? It can be discouraging to look at the same list of 15 items if none of them get crossed off. Consider putting the 3 to 5 top priority items on your "immediate" list. Then, make a "mid-priority" list of items you need to accomplish within the week and a "long-term" list of items you would like to do within 1 to 6 months. This will help you manage what can be done in the time allotted and feel better about your accomplishments.
7. Reduce paperwork and your email inbox. Follow the "one-touch" rule for incoming paperwork and emails. Keep file folders for both types of communications. Create a "to do" folder, topic folders, and a "to read" folder. Keep the trash basket handy. Try to touch each item of paperwork and email in your inbox once; otherwise, your time will be spent sorting through items rather than moving through tasks.
Try to incorporate these strategies and tactics into your business and your effectiveness should grow over time. Please share your tips in the comments section.