Archive for January, 2014


Networking for People Who Hate Networking

I may appear regularly on radio and TV, but I’m not all that different from other people when it comes to networking.  The whole concept of establishing any relationship with total strangers and then converting them into treasured resources can be overwhelming.   Still, with a clear understanding of what networking is really all about, anyone — from the life of the party to the shyest wallflower — can develop a great business network.

Here are four tips that can even help those of us who hate networking develop the valuable business relationships they need.

Leverage Your Current Network

If you have family and friends, you already have a network.  But you probably don’t recognize that these people can help with your business issues.  If you need assistance solving a specific problem or finding new customers, talk to the people that you know. Remember that they have connections, too. A simple introduction is all that you need to grow your own network.

But don’t stop with your close contacts.  You probably interact with many people every day, and you know them well enough to ask for help.  One person that I know has been going to the same spa for years.  One time, she brought some business brochures and asked if she could place them on the reception counter next to other promotional items that they already had on display.  With their permission, she got some calls from people already primed to purchase her services while avoiding the pain of cold-calling.

Do Not Fear Networking Events

The thought of facing countless people that you don’t know may seem overwhelming, but a little advance planning can simplify the effort.  When you find an event that you believe may help you, start by contacting the organizer at least a few days before the meeting. That person can make introductions for you ahead of time through email or social networking.

On the day of the event, you may enter a room with hundreds of people, but you know which people to seek out. When you introduce yourself in person, you will instantly see a friendly look of recognition on their faces.   You can feel more comfortable conversing with new friends, rather than trying to break the ice with total strangers.

Leverage Social Media

Social Media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook have blurred the lines between real relationships and virtual connections. But these tools eliminate the need for face-to-face or phone contact as a preamble to establishing business contacts.  Set up one or more free accounts and start making connections.

If you pay regular attention to your social media accounts, you will get to know quite a bit about your new friends. Then, when you find someone with mutual interests and concerns, consider making your conversations more private to find out if you can help each other in your networking efforts.

Aim for Quality Over Quantity

????????????????????????????????????????Networking is not an all-or-nothing proposition.  It is better to find a few people with whom you can develop a mutually-beneficial relationship than to collect an impressive stack of business cards.  So, even if you are at a conference with thousands of attendees, find ways to do your networking in small chunks.

For example, everyone has to eat, so ask a few people sitting near you in a late-morning session to get together for lunch.  Instantly, you create a small group of people who share your interests without the embarrassment of trying to ask a single person to go out with you. You may or may not become lifelong friends with your new lunch buddies, but you will know that each business card has real meaning for you.

Whether you are an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere between, you may have discovered your own tricks to increasing your list of valued business contacts. Please share them below.


4 Tips to Running a Business Out of Your Home

You have an incredible idea for a business, an idea that will disrupt an entire industry. You want to get started right away, but there is one problem: you don’t have the capital to rent an office space. Instead, you quickly decide to convert the kid’s playroom into your new company headquarters and get going. While this sounds like an easy solution, there are several things to keep in mind when running a business out of your home. Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, a professional job service for flexible workers, offers her top tips for success.

Establish a business address

Asking your clients to send their RFPs to your home address can come off as unprofessional, especially if you live at 1234 Prairie View Circle (it sounds a little residential, don’t you think?).  “I recommend utilizing a P.O. Box or maybe the UPS store near your house as your business’s primary residence,” says Sutton Fell. “You can always change your address later on if you move into a more commercial location.”

Structure your time wisely

????????????????????Working from home comes with a fair amount of inherent distractions: your children may need to go to the doctor in the middle of the day, your dog could get sick and need attention (or a walk or two or three), the pile of laundry in your bedroom may start sending you subliminal messages to be washed. Whatever the distraction, give yourself some breathing room to work during the hours that are best for you.

“I usually plan to work around 50 hours per week, but I have young kids and things come up, so, really, that 50 hours has a buffer built in. If I work around 45 I’ll be fine,” says Sutton Fell. “Sometimes I work in the evening and sometimes in the early morning. It really depends on the needs of my family and what is going on during any particular day.”

Set up a business phone number

Sutton Fell doesn’t believe in using her home phone or cell phone as her main business line. Instead, she uses a third-party phone service provider that routes her calls via a voice message system. “It sounds like you are calling one general number and that number is then linked to different extensions, but, in reality, the call is being routed to my cell phone,” she says.

Need a phone system for your small business? Consider signing up for Nextiva with monthly phone service that starts at only $19.95 per line.

Beware of the ambient noise

Make sure to clear your office of barking dogs and crying children before your next conference call; background sound can hurt your credibility, especially if your client doesn’t know that you work from home. “Noise is a really big issue and the exact moment when your baby starts to cry could be the moment when you start to lose trust and professionalism,” says Sutton Fell. “I really suggest dedicating a separate workspace so you can have the utmost quiet throughout your day.”


Work Your Biz Wednesday: 6 Tips to Better Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a great way to raise money for a small business. Find out how to get started from The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 4 Ways to Be a Win-Win Negotiator

Whether you’re negotiating with a potential client or partner, a disgruntled customer or an employee, there’s a right and wrong way to negotiate. The right way: Create a win-win result where everyone feels satisfied and positive about the relationship. The wrong way: Focus on getting what you want at the expense of everyone else. You may win the battle, but you’ll lose the war. So how can you create win-win negotiations? Here are four tips.

  1. ???????????????????????????Know your limits. What are you prepared to concede and what is non-negotiable? Knowing this going in will help you negotiate more effectively. For instance, in dealing with an angry customer, you may be willing to concede to waiving a return fee or giving a partial discount, but not willing to comp the whole transaction.
  2. Listen—really listen—to the other side. After all this time spent thinking about what you want from the negotiation, your mind is buzzing with information. But to negotiate successfully, you’ve got to quiet it down so you can pay attention to what the other person is saying. Listen for the unspoken desires, such as wanting to feel important or wanting to be treated fairly. Often, what isn’t said is what matters most.
  3. See the big picture. Don’t focus so much on this specific negotiation that you lose sight of the long term. If gaining what you want from the negotiation means losing a customer, is that worth it? Perhaps it’s better to make more concessions than you planned if the ultimate outcome will be worth it.
  4. Be patient. Take time to think through your statements and weigh your options. Don’t be afraid of silence—if you feel the need to fill every moment with talk, you’ll likely end up giving too much away. You may also need to be patient enough to table the negotiation for now and come back to it later, when both parties have had time to think or to cool down.

By following these four tips, you’ll find your negotiations going more smoothly and leading to better results for all involved. 


Mondays with Mike: What You Can Learn from Marketing Masters

Whether or not we like it, we all have to market ourselves and our businesses.  Fortunately, we have a wealth of lessons we can learn from the marketing geniuses who have provided us with a variety of techniques that can help you find new clients and transform them into loyal repeat customers.

  1. Have the people making it, use it.  Walt Disney, perhaps the greatest marketing genius of all time, demonstrated the effectiveness of this practice in Disney World.  Both corporate and park employees rode every ride over and over until they fine tuned every detail – even down to the simulated fireflies in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.  If your team experiences your services as a customer, they’ll have greater insight into what customers want.
  2. Multi-level marketing.  Mary Kay Ash gave the world much more than just pink Cadillacs.  She also gave us the model for successful marketing based on direct sales to friends and family and valuable rewards for achievement and recruitment.  She painted the glass ceiling pink and turned it into a stepping stone to the next level.
  3. Design matters.  Steve Jobs didn’t create the only technology for accomplishing tasks; he created the coolest technology for accomplishing tasks.  Never underestimate the appeal of sleek, snazzy packaging coupled with ease of use.
  4. The huge promise.  Tim Ferriss taught us that consumers will snap up products even if they know that the unrealistic claims about them aren’t entirely possible.  Get rich by working 4 hours a week.  Get fit by exercising four hours a month.  We know it aint’ gonna happen, but we buy it anyway, and we may still reap rewards – even if they’re not exactly what was promised.  Ferriss showed us that it’s okay to aim for the stars and settle for hitting the moon.
  5. MarketingNever stop testing.  David Ogilvy is the father of modern advertising and an early proponent of split testing.  His method of testing – creating two postcards in a direct mailing campaign and tracking each card’s success – provides the perfect model for ensuring that your large advertising campaigns yield results.
  6. Be the best at one thing.  Michael Phelps is the poster boy for singleminded dedication and the astonishing results it can yield.  Focus on your strengths and your passion, and your results will surprise you.
  7. Word of mouth matters.  Conrad Gessner is our representative from the wayback files for this example.  Gessner was a sixteenth century botanist who penned a poem about tulips that contributed to the European craze for the flowers, ultimately resulting in people with more money than sense who were willing to part with astronomical sums of money ($1M in today’s equivalent) for a single tulip bulb.  Make it desirable, and people will want to purchase it.
  8. Be remarkable.  Seth Godin has spent his career being different.  He’s proven that a purple cow (his term for a remarkable product) is the key to standing out in a crowded marketplace.  He’s also shown that it’s possible to generate revenue while still giving back to his community.

I’m a big fan of learning from the best.  These marketing mavens can teach you volumes.  


How to Improve Your Work/Life Balance in 2014

work-life-balance-life-purposeAll of us would like to strike a balance between our work life and personal life, but accomplishing such harmony can be easier said than done. Here, Dr. Rachel Elahee, a life coach based in Atlanta, offers a few pointers on how to feel a more relaxed this year.

Take inventory of your activities

As a business owner, you most likely started your company because of a deep-felt passion in a product or service. Maybe you love to bake and wanted to bring your cakes to the masses or you are fan of the latest fashion trends and wanted to bring your tastes to the women in your community. Take a moment to think about what you do on a day-to-day basis and ask yourself: Are you still doing what you love?

“We often get trapped by doing what we need to get done and lose sight of our original spark,” says Elahee. “When you move away from your original passion, you can get lost. Try to gain an awareness in your every day activities and determine if you are still doing what you really enjoy.”

Schedule your down time

Your love for painting or taking yoga classes has fallen by the wayside since you launched your business. Now your days are filled with meetings and worrying about your next sale. Instead of staying on the moving walkway that is your life, try stepping off for a minute to do something that you adore.

“When I recommend business owners do something they love to do, they will immediately tell me that they just don’t have the time and talk themselves out of it,” she says. “But I’m here to tell you that there is almost always time during your week that you are wasting. Carve out one or two hours each week for yourself. If you still can’t, take that as a cue that you really need this.”  

Refocus and delegate

How many hats do you wear on any given day? 10? 12? More? Business owners, especially those with early-stage companies, are known to take on the creative side of the business in addition to the sales side, the technical side, the advertising side and the bookkeeping side, just to name a few. Elahee says it is a good idea to take stock of your daily responsibilities and consider farming some of them out to others.

“If you try to do everything, you will bury yourself under all of your tasks,” she says. “Consult with someone to take things off your plate. You will feel so much better when you do.” 


Are You a Fake?

a-penguin-imposterMany small business owners suffer from the imposter syndrome. They feel that their customers or employees will find out "who they really are" and lose confidence in their ability to run the company. This fear holds many people back from displaying who they really are at work. This becomes a problem in the transparent world of the Internet where "being human" and authentic are highly valued by customers.

Customers buy from who they believe, like, and trust. Without being authentic as a leader and a company, this will never happen and it will become impossible to build a profitable company. Here is what to do:

1. Tell the truth. This is more difficult than it first seems in small business. Most owners have good intentions, but sometimes are afraid to disclose to employees and customers what is really happening. How to be authentic: Focus on the companies strengths. Always deliver good and bad news in a timely fashion. Don't be afraid to be humble and show personal or company warts. Build a culture of openness and frequent communication. 

2. Stick to the brand. Many times, companies want to be everything to everybody. This leads to telling the customer that the company can do things that they really can't. This leads to frustrated employees, disappointed customers and an unprofitable businesses. How to be authentic: Determine the exact customer segment served and the pain solved. Get clear on what the company cares about. Stay focused on delivering outstanding results in this niche area.

3. Hire employees that want to be part of the company's culture. Too many times, owners hire a person to fit a particular job. They rush into a decision and don't understand how that person would work in the overall company culture. How to be authentic: Hire for attitude over skill. Think about how the new employee will complement the rest of the team. Have team members give feedback on prospective employees.

4. Be consistent. Too many times, the company's brand does not match it's culture. The friendly company persona contradicts the cut throat office atmosphere. The boss is sometimes an angel and other times an ogre. How to be authentic: Live the company brand. Be the same person inside and outside the office. Be the same in front of managers, staff and customers. Have no hidden agendas. Set an example by practicing whatever is preached.

Are you authentic? How do you demonstrate it? 


Work Your Biz Wednesday: How to get More Likes on your Facebook Fan Page

Find out ways to boost your Facebook fan page engagement and build your brand online with the C-Q-H-L approach from The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Encourage Online Reviews

Have you ever been in the mood for a certain type of food and hopped on Yelp to look for a new restaurant to try? Then you know that online ratings and reviews from customers are key to driving new customers to your business and growing your sales. The more reviews you have, the more trustworthy your business will appear to be. But too many small business owners aren’t doing all they can to get customers to post online reviews. As a result, they have few or no reviews and get passed over in favor of businesses with more feedback.

How can you encourage customers to leave reviews? Encourage is the key word here, because actively soliciting or requesting reviews is frowned on by review sites, and providing incentives such as discounts or freebies in exchange for reviews can get you in trouble. Try these steps instead:

  1. Give them a sign. Posting signage in your store, restaurant or office is a simple and subtle way to remind customers that your business is on review sites and that you’d love a review. For example, Yelp has downloadable “Find us on Yelp” banners you can print out as signage for your store window or point-of-sale counter.
  2. Provide postsale reminders. Your store receipts or restaurant checks could say: “Like us? Review us on [list the review sites where you have a presence].” An ecommerce company can send follow-up emails after the sale to make sure the customer was satisfied and include a reminder that your business is on review sites.
  3. Spread the word. Put icons for the review sites where you have a presence in your print marketing materials, on your website (you can use the downloadable Yelp banners there), in your email signature and anywhere else you can think of.
  4. Make it easy. Everyone’s more inclined to write a review if it’s not a big hassle, so if your site says, “Like us? Review us on Yelp,” make sure there’s a clickable link so they can do so in a minute.

Whatever you do about online reviews, there’s one big “don’t:” Don’t fake them or have friends and family write them because you’re worried you don’t have enough. Use the tips above to grow your online review status organically. 

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