Archive for the ‘Startup’ Category


How to Find a Mentor for Your Small Business

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????Have you ever considered finding a mentor in your industry to ask for advice on running your small business? Having a mentor can help you avoid mistakes they’ve made and guide you to finding a faster path to profit and prosperity. And it’s also great to have someone to bounce ideas off of. Here are some suggestions for how to find the right mentor for your company.

First, Figure Out What You Need

Are you looking for a mentor who can advise you on running a business just like yours? Or someone who can help you in a particular area, like marketing, sales, or product development? Knowing what area you want to improve in can help you figure out where to start your hunt.

Look Around Your Industry

There are likely people who have worked in your field for years that are willing to help you along the same path. If you don’t know many people in your area, attend industry networking events to meet them. Ideally, you want to find someone who’s a little further down the path than you are so he can help guide you based on his experience.

Visit Local Small Business Resources

You’ve probably got a SCORE chapter or Small Business Development Center near you, so take advantage of the free access to business professionals. If they can’t help you, they may be able to connect you with willing folks to serve as mentors. The best thing about SCORE is that you can find a mentor online as well as in person. Also look for a Women’s Business Development Center, they offer great resources as well for men or women.

Check Your Online Network

Don’t overlook your online contacts in your search. While you might not be able to meet face-to-face, having a virtual mentor you can connect with on Twitter or LinkedIn can still provide the benefits you’re looking for. Pay attention to who you interact with on social media, or search for someone you think has the experience you need.

How to Approach a Potential Mentor

Finding a mentor is all about relationship-building, so be prepared for the long haul. Start by simply getting on this person’s radar so he or she knows who you are and what you do. Support him in any way you can, such as by sharing his blog articles or responding to his status updates online.

If the person you’re considering is local, invite him to coffee to get to know one another. If it feels right, mention that you’re looking for a mentor and see where the conversation goes. Be sure to highlight what the other person will get from the relationship. Many people might not even consider that you’d want them as a mentor, so don’t be afraid to ask flat out once you’ve built up the relationship. They’ll likely be flattered.

Lay out your expectations for the relationship:

  • How often you’d like to meet, and how (phone, email, in person)
  • What you’d like to learn from him
  • How you can reciprocate (offer business referrals, etc.)

Your potential mentor may have other ideas about how you can work together, so be open to hearing them.

As you build your mentor/mentee relationship, be grateful for the time he gives you, and find ways to show your appreciation. A heartfelt thank you note can go a long way, as can a thoughtful gift during the holidays.


Mondays with Mike: Improve Your Client Relationships With Social Media

In the olden days – you know, before Facebook – the success of a marketing campaign was often simply a measure of how much money you had to spend.  After all, we know that if you repeat something often enough, then people will believe it. 

My, how times have changed.

People consume information so differently now, that the weight of a single television commercial or magazine ad is often diluted by all of the impressions that we get from other forms of media, and that’s a huge opportunity for small businesses.  You can build your brand without investing tons of money, if you’re willing to invest a little time.  Consumers are looking for a genuine connection and a way to interact with a company, and you can give them what they want by using social media.

There are lots of serious minded folks who dismiss Facebook and Twitter as frivolous fads – wasters of time and energy.  What those folks don’t know is that their company is most likely already being discussed on social media.  Whether you run a restaurant or a carpet cleaning service, chances are good that there are online reviews of your business.  If that doesn’t scare you, it should.  The conversation is happening.  The only question is whether you want to participate and start to shape that conversation into one that presents your company in its best light.

Responding to reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor is a great opportunity to thank happy patrons for their business, and it’s also a chance for you to see what your customers didn’t like about their experience.  If it’s appropriate, a public acknowledgement of their complaint and a promise to make it right shows that you value your customers and are invested in providing excellent service.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Social media also gives you a chance to invite prospective customers in for a virtual visit.  You can post pictures of your daily special at the restaurant, or you can write a quick blog post about why you’ve chosen a particular brand of environmentally safe cleaners for use in your customers’ homes.  You can run silly little contests on your Facebook page, inviting folks to provide suggestions for your newest drink creation or offering a freebie for the 1000th person who likes your Facebook page.  The idea is to get your customers involved on your social media platforms.  Invite them to share pictures of your business on Instagram, and make sure you monitor all of the possible sites that might have reviews of your business.  It’s possible that you’ll luck into some great, unsolicited free advertising, but if you carefully cultivate your social media presence, you’ll end up interacting with far more consumers.

Your company’s reputation depends on your relationship with your customers, and you can manage that relationship – in part, anyway – by using the free social media tools available to you.  Whether you’re in love with Facebook or not, you’re missing out if you don’t acknowledge the powerful opportunities that it provides you.


10 Pieces of Advice to Ignore

Entrepreneurs get advice every day from their professional advisors and information they read. A lot of it needs to be ignored. Pay close attention to disregarding these platitudes and what to do instead:

  1. It takes money to make money. Many entrepreneurs spend too much money getting their company off the ground. In fact, having a lot of money can lead to being wasteful. Use small investments to test ideas and get paying customers. Based on this success or failure, spend alittle more money to test the next action.
  2. Do what you love and the money will follow. This principle has the entrepreneur focus on what they want to do instead of what the customer wants. Building a company is about finding the pain a buyer has, not what the entrepreneur wants to provide. Instead, do what you love and if you solve a customer’s pain, the money will always follow.
  3. Failure is required for success. This is what many entrepreneurs tell themselves when they fail. While failure is not required for success, ultimately it is part of every entrepreneur’s experience. Never fear failure. When it comes, acknowledge it, learn what you can, then take another action to give you another chance at success.
  4. Failure is not an option. Not only is it an option, it is the most likely outcome. Get comfortable with the fact that you will fail some of the time and not knowing exactly what will happen next.
  5. A penny saved is a penny earned. This is short term thinking. While it is important to be carefully frugal with your money, not every transaction needs to yield the maximum profit. Successful business owners invest in long term relationships.
  6. Good things come to those that wait. Waiting is typically not in an owners DNA. As another platitude says “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it”. Being proactive rather than reactive will typically win the day.
  7. A penny for your thoughts. Be careful not to give away your value to customers for free. Entrepreneurs typically undervalue their products and services since they are uncomfortable asking customers to buy.
  8. The customer is always right. If the customer was always right, most entrepreneurs would be out of business! When the customer has a concern, the most important thing is to listen and show empathy. They don’t need to be right, but always need to be heard.
  9. Another day, another dollar. Making money is not a linear process. Successful small business owners look for the leverage in profitability and this typically is not in the form of working harder or longer hours. Look for the financial leverage points in hiring other people, intellectual property or a dedicated distribution channel.
  10. Money doesn’t grow on trees. While this is literally true, there is ways to make money all around any entrepreneur. Follow the customers that have the money to solve their pain and the money will follow. 

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How Spreadsheets Can Turn You into a Business Super Power

Posted on by Carol Roth

supermanphoneboothWhen Clark Kent runs to a phone booth and emerges as Superman, a competent, mild-mannered news man begins using an entirely different set of skills to save the world.  These days, phone booths are a rare sight, but you don’t need one to develop business super powers.  By embracing the capabilities of spreadsheets, you gain skills that help you wear the many hats (or capes) that you need to run a successful business.

You are already well versed in providing your goods or services to happy customers, but any business requires you to be equally adept at planning, organizing, analyzing, reporting and countless other activities.  So, update your superhero wardrobe and toolkit by replacing your many hats with a single spreadsheet cape that helps you super-charge your capacity to handle any type of business task (although I don’t recommend going with the superhero look of wearing your underwear over your pants). 

Here are a few great ways that you can use spreadsheets to “save the day” in your business.

Handling Administrative Tasks Faster than a Speeding Bullet

Like me, you probably view administrative activities as the evil villain in your business day.  How many of your filing cabinets contain nothing but time sheets, expense reports, travel advance requests and other forms that your employees use to keep track of administrative issues?  And how many employees spend countless hours checking the math and making sure that these forms are complete? 

Spreadsheets to the rescue!  When you switch from paper to spreadsheets for your business paperwork, you can release floor space for better uses than paper filing, while freeing employee time (or your time) for more valuable tasks.  Since my college days, Microsoft Excel has been my spreadsheet of choice (which may explain why the company is now one of my clients), so that’s what I recommend.  Microsoft Excel provides an amazing array of helpful templates when you create a new spreadsheet.  Heck, they provide over a dozen templates just for employee time sheets.  But on the off chance that you cannot find the template you need, you can probably find it online on Microsoft’s Templates page.  Browse these templates to get inspired on how you can streamline your administrative duties.

Planning and Reporting with X-Ray Focus

Spreadsheets make planning and reporting easier, more accurate and more collaborative.  By building in assumptions and using formulas for calculations, you can easily test different scenarios, such as what happens if you were able to generate a cost reduction for a key client or what happens if you doubled your revenue.  By copying the current year’s formulas, you can also project future years without having to recreate the wheel each time, which saves you time.  And your customers, lenders and accountants won’t need X-ray vision to find or understand the information that they need.

And, of course, templates are available to help you create everything from startup business plans to just about any type of financial report that you can imagine, so you don’t even need to create them from scratch. 

Use the Power of Charts and Graphs

Analyzing data can be valuable for companies to see trends and deficiencies.  Whether you have one client that is accounting for too much of your business and creating additional risk, or a continual increase in your expenditures of professional services, sometimes it is easier to see with the visual presentation of charts and graphs.  Using spreadsheets, you are just a few clicks away from converting that dry data into colorful charts and graphs that instantly make data evaluation a snap. 

Not only do charts and graphs make it easier for you to analyze data, they are great for transforming presentations as well.  

Whether you do it all in your small business or even if you have the luxury of delegating number crunching to an employee or two, your business needs consistent, accurate and professional-looking information to grow and prosper.  I hope that you will use these suggestions to replace drudgery with productivity.  Then, continue the adventure by finding many other ways to use spreadsheets to make the switch from mild-mannered business owner to business superhero.


Mondays with Mike: Keep ‘Em Coming Back – Rich, Relevant Content

???????????????????Even if you don’t have a product that you sell online, nearly every business benefits from having a website.  It’s how you build your brand, reach new consumers, and share the important details about your business.  Whether you build it yourself or hire a web designer, though, getting the site up and running is only the first step. 

If you want repeat visits to your website, you have to give folks a reason to come back.  Especially if you’re not using the site for online sales, you’ll find that providing articles or blog posts with fresh and interesting content is one of the best ways to get consumers in the habit of coming back.  If your customers look forward to the new content you post, you have a much better shot at creating a lasting impression of your brand.

The key is to make your content fresh and relevant, though, and that’s no easy task.  Entrepreneurs with new websites often worry that they’ll have trouble continually coming up with a new story to tell.  Here’s the secret:  you don’t have to tell a new story with every post; you simply have to tell the same story in a fresh way. 

Technology is your friend.

Let’s say that your family owns a farm – you have orchards, a bakery, a produce stand, and wagon rides so that customers can pick their own fresh fruit.  You want your website to tell your story and to encourage folks to support your small local business.  But what will you write about in your blog?

You start out with blog posts about what’s in season, but it doesn’t have to end there.  You can include recipes that feature your fresh produce, and move on to other topics.  Take your website visitors on a virtual tour of your bakery, or of the farm, using Skype.  Interview your visitors and get their permission to include their favorite parts of their visit in a video collection.  Show off the new water recycling system you’ve installed and take the opportunity to talk about sustainable farming and how important it is.  Invite a local chef to feature your produce in their restaurant and post the menus on your website.  Create an infographic that talks about the nutritional value of fresh fruit, or that shows a breakdown of all the crops you raise and where you have them planted on the farm.

You’re telling the same story about a hardworking, family-owned business, but you’re using technology to share that story in fresh and interesting ways.  Your website analytics can give you valuable information about which pages get the most views and are shared with others, and you can use that feedback to tailor future content.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an important tool – so important that lots of websites simply hire someone to spin (rewrite) articles to fool Google into thinking that the site is materially different from the last time it was crawled.  The benefit of creating genuine rich content is that you don’t have to fool a search engine – your site actually has new, relevant, and engaging content.  There’s so much more to building a vibrant, successful website than simply securing a web address and slapping up some graphics.  If you’re not using the incredibly power of your site to tell your unique story, then you’re missing the boat.


The Dos and Don’ts of Trade Show Marketing

It's no secret that trade show events are quite costly. In fact, they can quickly command 20-30% of your marketing budget with just a few events each year. So, it pays to do it right.

DO capture leads in volume. Time is money. The number of hours the tradeshow floor is open is limited and attendees have a full agenda of sessions, networking, pre-arranged meetings PLUS the list of exhibitors they have already prioritized as “must visit” during the event. You’re already fighting time (not something many people win). So, you might as well gather as many new contacts as possible during the short time period that attendees have in the exhibit hall. Sort them out and prioritize them later for sales follow-up.

  • You have no idea if the next person that walks by your booth could justify your investment in it. Make an introduction without judgment.
  • Even contacts that aren’t ready to purchase or partner now could be opportunities to nurture for when they are ready.
  • You have spent too much money to be there to treat each conversation as an hour meeting. You’ll miss out on hundreds of new leads. Gather some initial information and set a time to follow-up after the show.

DO follow up promptly and nurture new leads over time. This is where the rubber meets the road. If you are going to spend the time and money planning, promoting and presenting your brand at an event, the only way to quantify the return on that investment is to contact, qualify and nurture the leads that you generated. While that seems obvious, according to industry research published by Exhibitor Online, only 47% of companies track event leads by their source throughout the sales cycle and a mere 28% measure and report the number of event leads that ultimately convert to sales. That’s just sad.

  • Lead capture systems have come a long way. Rent the number needed for your booth size and staff and jot a few notes. It makes follow-up more effective.
  • Even if some people don’t buy from you (and many won’t), they are more likely to share your brand, message, etc. with others if you follow-up effectively and educate them.
  • Bottom line? The whole thing is a waste of money if you don’t have a plan to score, nurture and stay in touch with the event leads you generate.

Stocksy_txp3d2d0418cB7000_Small_164728There are also some things to avoid in the event marketing world. These are my favorites. I encourage you to share yours and keep the sharing going.

DON’T stand around your booth chatting with your own team. It makes attendees perceive that you’re not in a conversation with them.

DON’T eat in the booth. Would you want to have a conversation with someone talking while eating? If you wouldn’t do it in your storefront (that’s what your booth is, after all), don’t do it in the booth.

DON’T talk on your cell phone, or text, or check email, etc. while staffing the booth. Step away from the booth to take a call so that when you’re in the booth, you are focused on the attendees.

Treat your booth as if it is the single, most important presentation of your brand to a new audience. Because in many cases, that’s exactly what it is. So, keep it professional, engaging and fun! Oh, and don’t forget to smile.


6 Best Apps to Manage Your Business Finances

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????These days, the idea of spending 40 hours a week in the office is foreign for most small business owners. We’re more likely to be traveling to business meetings and conferences, or out in the field with clients. And with the technology we have currently available, it’s easier than ever to manage our businesses, no matter where we are, especially by leveraging mobile apps.

Keeping on top of your finances is imperative for your small business. Take advantage of apps provide to manage your money from any mobile device. Here are my suggestions of the 6 best apps to manage your business finances.

1. Freshbooks

If you’re a Freshbooks user, you’ll appreciate the features of its mobile app. In addition to providing access to your accounts, you can also snap photos of paper receipts and log them as expenses, send invoices on the go, and use the time tracking tool to account for hours spent on a given project.

The details: The Freshbooks app is free for users, and is available for both Apple and Android devices.

2. Expensify

If you keep track of your business expenses and hate paper receipts, you’ll love Expensify. This mobile app helps you take photos of receipts, categorize the expenses, and send expense reports right from your phone or tablet.

The details: The app is free and available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows phones.

3. Square

For retailers and restaurants, credit and debit card payments usually make up a large part of their revenue. In fact, by 2017, it is predicted that only 23% of transactions will be cash-based.

But sometimes those bulky merchant card processing machines are overkill, and many charge more than you want to pay. And what if you want to sell products at a farmer’s market or community fair? Try the right tool for the job: Square is a card reader you can affix to your phone to swipe cards for payments. It’s handy on the go and in your physical location.

The details: The app and card reader are free, and credit card processing fees are either 2.75% per swipe (based on the transaction cost) or 3.5% + $.15 per transaction, depending on the plan you choose.

4. inDinero

If you’re looking for a mobile app that offers multiple financial functions, try inDinero. Both its website and mobile version offer services related to accounting, taxes, payroll, 1099s, bill payment, and compliance. Users even get access to accountants for difficult questions.

The details: The tool is “invite only.” The company looks for businesses with high-growth potential.

5. SurePayroll

If you have employees, use mobile app SurePayroll to pay your staff and contractors, manage employee information, and view payroll reports. This frees you up from having to physically be at your desktop to take care of employee needs.

The details: The app is available for iPhone and Android, and is free for SurePayroll users.

6. FreeAgent

For freelancers and independent contractors, it’s essential to stay on top of proposals, invoices, and time tracking. The FreeAgent app provides all these features, as well as expense tracking and reports.

The details: The services is $24 a month and available for iPhone, Android, and Windows phones.

There are many other financial mobile apps in the marketplace, so find the ones that fulfill the needs your small business has.


How to Define & Refine Your Elevator Pitch

Stocksy_txpb08fd375357000_Small_170332First impressions really do matter. Think back to the last time you attended a networking mixer. Did you have a quick and smooth response to the question, “What do you do?” Or did you stutter and stumble over your words, finding it difficult to explain your business? If it was the latter, it’s time to define or refine your elevator pitch.

First, What Is an Elevator Pitch?

Consider it your verbal commercial; it’s how you explain what your business does and how it can benefit the person you’re talking to. Typically you can get it all out in 30 to 60 seconds. Any longer, and you will bore your audience.

What’s Wrong With Your Current Pitch

Think about the response you get with your current elevator pitch. Do people look confounded when you try to explain what your business does? Do they look around the room, bored and ready to escape? These are clues that can help you understand what needs to be fixed with your current spiel.

Your audience doesn’t care what you think is great about your company. They care about how it can help them. So if your current pitch is focused on the features of your business and not the benefits to your audience, you’re not succeeding in connecting with your audience the way you need to.

Perfecting Your Pitch

Now that you know what’s wrong with your old pitch, toss it aside and start brainstorming on your new one. Essentially, your elevator pitch should have these three components;

  1. The problem you solve for people
  2. How you solve it
  3. What makes you unique

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to be boring in addressing each point. Some of the most successful elevator pitches begin with a thought-provoking question, like:

Could you stand to make more money?

Tip: make the question an automatic yes to get your audience in a receptive frame of mind. Make it an obvious question to answer; who would answer no to the question above?

Next, look at where your audience is coming from. If you’re at a small business networking meeting, probably every small business owner is there to find potential customers.  Knowing this, you can move on to that pain point:

I’m Melinda Emerson, the “SmallBizLady,” and I help small businesses like yours bring in more money.

Now you’ve really got their attention. You’ve latched on to a problem they have, and now you’ve told them you can fix it. Now they want to know how.

I do that by looking at what’s not working in your business, helping you fix it, and guiding you to find new customers.

Now, I could have said that I offer marketing consultation services, product development, and marketing analysis, but I didn’t want my audience’s eyes to glaze over. They want the big picture: I can help them make money. How I do it is a conversation we can have one-on-one if they’re interested.

If you’re speaking to a crowd, you can also tell people how to find you. Typically mentioning your website is sufficient.

Don’t be afraid to have several versions of your elevator speech, especially if you meet with different groups. Tailor it to fit your audience.

How to Find Out if It’s Working

The best way to measure the success of your elevator speech is to gauge reactions. If people are engaged when you speak, you’re doing a good job. If they come up afterward to ask questions, even better. You want your elevator speech to be a teaser that makes people want to exchange business cards and learn more about what you do.

Armed with your new elevator speech, you’ll be ready to knock ‘em dead at your next networking event!


Mondays with Mike: Entrepreneur As Warrior – Business Advice From Military Leaders

????????????Whether we realize it or not, business and war have a lot in common.  The same strategies that win battles, create success in business as well.  In addition to reading brilliant books by authors like yours truly, you can also learn from the sage advice of military leaders as well.  Some of my favorites quotes:

  1. “No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.”  George S. Patton, Jr.   One of the greatest generals in American history gives us this reminder that we must get out from behind our desks.  The most successful business owners command respect because they understand every aspect of their company.  They can…and have…and will perform every task that’s necessary.  Get in the trenches!
  2. The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.” Sun Tzu.   We must be willing to disengage from our egos if we want to be successful leaders.  Setting the example of making decisions in the company’s best interest inspires selflessness and a devotion to the greater good in our employees as well.
  3. “I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.”  Geronimo.   Thought leaders explore beyond the boundaries of where other people live and work.  They push into unexplored, uncharted territory, and the result is creativity and innovation that inspires the people around them.  Growth and inspiration come from the willingness to free yourself from conventions.
  4. The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.” Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr   You started your business because you had a dream, a vision.  You should run that business by living in accordance with your code, your values, and your vision.  Be consistent, and learn to trust your instincts.
  5. “Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver, the less he demands in slaughter.” Winston Churchill.    I see it everyday:  entrepreneurs working themselves into an early grave, pouring their raw energy into their business, as if that energy were limitless.  Working toward efficiency – strategic deployment of resources for maximum long-term gain should be your goal.
  6. My observation is that whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty… it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more are employed therein. “  George Washington.   Finger-pointing, inefficiency, blame shifting … all signs that there’s an accountability issue.  Even though much of business requires collaboration, it’s essential that you assign a single person to be the responsible, accountable party for ensuring that a job gets done.
  7. “I am concerned for the security of our great Nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within.”  Douglas MacArthurWhile it’s important to know what your competition is up to, you must also keep an eye on what’s going on inside your own company.  Lousy morale is contagious and can kill a company from within, much quicker than you’d expect.  

Wars aren’t just won by violent encounters.  They’re won by preparation, vigilance, and the willingness to do what must be done, even if it’s unpleasant.  Taking a lesson from these military leaders helps you prepare yourself to win the battle for your company’s success.




 
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