Posts Tagged ‘Entrepreneur’


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.


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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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.


Best Business Book to Read This Summer

I get business books in the mail every day. I sift through hundreds of them each year in an effort to  search for the best ones for small business owners to read. Here is my list every business owner should read this summer:

Duct Tape Selling - John Jantsch
Most small business owners stink at sales and marketing. From the author of the popular book, Duct Tape Marketing, comes a new book that shows how the job of the sales person has changed. Instead of ABC meaning “always be closing”, John’s ABC’s are “always be connecting”. Information on the Internet has shifted the very foundation of the sales process. Sales people no longer have to just close, but need to teach, serve and develop trust. They have to create their own expert platform, stay connected before and after the sale by curating value content for their clients.

Profit First – Mike Michalowicz
Making a profit is a huge problem for many small business owners. They don’t know how to use financial statements and pay themselves last. Mike shares a money management system that is more intuitive and beneficial than traditional GAAP accounting. Instead of focusing on sales and revenue, he focuses on profit. A must read for every entrepreneur who wants to make money.

Do/Lead-  Les McKeown
Alpha leaders are dead. There are no longer bosses and employees. In a small business, each person has the ability (and obligation) to step up and lead. Les tackles four myths that have paralyzed modern leadership and provides the tools needed to be an impactful leader including the mindset, the techniques, and how to get started.

The Etiquette Advantage in Business – Peter Post et al.
The business world is becoming too casual. Manners still have an important place. Peter and his family provide timeless “Emily Post” type advice for any business situation from dinner with the boss to the first meeting with a new client. He shows how to write persuasive emails to choosing the appropriate dress for the office.

When The Buyer Says No - Tom Hopkins and Benn Katt
Sales legend Tom Hopkins focuses on the biggest problem for most small businesses; what to do when the customer says no. In this book of strategy, the reader learns a new approach to selling called the Circle of Persuasion. Tom and Benn simplify the tricky sales process by providing a step-by-step guide with real-world examples to ultimately show how a “no” can turn into a “heck yes”.

Haunted Empire - Yukari Iwatani Kane
Want to know what Apple is like after Steve Jobs? Former Wall Street Journal reporter Yukari, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, asks “Can a great company stay great without its visionary leader?” She examines Apple in the two years since the death of Steve Jobs and provides insight into the future of this iconic company. A very fascinating read which will change your view of Apple.

Pitch Perfect – Bill McGowan
Words still matter. The right ones can make the difference between sealing the deal or losing the customer. Media professional Bill McGowan shares how to use the perfect tone to convey the right message. In the world of media, there is only one shot and Bill shows the reader how to get it right!

Start Me Up!- Ebong Eka
I have made a lot of mistakes. I wish I read this book years ago. Start Me Up! shows how many causes of new businesses failure are 100% preventable by providing strategies to avoid the four major pitfalls that they experience.

Hacking H(app)iness - John Havens
With Pharrell Williams hit, “Happy” sweeping the globe, it seems like that is the new goal of every small business professional. Hacking H(app)iness describes how to leverage personal data that is being produced by tracking activities on smart phones and computers as a way to understand what brings people happiness. He shows how the Information Age can improve our personal lives as well as our companies

Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth – Chris Brogan
Growing up, I always felt different. In his latest book, Chris makes all of us freaks feel at home. He targets those who believe they may be too different or “not the business type” and shows them how to turn it into a revolutionary business. After you read this book, sign up for his daily newsletter.

Execution IS the Strategy: How Leaders Achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time - Laura Stack
Laura emphasizes the importance of having an organization that is fast on its feet; one that can easily adjust its strategy to changing realities. Her L-E-A-D formula outlines the four keys to execution to give companies the agility they need to succeed.

And you may want to pick up my new book….

How to Get Unstuck

 


Tired? Be Careful Not To Lie Today

Stocksy_txpc481ea1fyN6000_Small_209103

How much sleep did you get last night?

If you work at a small business, it’s probably less than six hours. According to the National Sleep Foundation, twenty percent of Americans report getting fewer than six hours of sleep each night. Anything under seven hours is clinically defined as sleep deprivation. 

How does yawning affect your work?

In a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek article, a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that sleep deprivation is linked to unethical behavior. When people are tired, their self-control and willpower are weak, making it more likely to give in to unethical temptations at work. This happens when an employee takes a suggestion from a co-worker to do something deceptive like stealing the food from the office fridge. This happens because they are tired and their conscience has less mental energy to fight it.

This has drastic implications for small business owners. Many of them think that people who work the longest hours are the best employees. However, as described in Fortune, a new study asserts that these are often the ones making the most unethical choices.

What can be done? The most logical answer is to get more sleep, but this is not always possible.

Luckily there is another solution: Coffee. Researchers say caffeine increases an employee’s self-control and willpower when they are exhausted. That’s right, now coffee can make you more ethical!

Other than increasing caffeine, here are some other strategies you can do to improve ethical behavior:

For owners:

  1. Don’t force social interaction. A lunch break is a time of rejuvenation during the work day for employees. However, according to a 2014 Academy of Management Journal article, this is only the case when employees are allowed to leave the office and use their time freely.
  2. Reconsider goal-based compensation. This pay structure is dangerous because it encourages employees to take on a constant stream of goals, which actually makes people more likely to cheat to get everything done.
  3. Turn on the lights. Having a brightly lit office makes people less likely to cheat according to a 2013 study published in Psychological Science.

For employees:

  1. Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Get out of the office and away from your co-workers for 45 minutes. Meet a friend at a café nearby and get your mind off of deadlines for genuine refreshment during the work day.
  2. Use email. A Cornell University study tracked undergraduate communications and found that people lied only 14% in email compared with 37% on the phone because of the paper trail.
  3. Celebrate your accomplishments. Jumping right into the next big project in order to achieve that long list of goals is prime for cutting corners. Take a break to restore your energy between projects. This will help you complete each one with quality effort and integrity.
  4. Be mindful of your work space. A 2008 study published in Science found that people are more likely to cheat in unorganized environments because a mess has more signs of socially deviant behavior. Sort through that ever-growing stack of papers and throw out that rotting banana to welcome your most honest work behavior.



 
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