Posts Tagged ‘Entrepreneur’


3 Keys to Writing a Powerful Mission Statement

5-20 writing a mission statement smallEstablishing your identity as a small business is a challenge. At first, you may be tempted to chase every dollar you think you can get in the attempt to bring in revenue, but the fact is that if you try to appeal to everyone, you will end up appealing to no one. It is important to hone and identify your core audience as part of your business plan. In doing so, you have laid the foundation for writing your mission statement.

While there are many examples of mission statements that are so grandiose, they are almost a joke, a good mission statement clearly communicates a business's services, the type of projects in which the firm specializes, and unique values offered. For example, as the SmallBizLady, my mission is to end small business failure. It sounds simple, but it is easy to get off track. In order to write a potent mission statement, here are three considerations to get you off to the right start.

1. Give Yourself Sufficient Time to Write.

Mission statements are deceptively simple. They usually consist of a one to three sentences that provide an overview of the business and its goals. However, a good mission statement will also provide a view into the essence of what sets your small business apart from others.

Identifying and communicating your core principle may be challenging. You’ll need to write several versions and give yourself time to edit them into one cohesive statement. It is best if you allow yourself several writing sessions over a few days in order to convey it in a direct and meaningful way.

2. Communicate What Makes Your Small Business Unique.

Many a mission statement has been written on the bones of another more established company's hard work. You may be tempted to take the easy way out and "borrow" a phrase or even direct quotes from a firm you admire. It’s fine to get inspiration from other companies’ mission statements, but yours should be unique to your brand.

3. Use This as an Opportunity to Further Refine Your Business's Core Values.

Not all of us enjoy writing or even think that we can write well. However, this mindset will sap of you of your strength and undermine your confidence. At its core, writing is a powerful form of communication, and strong communication is a central tenet of doing business. It’s all about what you want to be known for.

The exercise of writing your mission statement strengthens your ability to communicate in a compelling manner. It is vital to push yourself to do this significant work in a thoughtful and conscientious way. You might even, through the act of writing, uncover core values you hadn’t elaborated on before.

Your mission statement is the cornerstone of your marketing efforts. It provides clarity and focus on the essence of your business. When you put substantial effort into the creation of this document, you create a steady foundation that helps you move forward with more vigor and determination.


Mondays with Mike: Boost Your Bottom Line With Recurring Fees

5-18 recurring fees smallAttracting and converting new customers is an important part of any business.  Revenue is the lifeblood of our companies, and it’s important to devote time and energy to ensuring we have a steady, fresh supply.  One source of revenue we shouldn’t overlook, though, is our existing customer base.  If we’re chasing down new clients without first looking at how we can maximize revenue from our current clients, we’re missing out on real opportunities.

One of the very best ways I’ve found to bump up my billing is by converting customers to a recurring fee plan.  Here’s how it works:

Say you own an HVAC company.  You have a stable of corporate clients, and when they call you for a repair, it’s never cheap.  Your average call results in a bill for $2000.  You make an average of one call per year to each client, but you’re looking for a way to increase your per client earnings.  So you offer your clients a plan.  They pay $200 each month, and when they call you, their service is covered (with appropriate restrictions of course.)  Your revenue per client has gone up to $2400 per year, and you’re providing a huge benefit to your clients as well.  Rather than having to scrape together $2K when the a/c goes on the fritz in August, they know they’re covered.  They benefit from predictable costs, and you benefit from increased revenue and predictable income.  It’s a win-win.

But there’s more: your technicians have added incentive to work efficiently, since they’re not billing by the hour.  They also have incentive to fix things properly the first time, since any shoddy work will come out of your bottom line, should they have to go back for a second repair.  Likewise, your customers will call you at the first sign of trouble, rather than waiting for a small problem to turn into a large one.

You’ll be surprised at how easily you’ll be able to convert customers to a recurring fee model.  We’re far less likely to balk at a low monthly fee than we are to experience sticker shock when we look at the annual total.  Once your customers get used to your new model, they don’t even think about that predictable monthly expense.  It’s practically invisible to them.

Nearly every business can find some way to implement a recurring fee program.  Whether you’re a liquor store that enrolls clients in a Beer-of-the-Month Club, or you’re an office supplier who bills monthly for copier servicing plans, you can find a way to make recurring fees work for your company.

The best of both worlds is when your recurring fees bring your customers even closer to you and your staff.  Creating an elite program for your top-drawer clients gives the client an ego boost and gives you a revenue boost.  You’re preserving future business, and you’re doing it in a way that lets your clients manage their costs effectively. 


How to Build “Overnight Success”…Within a Decade

Posted on by Carol Roth

5-15 long-term success smallIn a world where two clicks are too many and online purchases are about to arrive at our doors instantly via drones, we have taken the concept of instant gratification to a new level. Every new business owner envisions overnight success. But no amount of technology is likely to make up for patience and dedication.

Most companies touted as overnight successes were actually years in the making. Here are some ways that you can emulate their long-term success.

The Willingness to Do What it Takes

The major players got to where they are through hard work over the long-term and business success does not lighten the load. To this day, Howard Schultz, the CEO of  Starbucks is reported to put in 13-hour days at the office before going home to work some more.

Doing what it takes involves much more than running your daily business operations. Be prepared to get out of the office. Attend conferences that can teach you new methods within your industry or within business in general. Travel across your community, the country or even around the world to find new markets for your products or services. Check out other companies whose success you want to meet or exceed.  And don’t just try—make things happen by leaving no stone unturned.

Collaboration Over Competition

Rather than looking at other companies in your industry as competition, think of them as potential allies. Your businesses may excel in different areas that can create a winning relationship through formal or informal collaboration, ultimately leading to more success for your business.

In an article in FastCompany, Bob Mudge, President of Consumer and Mass Business at Verizon refers to this as “co-opetition,” asserting that cooperating with other companies in the same industry may seem counterintuitive to competition, but it is an essential part of business success.

You may not be ready to collaborate on the same scale as Verizon, but even customer referrals can have a huge effect on your bottom line. Just as important, your cooperative spirit builds long-term business and personal relationships that you will value for a lifetime.

Flexibility

Your initial business idea may have a great foundation, but it may require substantial tweaking before it earns success. Steve Jobs’ early inventions did not create Apple’s success. Even though the Apple Lisa introduced the world to the Graphical User Interface, it took many years of modification until the Mac was born. And it took around two decades of reinvention before the company became an overnight success.

The old motto, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” should be posted on the wall of every business owner who really wants to make it big. Always look for ways to change or enhance your products or services until customers beat a path to your door.

Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken

At the opposite end of the coin, you need recognize what you are doing right and stay the course. Take a lesson from the “new Coke” fiasco from back in 1985. In spite of blind taste tests that indicated that customers preferred the new formula over both Pepsi and the original Coca-Cola product, consumers flooded the company with letters of complaints. Three months later, the original formula was back on store shelves.

When loyal customers already like what you do and how you do it, don’t take it away from them. As they say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Perseverance

When prospective customers say “no,” they often mean “not now.” If you have done your homework, you already have a good understanding of their current and future needs. Whether you re-design a product to better meet their needs or find ways to add value, make sure you keep them in the loop. Your diligence can turn “no” into a resounding “yes.”

Additionally, having patience is a key component of success.  Everything will take longer than you anticipate (and longer than it probably should) to complete, so keep moving forward, even when it seems like you are wading through quicksand.

You may  “want it all” and “want it now”, but the successful business owner is the one who can keep their eye on the prize and the big picture over time. Your hard work and patience will be the keys to making it big.


7 Ways to be More Memorable

6-14 Be more memorable smallEveryone wants to be remembered. When someone says your name, it’s a magic that can solidify any business relationship. Here is how to be successful at it:

1. Repeat their name.

When you are introduced to someone, repeat their name back to them. This will prevent you from forgetting their name as soon as they say it. For example, when the other person says “Hi, I’m Mary”, repeat “It’s nice to meet you, Mary”. Follow this up by using their name again in the first 30 seconds of the conversation.

This not only helps you remember their name, but it also makes a favorable impression. In general, people love the sound of their name and in the case of an initial meeting, using it shows that you are intentional about learning about them.

2. Tell a story about your name.

Stories stick with people more than facts, so instead of simply stating your name, give them a little background on it to make it more interesting, and therefore more memorable.

For example, explain the origin of your name. This is especially effective if it is unusual and people have a hard time pronouncing or spelling it. Another option is to explain how you got your name. The name John isn't very memorable, but telling a story about your grandfather who was a pilot in WWII makes it a lot more interesting.

3. Use your name in conversation.

If you don’t have any good stories to tell, try fitting your name into conversation as much as possible.

You can do this by addressing yourself by name ("so I said to myself, Barry, if you…") or using your name in dialogue ("so my friend says to me, 'Barry…'"). With this, the person will benefit from hearing your name multiple times throughout the conversation instead of just once at the beginning. It takes practice to avoid sounding awkward or conceited, but it can be mastered.

4. Use the right body language.

Memorable people are fully engaged in conversations, both verbally and non-verbally. To be engaged non-verbally, make sure you have positive body language. This consists of an open torso with uncrossed arms, feet facing forward, head and chest up, and shoulders pulled back.

At the beginning and end of the conversation, offer to shake hands (in the U.S.) During the conversation, keep an eye on the other person’s body language to mirror it. If they are animated and using their hands while they speak, don’t stand there like a statue. Make eye contact and smile frequently.

5. Answer common questions uncommonly.

When first meeting someone, you will inevitably be asked: “How are you?” and “What do you do?”

Instead of responding to these questions in a typical fashion, come up with answers that will make you memorable. For example, instead of responding to “how are you?” with a short and vague “I’m doing well, how are you?”, use it as an opportunity to tell a story about your day, week, or life in general. Use stories with self-deprecating humor instead of bragging.

6. Ask better questions.

You will most likely be asked the same “how are you?” and “what do you do?” questions, but that doesn't mean you should ask them. Assuming the person isn't making an effort to answer these questions uncommonly as suggested, they will go on autopilot and answer them in very traditional ways.

Spark brain activity by engaging the person with interesting questions. Ask “what has been the highlight of your day today?”, and “What’s your story?” It will force them to think and make you stand out from the rest.

7. Follow up.

Don’t just collect business cards, put them to use! Send an email recapping your conversation. Your email address should feature a picture of you, so they will easily be able to connect a name to a face. The photo should be your profile picture on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

What are you going to do to be more memorable?


Why You Can Never Stop Learning in Your Small Business

Colleagues working on a creative project in a startup office laughing at funny jokeContinuous learning is critical for entrepreneurs. As much as you may or may not have enjoyed school back in the day, the fact of the matter is that entrepreneurs cannot afford to stop learning. Staying sharp and on top of what’s happening in your industry is critical to long term sustainability.  You also need to keep an eye what your competitors are up to. Still, it takes hard work to continually learn what you need to know. Here’s why you can never stop learning.

Learning From Peers is Key

As a business owner you need to make sure you surround yourself with others who are doing even bigger things than you. Iron sharpens iron. Join a mastermind group in your industry, so consider Vistage or even WPO (women presidents organization) to develop a peer group that you can learn from. Building personal relationships and learning new concepts and ideas does amazing things for your mind.

My learning challenge for you: Find a peer-to-peer business organization to join.

Go Back to School

No I don’t mean MBA school, but I do mean sign up for 6 week business plan or negotiation course. Continued learning helps you set forth with awareness toward broader horizons. Once you see that anything is possible, you can expand your goals and do even more with your business.

My learning challenge for you: Try a free class on a challenging subject via coursera.org. It doesn’t even have to be business-related, and you might be surprised how learning about art or nutrition, for example, can expand your brain in other areas.

Learning Keeps you Growing

It may be tempting to think you’ve seen or heard it all, but you close yourself off to experiencing new things when you embrace this attitude. It may feel scary to admit to gaps in your knowledge or limits in your experience, but you can’t grow beyond them until you recognize them.

The act of learning activates our growth. Your learning can be formal or informal, but ideally a blend of both will propel you to new heights, both personally and professionally.

My learning challenge for you: Make a list of areas you’re weak in, then bone up on them. Learn how to use social media. Figure out how to unclog your own pipes.

Learning Enables You to Learn from Mistakes

We make mistakes in every aspect of our lives, entrepreneurship included. What you do with those mistakes is where your future success is determined. Be embarrassed of your error and shut off from the lesson it teaches, and you don’t benefit. On the other hand, learning from the mistake and changing your path for the better makes you a smarter business owner.

Mistakes aren’t mistakes if you walk away with a lesson learned. Make a point of assessing every situation and gleaning what you can from it.

My learning challenge for you: Consider mistakes you’ve made in the recent past. Did you learn from them, or do you continue to make the same errors over and over? Consider how you can break that pattern.


6 Ways to Renew and Revitalize Your Business Relationships

Business team having fun on coffee breakPeople do business with people they like, know and trust. So it’s really all about the relationship that determines whether or not you get the opportunity to even pitch for the business.  But when is that last time you evaluated your relationships. Joleen Jaworkski, President of Business Clubs America (BCA) of Philadelphia, inspired me to expand upon her six tips for making the most of your business relationships.  Here’s my take on the 6 ways to renew and revitalize your business relationships.

1. Treat Relationships like an Investment

Just as important as the money you invest back into your company is the time and energy you invest in your business relationships. Even when you’re swamped, you’ve got to put time in to check on your customers and contacts and see how you can move the relationship forward.

If it’s been a while since you caught up with some of your key connections, make an effort this month to email, call, or have coffee with each one. While your goal isn’t to sell, you never know where this effort will take you.

2. Be More Understanding and Accepting

Just like with married couples, business relationships undergo their own ebb and flow. Realize that if a client snaps at you, it’s probably not really about you; don’t take it personally. Also, have a grain of patience in your interactions. If, for example, a long-standing customer tells you she’s having some financial issues that are keeping her from paying you, be understanding and offer her a payment plan that will help her get back on track. She’ll appreciate you being so accommodating. The best relationships are made in tough times.

3. Be Present

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in a meeting with someone who keeps checking his phone or email…or even accepts a call while you’re talking! It’s the worst, and it makes you feel like that person doesn’t value your time.

Don’t be that guy. Put all your attention on the person in front of you, and really hear what they’re saying. Don’t interrupt them with what you think they want to hear; you might be wrong and offend them.

4. Go Out of Your Way to Reconnect

If you are flying to a city to attend a conference or see another client, make a lunch, dinner, a drinks appointment to check in on a current or old client. You often don’t have to go far out of your way to show a contact that you’re thinking of her. You can also email an article that you think a client would like. Send a birthday card. Pick up the phone just to say hi. These little efforts can have a pretty big impact to the recipient of your attention.

5. Be Authentic

I thrive on being myself as the SmallBizLady. I’m nothing if not authentic, and people seem to appreciate my honesty in who I am. No one wants you to be something you’re not; they’ll appreciate you, warts and all. You’ll be surprised by how much you have in common with another professional single mom or dad that travels a lot. So see yourself how others see you, strengths and weaknesses included. Then be that person in every interaction you have.

6. Be Generous

Always look for a way you can serve your customers, even if it does directly put money in your pocket. I often introduce my clients to each other. Even if you hope that your business relationships blossom into sales, that’s not your aim in revitalizing those relationships. Put your focus on giving: giving your time, your energy, your advice, your referrals.

The effort you put into nurturing your business relationships will come back to you tenfold, so keep the energy flowing.


Local Resources that Can Help Your Small Business Succeed

Posted on by Carol Roth

5-1 Local Resources smallSometimes, the best source of information for your small business is right in your own back yard. In fact, thanks to the Internet, great resources from around the country can come directly to your desktop. Here are six benefits that you can reap with local resources.

1. Networking

Finding new clients is critical to any business, but getting to know people within your industry can be just as important. This is how you can gain new ideas and find ways to solve problems. 

Opportunities for networking are as varied as the types of businesses they support, so you need to do your own research to find a network that fits your needs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce can help at a national level, but most businesses benefit more with support from a local chapter. In fact, a search for “Chamber of Commerce” is likely to instantly display links to your local chapters, since your cookies probably reveal where you are.

Don’t automatically discount organizations that charge dues, such as industry associations. Their programs can provide a phenomenal professional experience and the like-minded people you meet can become lifelong friends and associates. Before paying the dues, you can try them out by attending a meeting to assess their potential value for your business.

2. Government Contracting Assistance

It may seem impossible for a small business to gain a government contract, but there are many online resources that can help you find leads and even provide the guidance that can make the proposal process seem less overwhelming. Check out these sites:

  • Not just for women: Check out the Women’s Business Development Center, where a search for “government contractor” provides a wealth of information that works for women — and men, too.
  • Contractor registration and education: You can register for government contracting from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) site, go to their government contracting classroom, and more. Just click the Contracting link from the home page to get started.
  • Advice to meet your needs:  Between the links to everything from government contractor training to information about Federal Tax ID numbers — and the articles of interest at the bottom of the page — you can spend lots of time at About.com, but it will be worth the effort.

3. Access to Capital

Of course, a great way to gain a high-level view of this topic is to take a few minutes to look at the video posted at my Business Unplugged ™ blog. That being said, a number of other resources can also provide great tips:

  • The SBA (again): Don’t expect the SBA Small Business Loans pages to hand you money directly, but they provide a guarantee that can encourage lenders to extend loans and can point you to a network of lenders. Check out their advice, as well.
  • Online business publications: Online business publications like Entrepreneur provide high-level advice on raising capital, while letting you drill down to the details that interest you.
  • Networking groups:  Your local chamber or industry organization, as discussed above, can also put you in touch with various traditional and alternative lenders in your area.

4. Mentoring

You may have an amazing skillset after working for years within your industry, but that doesn’t mean that you know everything about starting and running a business. Why not turn to someone who has a track record of business success? That’s what SCORE is all about.

The website alone provides valuable information, as well as access to online and local workshops. But, entrepreneurs at all stages of business can also schedule personal meetings with volunteers- all of whom are former business executives- at more than 300 locations across the U.S.  SCORE provides excellent assistance to help you grow your business and it’s entirely free.

5. Ongoing Education

Many companies are committed to helping small businesses succeed. For example, Nextiva has a fantastic blog and resources for small business success. Constant Contact offers a free program called Small Business Innovation Loft, along with many other resources. And, if you’re looking to get up to speed on technology, Microsoft partners with a variety of organizations, such as local Chambers of Commerce, through their Microsoft Community Connections programs, to provide you resources and information to help you keep pace with changes in business and technology.   They also provide information via articles and videos on their website.  Look into these and other brand’s resources that are available both locally and online.

6. Local Government Offices

Your local government often has a strong dedication to helping your business do well. In Chicago, for example, the Office of the City Treasurer website provides amazing resources, such as contests, expos, education and a resource guide that leads businesses to other information and the Mayor’s Office runs a Small Business Center that helps you streamline permitting and has launched a Small Business Initiative. Don’t forget about these local resources that are available to help you succeed.

It Takes a Village to Run a Small Business

Actually, that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek — small business owners have the ultimate responsibility for running their own businesses. But, you don’t have to go it alone. There are many free and low-cost resources to help guide you along the way, many of which are right in your own backyard.


How to Manage Hyper Growth in Your Business

Posted on by Barry Moltz

4-30 business growth smallEvery small business owner likes speed. They want to rapidly add sales and people to create a large company to show they are successful. But this type of hyper growth can get many small businesses into trouble since they lack the money, the skills or the infrastructure to support it. As a result, they can eventually grow themselves right out of business.  

The key is to manage these three components of growth. Here is how to do it:

Get more cash: Growing companies eat cash. Expenses always lag sales revenue and cash payments from customers. Increasing sales typically means more inventory which equates to bigger cash investments. It also means adding people expenses before they produce revenue. Accounts receivable also goes up as customers pay after the company is required to pay for their cost of sales vendors. To understand this equation, a cash flow statement is critical. Learn how the company’s cash varies with its growth. Produce a pro-forma cash flow statement to predict what it will be in the future as expenses and revenue grow. This is difficult to do, so ask for assistance from your accountant or another financial resource. There are many analytical tools that can also help. (source)

Hire skilled people. As the company grows, the small business owner will need more experienced people. Entry level employees that are trained will no longer learn fast enough. Higher skilled team members will cost more money to hire. As a result, invest in one critical hire at a time and make sure that they are successful before adding the next key person. Even experienced people will take time to become effective in their new job. This is important not only from a productivity aspect, but from a company cultural fit. Rapidly hiring of people will shift the company culture and the small business owner needs to ensure it goes in the desired direction.

Improve infrastructure. Fast growing companies need bigger and more sophisticated infrastructures because of the increased number of customers that are serviced. This could mean more office space, better operational software or additional support services like IT and HR. Fortunately, team members can now effectively work remotely which minimizes the need for additional office space. Software as a Service (SaaS) allows companies to easily ramp to use the most sophisticated applications. Freelancers are easy to identify for support other support services using sites like Odesk or Elance.

Remember that sales growth does not always mean success unless it is supported by more cash, better people, and an improved infrastructure.


5 Steps to Building a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

4-22 Crowdfunding smallIt seems like nearly every day, there’s a new crowdfunding campaign or request for support that comes up. There’s a good reason for this, and that is: crowdfunding has become an exciting way for small businesses to build capital to launch a new business venture. If you’re not familiar with crowdfunding, it is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people through the Internet. If you think crowdfunding may be a viable option for you to raise money, let’s look at how it works and what you need for your campaign to be successful.

There are more than 500 active crowdfunding websites, with the biggest five being Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Go Fund Me, Crowdrise, and RocketHub. While each site has different features and capabilities, they all function basically in the same way. The sites take a commission fee from what you raise (typically 5 – 9 percent). Before you select your platform, you need to decide on your fundraising goal and the time frame. Make sure you research the platforms and their policy on whether you get any funds if your campaign doesn’t meet its goal. Some sites (like Kickstarter) require you return the money to donors if you don’t meet the fundraising goal. This means if your goal is $5,000 and you get $4,999 in pledges and donations, you get nothing.

How to Build a Successful Campaign

Once you decide on the right crowdfunding site, follow these five steps to build your campaign.

1. Work your network first. The worst mistake you can make is starting your campaign and then start using social media as your go-to place to reach prospects. You should be active on sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn at least six months before the launch of your campaign. Your first 30% of pledges will come from your personal network, and if you can’t get people who you know to invest in your idea, no one else will.

2. Tell a good story. Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to make a sale. If you have a strong idea, tell a compelling story about it. Then write engaging copy that focuses on the story, and create a short video that explains your idea. These will become the basis for your crowdfunding website profile.

3. Do not exaggerate. It’s important to be enthusiastic about your business idea. After all, how can you convince a customer to buy unless you also believe in what you’re selling? But make sure you don’t overhype your project either. If you promise things you cannot deliver, it will turn into a public relations (and possibly legal) train wreck.

4. Have great rewards. People love to get something, even if it’s small, for their donation. Create a list of rewards you are willing to give in exchange for a donation. The rewards should range in significance from the lowest amount to the highest. For example, if you’re crowdfunding to publish a book, perhaps the smallest donation receives a credit in the book as a reward. The highest donation may receive a signed copy and book cover poster.

5. Donor relations are critical. A successful crowdfunding venture does not stop the minute your campaign ends. Have a plan in place to communicate with your network and donors after the funding campaign is over. These people helped you raise the money you need to build your business. Make sure you keep them informed about what’s going on, and thank them whenever you can. You never know when you may need them to raise more capital in the future.

Crowdfunding is a great way to fund a business venture from the ground up. Start researching successful fundraising campaigns, look and your network, and decide whether this is the right medium for you.




 
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