Posts Tagged ‘Growth’


How to Get Large Corporations as Your Customers

Big and small goldfishA dream: I have been named by Google as their exclusive supplier of educational content for all their small business resellers.

To have a large and respected corporation like Google as a customer is a small business owner’s dream. It typically brings with it a steady revenue source as well as brand prestige and recognition. This is not as unrealistic as it sounds. In fact, a driving growth factor for many small businesses is a large company as a major customer.

Getting large companies to be your customer is a common way to grow rapidly. Here are the steps to take:

  1. List the targeted large corporations. These should be ones that have a demonstrated need that your business can solve. They should have a record of buying your types of products or services from small businesses.
  2. Find the right person inside the company. Many times there is an employee that has specific responsibilities for using vendors that are small businesses or ones that are minority or women owned status. If this corporation does a large amount of work with local, state of federal governments, they may even have requirement to do a certain amount of business with your size or type of company.
  3. Find someone to help. Ask your professional and social network for introductions to people they know inside the targeted large corporations. Almost any contact will do in order to get past the traditional company gate keepers.
  4. Find a program. The SBA has specific programs designed to help small businesses get sales from the federal government. Many Chamber of Commerces also have mentor programs to link up local small business with large corporate headquarters in their area.

The influx of revenue from a large corporation can bring dangers to the small business. Here are the big ones to avoid:

1. Cash flow crunch. Many corporations negotiate longer payment terms and small businesses accept them. Be aware of the cash flow problems this can cause by paying for cost of goods or services well in advance of payments from this customer. Do the math in a cash flow statement to measure the exposure.

2. Over expansion to meet short term demand. Large corporations can boost a small businesses sales quickly but they can change course and leave just as fast. Get written longer term commitments for any major investment of capital to meet their demand.

3. Revenue concentration in one customer. Many growing businesses have at least one customer that is 25% or 50% of their revenue. This can be a precarious position for any company. Seek customer diversity as an ongoing goal.

Tell me your story on how a large corporation drove the growth of your business.


The Difference Between Being an Entrepreneur and a Franchisee

5-27 comparing smallIf you’re planning to become your own boss, one option you might want to consider is becoming a franchisee. In a franchise everything’s already laid out for you in terms of the products you’ll sell and the marketing plan. Many people prefer becoming a franchisee over starting a business from scratch. Still, there are several differences between being an entrepreneur and being a franchise owner that you should be aware of.

1. There’s Less Risk with Franchises (But Still Risk)

Many franchisees are attracted to the fact that they’re buying into a proven business. After all, there are thousands of burger franchises across the country. People are already familiar with the brand, so you don’t have to work to establish it on your own.

Still, it’s important that you know that there are risks with running a franchise. No business is guaranteed, and it will be susceptible to all the same threats as any other business, including recessions, competition, and location (a bad location for your franchise can kill the business).

2. You Have to Follow the Rules as a Franchisee

While technically, yes, you are a small business owner as a franchisee, you essentially sign up to have a master, your franchisor, who will tell you exactly how to run your business. You will sign a contract agreeing to do business the franchise’s way, and there may be penalties if you don’t.

You can’t, for example, change the brand logo, or add new products the menu. The franchise may provide you with marketing materials (though you may have some freedom in how you market locally through newspaper ads, events, and social media).

3. Being a Franchisee is Expensive

Becoming a franchisee involves paying a franchise fee to the company. This is essentially your buy-in fee to have the right to use the brand’s name and products. But you’ll also probably pay a monthly royalty fee based on your sales. When you start your own business, you pay for start-up expenses — like your website, marketing services, inventory, uniforms, etc. — as they come up, and you’re beholden to no one over the long-term.

4. An Entrepreneur Has More Creative License

Because franchisees are limited in the creative decisions they can make, many who want to color outside the lines prefer to start their own business. That way, they can set up exactly how the business will operate, what they’ll sell, and how they’ll market it. If you feel stifled by other people’s rules, franchising might not be for you.

It’s important to understand the difference between starting your own business and buying a franchise. Based on your personality and preferences either one could work for you.


Why your Business Loses Customer Focus as it Grows & How to Recapture It

5-15 lose focus smallThe attention lavished on customers in the early days of a business tends to slide when your, oh, five initial customers became 50, and a thousand, and ten thousand. Back in those exciting, if stressful, early days, the level of detail you kept on each customer and prospective customer, the number of times you followed up, and the care with which you did so, were no doubt impressive. These were big-ticket customers to you when you were just starting out; each of these customers was absolutely crucial to the survival and ultimate success of business.

But now that you’ve grown, you stop signing your notes by hand. You stop writing “thank you” on the invoices. You get rid of Jackie and Joanne, your quirkily charismatic receptionists, and switch to an auto-attendant to answer incoming calls.

This loss of focus doesn’t happen on its own, or overnight. At every step of this downward journey, there are defining moments, the moments when you answer, one way or the other, questions like: Do we really want to stop including a postpaid return envelope with our invoices? Should we just let it slide when a new employee is sneaking texts in on the job, in sight of customers, where in the past we would have been sure to gently and quickly correct such behavior?

These moments represent your chance to prevent, or slow, the blurring of your initial customer focus, but only if, in every single case, you answer the relaxing of standards with the following retort: “If we would do it for our first customer, we’ll do it for our 10,000th.

The secret, in other words, is to never stop believing in the importance of every single customer.  Never start believing – as cell phone providers and so many companies in so many other industries have – that there is an infinite cohort of customers out there for the taking, if only our marketing and sales get the promotions and discounts out there far and wide.

Tell yourselves instead that there’s just one customer, the one you’re facing. The one you need to follow up with, to make sure her problem was successfully resolved.

There’s only customer Jim. One Margo. One Alecia. Which means that even after you have thousands of customers, you need to do everything you can to maintain the mindset that every one of them is a core customer—and to treat the loss of a single customer as a tragedy.

Here’s why: Because every single customer is irreplaceable. Regardless of the size of your market segment, once you start writing off customers, I can predict the day in the future (and it’s probably not far into the future) when you’ll be out of business. And this is a calamity to be avoided.

Let your competitors keep thinking of customers as an abstraction, as an infinite plurality. You need to think of them, and serve them, in the specificity of their individuality, their Jim-ishness, Margo-ishness, and Alecia-ishness. Jim, who likes his service languid with plenty of time to consider his options. Margo who is always in a hurry, and doesn’t care to hear how your day was. And poor Alecia, whose cat is at the vet, and isn’t in the mood for your Pollyanna ponderings.

Every customer’s different from the next one — Jim from Margo, Margo from Alecia, and Alecia from Jim. Some will be easier to serve, and some harder.  And some are easier to serve sometimes and less so at others.  But each of them is precious. Recapture this attitude. Stop thinking “good enough” is o.k. Stop thinking your early reputation (built on those moments when you were treating every customer as precious) can pull you through your current slackness. It won’t. Only your redoubled attention to superior service can do that.


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.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do Customers Hate Your Business?

5-12 businesses customers hate smallDo your customers hate your business—not because of anything you’ve done, but simply because of what you do? For example, most of us dread going to the dentist, meeting with our accountants to prepare our taxes, or taking our cars in for repair. The best-case scenario is at least an hour of pain and suffering; the worst-case scenario is suffering plus a huge bill at the end.

So how can you turn customers’ thinking around and transform a business people hate into one they look forward to visiting (or at least don’t dread)? Transform the customer experience, that’s how. Here are four tips to do just that:

  1. Speed things up. Do whatever you can to serve customers quickly so they can get in and get out fast. This could include emailing them forms to fill out ahead of time; having them complete forms online; using technology such as tablet computers to gather information instead of written forms; setting (and sticking to) appointment times; and streamlining your processes to eliminate time-wasters and delays.
  2. Calm customers down. Little things like comfortable seating, soothing background music and attractive surroundings can help to boost customers’ moods. I recently had my car serviced at a business with a luxurious waiting room, wide-screen TV, gourmet coffee, free Wi-Fi and even a breakfast buffet available while I waited. I got lots of work done and was so relaxed, I almost didn’t mind when my car needed a major repair.  
  3. Hire and train right. When your business is unpleasant, your staff needs to be extra-nice. At my dentist’s office, for example, everyone from the receptionist to the technicians is unfailingly friendly and greets me by name. No wonder I’ve referred tons of friends there over the years. Look for customer-facing employees who have a great “bedside manner,” never lose their cool and help customers maintain theirs, too.
  4. Build relationships. Reaching out to regular customers with thank-you notes, special offers, reminders when services are due or products are in stock, event invitations and even birthday or anniversary cards help to build connections that create a positive opinion of your business.

By taking these steps, you can gain loyal customers who’ll recommend you to others.




 
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