Posts Tagged ‘Growth’


Should I Borrow Money from Friends or Family for My Business?

3-15 loaning friend money smallGetting your business started requires money, and while there are many sources for finding this funding, one often overlooked source is friends and family. On the one hand, a friend or family member may be able to offer you an interest-free loan that you wouldn’t qualify for at the bank, but on the other hand, money and the people you’re close to don’t always mix well. Family and friendship dynamics are delicate, so carefully evaluate your relationship with possible creditors before opting for this financing source. Use these five steps to ensure a successful outcome.

Assess the risks from the outset

Begin by having a blunt conversation with your future financier. Talk to her about the risks and pitfalls of this transaction. The idea is not to spoil her enthusiasm in investing in your business, but rather to confront the harsh realities that small businesses sometimes face. If, after this conversation, your benefactor is still ready to loan you money, you have done your part to let her know of the risks she’s taking.

Decide if it’s an investment or loan

Continue the discussion by assessing whether or not your creditor would like to come aboard as a partner and take equity in your company or simply loan you the money and stay out of operations. Be comfortable with the terms and the equity you give, and consider whether this person would be an asset as an advisor to the company or not.

Have a formal agreement

Even if you trust one another implicitly, having a formal contract for the loan or investment is still a good idea. You may not need a lawyer to work out the details, but if the amount of money is substantial, you’ll definitely need an accountant. If your benefactor wants to forego a formal agreement, it may still be necessary to discuss more precise procedures such as what to do in the event of default or bankruptcy. Never promise something that you cannot deliver.

Keep it professional

Treat your private creditor like you treat your bank. Pay on time or early if that’s part of your agreement, and keep track of every transaction. Don’t take advantage of your personal relationship to pay late or not at all. Being formal and professional ensures that you don’t blur lines between business and personal relationships.

Put everything out on the table

Create the habit of communicating with your friend or family member. Let her know regularly how business is progressing. Never make her pursue you for updates. Whether you have challenges or successes, keep her in the loop in the way you would other partners or investors. She will appreciate this and feel more vested in the success of your company.

Deciding to borrow money from someone you’re close to is a decision you need to spend time reflecting on. The last thing you want to do is jeopardize your personal relationship with that person, and money has a funny way of doing that sometimes. Keep the lines of communication open and make sure you properly manage your investor’s expectations.


Mondays with Mike: How Ripple Innovation Can Invigorate Your Business

4-13 Ripple effectIt always hits me the same time every year.  I don’t know whether it’s a craving for warmer weather, or the realization that it’s time to dig deep and get started making the year a successful one, but the end of the first quarter is always a tough time for me.  I’m tired of winter in New Jersey, and my summer vacation is too far off to lift my spirits.

 Whatever the reason, by the end of March, I feel like I’m in a slump.  My strategy to shake off the winter doldrums, though, works every time.  I find a problem in my business – something I simply haven’t tackled yet, and I set out to make things better.  One of the most effective ways I’ve found to fix something that’s broken, and brighten my spirits at the same time, is to use ripple innovation.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Ripple 1:  Find the solution within your own company.  Far too often we can’t see a solution because we’re stuck in our own head – blinded by our compartmentalized approach to problem solving.  So you’re looking for ways to improve your IT support?  Ask your sales force.  Not only will they have situational awareness your IT guys and gals don’t, but you never know – they might also have more tech skills than you realize.  Look outside the department you’re trying to revitalize.
  2. Ripple 2:  Find the solution inside your industry.  Look to your competitors (who typically face the same challenges you do,) and see how they do business.  Maybe your competitor’s Facebook page brings in tons of new business.  Maybe the guy down the street has found a sharper price on office supplies.  Look around to find best practices among your competition.
  3. Ripple 3:  Find the solution in any industry.  You may think your business is industry specific, but you’ll be surprised what you can learn from broadening your perspective.  The food truck that moves around town, yet always manages to have a line when they pull in?  They might be using Twitter in a way you can imitate.  The jewelry store with a reputation for the best customer service in the world?  You can learn something about consumer loyalty that will translate to your company, too.
  4. Ripple 4:  Find the solution in nature.  If you’re really stuck, try zooming out even further, to look at the way the natural world works.  Say you’re having trouble retaining employees, even though you pay great wages.  You might need to look at animals who spend a little longer nurturing their young before sending them off into the world.  After all, animals who hatch and have to fend for themselves right away often have rather high mortality rates.  Try implementing a longer training period, so when you turn your employees loose, they’re able to thrive on their own.

The basic idea of ripple innovation is that you have a whole world to learn from.  Broadening your perspective to include other departments, companies, industries, and even other creatures can only benefit you and help inspire a new period of growth. 


Ten Phrases Successful People Use Daily

Man Holding a Sign with an Optimist Message"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world."- Buddha

The hit book, "The Secret" had one central message; we become what we think about. This same thing was said by Earl Nightingale years earlier in his classic "The Strangest Secret".

I am not suggesting to only think positive thoughts and block out any negativity. I am not talking about surrounding yourself with daily positive aphorisms. The key is what you focus your daily thoughts on. A golfer that thinks they will hit the ball in the sand trap inevitably will most of the time. A team playing not to lose will ultimately lose.

People who are successful say the following phrases that spur them to take action: 

1. I can do this.

It all starts with believing in yourself. People are successful because they are confident in their own abilities. This confidence comes from inside out. When faced with something scary or challenging, this is what they say. This gets them to start which is typically the most difficult part.

2. Ill do it!

People stand out by taking on a challenge no one else is willing to do. It can be small and simple like staying late or taking out the company trash. It can be volunteering on the weekend. While everyone else is asking “why?”, ask “why not?”  Be open to always saying "yes" rather than immediately "no".

3. Thats an awesome job.

Make others feel admired and appreciated by recognizing their success. People will enjoy being around you and that will make you feel good about yourself.

4. I can take at least one small step forward today

Running a small business is overwhelming and achieving goals can be a long term journey. Uncertainty on this path stops many people from even trying. All great success is a series of small steps. Learn the result of your single action and then take an additional step; and then take another.

5. “I’m really listening.”

Successful people know when to say these words. Stephen R. Covey, author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People'', writes “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Successful people listen to understand and in that moment, do not worry about how they will sound when they reply.

6. “I was wrong.”

Successful people always admit this. When they are wrong, they say so. Surprisingly in this process, you will not lose respect or credibility, but gain it.

7. “Done is better than perfect.”

Tech giants Google and Microsoft release beta versions of their products to consumers knowing the products aren’t perfect, and that’s ok. What matters to them is getting the products out in the world so they can learn what needs to be improved.

9. “Can you show me?”

Successful people know that they don’t know everything. That’s why they surround themselves with people who are smarter than them. Successful people can be a follower and a leader in the business world.

10. “I don’t have to be the smartest; I just need to work the hardest.”

Successful people know that if they work hard, they increase their chances of success. They realize that the key to being successful is not just skill, but the willingness to do whatever is necessary to be the best.

Which ones do you use to keep you on the path of success?


Mondays with Mike: 7 Ways To Cut Costs Without Stifling Growth

4-6 Cost Cutting  smallToo often, we discover a new way to reduce our expenditures, only to find out it’s not ultimately good for our bottom line.  The trick is to manage our costs, while still flourishing.  I know – that’s easier to say than do.  But here are seven sure-fire ways to keep your business growing on the cheap.

  1. Pool your resources.  You and other local businesses share many of the same needs.  You need things like ink for your printers, paper towels for the kitchen, and health insurance coverage for your staff.  If you can come together, assess your needs, and approach your providers for these goods and services, you can often negotiate for a better group rate.  Your ink supplier, for example, will likely win some new customers, and you’ll all save money.
  2. Hire contractors.  Take a step back from your staff and assess your real staffing needs.  Often it’s advantageous to hire contractors for certain jobs, paying them a much higher hourly rate, but only using them as needed.  Your staff gets more flexible work days, and you save money in the end.
  3. Free advertising.  So one of your competitors goes out of business, but their billboard on the edge of town is still standing, inviting prospective customers to call their now-out-of-service number.  Call the phone company and arrange to have that old phone number forward to your line.  When the phone rings, you can explain the situation and detail what you’re willing to do to earn that customer’s business.  Why pay for a billboard when you can get one for free?
  4. Cut phone costs.  Most business owners don’t realize how much money they spend annually on their phone services.  Explore lower cost – or even no cost – options like Nextiva.  You may find better call quality and services for far less than you’re paying now.
  5. Assess your office space.  Over the life of your business, you may find that you expand or contract from time to time.  When you’re paying for a space that’s larger than you need, you’re wasting money.  See if sharing a space with another company makes sense, or look for options with shared public areas – kitchens or restrooms.  Make the most of your rent dollars.  Also keep in mind that landlords with space that’s been vacant for a long period of time are far more willing to negotiate rates.
  6. Train your own talent.  Superstar, experienced employees command high wages – no two ways about it.  If you hire raw talent, and take the time to bring your staff up to speed on your own, you can realize huge staffing savings.  Whether you take a chance on an intern or find a diamond in the rough worth taking a chance on, training staff not only saves you money, but also lets your mold your staff to work the way you want.
  7. Get your staff involved.  One of the best moves I ever made was to have a sit-down with my employees and solicit their help in finding ways to trim unnecessary expenses.  They came up with ideas that would never have occurred to me, and when they pitched in, we had a whole team of people working to improve the bottom line.

Cutting costs doesn’t have to be painful.  Finding creative, win-win approaches is the key to making successful, long-term changes without inhibiting your company’s growth. 


How Stepping Backwards Can Help Your Business Move Forward

4-2 Step backwards smallMost successful entrepreneurs have lofty end goals and they want to sprint over the goal line right now. This forward vision is essential, but success rarely comes in the form of a perfectly straight upward trajectory.

I use the analogy of physically jumping forward.  If you stand where you are today and just try to jump forward, you may be able to move your body forward by a half a foot or so.  But if you are trying to jump over a small waterway, you move backwards so that you can get a running start and leap forward a great distance.

You need to take the same approach in business.

When your objective seems so close, yet always out-of-reach, try to take a step back. Here are a few suggestions that can help you decide how many steps back you need to take to leap forward toward success.

Do a Partial Re-boot

Sometimes, your business may not be working because you have some of the wrong elements in place.  It could be the wrong product or service mix for your customer base, it could be the wrong staff, or it could be the wrong processes and procedures.  However, you can never fix what’s wrong if you keep doing what you are doing.

Consider shutting down your business for a week or two (or shortening your hours) to formulate a new strategy for your business.  You may have to reduce your SKUs, reduce staff, shut some locations or even go smaller first in order to get to the next level.  Doing what’s not working won’t allow you to grow, so allow yourself to get smaller to have the right foundation to get bigger.

Go Back to School

You may have worked in your field for 20 years, but how much do you really know about running a business? Maybe a lack of business knowledge is stifling your business growth. Or maybe you need to update your skills in particular areas to keep pace with the changes in technology and your industry.

Consider going back to your school days and take a few courses at your local community college. Or consider free training offered by various organizations, such as the Small Business Administration or your local Chamber of Commerce.

Going back to get business basics and new information can allow you to get past your current business roadblocks so that you can grow.

Do a Full Re-boot

Sometimes, business owners have to squarely face reality and shut the business down… for now. If you cannot see any path forward from where you are, maybe you need to consider starting fresh on a smaller scale. Or, it may be time to work for someone else for a while, so that you can learn from the best- and worst- practices of another business without having that financial risk.

When you’re ready to start your business again, you will have fresh knowledge and ideas that can help you move forward successfully.

When your best efforts don’t seem enough to move your business to your ultimate goals, you need to step back. That step may be small or it may be moving back a mile. If that sounds discouraging, Steve Jobs may have said it best: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”


7 Lies About Starting a Business You Shouldn’t Believe

4-1 Lies about starting a biz smallWhen it comes to becoming your own boss, there are often some misconceptions floating around. Let’s banish a few of the ones that you might be told so that you’ve got the right picture of what to expect as you launch your own business.

Lie #1: You Don’t Need to Be an Expert in Your Field

Yes, you do. Don't start a restaurant because you like to eat, make sure you know how to run a food establishment. Being well-versed in your industry is important, otherwise you will learn many expensive newbie lessons. You must be eager to learn, no one can know everything, so invest time in learning the business before diving in.

Lie #2: You Don’t Need Tons of Money to Start a Business

The money to start your business will come from your personal resources. You need a solid financial base to start a business. The average start-up requires roughly $25,000. Start by creating a budget for both your business and personal expenses for the first year. Make sure you have an emergency savings account too. It takes on average 12-18 months to breakeven in a small business, so err on the safe side, set aside enough money to cover both for a year or two.

Lie #3: There is a Perfect Time to Start a Business

The fact is: there’s no perfect time. You will always have an excuse about why now isn’t the right time. Ignore the naysayer in your head and just do it! You can work out the kinks (and there will be some) later.

Lie #4: Your Need to Quit Your Job to Start a Business

You don't need to quit your job and dive into entrepreneurship, there is another way. 

Become a side hustler. You can start your business on the side while you continue to earn a paycheck. Then, once your company is financially viable, you can cut the cord from Corporate America and devote yourself to your company full time.

Lie #5: All You Need is Passion

If all you need is a dream or the passion to start a business, then everyone would do it. Passion is overrated. Yes, it’s important that you do something you enjoy, but you need to make your passion has a profit center. Your success will depend on your business plan and ability to identify a niche customer, and repeat business.

Lie #6: Marketing is Expensive

So many entrepreneurs make the mistake of not marketing their businesses because they think that it’s too complicated or costly. The truth is, there are a lot of marketing tactics you can do yourself, like blogging, using social media, or sending email marketing campaigns. A little effort goes a long way, and many of these tools are even free.

Lie #7: There’s Nothing Left to Learn

Once you launch your business, you’ve likely read every book, blog, and magazine on starting a business known to man. So you’re done, right? Wrong. You will need to continue to learn, as there’s always new information coming in, especially as technology changes your industry. Staying sharp means staying competitive.

There are a lot of opinions out there about what you need to start a business. Others will tell you what starting a business is like, but the truth is: you have to find out for yourself. Everyone’s journey is different, just remember you must grow yourself to grow your business.


Mondays with Mike: 5 Stellar Tips For Landing Great Customers

3-30 Landing New Customers smallAssuming you’re delivering a great product at a fair price, and assuming you’re making sure your customers get outstanding service, one of the simplest ways to generate more revenue is to land new customers.  But you don’t want just any customer.  You want the big fish – the ones who generate the best revenue.  Here are my top tips for finding those clients, sometimes where you least expect them.

  1. Look for year-end opportunities.  Whether it’s the end of a calendar or a fiscal year, many companies find themselves in the position of scrambling to spend funds so they don’t lose them for the following year.  While other companies coast from mid-December to New Year’s, if you hustle and look for those year-end dollars, you’ll be surprised what you can land.  Even if you get a trial period agreement, you’re setting yourself up to over deliver and score the longer contract when the short-term funds have been exhausted.  Check in with clients who have upcoming fiscal year ends as well, and you’ll often find the same opportunities.
  2. Leverage tax savings for small businesses.  Particularly useful both at the end of the calendar year and around tax time, pitching your product to a client can be even more compelling if you include not just the initial investment cost, but also highlight the potential tax savings that investment can create.  So while your product is certainly a good value on its own, a business who purchases it is also reducing – through the expense – their tax liability.  It’s just going the extra step to think it through for your clients.
  3. Video Sales Page.  I can’t believe how few companies use this tactic, especially given how cost effective it is.  Say you’re making a pitch – could be virtual or in person.  You’re moving through a slide show presentation that highlights all the benefits you can provide.  If you add a slide with a brief video, customized with your prospect’s name and details that matter to her business, you’re taking your pitch from the abstract to the very concrete – and that’s a good thing!  Making a video costs you nothing but a little time, and it’s a personal touch that will separate your company from the crowd.
  4. Build the vendor well.  This tip sounds counterintuitive at first, but it really works.  Instead of asking a great client for referrals to other clients, ask for referrals to their vendors.  The idea is to work with other suppliers to find efficiencies, share customers, and ultimately deliver better service.  You’re broadening your network, while focusing on what matters to your existing clients – great service!
  5. Throw a party.  Take the time to invite your very best clients – along with top new prospects – to a huge celebration.  Whether you grill out for a summer bash or pour champagne at the end of the year, putting your happy clients in contact with prospects lets everyone see how much you value your relationships.  You’ll bring in new customers, and you’ll be able to thank your existing ones.  It’s a win-win.

While generating new business is only part of what we do in a given day or week, it’s important to focus our efforts on those customers who will bring the best returns.


Six Ways that Small Businesses Can Go Green for St. Patrick’s Day

3-13 St. Patty's Day for Biz smallAs a small business owner, you undoubtedly spend every day looking for ways to promote your business and increase your clientele. Just about every business takes advantage of Christmas to increase sales, with “Black Friday” representing the first day of profits in the retail world. Do you really want to wait until the end of the year to drive your bottom line? Why not get started earlier in the year? Perhaps the green in St. Patrick’s Day really stands for money.

Here are six ideas that can help you grab enough green to encourage company growth and prosperity.

1. Save Customers Some Green

Whether you offer a new customer discount or take cash off of orders for existing customers that provide referrals, the connection between money and St. Patrick’s Day green is an obvious one, but this particular holiday offers some natural benefits. For one thing, it lets you take shameless advantage of the color green in promotional materials. It also provides a natural time limit, allowing you to make your offer last for the entire month, for a week or even just on the actual day of the holiday. Most important, it helps jump-start your business early in the year.

2. Green Up the Environment

As many as 15 percent of local individuals define themselves as environmentalists. Your company may not make biodegradable diapers or cleaning products formulated from veggies, but the green tie-in lets you demonstrate your environmental interests. This is great time to tout your recycled product packaging or advertise your company’s sponsorship of a local recycling effort. For example, if you run an auto repair shop, offer to shoulder the recycling charges for all oil changes performed in March. And don’t worry about competition from eco-friendly businesses — they’re probably busy preparing for Earth Day in April.

3. Make Green a Lucky Color

A luck-of-the-Irish contest can attract more clients to your business. Make it easy to enter. Customers can “like” your Facebook page, provide an email address on your company web page or walk into your store to complete an entry form when they see a sign in your window. Entrants get a chance to win valuable gift certificates and other prizes — and you increase your customer database for future sales and promotion efforts.

4. Wear Green While Participating in Local Events

Chicago St. Patrick’s Day events begin by dying the Chicago River bright green, followed by a big parade. Naturally, bars and restaurants sponsor the events, but the list does not stop with alcoholic beverage providers. Sponsors include a wide array of businesses, including dance studios, beauty salons, banks and even trade unions. Of course, the media will be there, too. So, whether you sponsor a parade float or hang out with the spectators on the sidewalk, you can increase your brand recognition — or maybe see your company represented on the evening news.

5. Give Away Some Green Bling

Did you know that you can put your logo (and maybe a shamrock) on just about anything? Any visitors to your place of business can walk away with a variety of promotional items, from T-shirts and coffee mugs to flashlights, sports bottles or even USB hubs. Place these items in a re-usable grocery bag with your logo and maybe a few words about your business (go green!), and your logo can remain in front of potential customers for years to come.

6. Offer an Evergreen Movie at Your Place of Business

Admittedly, there really aren’t too many St. Patrick’s Day movies out there, but what about a classic 1952 Irish movie like The Quiet Man? If your customers prefer humor, maybe Waking Ned Devine is more to their liking. With a little extra effort, you can even make green popcorn. Attracting a movie audience gains you an instant audience for your business message as well.

Before the movie, use a welcome message to introduce your business. If you have a promotional video or TV commercial available, play it before and after the main event (wow — double feature!). And a discussion group after the movie enhances the movie experience while enhancing your personal relationship with customers. If they walk away carrying bling bags, all the better.

Be Sure to Make it Unique and Relevant

Doing the same things as everyone else gains your business no more visibility than if you were to jump into the green Chicago River wearing a green wet suit. If you use a little creativity to capitalize on the things that make your business unique, adding a little green will make it pop.


Creating A Self-Reinforcing Culture Of Customer Service Excellence

3-12 Customer Service smallHere’s an important question, the answer to which determines whether or not you have any hope of creating a culture of customer service excellence: Are you willing to put the customer at the center of everything you do?  At the center of…

…your company

…your daily routines

…what you determine are best practices

…the way you schedule your day

…even the way you design your webforms?

Let’s look at that last one: webforms. There is a company I know that has over 97 percent of its customer base within the U.S. Yet, to fill out any form on this company’s website, you’ll find yourself trudging through over 200 unlikely options (Swaziland, Solomon Islands, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu…) just to get to the U’s to select “United States.”

This company, like so many others, hasn’t made the decision to put the customer at the center of its operation.

Assuming you’ve made this decision, we can get down to business.

And it’s an arduous business. It’s not easy. Putting the customer at the center doesn’t just mean being sweet as pie, over and over, and over and over again. It does mean that, but it means more than that. Putting the customer at the center is a more complicated, subtle, and demanding adventure than it sounds.

But it will ultimately be a very, very fruitful endeavor.

Doing what comes naturally. Sort of.

Once you’ve made the decision to have a customer-centered mindset, a “spreadable” situation will grow, more or less naturally. This, really, is central to thriving commercially in our world where customer service, customer experiences, are such a crucial part of real-life marketing.

Here’s how the doin’ what comes naturally virtuous circle works:

  • You commit to allocating resources, improving processes… based on the interests of the customer
  • You hire based on the customer
  • Those whom you hire inspire the next people hired through positive peer pressure.
  • Engaged customers themselves become ambassadors for your brand: your extended marketing team for the human-driven world of today.
  • The inspiration you receive from these customers, and the customers they bring to you, inspires you to do your work better and better. Putting customers at the center is no longer a chore, but an inspired passion.

I’m sounding a bit airy-fairy, new agey here, which I assure you I am not. And I have indeed left out many of the hard parts in this description, including developing detailed and battle-tested customer service standards for almost everything you will do that will affect the customer.

But all of this will flow, and will be self-reinforcing, if you start with the decision. 




 
Nextiva Logo

phone-icon Sales phone-icon Support
Nextiva
Nextiva is the leader in Business VoIP Services. Copyright 2015 Nextiva, All Rights Reserved,
Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy, Patents, Sitemap