Posts Tagged ‘SMB’


How David Can Win Against Goliath Competition

Many communities argue against big companies like Wal-Mart moving into their areas because they believe that these big corporations will eradicate local mom and pop stores. Granted, big, burly businesses can intimidate their smaller counterparts. But David brought a slingshot and a bag of stones to the battle. Then, he found a hole in Goliath’s armor and brought him down with a single stone. The “David’s” in the small business world are small but limber. By recognizing the holes in large competitors’ armor, you can turn your business into an effective slingshot that earns its own piece of the pie.

Smaller Can Be Better

????????????????????????????By necessity, most large companies require vast amounts of red tape to do anything out of the norm (and often, things within the norm too). They may have more employees, but each one performs a specific task, following the company rules every step of the way. In other words, procedures, overhead and red tape all mark major holes in the big business armor.

Your small business is nimble. It can turn on a dime to respond to unique customer needs. You can shuffle your priority list to place a last-minute rush consulting project at the top of your list. You can even personally drive an emergency widget order after receiving a call to your cell phone from a frantic customer on Sunday. You are in complete control of the level of service that you provide. Your hands are not bound by red tape and that allows you to provide superior service.

Offer Value Over Low Prices

Small businesses can recognize and embrace the difference between low price and value in your customers’ eyes. Behemoth competitors like the big box stores and large banks may offer better prices, but low cost is not the best way to compete, especially for attracting loyal customers who aren’t swayed to switch companies based on the latest and greatest discount.

Customers will pay more for superior service and products. For example, you can provide additional value by offering products made in the US, beautifully packaged products, services with enhanced customer service support and more.  You, as a small business owner, are uniquely able to compete on value.

Own Your Special Niche

Why would anyone want to open a coffee shop that competes with Starbucks, a company that clearly does no wrong anywhere in the world? Not so fast: in 2000, Starbucks closed 61 of the 84 stores they opened in Australia because they failed to compete with the small independent shops! They could not adjust to local market demand.

Starbucks may offer everything related to coffee, but their in-store drinks and atmosphere currently do not match the experience of the smaller shops. Like the Italian model (a country that boasts no Starbuck stores, by the way), the Australian independents offer quality over quantity — a niche that local customers want.

As a small business owner, you have the luxury of getting to know what your customers really want. Whether you provide green products or services, custom-fit the clothes sold in your store or even drive customers home on a rainy day, you can craft a differentiated selling point. Make sure that potential customers know the qualities that make your business unique and that existing customers love those points of differentiation so that they can spread the word.

Form Alliances with Other Small Businesses

Goliath competitors may have the resources to offer a full range of goods or services that you find hard to match, but you don’t have to go it alone. Networking is a powerful tool that can address the convenient, cost-effective solutions that busy customers need.

Your print shop may offer high-quality, reasonably-priced services, but perhaps it does not sport the excess real estate that allows big bruiser shops to warehouse customer brochures — often for a hefty price. But you can negotiate storage discounts with a local facility so that you can handle your customer’s printing and storage needs at a lower combined price than the competition offers.

Alliances definitely help you give customers the full services that they need. But they can also expand your customer base through referrals from your small business network. One call to your local Chamber of Commerce is a great way to set out on the road to valuable alliances.

There’s Room for Everyone

As a small business owner, you don’t need to fear major competitors. There’s plenty of room in the marketplace to provide business opportunities for businesses of all sizes. By identifying the holes in their armor and taking advantage of your unique strengths, you can carve out your own business success, even if Goliath & Associates is right across the street.


What Is the Ice Bucket Challenge for Small Business Owners?

Doing_the_ALS_Ice_Bucket_Challenge_(14927191426)Have you taken the “Ice Bucket Challenge”? It challenges friends to put a bucket of ice over their head or donate $100 to the ALS Association. The rules state that within 24 hours of being challenged, participants need to video record themselves by accepting the challenge followed by pouring a bucket of ice over their head. The participant then challenges others on that video. As a result of this viral phenomenon, the ALS Association has received $31.5 million in donations during the past month. 

What would the small business version of the Ice Bucket Challenge? Consider these for yourself:

“The Cash Flow” Challenge: You only have $1000 in the bank on Monday to keep running your business until Friday. Help to beat this challenge: Learn how to read a cash flow statement every month so there are no surprises.  If cash is low, isolate the expenses that need to absolutely be paid or it will drive you out of business. Be direct to vendors and employees about when they can expect to be paid.

“The Customer Satisfaction” Challenge: Your top customer is dissatisfied and is threatening to leave your business. Help to beat this challenge: Listen fully to what the customer has to say. Ask them what the best solution to the problem is. Follow through to a resolution and report back to them on the results.

“The Key Employee Left” Challenge: A key employee just quit and now you have to replace them in 24 hours. Where do you look to replace them? Help to beat this challenge: Always ensure that your employees are cross trained so if one leaves, another can do that job for at least a short time.

“The New Version of Your Product Doesn’t Work” Challenge: You announced a new product, but the latest test show it does not work. You have thousands on backorder. Help to beat this challenge: Isolate what is wrong with the product and what can it be fixed in a reasonable amount of time. Take any other functionality out and notify backorder customers when a product can be shipped.

“The 16 Hours of Work Needs to Get Done in 24 Hours” Challenge: You have a huge pile of work to get done today that will take a lot longer than you have. Help to beat this challenge: First decide what not to do. How will it really affect the business if the work was done tomorrow instead of today? What two things must get done today that are critical to the company?

What would your small business challenge be?


Mondays with Mike: Experts and Minions

????????????????????????????????????????????????????While entrepreneurs strive to staff their companies with superstars, we all know that there’s usually one person who stands out – you know, the person that everyone (including you) calls when you’re stuck and need expert advice.  Since cloning people isn’t legal – and probably not cost effective, either – it’s easy to feel frustrated when there’s simply not enough of your expert to go around. 

After all, an expert can only be in one place at a time, right?

Wrong!  The solution to your expert cloning needs is to provide your experts with minions.  Here’s an example of how it works:

Let’s say that you own a security company, and you provide installation and monitoring services to your clients.  You have technicians who work out in the field doing the installation and making service calls when something goes wrong.  These technicians are trained, but you’ve got one guy who can always troubleshoot any problem and devise intelligent solutions.  But he’s only one guy.

You can’t send him out on every service call, but what you can do is keep him in the office.  No, I haven’t lost my mind.  You keep your expert in a single location, and you set up a way for him to communicate with everyone out in the field.  When a technician encounters a problem, he gets on the phone with the expert, and the expert talks him through the solution. 

The single most important component of this model is a consistent, reliable, and flexible means of communication, because if your communication goes down, the system falls apart.  Many VoIP (Voiceover Internet Protocol) providers offer all the services you’ll need.  My team uses Skype, but there are other companies who provide similar services.

So your minions can connect to your expert via phone, but if they need to share files, Skype also facilitates that.  If your minion has a particularly sticky problem and needs to show the expert what’s going on first-hand, Skype lets you use a webcam to virtually put the expert on-site.  Think about it … if your minions are connected to your expert, then your expert can be virtually anywhere.  You’ve essentially cloned your expert.

The hidden benefit of this model is that while your technicians are out in the field, relying on the expert for support as needed, they’re also getting additional training when they implement your expert’s solutions.  They have a model for troubleshooting that they can begin to implement in their own work.

This model is surprisingly versatile, as well.  Any business that has to send trained staff out to work with clients occasionally has employees who encounter unexpected circumstances and find themselves out of their comfort zone.  Whether you make service calls to repair copiers, or whether you have a team of sales reps in the market, you never know when your staff will need quick answers from your expert.  Setting up an expert-minion structure and protocol ensures that you have enough staff to get out to your clients, without the expense of hiring a dozen experts.


How to Find a Mentor for Your Small Business

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

First, Figure Out What You Need

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

Look Around Your Industry

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

Visit Local Small Business Resources

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

Check Your Online Network

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

How to Approach a Potential Mentor

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

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

Lay out your expectations for the relationship:

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

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

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


Mondays with Mike: Improve Your Client Relationships With Social Media

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

My, how times have changed.

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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!


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

 




 
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