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Supporting Veteran Owned Small Businesses

This video shares examples of a few veteran owned small businesses. Feel free to comment and share your own examples with website link belo...

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Small Business Coaching Resource

Ellen St. George Godfrey coaches entrepreneurs who are decision makers in their small businesses. Her focus in on the "behind the business" skills of running an effective and responsive business and she uses a measurement system in her process.

Eli's clients benefit from her psychology background as they set goals, clarify business vision, eliminate negative habits, improve interpersonal communication skills, and develop personalized accountability systems.

How is Eli different from other coaches? She does short term coaching .... and her clients and her measure their progress by looking at revenue growth and activity levels.

For information on Eli's services visit: Business Coaching

Monday, December 29, 2008

When Does A "Virtual Office" Set-Up Make Sense?

When does a virtual office set-up make sense ... and for whom? For example .... using virtual office packages from Packet8 or iTeleCenter.

Small businesses and home offices appear to be the best candidates (improved cost effectiveness, "big time" presence and reach, and efficiencies gained) ... true or false?

Short answer ... true.

As for when it makes sense ... and for whom?

I would say a virtual office set-up makes sense when you need to be mobile and can actually add more value by doing so, i.e. costs would be incurred by requiring you and your employees to be at a specific location for a specific required time. Or, to improve the productivity of an already existing dispersed group.

To illustrate the advantages of a Virtual Office here's a testimony from Mark Adams of MergingDesign.com ......

"My company is a marketing/design agency, and being virtual works wonderfully for us. It started out of necessity six years ago because we simply couldn't afford office space in the beginning. But it turns out that allowing designers and programmers to work out of their home office is a great benefit that helps us attract experienced talent. We use Packet 8 Virtual Office and most of our clients don't even realize we're virtual. And we use IM, Email, BaseCamp, shared servers, etc. to communicate and manage files. So I am a big fan of the "virtual office" and would never want to fight traffic and lose hours a week driving needlessly."

A virtual office set up makes sense if your small business does not have a regular parade of customers that require face time at your office site. Since most small businesses struggle with cash flow, it's wiser to invest in technologies that can extend their reach without the added drag of going to an office every day. The additional bonus for small business is that a virtual office arrangement allows them to tap into talent they might otherwise miss.

Here's 3 advantages of a virtual office that many don't think of .... but are definitely a big plus.

1. If your company business fits to support a virtual office environment this can be a potential "huge" cost savings in the cost of real estate, building expenses, taxes, etc.

2. A virtual office environment will increase you opportunity to acquire skills through personnel that may not otherwise be availble to you ..... due the fact that when they have to come into an office everyday, you are usually limited to those who live in the surrounding region or will relocate (many times at your expense), which limits your overall potential talent pool.

3. When bad weather strikes, a virtual office many times provides an excellent disaster recovery scheme to allow business to run uninterrupted.

IMHO Virtual offices are going to change the way we all do business, and it’s going to happen much sooner than most realize.

So .... now that your convinced here's 2 highly recommended options for setting up your own Virtual Office:

* iTeleCenter

* Packet8

Now pick one and get started.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Resource For Small Business Loans .... ibank.com

Even without the current economic worries .... getting a small business loan has always been (and will always be) a need for many small businesses.

One resource worth looking into is the services available through ibank.com. With their convenient online access .... ibank.com offers a long list of services and support for business loans, equipment leasing, and commercial mortgages.

For business loans ibank.com covers information and assistance for the following types of loans:

* Accounts Receivable Financing
* Asset Based Lending Loan
* Bridge Loan
* Business Credit Card
* Equipment Financing Loan
* Franchise Loan
* Hard Money Loan
* Home Equity Loan
* Inventory Financing Loan
* Factoring Invoice
* Line of Credit under $100K
* Line of Credit over $100K
* Purchase Order Financing
* Retail/Merchant Cash Advance
* SBA Loan
* Term Loan
* Truck Equipment Loan
* Unsecured Business Loan over $25K
* Unsecured Business Loan under $25K
* Working Capital Loan

That's quite a list ... and it's just for starters. There's much more available through their online assitance portal. It's definitely worth your time to check out what they offer .... and what they can do for you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hosted Video Surveillance Solution For Small Business

There is a large demand for a cost effective, professional grade video surveillance solution for small business and residential users. This has become more prevalent in the last 4-6 months with our wonderful economic climate.

Secure-i.com has created a fully hosted video surveillance application where you don't need anything but a broadband connection and an HVR enabled camera.

They have mitigated the need for client side software, hardware, and administration. This alleviates the overhead costs involved with purchasing, installing/configuring, and maintaining equipment and software.

Another advantage to their hosted video solution is you don't need to know anything about your routers/switches to get it working. You simply plug it into an open port connected to the internet, log onto the website, and authenticate the camera with an access code that comes with the camera.

To learn more go to: Hosted Video Surveillance

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ari Galper's "Unlock the Game" .... Is It Right For Your Small Business?

Ari Galper's "Unlock The Game" has become something of a bible for many who hope, want, need to improve their sales methods. The real question is not "is it right for your small business" .... but rather what issues you are trying/wanting to address with it.

For example .... many move into a sales environment from a technical background and do not feel comfortable with a number of sales methods they've been shown. ‘Unlock the Game’ provids a more consultative problem solving method that removes a number of sales pressure issues many are struggling with.

The reason many find "Unlock The Game" so good is it feels more natural and suits their style. Therefore they are more relaxed in front of the customer .... and can have a good discussion about whether they are offering a solution for the customer's issues.

A number of people have issues with "Unlock the Game" as Ari recommends identifying whether you can help a person .... and if not walk away rather than pressing a sale.

The area that many get the most benefit from is the cold calling process. Many quote going from not being able to cold call to almost enjoying it. "Unlock the Game" provides the confidence and technique to successfully cold call customers and get that vital first appointment. More significantly you'll learn not to take the rejection personally.

For most who read Ari's "Unlock The Game" .... it will help. If you are struggling with traditional sales methodologies it may be the answer you are looking for.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Small Business Tip .... How To Manage Cash Flow

Cash is king right? When in business .... ANY size business .... managing your cash flow is key to survival, not just growth. So .... how do you best go about ensuring you have your ducks in a row? Read on folks .... and pay attention.

Before you consider improving parts of the process, it’s important to bring the entire process under control. The process is the simultaneous timing of receipts and payments. How do you know if you’re in control? For most companies you could say you’re in control if you can predict cash balances within 10% accuracy, over the next 30 days.

Any business can get into control fairly easy but it takes a little discipline. Start by preparing a realistic schedule of receipts summarized by week. Typically these are outstanding customer invoices. Schedule receipts based on customers past payment patterns not you terms. Don’t kid yourself, in this environment plan for delayed customer payments.

Next prepared a weekly schedule of payments your business will be making over the next 30 days. Be sure to include all your expected payments such as payroll, payments to suppliers, installment loans, etc. Rank payments by penalty to pay beyond terms.

Finally, starting with your current cash balance, prepare a weekly schedule that adds your receipts and subtracts your payments. This will provide a weekly projected cash balance.

Update the forecast every week using new cash balances. In weeks where receipts were below forecast you have to consider slowing down your payments. When you see a heavy cash receipts week coming near you should attempt to confirm that customers will be paying as you are planning.

Once your cash management is under control here’s a few ways to improve the cash flow:

1 . Calling customers in advance
2. Make collections a priority with your sales team
3. Corrected invoices slow receipts. Monitor invoice corrections closely. Make sure invoices are accurate and in format acceptable to the customer
4. Reduce credit limits for customers paying slow due to their own cash problems.
5. Stick to your payment schedule for major items
6. Be reliable. Communicate clearly and in advance to all stake holders when moving off agreed terms. This includes employees, lenders, shareholders, and suppliers.
7. Include your management team in the process. You’ll need their help and support to be successful.
8. Control on what you can control.
9. Delay unnecessary spending indefinitely. Ask yourself if the expenditure is not made will it kill the company in the next three months? Three months later if you're still alive, ask the question again.

There you go .... now you have a plan. It's up to you to put it into action.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Can Twitter Help Your Small Business?

We've all heard that social media ... and using social media in your marketing arsenal ... is all the rage. Twitter .... one of the more popular social media venues .... appears to have grabbed the attention of many small businesses as a potential leverage maker for growing business (sic customers).

Can Twitter really help your small business efforts? Read this enlightening contribution by Cindy King from Linked-In and judge for yourself.

=============

Twitter has helped my business in more ways than 1.

I first started tweeting for business shortly after I signed up for Chris Garrett's Authority Blogging course in August. As a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant with 2 blogs and using web marketing for international lead generation, I wanted to improve my blogging skills. Twitter is one of the key tools Chris recommends to create stronger relationships online - Twitter is micro-blogging.

I went into Twitter hating the idea of wasting my time listening to mundanes stories about other people's lives. My business keeps me busy and I did not have time to waste. So I totally focused on Twitter for my business and finding a way to fit it into my schedule.

Following the right people to understand Twitter was key - Community Managers, Authority Bloggers. There are some people very gifted at building relationships on Twitter. As I followed these online community builders, I realized that some of them are also excellent direct response copywriters. They get their Twitter followers to take action.

Light bulbs went off, and I spent a weekend putting together a tweet marketing plan and entered in 6 weeks worth of tweets, 5 a day, using TweetLater. I used a mindmap, categories, varied times on tweets and used BUDurls so I could track results and improve my tweet plan the next time around. That was a month ago.

I now use Chris Garrett's advice. Twitter is like a big meeting room. There is no pressure about "following" everyone. When I have 2-3 minutes free in between projects, I just step into this room and see what people are talking about and participate... then leave.

In practice, when I take a break, I check my Tweetlater alerts on my keywords - emailed to me every hour, so when I check it, they are recent. I check out anyone who tweeted something interesting, respond to them, rebroadcast their tweet, follow them, and answer direct tweets.

Here are my observations:

1. The synergy with other web marketing channels - 2 blogs, LinkedIn & Facebook - adds to both the number of leads and the lead quality I now get out of online marketing.

2. My Tweets are primarily aimed at getting market feedback from potential leads and my blog readers. To do this, I target my audience with a percentage of about 80-90% tweets on resources and useful information on my main subject - cross-cultural marketing for faster international business development - and the other tweets are surveys and questions. Good news: also have university professors & associations for business development following me.

3. New relationships with peers and competitors. This increases my business intelligence - with less effort. It's easy to stay on top of your field when you are on Twitter and they are too. A few interviews scheduled and quality referrals.

4. In addition to better online marketing, I have also added Twitter coverage of events to my list of freelance marketing services. This fits my other copywriting services - International Success Stories to international event participants. I live just outside of Paris, and hope to get my first client tweeting from a live event there soon.

Results: Mike, this is working for me. Since I started using Twitter for business, I have had a 800% increase in direct mails to my personal email, through LinkedIn and on Facebook. Many times people say they have seen me elsewhere, but they choose to make the connection using their favorite social media channel.

Twitter is where I "got" the social media mindset. You need to understand the difference in how to market to your customers in this community environment compared to traditional environments. And you can only do this by jumping in and participating.

And as a marketer, it is obvious to me that you need to understand this mindset before you can carry out effective multichannel marketing needed to reach today's consumer.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Small Business Advice ..... Get Yourself A Good Lawyer

Here's some sound small business advice I'll throw into the pot: get a good lawyer and a good CPA.

Some folks like to try and start their business either by just being a sole proprietor or by "partnering up" with other individuals. This can be problematic from a liability standpoint and open the owners up to liability problems.

Additionally, if the owners decide to file their own entity (either directly with the state, or through a corporation services website) they can make choices that cause them problems later on, either with liability issues or with tax issues. And those problems cost lots of money with lawyers and CPAs to clean up. Sometimes exponentially more than the cost of using the lawyer and CPA to do the setup in the first place.

For example, if you set up your entity as an S corp and then decide you would be better off as an LLC ..... when you do the transition it is considered a taxable event by the IRS and can result in a huge tax burden.

The bottom line is getting planning advice on potential liability and tax issues (federal, state and local) on the front end is the smart thing to do. It can short cut the issues that some businesses run into down the road (such as the death of owners, divorces of owners and buyout offers). Additionally well drafted contracts (IMHO) are the best defense against litigation - which is the biggest nightmare of the business owner (it takes their money, their time, and causes stress, all while taking them away from their business).

So while cutting corners and not hiring a lawyer and CPA to start with may seem like the thing to do as a startup to save money, it may end up costing a great deal more in the long run. Money spent with a good business law attorney and a good CPA is a sound investment.

For help in this arena I strongly suggest you contact my friend Seth Hinkley at seth@hinkleylaw.com. You'll be well taken care of.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Small Business Workshop Resource

At AfterBusinessPlanning.com you will find online workshops prepared to help business owners develop their businesses, using proven topics and materials. The foundation is a simple business plan workshop. Then AFTER the business plan, they deliver a new workshop each month to help you improve in one area of your operation.

We all know how hard it is to implement things when you learn too much at once - normally nothing gets implemented. So this program is created in a monthly subscription format that enables you to use the resources to learn and apply what you learn each month over the course of a year.

The topics include cash flow management, forecasting, management control, time management, human resources, marketing communications, target marketing, financing, strategic analysis, credit and collections.

The resources are designed to bring something to the small business owner that normally only is available to the largest companies - via an eMentoring relationship. Business owners have access to the equivalent of a full-time tax advisor, business consultant, human resource director and marketing rep - all available 24/7/365. The privacy of working alone, but the value of professional leadership.

Refuse to participate in a recession. Join AfterBusinessPlanning.com for this online series on business development and make 2009 your best year ever.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Leasing Equipment For Small Business

One area a small business should not overlook is equipment and tech leasing/financing .... both for startups (although they are more difficult to do) and for established businesses.

One of the reasons why this is so important to the startup or growing business is that there are many expenses that come up (rent, payroll) where cash is the only solution to the problem. So to use some of that precious cash to buy equipment, when it can be leased instead ..... is a double hit of using cash when its unnecessary AND having it unavailable for other cash expenses.

There's only two big downsides for startups: 1) they are tougher to do since there's no operating history of the business involved and 2) its more expensive than a similar business profile at least 2 years in business.

Think of it like this, if you are a widget maker and you need a widget making machine, it doesn't matter if you own the machine or not. Its the use of it that you have to have in order to make your widgets to sell. Use without ownership of essential use equipment is the essence of leasing.

For information on this option for running your business AND a valuable rersource to put this approach into action check out: Southern Lending Solutions

Monday, December 8, 2008

Small Business Paperwork ..... Resources For Getting What You Need

There are a lot of great tools out there for small businesses, especially with today's technology.

For example, Docstoc is building the world's largest repository of business documents, that are easily searched and downloaded, for free.

So if you are looking for a business plan, a rental agreement, a sample marketing presentation, tax forms, etc. you can just download them for free at docstoc.com.

BUT there is more! docstoc encourages users to upload their own content and make it available for download in their database.

This is a great way for any small company to generate visibility for themselves! They can upload marketing pieces, industry presentations and white papers, and more. Every document uploaded to docstoc is a free way to promote a company. All links in your documents are live, which builds a small business' visibility online and within search engines.

And if you are a small business that produces a lot of documents, you can download their viewer and add it to your site for free (this keeps people on your site, not flipping back and forth between a PDF or Document page).

On another note, pitchengine.com is a great, free way to create and distribute press releases. This is not an official newswire, it doesn't take the place of a large paid service, but it is one way to, again, increase a small business' visibility online at no cost.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The World's Only Online Self-Study E-business Course That Delivers Success!

As a small business owner you can't overlook the potential of having an online presence. But how can you make that happen .... in a cost effective manner while ensuring you'll succeed?

Site Build It! is a self-taught e-business building course that includes clear step-by-step video instruction and all the tools required not just to "learn," but to build a profitable, ongoing and ever growing e-business. Students start with nothing, proceeding through the course to build and market Top 1-3% Web sites that work, all for less than a dollar a day.

SBI! isn't like a can of beans that you pull off of the pantry shelf, open and viola... beans, just as you expected! Site Build It! ("SBI!") isn't just another product.

It surely isn't just Web hosting or site-building.

Rather, SBI! truly is very much like a course .... a self-study course in e-business success. Of course, you graduate with more than a diploma. Actually, you don't
ever graduate, since the rich environment of process and tools takes you as deep (and as big) as you want to go.

Site Build It! (SBI!) is the world's only online self-study course proven to deliver successful e-businesses. The all-in-one site-brainstorming/planning/researching and site-building and site-hosting and site-marketing/traffic-building and site-monetizing step-by-step system of software tools delivers thriving, profitable businesses.

The right process, the right tools that remove all the barriers and mysteries, correctly applied at the right time. That is how you grow long-term profits. And that is how SBI! works.

So...

If you are still mystified by the Web ..... you can help yourself with SBI!. While creating your own online business presence that rocks!

See for yourself at: E-Business Course

If you have any questions at all ... simply ask them right here:

How To Build A Website

For peace of mind you should know that you can take SBI! for a Risk-Free Test Drive. You have the full protection of their Money-Back Success Guarantee.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What Are The Best Pricing Practices For Small Business During An Economic Slowdown?

In an economic slowdown your pricing is determined by factors like input cost of production or distribution channel cost etc. ..... which are primarily working on market factors. Generally one should be working on a reactive strategy of open price .... which allows for revision in product pricing over a shorter time period instead of quarterly or yearly market driven slashes or increases.

The important consideration is to try to maintain sales, even if some of them yield marginal or no profit (i,e, break even). In other words, so long as you are covering your costs, particularly fixed costs, then there is value in doing so.

However, unless you wish to become the low-cost leader going forward, then this low pricing may create a precedent which customers expect to continue, and it also may devalue the brand.

So pricing strategy must be decided carefully, with all things considered, including unintended consequences. And it may be better to have various incentives rather than simple price cuts in order to sustain sales.

In the article "Pricing in an Inflationary_Downturn", McKinsey recommends the following actions:

-Watch for sudden shifts in price structure
-Adjust to changing customer needs
-Monitor customer-level profitability
-Update price sensitivity research

Many companies across the nation are on the verge of closing their doors and some have already started liquidating their inventory. This can be a great time to create opportunity for your business. Here are a few items to look at:

Item 1: Renegotiate Your Vendor Pricing:

Go to your current vendors and request price decreases due to the economy. You may be able to receive your inventory at a fraction of your old rates because of the risk of your vendors losing their business. Most agreements can be negotiated when financial conditions are more abundant ..... so this provides the perfect opportunity to turn the financial crises into an opportunity for your company.

Item 2: Create A Customer Loyalty Program:

Many companies started slashing prices to attempt to drive additional business to their company. However in researching the response of the consumers you may find them upset because if those prices were always available why did they not get them before. So you may consider creating a customer loyalty program ..... send a letter and give fliers to every customer saying that you want to retain them as a customer and are now rewarding them with a % off by signing up. What this does is make it look like you are giving an additional perk instead of cutting all your costs.

In any environment, it's a best practice to price based on your customers' willingness to pay. To the extent possible, strive to understand if and how your customers' willingness to pay has changed and also how able you are to meet those customers' needs relative to your competition. Unless you have a sustainably lower cost business model, you'll want to avoid competing on price as a price cut is very easy for a competitor to copy but leaving you both with lower margins in the process. The airline industry comes to mind.

Are you in a position of relative strength? If so, that might allow you to innovate, differentiate your offering, and improve your value proposition based on shifting customer needs, thereby taking market share without necessarily changing your price.

If you find that your customers' willingness to pay doesn't cover your costs, you'll have to re-examine your business model.

Keep in mind that there would be different answers for a lot of different situations. First of all strategies may be different in B2B than in B2C. Within each type the following factors will play an important role:

1. Company strategic posture – what you want out of the situation: sail through? Take advantage? Weaken competitors? Portray as socially responsible? Etc.
2. Financial strength/leverage available.
3. Brand positioning
4. Relationships with customers
5. Distribution leverage
6. Product category in terms of price elasticity
7. Cost cutting advantages available.

You should consider the above and more factors before determining how to price during a slowdown.

The only thing I would add is to caution that:

1.Understanding price sensitivity in the current climate is critical - price decreases may not have the expected effect and that's an expensive mistake.

2. Be aware of potential changes in your value proposition as the market changes. Your product may now be perceived in a different way and the value you deliver will still be the ultimate driver behind what you can charge.

3. Price is a key positioning statement, not just a piece of simple mathematics. Think long and hard about how a price change will be perceived by your customer and the long, as well as short term effects a price change may have.

In the end cutting the customer's price just for the sake of cutting their costs isn't the answer. Lower your costs first ..... ensure your product/service maintains "value" .... and focus more on customer loyalty/retention.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Have Some Fun .....The Best Sales And Marketing One Liners

In a little diversion from the standard "business talk" ..... let's have a little fun. Here are some of the best (funny, crazy, inspirational) one liners in marketing and sales. Feel free to add your own contributions as replies ....HIGHLY encouraged. ;)

* "It's not a bug — it's a feature."

* "Where's the beef?"

* "I am not selling bibles … but I think I´ve some solutions to your office."

* "The thing to remember about Marketing in general is the 2-drink minimum." -- R. Poulk

* "Pst ... Viral marketing doesn't work ... Pass it on."

* "May I have the chance to "wow you" today?"

* "Where facts are few, experts are many."

* "Success has many fathers, failure is a bastard."

* "Market research is for the obedience of the foolish and the guidance of the wise."

* "In business the rear view mirror is clearer than the windshield."

* "Data beats emotion (gut instinct)."

* "Coffee is for Closers" - Alec Baldwin as Blake in Glengarry Glenn Ross

Like I said .... you're welcome to add your contributions as a comment/reply (see tab below).

Friday, November 28, 2008

Speak Out!! What Is The Effect Of The Economy On YOUR Small Business??

Here's your chance ..... SPEAK OUT!!

The economy is a mess ... everyone is hurting .... small businesses are no exception. The current recession may go even deeper .... some even fear a depression if things aren't "fixed" and soon. The strength of ANY economy is the small business person.

So ......

What is the economy doing to YOUR Small Business?

What are YOU doing so your small business can survive??

What ideas do YOU have to make things right for small business??

If you had the chance ... what would you say to the "politicians" about the mess they put us in AND what they REALLY need to do for small business??

Your voice should BE HEARD .... tell the world what you think .... reply with your comments!!!!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Small Business Resource: Harnessing The Power Of Email Marketing

My friend Stan Relihan is the major domo of the Podcast Newtork ... and host extrordinaire of the "Connections" show.

Last week on 'Connections', Simms Jenkins, from Brightwave Marketing in
Atlanta, Georgia, talked to Stan about the benefits, pitfalls and myths of
Email Marketing.

Feel free to listen in at: The Power Of Email Marketing

or Simms Jenkins

And keep a lookout for the next Episode, featuring John McCrea, VP of Marketing at Plaxo.

By the way ..... now you can get 'The Connections Show' delivered directly to your BlackBerry® - no need to download. Simply sign-up here:

Sign up at Connections Show - The Podcast Network

Monday, November 24, 2008

How To Put Your Local Business On The Internet .... And Get MORE Customers!

As a local business owner you can also take advantage of the internet to grow your local influence and customer base.

Local business owners like you work hard. REALLY hard!

You are always involved in a flurry of activity...

o Managing finances
o Working to attract and retain customers
o Trying to stay a step ahead of the competition
o "Everything else" that comes with doing-it-yourself.

Local business operators like you not only have to manage ALL the aspects of your company, putting in 60, 70, even 80 hours a week, but you also have to balance home and family life...while, of course, keeping an eye on your future.

Phew! It's one of the toughest jobs there is.

And at the end of the day, it just doesn't seem like you're doing enough. Especially in today's financial climate.

What if you could take your local enterprise straight to the Web ..... and get a real, measure-able, prove-able ROI ("Return on Investment") ?

All of this gaining you more visibility and business right in your own backyard ... your "local" market.

You can do that right here: Local Business Online

If you have any questions at all ... simply ask them right here: Website Building Questions

As Malcolm Forbes said, "Venture nothing, and life is less than it should be." Take SBI! home For a Risk-Free Test Drive and just get started.

"Action separates the successful from the rest." Take action. Start building your success at no risk right now. You are protected by the Money-Back Success Guarantee.

Friday, November 21, 2008

How To Create A Small Business Website .... That Actually Makes Money

OK ... you've finally convinced yourself that you DO need to have an online presence for your small business. The next step .... creating a business website.

Your first inclination may be to focus on "what it looks like". OK ... looks are important. BUT ... there's much more to it than looking like a fancy brochure.

If you want your website to actually attract customers AND make sales for you....you need to optimize for targeted traffic AND have content that converts visitors to buying customers.

Rather than dive into a lot of detailed "how" and "why" .... I'll just recommend a resource that will do it all for you. From soup to nuts.

Simply check out these links and DO IT:

Website Development Questions

Website Development Services

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Top Tips For Small Businesses To Survive The Recession

Here are some tips for small businesses to survive the recession .... courtesy of the everywoman network:

1) Know your cost base.

What costs are fixed (ie, costs that you HAVE to pay) and what are variable (ie, that are essentially optional or that fluctuate with sales). Splitting costs in this way will help you to pay what needs paying and cut back on what doesnt.

2) Good credit control

Dont let your clients use you as a bank, if they want a loan for goods or services - thats where they need to go! You should be paid to the terms on your invoice, or earlier. Start a policy of telephone chasing outstanding invoices when they are X days overdue, then follow it up with a letter. Make sure your invoice terms are clear on your invoices.

4) Asset finance

Think about whether you really need to pay upfront for an asset or piece of equipment, could you lease the equipment? perhaps over the short term until you are sure its required or that your business finances can support a longer term commitment.

Or I like this one:

"I have a sign (just typed and laminated!) above my PC screen - it tells me "This business is not participating in any recession"

The rest are here: Small Business Survival Tips

If you have any tips you'd like to suggest .... by all means please do so by adding them as a comment.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Government Grants For Small Business .... Myths And Facts

Following is from a rather insightful exchange between Alan Beckley and Joseph Graben in response to a question from John Madigan at Linked-In.com.

There seem to be several on-line services that promise to help you find and secure government grants for small business. Most appear to be less than legitimate. (Actually all of them are ... read on).

So, just what is myth and what is fact when it comes to government grants for small businesses?

To the best of my knowledge, outside of grants awarded under the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs there are no federal “grants” aimed at small businesses. The grants via SBIR/STTR programs are competitively awarded grants for small businesses to conduct R&D projects that meet a federal agency’s mission need as well as have wider commercialization potential.

Most all of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s programs aimed at small businesses are “loan”, not “grant”, programs. Most of these programs are guarantee programs which help a small business secure a loan from participating financial institutions.

The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is 50% funded by the US SBA ... and one of their charges is to provide useful information for small business owners and to disabuse people of myths. The "free government grant" horse pucky is one of the worst scams ..... and many make money by selling books and seminars that purport to provide information on how to obtain that which does not exist.

It is like your mother always used to tell you "if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is!"

Second obvious thought is if there were "free money" available for small business, why would anyone bother with the risk of seeking, obtaining, and paying off a bank loan?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Business Plan Template .... Resources For Writing Your Own

Many small business owners needing to prepare a business plan for the first time feel overwhelmed .... a template may be just the thing to get started.

Here's a few resources to look over and see if any are a fit for what you need:

* Score Template Gallery

* To do it on your own you can also go to the Small Business Administration website (www.sba.gov) and enter business plans. They have myriad tools for folks. You can follow the step-by-step instructions to prepare your plan.

It can easily take 100 - 200 hours but you'll find it very worthwhile, short and long term.

* Business Plan Pro by Palo Alto Software. It comes with hundreds of sample plans.

* I would recommend Teach Yourself Business Plans by Alpha

* Free-Plan, which includes section-by section guidance in accompanying help and manual. It is free!!!

* Finally, if you've never done a business plan before ... you NEED to read Guy Kawasaki's "The Art of the Start."

That ought to be enough options to get you started.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What's The Best Way To Establish Credit For A Newly Formed Small Business?

What's the best way to establish credit for a newly formed business entity (LLC or corporation), even before it's actually conducting business, to avoid having to personally guarantee a (SBA) loan, and to be able to open (vendor) accounts?

First you have to establish your business legally with your federal, state, county/local governments. Here a basic steps that may help.

- Secure a small line of credit with secured assets.
- Establish a supply base and make small purchases.
- Lastly contact one (or all) of the business credit agencies to establish a credit file.

This process may take 3-4 months. This is the least costly approach with an above average personal credit score.

Please know that I am not a proponent of using credit cards to fund a business, however, if the credit is for inventory where there is more than a likelihood that the inventory that you are acquiring will be sold and paid for within 60 days there is an avenue open to you.

Go to American Express - Plum and apply for an American Express Plum Card. Using the card judiciously will give you the option of paying two ways.

1. pay in full within 10 days of bill closing and receive up to a 2% discount
2. pay 10% when the bill is due and defer the balance for up to 60 days.

Yes, there is liability to the card holder (principal), however this does give you access to a great deal of funding within a safe environment for initial inventory purchases and is a great cash management tool.

When you have your business up and running, how will you determine the credit-worthiness of your potential customers? or more directly, why would you want to do business with your own company? Putting yourself in the shoes of your vendors will help answer your question.

Many local vendors will extend a small amount of credit if they know you. Alternatively, you can prepay vendors to develop a history of being able to pay for what you order. After a number of prepaid orders, they may be willing to sell to you on credit.

When setting up your banking accounts, you should be able to obtain a debit card. Use it as a credit card until you can qualify for a true credit card.

When you have assets (inventory or receivables), you can leverage them for cash when needed.

Hopefully you have a business plan and have developed some financial analysis and projections so you know your break even points, and how much inventory you have to have on hand to re-pay debt, and start building equity.

Monday, November 10, 2008

How To Incorporate Your Small Business

If you are operating more than one company, it’s a good idea to use separate LLCs for each one. The reason: Liability against each company becomes self-contained. If there is a problem at one location, your other companies are fully protected and are not impacted by actions against the property experiencing trouble.

If your companies happen to be in Delaware, Iowa or Oklahoma, state law there permits you to use a single LLC umbrella, called a series LLC (also referred to as a cell LLC). In this type of organization, the debts and liabilities of each LLC remain separate from those of the other LLCs. But having a master LLC makes things administratively easier and less costly. Even though each LLC runs separately, initial filing fees may be lower and only a single tax return is required for the umbrella LLC. You may recognize that a company is owned by a series LLC if it is titled “ABC Property LLC, Series X.”

If you already own a business, and are thinking about buying property for the business--perhaps a professional building from which to operate--watch out. You can, of course, have the practice buy the property, but this usually isn’t a good idea. It is advisable for you to buy the property yourself, using an LLC, and then lease it to your practice. In this way, you retain maximum flexibility over buying and selling the property. What’s more, if there are any legal actions against your company, you can better protect the separate property owned by the LLC. This same strategy works if your business is, say, an incorporated manufacturer that wants to own the plant or a retailer in a strip mall.

LLC benefits....

When it comes to managing your property and running the LLC, this type of business organization offers optimum flexibility. You can operate the business yourself, hire a professional manager or leave things to other members. Choose the management arrangement best suited for your personal situation.

LLCs give you flexibility when it comes to co-owners. You can also partner with anyone you choose and use an LLC for your business. For example, you might have a foreign investor in your company, something you couldn’t do with an S corporation.

FOR REALTORS....

What type of business entity is the best choice for you for real estate investments? A corporation can offer you personal liability protection but won’t necessarily give you any tax edge. A partnership may offer tax advantages, but won’t protect you from personal liability. A limited liability company, or LLC for short, is a hybrid entity that combines the best of what a corporation and a partnership can offer and may be the perfect solution for you.

With an LLC, no matter what happens to the property, your personal assets, including your home, cannot be touched by creditors of the LLC. And you not only gain personal liability protection, but also important tax and other advantages.

The LLC gives you a flexible way to protect yourself as if you were a corporation but you get better tax treatment.

Resource links:

* Bizfilings

* Business Tool Kit

* Time To Start-up

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Friday, November 7, 2008

CRM For Small Business ..... What Works Best?

Contact management for small businesses is a big deal .... often having abig impact on your bottom line. Afterall .... how well you connect and stay in contact with customers (and potential customers) ..... track and manage your sales and marketing data .... and drive business to your company is crucial to your overall income numbers.

Here is a quick "Guide" with strengths and weaknesses of three CRM software packages I'm comfortable recommending:

Salesforce.com .......

PROS: Integration with dozens of 3rd party tools including marketing automation. Hands down the most powerful import functionality of all CRMs my test group ever used. Salesforce.com allows you the most flexibility with mapping of data ..... and gives you full control of what data gets overwritten, merged, and updated. It is also easy to use and quick to navigate.

CONS: Expensive compared to other alternatives. Little to no contractual flexibility.

SugarCRM ........

PROS: Nice interface and powerful customization, most powerful if you count the ability to edit code. Flexible contract terms. More cost effective than Salesforce.com in the OnDemand version ..... and free if you host the Open Source version yourself.

CONS: Little support for third party applications out of the box. Import process is limited in that you can only overwrite, versus update existing data records. This can be bad if you like to regularly update your database and import tradeshow and other marketing data.

QuickBase .......

PROS: Month to month contract terms, ability to host unlimited instances or have unlimited applications. As low as $15 per user per month. Easy customization.

CONS: Tedious import process with no ability to update certain fields versus overwrite. Little to no ability to connect to 3rd party applications.

My friends use Salesforce.com for their sales and marketing. They use Quickbase for delivery of their services.

Tidbits on a few others ...... Act and Goldmine require more IT resources for multi-user environments, and you will have trouble with people not syncing often enough. I have yet to meet anyone who has used Microsoft CRM and liked it.

Whatever program you choose really depends on what are your priorities and needs within CRM. Is it sales driven, customer service driven, internal help desk driven, campaign management drive. There are always some niche tools that are for specific needs and still people develop custom development. Proposal Making is a separate software in the CRM space for instance.

One thing to always remember when selecting, and integrating any CRM product. Installing and running the CRM is the easy part, no matter which one you chose. The hard part is tailoring the CRM's robust feature set to the unique aspects of your business, your sales goals, and the personality of your sales team. This tailoring will cost far more, take far longer, and incite far more arguments than you could ever imagine.

If it's so hard, then why even do it? Because that IS the payoff for CRM. A lot of people spend a lot of time analyzing all the features and choosing one CRM over another, and my point is, the feature sets aren't what matter.

The real beneit of CRM software isn't the automation, it is that in automating, it forces you to have all those tough arguments, make all those tough business decisions, and have all those debates about sales philosophy.

And if you do it right, you will be richer for it, no matter which software you choose.

CRM isn't simply contact management on steroids, it is your company's opportunity to identify best practices in customer life cycle management, codify those practices into defined processes, and an automated system to help your sales force understand and follow those practices.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How Your Small Business Can Save Money .... Lots Of It!!

As a small business there's lots of necessary business tools you need just to be able to do business. It can get expensive if you're not careful .... but it doesn't need to be. You can save lots of money if you're "shop smart".

You'll find a ton of products and services your small business uses every day .... better and cheaper here:

Save Money .... Lot's Of It

.... with a bushel full of choices so you can select the best and most cost effective fit for your small business needs.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Small Business....The Real Engine of Our Economy

Virginia Congressman Randy Forbes recently shared the following enlightenment of the true worth of small business to the US economy .... and the need to focus on small business needs to get our economy back on track. There's also information on small business resources you should take advantage of.

Small Business....The Real Engine of Our Economy

Even since early colonial life in America, small business has formed a critical thread in the fabric of our nation's economy. As a young budding nation, our country depended on the local store owners, the blacksmiths, the small farmers, and the full-time brick making and carpentry artisans of early American landscape. Today, over 200 years later, this thread has not unraveled. Since that time, small business has remained a constant in our nation's economy even in the midst of the changing times we saw in the industrial revolution, World Wars I and II, the technology boom, and today in the wake of a floundering Wall Street. Fundamentally, the real engine of our economy is not located in New York, or Washington, but collectively in the towns, cities, and main streets across America, just as it has been for centuries.

That is why during the past month I have said that any solution to our nation's economy needs to address the economic circumstances of our families and small businesses first. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), small businesses:

* Employ almost half of all private sector employees;

* Pay nearly 45 percent of total U.S. private payroll;

* Have generated 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs annually over the last decade;

* Hire 40 percent of high tech workers (such as scientists, engineers, and computer workers);

* Are 52 percent home-based; and

* Made up 97.3 percent of all identified exporters and produced 28.9 percent of the known export value in FY 2006.

Our small business leaders provide new ideas, employ a vast number of workers, and develop innovative products and services. By investing in their businesses, the small firm owner makes a major contribution to the local, regional, and national economy. Moreover, small businesses make vital contributions to their communities by supporting the local tax base, sponsoring youth sports teams, and participating in community-based charities and school fundraisers.

If the government wants to get our economy back on track, we need to turn towards the centerpiece of our nation's economy. We need to start by ensuring capital flow to small businesses, putting more money back in families' budgets through tax cuts so they can invest in small businesses, allowing small businesses to band together to purchase and provide health insurance for their employees, and addressing energy costs that are taking a toll on small business owners. These long-term solutions, many of which have been introduced in Congress and I have supported, touch the very heart of Main Street America and will be the solutions that rebuild our economy. On my Web site I've posted some detailed plans to achieve this, and I hope you will take some time to read them.

Forbes - Economy

Nevertheless, times of economic uncertainty can be scary for small businesses. Small businesses often don't have the resources larger corporations have that enable them to quickly adjust to every trend and issue. Even seasoned business owners may find themselves in uncharted territory as they wade through the current economic situation. If you are a small business owner and find yourself in a situation where you need help, the following online resources may be helpful to you.

The Small Business Administration Web site provides tools and resources for small businesses at many levels. Small business owners will find information on loans available through the Loan Guaranty program, information on tax benefits, and a host of resources related to the current economic situation. The site also offers information on obtaining government contracts. As any small business owner knows, the economic challenges that each business faces can vary from state to state. As such, the SBA provides smaller district offices to provide information based on your specific state or region.

The SCORE Association (Service Corps of Retired Executives) is a resource partner of the SBA dedicated to entrepreneur education and the formation, growth and success of small businesses nationwide. SCORE mentors are volunteers and are available to assist business owners with counseling and training on a number of business issues, including how to market in a weak economy, how to trim fuel costs, and how to face the next economic cycle with confidence. Visiting the SCORE Web site, will help you to find a mentor near you.

We have a lot of work to do to get our economy back on track, but we will get there sooner if we place our focus on creating long-term solutions that provide help to the small businesses of main street America - the true engine of our economy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

How To Use Social Media To Market Your Small Business

Everywhere you turn, you're probably hearing about Web 2.0 "this and that" and Social Media. Things like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, and for some of us it's very hard to understand how to use Social Media for marketing yourself and for marketing your products and services. Which should lead directly to sales for yourself and your company.

Let's start with a few basic principles that you know and apply them to social media.

1. Sales cycles are initiated in only two ways (1) you contact the customer or (2) the customer contacts you. The fastest sales cycle occurs is when the customer contacts you when somebody they trust gives you a referral. The next fastest sales cycle happens when the customer is looking for a product discovers your product and service and feels it will meet their needs.

2. In marketing you can either do a push program or a pull program. A push program means that you contact the prospect directly. In a pull program, you create an offering that "pulls" the customer to contact you. Any company doing marketing has to have both programs in place. Direct marketing is a push program, advertising on radio or TV is a pull program.

3. A perfect marketing program will be a pull program using customer referrals.

A great Social Media marketing program is a pull program integrated in customer referrals.

* Google is a referral program.
* Being mentioned in somebodies blog is a referral.
* Being listed in Technocrati is a referral.

On the Internet there is only one push technique to get people to contact you.

* Sending out e-mail sales letters to prospects. This is the equivalent of direct marketing and the results are typically lower than traditional mail rates. The upside is of course, the lower costs and the immediacy of the results. Mailing lists, autoresponders, and the like are extensions to this technique.

On the pull side on there are numerous variations on the Internet. I treat each of these as a different media and my first step is to map them to traditional media. This is effective because I can then rely on proven traditional techniques and then enhance them with techniques proven for to work for the specific media.

1. Advertisements on web sites - equivalent to bill board ads and short tv ads

2. Google search engine - equivalent to yellow pages

3. Google Adwords - Newspaper classified ads

4. Twitter - radio

5. Social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn - Equivalent to BBB or a Board of Trade

6. A blog - a newspaper column

7. YouTube - Sort of like sending a video or CD to somebody, TV shows, infomercials

8. Website - a brochure

Obviously this list is not an exhaustive list of social media choices. Nor is my mapping intended to be the only way to start a program. But, the mapping means we can take advantage of the great marketing people who have come before us such as John Caples.

Furthermore, each of the above examples have numerous variations and combine into new and wonderful combinations.

There are a number of major and important difference between Social Media and traditional media that makes it a revolution for markets and makes it an even greater challenge.

1. The ability to directly measure the results of Social Media. We know how many times a web page is actually looked at and for how long. The only traditional media that has this level of measurement has been direct mail. This means we know when we have not done it right or when we have done it correctly.

2. The elements of a Social Media marketing plan is different than their offline equivalents because there effectiveness is dependent on each other. The more effective you have are in one area - the more it raises your profile in another. Your blog needs to connect with your twitter which needs to connect with your profiles which need.... You get the story. My brain exploded with all this stuff when I first learned about it.

If you want to use the Internet as a marketing vehicle - then you need to understand how it works and what each of the pieces of Social Media mean and how they interact together. Once you understand them then you can create an integrated marketing plan which uses the parts of Social Media that are important to you and your target market. To will learn how to market yourself using Social Media.

Jerry Hart, Jeffrey Howard, and Zale Tabakman have created a "Preview Call" which gives a more in depth overview of Social Marketing. If Internet marketing is something that you want to do and you want to get a handle on the big picture, then I recommend that you listen to the recording of this call.

But not only do I recommend that you to listen to the call. I think its important that you watch and learn from their marketing process. They are using a powerful approach called attraction marketing. Its makes use of multiple types of media.

It has a three core features:

1. They have setup a registration process which allows them to provide you with lots of how-to articles so that you can get started immediately on marketing with social media. This helps you evaluate if their brand of Social Media marketing is for you.

2. They overwelm you with information to help make Social Media marketing decisions.

3. They give you a sample of what and how they will teach you. You either enjoy it or your don't. It is knowledge and techniques you need or its stuff you don't. The decision is then easy.

If Internet Marketing is something you want to do. Then I recommend that you register for the preview call and watch and enjoy all the different marketing methods employed. Both the medium and the message are important here.

You can access the Audio at Social Media Marketing For Small Business

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Friday, October 31, 2008

The Best Online Discussion Forums For Small Business Owners

You may have other online discussion forums for small businesses that you'd suggest .... by all means add them as a comment in reply.

Here's a few to wet your whistle and get you started:

spotabusiness.com
linkedin.com
biznik.com
businessownersideacafe.com

They are all free .... and you get out what you put in. Participate regularly as a contributer (offer assistance/information in discussions) and/or ask questions for yourself. You can get useful information for your own purposes ... as well as network with other small business onwers for potential B2B joint ventures.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Small Business Tip: How To Solicit A Customer Testimonial

Customer testimonials for your small business can be a valuable marketing tool ... if done the right way. But how do you get a customer testimonial that is meaningful?

I've found that politely asking long-term clients for feedback works best. When they let you know how pleased they are with the work, ask them if they would mind if you featured their comments on your website or in a brochure. I've yet to run into a client that said "no". It increases their visibility as well.

If you have clients who indicate that there may be problems with the work your company has performed (and in my experience, there are always some clients who have requests for improvement), you can use that information to perfect your business.

Another way to handle this is to work with 2 or 3 clients for which you've solved a pressing problem (preferably one that was costing them money .... or one for which the solution increased their profit or client list .... or one that benefited their business in some way) to develop their stories into case studies, ending with a short testimonial.

Another longer term strategy is to build in the opportunity for client feedback through all of your systems - at the end of each sale, ask the client how their experience was.

You could also consider other methods of creating credibility in addition to testimonials - for example:

- before and after case studies (with data)
- showing media appearances on your website
- using 3rd party expert endorsements
- using charts and graphs to back up your claims
- show your product/service in action via video / pictures / flow charts etc.

Here's one that's a bit more proactive. Always serve your customers/clients with the objective that you will be soliciting their feedback and assistance in the future. This will allow you to approach them at any time during your relationship with them. If you have a "big win" with them, I've found this to be a great opportunity to ask. It is human nature not to be indebted to anyone...when you do a favor for your client its a great time to cash in on that favor and ask for a testimonial. They will be glad to oblige.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Joe The Plumber & The Small Business Tax Issue

When it comes to taxes this election and Obama vs McCain ... just what does it mean to be "Joe The Plumber" or any small business owner for that matter?

If the problem we have in the country is a lack of jobs (unemployment numbers have been increasing, but this is one of many issues), should we be increasing the taxes of the job producers (remember Small Businesses create the most jobs in the US)?

Most small businesses don't have the mythical $250,000 income (though they may make over $120k at which point McCain's plan would save them more in taxes). But most small businesses don't have any employees either. The small businesses that do have multiple employees likely fall into this category (250K earniners).

How much income should the business be throwing off before the owner is comfortable expanding their staff? Probably somewhere around 250k when you consider employee expenses (salary, taxes, insurance, etc), risk of a future downturn, and the owner's personal income?

If you're comparing with vs without Obama's plan, then the number is $250k. But if you compare how much better off you are with Obama vs McCain, then the number is around $120k (see link). For a two income family living in or around a large city, $120k isn't necessarily our economic elite.

It's also important to note that only Obama's plan adjusts personal tax rates, and then, only for people over $250k. All the changes in how much people pay are made with other tweaks to the tax code (which I always thought was too complicated even before we tacked on these new changes).

For McCain, it's done by increasing dependent exemptions, adjusting corporate taxes, more small business write offs, lower estate taxes, and another bandaid to the AMT. For Obama, he keeps the same tax cuts that McCain does except for people making over $250k, increasing the earned income credit, a new individual credit, a savings credit, and no taxes for the seniors.

If you're a small business owner, it's likely that more of McCain's tax changes will help you than those of Obama.

So for Joe The Plumber and all small business owners .... McCain is defintely who you and your wallet should be voting for.

Monday, October 27, 2008

How To Create Your Small Business Brand or Business Name

Naming a small business or small business product depends on a few key factors:

1. The guiding philosophies of the business.
2. The goals of the business.
3. The business landscape and climate (the market, competition, etc.)
4. The sales process and expected growth strategies.

If you're trying to name the business and/or products in house, work with a select group of people from the business or friends and family (make sure it's a good cross section and not just the "creative minds"). Brainstorm until you want to cry, using a thesaurus, a rhyming dictionary, and even a cliche dictionary.

For each item, create a list of no less than 100 made up words, word combinations, etc. Pick out 3-8 that resonate with you and your people. Then pick your favorite. If you can test it with clients or prospective clients, all the better.

I do not recommend naming a business or product based on what domains are available, by the way. Name it for what it is, not for what you can get.

Be creative! This is not the stuff of formulas.

Think about your company, your vision. Start making a list of words that either describe your vision or what your company does. Get out your thesaurus. Don't judge, just write. Write down everything. Look at your list, combine words, shorten words. Play around with it. Enlist help from friends - they may look at the same list of words & see some spark you missed. Then, of course, there's the option of going with some completely unrelated name & trusting you'll be able to build name/brand recognition.

And then you have to deal with protecting the mark. You may find that you have to go through the process of finding a name many times because the obvious name choices are already claimed.

Remember the patent, trademark, and copyright implications too. Under United States law I suggest you follow this (other countries may have different law which would make for a different answer).....

To start ...... sit down at your computer with a blindfold on and just randomly and rapidly clack on the keys for at least 30 seconds, preferably for one minute. Then look at the gibberish that is produced to see if there is something that the human lips and tongue can form into an intelligible sound. There usually is; if there is not, repeat the exercise.

This gibberish-word can often become a fine name for a product (or even a company). As a "fanciful" mark (a word that didn't exist before), it is then very, very easy to protect under (at least US) trademark law.

I don't like brand names that describe the product or service; you can do little to protect such trademarks (i.e., if you call your fish market "Fisch Market," you cannot take that term for a fish market that is so confusingly similar to the generic term out of the language and just give it to you).

Some fine examples of very protectable brand names:

XEROX
KODAK
BUBBA GUMP (for shrimp and seafood)
ROLEX

Less protectable, but still excellent, tademarks are words that take a word that already exists and cast it into a meaning different from its etymological one: APPLE for computers is a fine example.

Acronyms also make good gibberish words. Think of your favorite phrase and see if the first letters of each word make a good acronym. "I Picked A Random Easy String" become "IPARES" which could easily be protected as a mark.

Then there are the yet-less protectable suggestive marks: WEIGHT WATCHERS and VISA are examples.

Descriptive marks include things like your name or a descriptive word for the product/service: SMELLY FISH MARKET or JOE'S SHOE SHOP. These have to go through a waiting period, being used in commerce for a period of years before the US Patent & Trademark Office will allow them to be registered. Even now-famous names like STEINWAY and STICKLEY had to go through this waiting period before their marks were considered distinctive enough to protect.

As I said before, marks that say what the product/service is are not protectable at all under trademark. FISH MARKET for a fish market? No.

Especially if you intend to operate globally, make sure your gibberish-word does not translate badly into some foreign language; you would not want to have a company or product/service name that is a rude word in another language. Thinking globally from the outset saves you going through the process again (and again...) and rebranding (an expensive process) for each country and culture you enter.
Note that a mark is very protectable AT THE TIME IT IS CREATED. Xerox Corp. runs the very real risk of losing its mark because the word may have entered the language too much; people "xerox" rather than "make photocopies."

Marks that enter the language and become generic to mean the product or service can be lost to their creators, even if the mark was very, very protectable at the outset. Some examples:

aspirin
cellophane
escalator

Once you establish a brand, it's important to police the mark and make sure that it does NOT get used generically so you don't lose your identity into the great maw that is the (very absorbtive) English language.

It's all about raising attention and being different, so that your clients can differentiate yourself from others in the market AND remember you.

You can decide between a descriptive name/word for your product, or an artistic name - eg "Volkswagen" and "Apple". You start with thinking what your product or company stands about, or what you want customers and people to think about your product and company. From there you set out to find words that describe that. The alternative is to choose something artistic, or even an artificially created word/term.

If you want to sell your product to other regions or globally, then make sure you check whether your chosen brandname has a meaning in different languages - you want to obviously avoid misperceptions or even worse offense taken.

Your brand and business name may not be the same.

The next challenge is to bring your brand alive and build it - that is where your marketing communications and operations come into play. It's not just advertising that name, but the experience buyers and prospective clients get from choosing or considering your product. Everyone in the company has to "live" it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What Is The Best Way To Reach Other Small Business Owners Who Need Your Service Or Product?

One of the best ways to get in touch with small business owners is to have your sales force join networking groups such as BNI, Chamber leads groups etc. These referral groups act as an outside sales force for you company and do not require royalties or commissions. It costs to join but the connections and referrals are well worth the investment.

Additionally, if you have defined the demographic you are interested in connecting with, you can generate targeted contact lists for free using your local library Research USA database.

Craigslist may not be bad but it could be sort of hit and miss. Another thing you might consider is local cable advertising as a cost effective way to reach targeted buyers and decision makers.

Probably just as useful is asking your current clientele who they know who might need your product or service. In other words .... old fashioned referal marketing.

Also try connecting with Businesses with related but not competitive products/service for joint marketing partnerships. You advertise them ....they advertise you.

Now ..... the best way to reach other business owners depends on the mindset you choose. Do you want to have the advertising mindset i.e. direct mail, tv, radio or website for business? Do you want to have the sales mindset i.e. cold-calling, and cold-walking? Do you want the word-of-mouth/referral mindset? Depending on the mindset you choose, each mindset has different strategies on how to reach small business owners.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How Can Your Small Business Survive Today's Economic Crisis??

You need immediate relief, and no one is talking about the elephant in the room: CASH.

So, to address the immediate actions you can do right now are:

1) Stop using credit for anything. There's a reason the saying is CASH is king. Pay cash for everything right now, and avoid credit like the plague.

2) Have an honest conversation with your employees. Freeze their salaries for the next year. It is a sacrifice for them, but it keeps their jobs, and once things smooth out, you can look at ways to reward their sacrifice and loyalty.

3) Don't just control costs; aggressively do so. Every paperclip you can re-use, do it. Every ream of paper, every pen ... office supplies are one of the largest areas of shrinkage. Lock up the supply closet.

4) Go to your suppliers, tell them you intend to pay cash for your goods, and negotiate a discount on the products in return. It's time to return to the days of 2%/10, n/30. Suppliers are also so strapped for cash they will work with you.

5) As you expand your services, be careful not to expand your operating budget at the same time. Carefully weigh the opportunity costs if you see it will require an investment to offer a new service.

6) Continue to save. Every check, even if it's only $5, save it. Encourage your employees to do the same. This is about keeping cash.

7) Move some of your investments to CD's. If you need an amount of money, you can get to it, and it still earns interest in the meantime.

(Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion and not professional advice.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Simple Advice For Small Businesses In Tough Times

Here's a survival guide for small business with a list of things you need to concentrate on .....

1. First attitude / be strong do not look like you are about to hang yourself
2. Perseverance / be prepared to stay the distance
3. Opportunity cast your net around / use successful contacts to garner extra business they after all should be happy with you
4. Weigh your options / carefully consider anything you do before you do it so you do not spend unnecessarily
5. Use your network / more than ever before ask people for business
6. Do not be afraid to ask for business / get you attitude right about getting business
7. Negotiate with creditors / give better payment terms to reduce costs
8. Negotiate with debtors / give netter payment terms to reduce costs
9. Cutting costs / cut all unnecessary costs and get quotes on all costs to see if you can shave ask current suppliers to give you a better deal
10. Sharing the burden making people responsible / get your staff working to save their jobs they must contribute
11. Buy in from staff / get them using their contacts too
12. Do your homework better than ever before / go and relook at everything you do with your staff have planning sessions you will be surprised what they know and where to save
13. Do not take unnecessary risks and think quick rich
14. Stick to basics
15. Stick to knitting
16. Plan your business and keep everyone informed especially your banker
17. Downgrade where possible
18. Image is not important survival is

This is indeed a shake-out time. As Jack Welsh says: "During uncertain times we weed out the weak players and the strong ones widen the gap".

This is a time to work on making your business better - not to dig in. You are obviously taking this proactive step. This means making the business more lean, but mostly focusing more on your customers and making sure you address their wants and needs. Focus on looking at your business through their eyes.

Be very efficient in your advertizing, look at it as an investment - don't do anything unless it shows an adequate return. That means you have to test and measure - ask your customers how they learned about your company. Invest more in advertizing that works. Try different ads and test which one works best. Internet based businesses tend to focus only on internet marketing - try also doing it the old-fashioned way - many good prospects haven't yet become 100% digital.

Ask your existing customers how you can better serve them - many will give you valuable insights. Follow-up with customers - collect their contact information and send them newsletters including special loyalty offers.

The idea is to outsmart your competition so you can survive when they can't and then thrive when the economy recovers.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Economic Bailout Bill .... Bad For Small Business And The Tax Payer

My Congressman, Randy Forbes (R-Chesapeake), shared this tidbit on his feelings about the bailout bill rammed down our throats by Congressional Democrats. I agree with him. What's more .... if it's bad for the average citizen (sic tax payer) it's bad for small business. And vice versa.

Congressman Forbes Voted against H.R. 1424, the Senate version of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, after also voting against H.R. 3997 – the House version of the bailout bill.

Congressman Forbes released the following statement after voting against the bailout: “When I voted against the first Wall Street bailout bill on Monday, I did so because I was not willing to risk $700 billion of taxpayer dollars on a plan that I, after talking with senior Treasury officials and the former chairman of the FDIC, was not confident would work. The revised bailout bill we voted on today contained a number of positive provisions, including increasing FDIC insurance coverage for American families and businesses. Even with these improvements, the core of the bill remained the same – the federal government will purchase $700 billion in bad assets from private corporations who have made poor financial decisions, and there is still no assurance as to whether the expenditure of $700 billion will solve the problem at hand. It became a bit like adding ornaments to a Christmas tree that no one wants; no matter how many ornaments were added, the problem was still the tree. I could not support a bill that leaves us with no backstop if it fails.”

Click here to learn more about the initial bailout plan and its potential effect on the economy, and here to read Congressman Forbes’ analysis of the proposal and the reasons he chose to oppose it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Direct Mail Marketing Tips From Bob Bly

My friend Eileen Brown shared this recently in her business networking forum at Ryze.com .... ABHP - A Bit of Humble Pie. Good stuff from Bob's newsletter (sorry ... I don't have a link).

Here is what Bob had to say:

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I have seen a strongly worded offer outsell a weaker one - for the same product, at the same price - as much as tenfold.

With that in mind, here are 3 suggestions that can make your offers stronger:

1 - Be different

Don't give away yet another free coffee mug or free bonus report; the best offers are fresh and new.

For instance, the sweepstakes mailing that successfully launched New York magazine offered a unique grand prize: dinner at Gracie Mansion with New York City's mayor.

Most investment newsletters offer free special reports as premiums. The Sovereign Society, a newsletter on offshore investing, offered something different: a free Swiss bank account - a gift not given by any other investment newsletter.

2 - Offer something that is highly desirable

Unless you are offering something people really want, your promotion is not going to work, no matter how clever or creative.

A publisher was selling a loose-leaf service on how to manage Novell NetWare local area networks.

Response rates doubled when a new direct mail promotion offered a disk with free software -- a collection of utilities for Novell networks.

The 100% increase in orders confirmed that these software programs were tools network administrators obviously wanted to get their hands on. The outer envelope teaser read:

"Yours FREE! - 5 Powerful Programs to Help You Manage Your Novell NetWare Network More Efficiently and Easily - See Inside for Details on This Special Time-Limited Offer."

3 - High perceived value

The more valuable prospects think your offer is, the more likely they are to act on it.

Software is a great premium for this very reason. It has a high perceived value: software packages can easily sell for $49 to $300 or more.

Yet a CD with code on it can be duplicated for about a dollar. So offering some free software can increase response but cost you relatively little to deliver.

In a promotion tied in with their sponsorship of the Olympics, IBM offered a special IBM Olympic pin as a premium. It probably only cost IBM a buck or so each.

But the mailer copy hinted that the item could become a collectible, creating an impression of potentially high value.

IBM held a tele-seminar on improving Web site performance. When they offered an audio CD of the conference as a premium in a lead-generating direct mail piece promoting their Web services, it increased the response rate six-fold vs. the same piece without the free CD offer.

~~~~~

Great advice and does make you think...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Small Business: How Do You Adapt In Times Of Financial Crises?

It's not news that things are tough today. For small businesss and sole proprieters especially.

For example it has become very difficult to spend money on non-critical activities. It also means having to let go people (if you have employees). But it seems also that by doing so, we loose on competitiveness. It is a real catch 22. How do you adapt? What should small business owners do to keep their head above the water?

I think the details of how you adapt will vary by company and industry, but the fact is that small companies actually can adapt more quickly than big ones. One or two people can make a decision, and with electronic communications (email, website, twitter, or whatever) that change can be cheaply and quickly communicated.

The problem for many small companies is that they don't have any emergency cash reserves (sometimes because the owner has just taken everything out over the years things went well) .... so they *THINK* they can't adapt. But the problem is not size, the problem is available reserves.

I know of businesses who have started to bid on what was in the past not lucrative enough projects, just to keep their work force employed. Even though there will be no profit. One company started a new entity so that their "high end provider" image wouldn't be tarnished by taking what the owner calls "el cheapo" jobs.

There are also companies who are offering certain vendors longer term commitments in the future against smaller payments now.

These sorts of decisions can't be made quickly in large companies, but both of them were made AND implemented by small companies.

It's also a great time to buy out competitors. Even those in good shape but where the owner might be older and ready to retire anyway.

There are lots of opportunities in this type of market where there is fear, and a partial but not complete loss of value, but not a real classic case of a bubble bursting with nothing inside.

From another angle .... The answer does not come from looking INSIDE your company, but rather from looking at your customer.

What changed, is their thinking. Before you can decide where to spend, or what to change, you have to find out how your customer's thinking changed - how have their needs and wants changed?

Answer that, and you know how to adapt. All other changes that you make in your company come from that.

I also suggest that beyond this .... now is the time to market your company. I know this seems crazy, but beefing up your sales and marketing will help you make it through the tough times.

The thing to do with marketing is find your most profitable clients and market to them and similar prospects. Market only to them, not just "ok" clients and prospects. Marketing to marginal prospects will cost you too much money in hard times. The key is knowing your target audience extremely well and making them offers they can't refuse. Think of what is in it for them, not what's in it for you.

I know times are a little crazy, but keep servicing your customers and exceeding their expectations and you will be OK.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What's The Best Way To Approach "You" About Doing Business (B2B)?

First: Understand my company's business...our strategic goals and objectives... our organization, our marketplace, our competitors... ferret out what we do, and how we do it, and have a grasp on why we do it... know what keeps me up at night, and what keeps my boss up as well... create an introduction that demonstrates to me that you have learned about our company and all the above... and then treat it reverently when you present it to me... ask for validation and affirmation... and then, only after you have successfully impressed me with what you know about us, should you begin to unveil your company... tell me not just how you can help us to achieve our goals, but how you can help me to attain mine... show me what you and your company have done to support others in a similar situation... tell me how your company measures its contribution to me... and then tell me why there is a "fit" between our companies.

Do all this without reading the words off the PowerPoint Presentation, and maybe, just maybe, I will open the door for an ongoing dialog.

If you want to know how to get my attention early on... tell me how you are going to do what I have outlined above. Make it all about me.. our company... and let me know you understand that unless you prove your value early on, I won't have time to spend on you. Promise that you won't waste my time... and that you only need 20 minutes to determine together if there is a viable fit between your company and mine....

When you show up, get straight to the point... wear your game face... no small talk... the clock is running...

Whatever you do, don't let me think for one minute that our meeting has anything to do with you. Because I could not care less for what you need to get done.

Don't give me a "tour of your brief case" ... I am sure that you have all sorts of great stuff in there -- compelling sales materials, impressive graphs, etc. -- but I am busy, you have a limited time to establish that you have an idea that will help me either:

a) grow a specific profitable area in my business
b) solve a problem that I have in my business
c) avoid a situation that is negative for my business

This offering must quickly go from generic to specific to my business and my situation. Now you have my attention.

To go to the next step you have to establish credibilty. For me the best way to do this is through client referrals and references, especially from business people I know.

Get through all of this and then you have to sell me on you. Not only do I want you to bring some expertise to the table, but I want to know that you truly care about my business, that you are invested in making your product/service/program work for me and my business.

If you can do all this, then I want to buy from you and I want to give you and your offering every chance to be successful and be an important part of my plan moving forward.

One final piece of advice ... one that was given to me not by a business guru, but by my grandmother: "You were born with two ears and one mouth, listen twice as much as you talk".

There you have it. Simple, eh?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How YOUR Small Business Can Cash In On Social Networking, Blogs, & MORE

Social Media Marketing is big and YOUR small business can be right in the middle of it all.

There is simply nothing that you can't do with website nowadays. YOU can now easily "buzz" your sites (ALL your content .... new and old) ..... to social networking giants such as Facebook and MySpace, StumbleUpon, and Yahoo! Buzz. Spreading your content like wildfire across the 'Net.

Can you say massive traffic??

One of the defining features of Web 2.0 is the need for people to make connections and SHARE information... to be "social." YOU can catalyze traffic growth by making it easy for others to spread the word about YOUR website.

The result is a whirlwind of Web site traffic (both directly and by improving YOUR site's "reputation" through all the offline activity generated and tracked by Google). In other words, YOU develop a ton of PREselling opportunities that can reach far beyond your original audience.

In a nutshell, with SocIt! you'll leverage your visitors to spread the word about YOUR website's content.

SocIt!

And even more ....

Content 2.0 - One of the great benefits of C2 is its ability to create community BEFORE e-commerce. C2 is a massive opportunity to take advantage of the benefits of viral traffic and the power of Web 2.0, with none of its drawbacks.

Instead of you creating all the content with a blog, your visitors create powerful, real Web pages instead ..... and others
comment.

Content 2.0

And did you know that Blog It! essentially turns every SBI! site into a blog, giving it full distribution through the blogging channels? SBIers get both the initial benefit of fast distribution and the important benefit of long-term, momentum-building traffic.

Blog It!

Combined with C2, the synergy is powerful. No one else in the world comes close to doing this.

Soc It!, coupled with C2, and all boosted with Blog It! make it easy to get the word out about YOUR website.

Put it all together, and add one last module, and I believe you'll agree that the possibilities are....

Infin It!

Infin It! allows YOU to plug in great third party resources from anywhere, expanding your reach to even more areas of the Web -- all from within your own Website.

o Wordpress and TypePad blogs

o Forums

o Wikis

o Shopping carts, and so much more. And oh yes...

o Web tools that haven't even been invented yet!

Infin It!'s "open architecture" enables YOU to plug in any browser-based resource immediately, while maintaining your own branding and identity.

Infin It!

There is simply nothing that you can't do with an SBI! site nowadays.

See for yourself: Questions?

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Monday, October 6, 2008

How To Get Small Business Grants & Loans

Getting funding for your small business is always nerve racking. Not everyone has a Sugar Daddy .... and Angel Investors don't grow on trees (and usually are more interested in bigger fish anyway). Plus in today's economy bank loans are tough to come by.

So what do you do for start-up or expansion funds?

Government grants and loans are an option worth considering. So start there.

Of course where to apply and submit for a small business grant would largely depend on what type of small business you have.

Your best opportunity is to focus on Government grant applications to the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program. Primarily because if it's not Tech Transfer or Innovation Research, the grants for small businesses are few and far between. Reserved only/mostly for tech transfer and innovation.

Financial Assistance - Grants

The only exception being some available grants designed to expand and enhance organizations that provide small business management, technical, or financial assistance. But these grants generally support non-profit organizations, intermediary lending institutions, and state and local governments. (See the Federal and State Technology Partnership Program)

You may be better off getting a small business loan if you want funding. A loan of course isn't as ideal as a grant, but you're's in a highly competitive arena. Even the SBIT/STTR grants are extremely competitive. Here's a link to back this up:

Most Requested Items

there is no such thing as submitting a grant application to the Federal Government as a whole. And there is no one main "grant receiving" office. So if you are thinking that there is, that's why you probably can't find that address. You could probably get a better result by sending your application to Santa Claus at the North Pole.

Instead, if you have created a grant application for a specific program, where ever you got the application information should also have contact information provided.

It is a long process, and the competition is impressive. But if your company's R&D is aimed at a specific and narrow governmental need, it can be a great program to launch or expand a business. But there should always be a Plan B.

Here a few more links for information about government grants. However, you should know that unlike the hype on the Internet, there are NO grants that just give you money to start a "for-profit" business. But if you are starting a business that offers something to help the community, then there are several grants.

Government Grants
Small Business Association Grants
CFDA
SCORE

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Friday, October 3, 2008

The Future Of Small Business .... Doom and Gloom Or What?

Each year it seems harder for small businesses to stay afloat. Many spaces in strip malls and other shopping centers seem vacant. However, the big companies, like Wal-Mart, seem to be staying busy if not getting busier.

For the average startup, it is impossible to compete with large businesses that have power to negotiate deals. When given a choice of picking a new small business to shop at and a large established business, most seem to choose to later. This is understandable, given that they know the business and may be able to find good bargains. Meanwhile, many workers get paid the minimum while the "big heads" get richer and richer.

So what future is there for small businesses?

How can they compete with the big companies with today's poor economy and inability to get a loan?

Does the system favor those who work for SOMEONE as opposed to working for YOURSELF?

There may be good news and bad for small business in the coming years say some. The next 10 years will tell for sure but local (small) business may be about to boom. The cost of oil will continue to go up as production declines. China, US and Russia are in a race to lock up existing oil reserves for themselves which will likely affect global trade. A general lack of fuel in the market at ever escalating prices .... and a crumbling infrastructure .... will make it near impossible to transport goods across country and globally. Which will drive local production of essential goods again.

Some say we will have to walk or bike to work too ... and learn how to grow food in our back yards in collaboration with our neighbors. If this is true then Wal-Mart and their like will be the first to fall.

Personally I believe it's wide open for any size business really, whether that's an individual consulting business or something much larger. I've always believed that you need strive to be the best in your field. Deep understanding of your market, a thirst for information and new direction, and treating people as you yourself wish to be treated are all elements that drive success. Naturally, things like making good decisions and following your instincts are key too.

Its never been easy to run a small business. In the past 80% of small businesses failed in the first 2 years. It just happens faster today.

Our free market system will always have room for well run small businesses. It requires starting with a good concept, having a plan, finding a good location and managing the business by the plan.

I believe you will have good business if you are a bankruptcy attorney, a property manager, or do home repairs. There will be all kinds of opportunities that precipitate from the $700 billion bailout. You just gotta get creative.

In short, opportunities surround us. You just have to see them and make the right ones happen once you've calculated the potential risk and reward. And, hopefully, luck is on your side too.