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30 Do’s And 20 Don’ts In Starting A Small Business

Small scale businesses are easier to set up compared to the middle or large scale businesses that require more time, feasibility reports, ad...

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:

~~~~~

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?

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

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

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

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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Advice For Newbies in Business Networking International (BNI)

For anyone considering joining BNI .... or new to their business networking organization ... here's some tips.

You know .... nobody wants to know about your business if they don't know you. At BNI or anywhere.

Just follow the BNI training to the letter and you should do fine. That's the benefit of BNI over many other networks - they have a system and a process and they measure it. Brilliant!

Since BNI is all about referrals, you must get to know each of the members and what their business is about. And vice versa.

It's less about being "friends" (although you may certainly make some in your group) than it is about thinking of the members as your "sales team" .... and you are on their "sales teams" too.

What would you want to know about the people on your "sales team"? What would you want them to know about you? And also about your business so they could refer you with confidence?

You'll learn how to do that when you take your MSP training after you join.

Keep these in mind ......

- Practice your 60 second educational. Map out 50 weeks worth of lessons.

- Make sure each week you tell something new about what you do.

- Take your MSP as soon as possible.

Remember ......

1) The members are not your target audience. Do not try and sell them as clients.

2) Do not try and get them to become sales agents for you. They will get you referrals for people who need your product/service.

3) Get referrals for others. Remember ..... "Givers Gain".

Not just in BNI, but in any situation when networking with others... it's a good rule of thumb to make initial conversations about THEM. Asking what you can help them with (not for your business, for referring folks YOU know in your network to help them).

Again, no one in your BNI group should be seen as a potential client/customer. It's at least 3-4 people deep from them, that you want to reach. You do this by building rapport. Doing a Dance Card (where you set up a coffee chat or lunch break with another member to get to know them) is a recommended way to achieve rapport with other chapter/group members and is practiced widely at the BNI meetings.

Here's a great link to an interview with the founder of BNI Ivan Misner last week:

Interview With BNI Founder Ivan Misner

The interview has some great info on how to make it easy for network partners to be able to refer even a difficult-to-refer business.

Also remember this ..... you are only allowed to miss a few meetings and then you are ousted from the group. This is not done to be cruel. It is to demonstrate to the members of the group that this organization is serious about business networking. It requires commitment. Also, the money that you spend to become a member of BNI is not refunded to you if you are ousted. Once again, BNI is about serious business networking.

Their mantra is the "Givers Gain", and if that is in the forefront of your thought process, you will succeed. Actually, that goes for everything in life, not just BNI!