Featured Post

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...

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

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

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

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