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...

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).