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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...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Insights On Business Plans For Small Business

What are the primary goals of your business plan? You must answer this question before diving into a bunch of templates. Most templates are cookie cutters and may not achieve what you're trying to do. Raising capital? Figuring out your business model? Researching the market and competition?

You need to know who you are writing it for and why. If you have this figured out you're ready to roll. Some people these days will try to convince you a business plan is not necessary and is a waste of time. Unless you are a super lean high tech startup that "opinion" is a lot of hot air. There may be some truth in it ..... but the process of sitting down and writing it all out is an invaluable process.

If you want a good outline for a captial raising plan (not a template) try the Sequoia guys. They know what they're doing.

Sequoia

You can also use the information from MyOwnBusiness.org.

This is their business plan section: MyOwnBusiness

You can download all 14 sections of the plan at: MyOwnBusiness Download

For a guide to follow (use what applies .... delete what doesn't) you can use this outline........

Table of Contents
1 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
2 BUSINESS OVERVIEW
2.1 Fact Sheet
2.2 Company History
2.3 Organisational Structure
2.4 Product And Related Services
2.5 Business Process And Operations
2.6 Development of the Business
3 THE XYZ ENVIRONMENT
3.1 Background
3.2 XYZ in USA – Today
3.3 Administrative and Financing Responsibilities for XYZ
3.4 Statistical Overview of the Australian Regulatory System
3.5 International Focus
3.6 XYZ operation and management
3.7 Duplication of XYZ
4 TECHNOLOGY
4.1 Research And Development
5 XYZ AND THE ENVIRONMENT
6 MARKET PLAN
6.1 Market Analysis
6.2 Subscriber Market Demographics
6.3 Competitive Analysis
6.4 Marketing Strategy
7 HUMAN RESOURCE PLAN
7.1 Management and Ownership
7.2 Profiles of KEY PEOPLE
7.3 Administration, Organization, and Personnel
8 S.W.O.T ANALYSIS
8.1 The Critical Risks and Problems
8.2 Strengths
8.3 Weaknesses
8.4 Opportunities
8.4 Threats
8.5 Milestones, Schedule, And Strategic Planning
9 ALIGNMENT WITH GOVERNMENT DIRECTION
Appendix 1 - Financial Projections
Detailed Profit & Loss Statement
Balance Sheet
Notes
Appendix 2 – Cash Flow Projections
- Economy of XYZ
- XYZ Business model
-Dependent economic factors
Appendix 3 - Management Profiles
Appendix 4 - Letters of Support from Potential Users
Appendix 5 - Letters of Support from Strategic Alliances
Appendix 6 - Letters of Support from Potential Subscribers
Appendix 7 - Articles of Association and Certificate of Registration
Appendix 8 - Sample Website Content
Appendix 9 – Certificate of Registration & Articles of Association

That should be enough to get you started in the right direction. If you need more help click on the Cafe resource links in the menu on the left.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Do Your Potential Customers Forget About You? - Tom Kulzer

Your web business probably gets product inquiries from potential customers around the globe. Inquiries come via e-mail and your web site, and you try to send information to each hot prospect as quickly as you can. You know that you can drastically increase the likelihood of making a sale by satisfying each person’s need for information quickly!

But, after you’ve delivered that first bit of information to your prospect, do you send him any further information?

If you are like most small businesses online, you don’t.

When you don’t follow that initial message with additional information later on, you let a valuable prospect slip from your grasp! This is a potential customer who may have been very interested in your products, but who lost your contact information, or was too busy to make a purchase when your first message reached him.

Often, a prospect will purposely put off making a purchase, to see if you find him important enough to follow up with later. When he doesn’t receive a follow up message from you, he will take his business elsewhere.

Are you losing profits due to inconsistent and ineffective follow up?

Following up with leads is more than just a process - it’s an art. In order to be effective, you need to design a follow up system, and stick to it, EVERY DAY! If you don’t follow up with your prospects consistently, INDIVIDUALLY, and in a timely fashion, then you might as well forget the whole follow up process.

Consistent follow up gets results!

When I first started marketing and following up with prospects, I used a follow up method that I now call the “List Technique.” I had a large database containing the names and e-mail addresses of people who had specifically requested information about my products and services. These prospects had already received my first letter by the time they requested more information, so I used the company’s latest news as a follow up piece.

I would write follow up newsletters every now and then, and send them, in one mass mailing, to everyone who had previously requested information from me. While this probably did help me win a few additional orders, it wasn’t a very good follow up method. Why isn’t the “List Technique” very effective?

* The List Technique isn’t consistent. Proponents of the List Technique tend to only send out follow up messages when their companies have “big news”.

* List Technique messages don’t give the potential customer any additional information about the product or service in question. He can’t make a more informed buying decision after receiving a newsletter! If someone is wondering whether your company sells the best knick-knacks, what does he care that you’ve just moved your headquarters?

* List Technique messages convey a “big list” mentality to your potential customers. When I used to write follow up messages using the List Technique, I was writing news bulletins to everyone I knew! I should have been sending a personal message to each individual who wanted to know more about my products.

What follow up method really works?

Following up with each lead individually, multiple times, but at set intervals, and with pre-written messages, will dramatically increase sales! Others who use this same technique confirm that they have all at least doubled the sales of various products! In order to set this system up, though, you need to do some planning.

First, you’ll need to develop your follow up messages. If you’ve been marketing on the Internet for any length of time, then you should already have a first informative letter. Your second letter marks the beginning of the follow up process, and should go into more detail than the first letter. Fill this letter with details that you didn’t have the space to add to the first letter. Stress the BENEFITS of your products or services!

Your next 2-3 follow up messages should be rather short. Include lists of the benefits and potential uses of your products and services. Write each letter so that your prospects can skim the contents, and still see the full force of your message.

The next couple of follow up messages should create a sense of urgency in your prospect’s mind. Make a special offer, giving him a reason to order NOW instead of waiting any longer. After reading these follow up messages, your prospect should want to order immediately!

Phrase each of your final 1 or 2 follow up messages in the form of a question. Ask your prospect why he hasn’t yet placed an order? Try to get him to actually respond. Ask if the price is to high, the product isn’t the right color or doesn’t have the right features, or if he is looking for something else entirely. (By this time, it’s unlikely that this person will order from you. However, his feedback can help you modify your follow up letters or products, so that other prospects will order from you.)

The timing of your follow up letters is just as important as their content. You don’t want one prospect to receive a follow up the day after he gets your initial informative letter, while another prospect waits weeks for a follow up!

Always send an initial, informative letter as soon as it is requested, and send the first follow up 24 hours afterwards. You want your hot prospects to have information quickly, so that they can make informed buying decisions!

Send the next 2-3 follow up messages between 1 and 3 days apart. Your prospect is still hot, and is probably still shopping around! Tell him about the benefits of your products and services, as opposed to your competitors’. You will make the sale!

Send the final follow up messages later on. You certainly don’t want to annoy your prospect! Make sure that these last letters are at least 4 days apart.

Following up effectively seems complicated, but it doesn’t have to be! So many potential customers are lost because of poor follow up - don’t you want to be one of the few to get it right?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tea Party Tax Protests .... The Small Business Person Perspective

The Tea Party Tax Protest movement of recent weeks has garnered plenty of media attention. Some .... like Fox news .... "Get It". Others ..... like MSNBC and CNN (Boooo!!) ..... unfortunately do NOT get it.

No matter your opinion, understanding, or level of support for the events and the movement .... no one can deny that a message was sent loud and clear. By thousands of everyday Americans like you and me (pay attention Congress ... that means VOTERS).

To discuss the events, keep up with what's next .... and connect with other Tea Party supporters .... I suggest you go to Tea Party

Why did thousands of Americans participate in these events (and likely will do so again in the future)?

Because our nation was founded on a set of principles that served us well for over 200 years. These principles made us the most powerful country in the world and most desirable to live in. I am greatly concerned our government is enamored with European principles of greater government power and control. These power hungry politicians are destroying what made us great -- our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, our freedom.

From my perspective as a small business owner, the tea party message is one I can relate to.

I think the tea party protests are as much or more about oppressive government than just merely taxes. People are getting fed up with the piles of regulations and restrictions .... on top of a tax burden higher than anyone can possibly justify.

Lincoln stated, (I paraphrase) "you cannot tear down the house of one man to build another". To the contrary .... The Obama Administration and sitting Congress have declared war on many of us ... hard working average Americana. Today .... the small business owner is being taxed and regulated to extinction.

Whether it was the family farm in the 1800's, Henry Ford at the turn of the last century, or Google at the turn of this Century ..... American small business owners have created much of the wealth and the middle class of this country. They have built the "homes" for much of America.

Now, this Government appears to be intent on tearing down their (the small business owner's) house to build the houses of those who did not have the creativity and the motivation to create their own wealth ...... or who have destroyed their and others wealth (e.g. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, AIG, etc.)

Excessive taxation of those who have worked hard and have not failed ..... so Government can provide free handouts to reward their friends and buy votes ..... is NOT the American dream.

I think the message is important, even though it will be muted by a hostile press.

The people who attend these tea parties are simply sick and tired of the looters in our society treating the productive earners as their own personal ATM machines, and we're not going to take it anymore. We're not going to let the government borrow money it doesn't have and create massive debt for our children and grandchildren .... just to fund expansionist government policies intended to grab ever larger segments of the economy from private producers. Then nationalize them under the yoke of a tyrannical majority which seems to have forgotten the values on which our country was founded.

The current administration is cowardly in that it does not implement policies that saddle the creators of this tax, spend, and borrow driven mess; us (current taxpayers and voters); with the cost of cleaning it up. The current administration seeks to kick the can down the road to our children and grandchildren. People they will not need to count on for votes.

Our parents were the greatest generation. We are clearly the worst.

The US has gone from being a nurturing environment for entrepeneurs and small business owners to a corrupt, centrally planned socialist bureaucracy.

I don't know who the legislatures are working for, but is isn't your 'every day' working American.

So I strongly believe the Tea Party Tax protest is right on the money .... literally. Basically .... "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore".

My opinion of the Tea Party tax protest movement is that it has great potential to draw serious, long-lasting attention to the waste, misrepresentation and theft perpetrated by the Federal Government. I think if enough people continue to participate, it could result in a fundamental restructuring of tax law and how federal spending priorities are adopted.

The likely outcome will be quite different of course .... The pessimist in me sees the movement being co-opted by the Republican party as an organizing tool for their bid to take back Congress in the next election. Once they've accomplished this, it will be business as usual, with them blaming the Democrats and Obama for any failure to institute true tax reform and a radical reduction in government's insatiable lust for money and control of every facet of our lives.

I think the basic concept of the Tea Party's is sound. I am especially interested in seeing a reduction in onerous, non-representative taxation and bureaucratic government waste. I think large corporate interests, represented by high-priced lobbyists in Washington, have too long controlled where our money is spent.

It has nothing to do with who is in the White House or what party you support, but everything to do with gov't taking and wasting our money. Your money. My money.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Can Small Business Innovation Lead Us To A New Energy Future??

Everyone wants a new energy future for our nation. The question is how do we get there? Some are advocating tax increases. Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) is calling for innovation. IMHO opinion innovation is the way to go. Led of course by small businesses .... as usual.

==========

A New Energy Future: Innovation or Taxation?

Forbes Calls for Incentive-Based Approach Like New Manhattan Project

Washington, D.C., Apr 1 - Congressman J. Randy Forbes (VA-04) today made the following statement calling for a more innovative approach than the “cap-and-trade” energy proposal included in the President’s budget currently before Congress:

“Everyone wants a new energy future for our nation. The question is how do we get there? Some are suggesting that the way to do that is through a cap-and-trade system, a major component of the President’s budget proposal. Unfortunately, this system will result in tax increases for consumers, causing energy costs to skyrocket up to $3,100 per family per year at a time when families are already facing strained budgets. Furthermore, the proposal would undermine our competitiveness as a nation. I would ask Americans whether they trust taxation or innovation to lead us to energy independence?

“We should approach alternative energy development with a commonsense, incentive-based solution that encourages competition and ingenuity among Americans. The New Manhattan Project, which I have introduced, will put us on a direct path towards energy independence while helping create lasting economic security for our nation and its families. I hope the President and Congress will give this proposal the consideration it deserves.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has testified before Congress that under a cap-and-trade program, additional costs to firms would ultimately be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

The New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence has been hailed as one of the most innovative energy solutions before Congress. The project calls on the United States to reach 50% energy independence in 10 years and 100% in 20 years, and will award competitive prizes to the first individual or group who can reach any of seven established energy goals:

- Double CAFE standards to 70 MPG while keeping vehicles affordable
- Cut home and business energy usage in half
- Make solar power work at the same cost as coal
- Make the production of biofuels cost-competitive with gasoline
- Safely and cheaply store carbon emissions from coal-powered plants
- Safely store or neutralize nuclear waste
- Produce usable electricity from a nuclear fusion reaction

The New Manhattan Project was originally introduced by Forbes in the 110th Congress as H.R. 6260. For more information on the New Manhattan Project, click here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Putting The “Service” Back In “Customer Service” - Sean Cohen

The future of customer service is here. Technology has made seeking out support faster and easier than ever. But, has your digital age company sacrificed true service in the name of automation?

Today, finding customer support is as simple as writing an e-mail or picking up the phone. But, even though you’re not face-to-face with your customers, you still leave a lasting impression. Do you come across as caring and competent, or menacing and mechanical?

Offering stand-out service on the Internet isn’t as hard as it is rare. Take these simple steps towards old-style service in the digital age:

1. Give Each Customer a Personal Response
2. Be Clear, But Sincere
3. Offer Live Customer Support
4. Make Sure Your Support Reps Have All the Answers

Give Each Customer a Personal Response

When a customer sits down to e-mail your company, it’s because he needs help. He chooses e-mail because it’s quick, but his request still warrants a satisfying and personal response!

Companies eager to save time and money often take automation too far in their customer support. Each customer has a unique question, and deserves a unique answer. Even if you save time by copying and pasting stock replies, change the opening and closing to make the message sound less robotic.

Be Clear, But Sincere

When responding to customers’ e-mail, be sincere and to the point. Before sending a message, try turning the tables. Ask yourself, “Would this answer satisfy me if I were the customer?”

Take that extra moment to give your customer the help he deserves. It might mean the difference between a satisfied customer and a credit card chargeback!

Offer Live Customer Support

E-mail has become an acceptable form of communication. But, live customer support is still necessary. The plethora of information available online can be overwhelming to customers, especially those new to the Internet!

Single your company out from the crowd by providing customers with a real person to talk to. Live phone support is an invaluable way to foster trust. When your customer has reached the end of his Internet rope, and just needs help, your toll free number is the answer he’s looking for.

Make Sure Your Support Reps Have All The Answers

The presence of phone support will do no good if your staff doesn’t know your product! Customer support reps should be warm and friendly, and willing to help with any aspect of your product.

What a good feeling it is to talk to someone who feels confident in his product. It’s even better if he’s knowledgeable enough to solve your problem without transferring you all around the company!

Provide Stand-Out Service; Gain Lifelong Customers

Too many e-businesses skimp on customer service, hiding behind web sites and message boards. Customer support is an integral part of every company, even those operating solely online. Be one of the few to offer stellar service, and gain customers for life!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Small Business Resource .... Online Tool For Offline Networking

MeetingWave.com is a free patented online tool for networking offline for business, professional or social purposes. Although still in beta, their members are posting invites to meet new clients, make new contacts or find new jobs, among other things.

MeetingWave allows its members to set up networking meetings that are open to people they have never met using the following simple steps:

Step 1: Members can post Invites that describe the type of people the member wishes to meet or the purpose of the proposed meeting.

Step 2: MeetingWave would then notify the member by email each time someone accepts their Invite. The member can then approve or decline each acceptance of their Invite -- and can do so for any reason.

Step 3: MeetingWave then notifies the individuals who accepted whether he or she may attend the member's meeting. Only "approved" people may attend and the meeting is only confirmed when there is at least one approved acceptance.

Thus, the member posting the Invite ultimately controls whether the meeting will happen and who may attend .... providing a flexible, versatile tool for offline networking.

Members can post Invites for coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks or any other activity to meet new clients, network with others in their industry, recruit new team members, find new opportunities or jobs, or make new business contacts or friends.

Or, a member can browse through Invites posted by others and accept those of interest. If the other member approves the acceptance, the meeting is confirmed and the member is invited to attend the networking meeting. MeetingWave recently launched Meeting Alerts .... which allow members to save Advanced Searches (e.g., a search by zip code or keyword) and MeetingWave will notify them by email when an invite gets posted meeting their search criteria.

The process is free and open so you may receive a wide range of invites ..... but each member decides which invites to post and which to accept.

To learn more go to: Networking Online And Offline

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Who We Are As Americans ... And Small Businesses

Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) had this to say recently on "who we are". I hope every American AND most importantly to Cafe followers ... every small business .... take this to heart, We are what makes America ... America.

To sum it up ..... "We don’t need our government to back our warranties or run our companies."

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

I see it in the hundreds of emails I get a week. ‘I worry about our future’, they say. Some are talking about their immediate future – their jobs, their mortgages, their businesses. Others are talking about the future of America. Some are specific, some are general.

But you don’t have to read my email box to see it. It is everywhere: weariness and worry. You can see it in the deflated shoulders of the man exhausted from weeks of job-searching, the empty eyes of a woman awake too many nights wondering how to make the mortgage payment, the creased brow of a father preparing to tell his daughter to defer the college acceptance letter.

America is weary from the relatively sudden realization that what we silently, and perhaps reflexively, relied on is not as stable as we thought - the worth of our home, our plan for retirement, the permanence of our job. Over the last year, even on the best of days and even for those of us in the best of circumstances, we carry weariness.

This week, I found myself wondering: “Has the best of America passed us by?” After all, look at where we are today. Americans today enjoy the finest quality of life. We read breaking news from halfway around the world within minutes, we take digital pictures with our cell phones, and we shop online with the click of a button. Our cars are heated in the winter and cooled in the summer and many of them give us turn-by-turn directions to our destination. The shelves of our grocery stores are stocked with fifty types of cereals and a couple dozen flavors of ice cream.

We communicate by phone, fax, email, instant message, text message, video teleconference and social networking. We have YouTube, eBay, iPhones and TiVo. In the middle of the night when there is an urgent medical situation, we have access to emergency rooms - and the next morning, we can seek out doctors from an amazing array of specialties. We have public libraries, public parks, and public utilities. Our children are vaccinated, they carry cell phones, and many will attend college. We vacation. We have hobbies. And, when we want a hamburger we choose from McDonald’s, Burger King, Five Guys, Wendy’s, Hardee’s, and another half dozen options depending on where we are … and we can order that burger without even getting out of our car.

Two hundred years ago, our everyday lives would have been unfathomable to everyday Americans. But most days, we don’t find those things to be remarkable at all.

So has the best of America passed us by? Somewhere along the line did we hit our peak?

At a time when it seems so hard to believe in ourselves, it’s important to take a look at where we have been in the last two hundred years. From a group of agricultural communities we built the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world. From a nation of immigrants and frontiersmen traveling with all of their worldly possessions, we become the wealthiest nation in the world. From a militia of countrymen with muskets, we developed the most sophisticated and specialized military in the world. From a group of thirteen loosely-affiliated colonies, we became the oldest continuing democracy in the world.

We are the people that invented the lightbulb, the telephone, the computer, and the artificial heart. We are the people that pioneered the automobile, the train, and the airplane. We put a man on the moon. We discovered DNA. We built the finest universities, a rich and robust legal system, and a vibrant and enduring political process. We have vast natural resources, highly productive farmlands, and astonishingly diverse cultures. We built baseball out of immigrant traditions and the internet out of dorm rooms. We are a nation where the children of illiterate parents can grow up to be pediatric neurosurgeons. We are free to worship, free to speak, free to assemble. We are extraordinary.

How did we become the greatest nation in the world?

It was our people. It was our ingenuity, our hard work. It was us banking on ourselves and believing in ourselves. We believed we could build a nation not of kings but of men. We did it. We believed we could be the industrial and technological leader of the world. We did it. We believed we could put a man on the moon. We did it.

Today, Americans are scared and shaken, and we’ve lost some confidence in ourselves. Especially because of this, we want so badly to believe in our leaders in Washington. We want to believe that there are wise and thoughtful men and women at the helm of our nation. Perhaps we’ve convinced ourselves that it was the wisdom of sage elites that guided previous generations rather than wisdom of the American people. But it us – not our government - that we need to believe in.

We don’t need our government to back our warranties, to run our companies, or to redistribute our paychecks. We don’t need more government; we need less government and more efficient government. The American people have a brilliant and enduring history of overcoming challenge. We – the people – are our greatest hope for the future. It is our ingenuity and hard work that will rebuild our economy.

We may worry about the America of today, but we believe in the America of tomorrow. We are not the generation that will look into the eyes of our children and say, “The best has passed us by”. It is not our nature. It is not who we are. It is not American.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Get More Traffic To Your Small Business Website With These SEO Resources

So you have a great small business website .... and you are ready to make some serious sales. Well, what is the use of a well-designed website that has no traffic?

Here are some great SEO (Search Engine Optimization) resources in order to help you get people to visit your small business website.

* Learn SEO

* SEO Popularity Tools

* SEO Chat

* SEO Book

* Search Engine Land

I hope you find these resources useful.

Friday, April 10, 2009

How Can Government Promote More Small Business Innovation??

First ask yourself this question .... are US small businesses really innovators? Than ask a much larger question .... is the US staying competitive with other nations?

My personal opinion is the answer to both is ... NO. You may disagree and that's OK. I encourage you to leave a comment.

For my 1st question .....

"Small business innovation" is a myth. Truly innovative businesses are those that grow large very quickly.

Between 1980 and 2005, 7,454 American companies went public. Of these, 2,019 have gone out of business, 5,048 have not reached $1 billion annual revenue threshold, and 387 have reached $1 billion annual revenue threshold and as of 2005, accounted for 56% of employment and 64% of market value in the group. Translation: 5% of all companies in the group created 56% of all employment and 64% of the market value created by the group.

So the answer appears rather obvious. The policymakers need to realize that "small business innovation" is a phantom goal. There are many good things that can be said about small business (and there are many good reasons to support small business), but innovation simply isn't one of them. If you want to support small business, you need to do something about the cost of environmental compliance (which tends to be much heavier on the small business) and the cost of health insurance (which many small businesses can't afford to provide even to owners, not to mention rank-and-file employees).

One problem has been the general reallocation of resources away from investment, accentuated by dramatic reduction of American investment into research and development. This below average innovation and loss of competitiveness has diminished America’s international standing.

To address these losses policymakers could do a couple things. Reducing taxes on or providing grants for R&D/investment at a small business level. This could be an effective avenue to immediately generate growth at a local level.

The reduction of available money (credit) for small US businesses was hampering many and I am glad to see the new administration addressing this.

Now I’m not talking about big sums, millions, for “bigger” small businesses. I propose smaller sums, tens of thousands, for the little small business the mom and pop general store, the construction worker turned contractor, etc…

Those that can afford to invest into their own businesses themselves should be rewarded with tax savings and incentives to do so. Those without the capital should be given direct access to R&D/investment funds or grants.

I know that some programs are out there for the small guy, but we need to overhaul/simplify accessing these and increase public awareness and use of the programs to improve innovation and competition at a local level. This will radiate out and improve the United States standing worldwide.

For my second question .....

I think a major part of the problem is the lack of education at the secondary school level on such things as personal finance and the social skills required for effective marketing.

At one time children could learn frugality and the skills to be frugal from parents or grandparents, but today with instant gratification through easy credit, credit cards, enabling parents and a sophisticated marketing techniques that seduce children into their social purpose as consumers, those skills are being lost.

The reliance on technology to make the kind of calculations to manage and account for money, have produced a generation which has difficulty making change change in simple transaction.

I realize the second point might seem out of place in the world of MySpace and FaceBook, but electronic social skills are very different from face to face interpersonal skills. Marketing and sales require a long range perspective and not just the short range sales cycle perspective.

I have met too many "salespersons" who attempt to sell their product before they have taken the time to sell themselves as trustworthy persons representing a trust worthy company with a trustworthy product. They usually fail more times than they succeed. Yet this is the model most innovators have of the sales process, which is why they fail to move their idea forward to commercialization.

Basic training in interpersonal skills is critical, especially for innovators and entrepreneurs who really have only themselves to sell to an Angel or VC investor. Communication skills (both sending and receiving information) are another part of this. Learning to listen is as much a business skill as pitching a line.

The point here is that we need to start at an earlier age preparing the next generation be become more entrepreneurial and innovative. We can do this by giving them the skills needed to transform an idea into a concept and concept into a business.

It is not just a matter of changing the environment for financing or regulation, it is training those who will depend upon and be subject to them to be better prepared at managing this part of their small business that is important.

At the Federal level, the best I think we can expect is promote attitudinal change on a generational scale which begins with at the secondary school level.

Another equally important point affecting competitiveness is ..... I can tell you requiring US companies to operate under restrictive rules and regs and then encouraging big companies to go to third world companies is crazy. Personally, I think NAFTA and CAFTA were stupid - there have been hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of good paying jobs go to Mexico and Central America. If we want to maintain a standard of living that is the class of the world we can't cut our own throat and let jobs go to Vietnam, China, and Cambodia because of cheap labor that the government ought to raid if it was in this country for labor violations.

Now here's my personal rant (errr editorial comment) .......

Government should abolish most of the business related legislation written after the year 1929. Then go away.

The Feds must stop choking American business for God's sake. Stop the insane taxation, stop moronic regulation, stop telling people how to run their business. I mean, put down your portfolio and step away from the voting button, Mr./Ms. Policymaker!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How Can Small Businesses Survive In These Hard Times??

I don't think anyone can argue that we are in a recession ... one of the worst. Some may even think we're headed for a depression if significant improvement isn't made soon (as in by end of 2009 .... NOT 2-3 years from now).

So what can small businesses do to "survive" .... and not just survive but flourish when all is said and done?

Lessons learned from past recessions show why you should continue to market through a recession, which of course is what we are in right now.

You can Google for more details from a plethora of sources .... but it all boils down to these top three tips:

1. Mine your existing customer base.

Your best opportunity is in your current customer base. We know you've heard this before. But have you really done it? Use this time to meet with EVERY single current and past client. Find out what is happening with them. Look for, and focus on, the areas where you can help them during these tough times. Make sure every customer is aware of every product you offer.

2. Create an economical option.

Times are tough for everyone. Be sure you have accounted for that with your product offer. Do you have an option that takes into account the economic conditions in your market? By doing so, you let your prospects know that you understand their pain and you're responding to it.

3. Network, Network, Network.

Now is NOT the time to be silent. There may be many in your market who simply cannot enter the buying cycle right now. But that will change. And, when it does...you want to be top of mind. Be sure you are showing up, wherever possible. This is the time you want to canvas the market to build and maintain awareness. While others are cutting back, you will be the one remembered when the dust clears!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Small Business Resources .... Free Business Software

Here are a few sources of free software that any small business could use.

SERIF .....

Serif develops and publishes the award-winning software range which includes PagePlus™, PhotoPlus™, DrawPlus™, WebPlus™, AlbumPlus™, MoviePlus™, PanoramaPlus™ and Digital Scrapbook Artist™.

Founded in 1987 with the aim to develop better value alternatives to high-end design and publishing packages, Serif has been repeatedly praised for its powerful yet easy-to-use software which enables businesses, educational establishments, and ordinary PC users to achieve professional-quality results – whatever their level of experience.

Get your copy here: Free Serif Software

OPENOFFICE .....

OpenOffice.org 3 is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more.

It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose.

Get your copy here: OpenOffice

If you have other free business software you'd recommend ... please leave a short description with link as a comment.

Friday, April 3, 2009

How Can A Small Business "Go Green"?

As a small business, you are not as large a consumer of energy and products as big corporations .... but there are always opportunities for improvement.

We recognize that being Green is really a matter of choices that result in being greener or less green. There is no absolute in this regard. Small choices can add up over time.

No Cost Actions:

* Eliminate paper based subscriptions that don’t add value
* Switch paper based subscriptions to electronic subscriptions where possible
* Sign-up for electronic billing from all vendors who offer it
* Use electronic payments
* Moved further east reducing mileage and saving time
* Conference calls to replace some meetings
* Online discussion groups to replace some meetings and reduce paper
* Schedule multiple meetings in same location to reduce mileage and save time
* Adjust shades and blinds to reduce heat from the sun
* Open windows for ventilation reducing A/C costs
* Re-use paper, bottles and cans where possible before recycling
* Reduce/eliminate bottled water
* Water the plants with ice cubes from consumed drinks instead of dropping cubes in the sink
* Turn off lights and electronics when not use in use
* Scheduling Leads Group 1-2-1s right after the meeting at the Chamber to eliminate another trip
* Car pooling
* Errand bundling
* Using the library as an alternative to buying books, CDs, DVDs, magazines
* Sharing subscriptions to printed publications
* Scheduling meetings during low-travel times to minimize time on the road
* Combining personal and business trips for more effective travel
* Webinars vs. on-site training
* Eliminating faxing
* Walk into the bank, coffee shop, restaurant, etc. rather than using the drive-up window or ATM
* Maintain proper tire pressure in all vehicles
* Bicycle where practical

Here's some ideas specific to all your "billing" functions .....

* Go Paperless with your payroll .....

1. Ensure that all of your employees are either direct deposit or have a pay check debit card. This reduces the costs associated with printing checks, employees going to a check cashing place (using fuel and company time), and time and travel to deliver checks if employees are in the field.

2. Time and Attendance Tracking - If your employees have access to a computer have them utilize an online time and attendance tracking system. This reduces the use of paper time sheets and can provide accurate job costing. In addition to the employee potentially having to travel to turn in their time sheet. The job costing piece can also support you in saving time and money to ensure overtime is charged accordingly, reducing overtime, etc.

3. Employee Files - Utilize an online or computer system that allows you to track employee information electronicly so you are not printing documents to be filed. This can also improve the consistency in tracking to ensure all documents, training, etc are recorded and completed as necessary. Some areas that the tracking can help with is things like specific licenses, state/federal/local training requirements, etc.

4. Billing - If you do not print and mail invoices but rather submit them via email .... then you are saving on printing, postage, envelopes, along with time to fold and stuff, etc.

Here's a few more general tips/insights for going green to leave you with .......

1. Be as paperless as possible. Send clients drafts via email rather than mail or fax unless the client has no email access, for example. Print to .pdf rather than to your printer. Get bills via email. Send your billing via email. Also use a web-based fax service (eFax) so that faxes you receive go directly to your email boxes as .pdfs and not to a printer.

2. Recycle, for example shred and/or recycle any paper you do have to print .... as well as collect cans and other recyclables and take them home (or start a recycle bin at work for cans etc. and donate to a local charity/fund raising activity .... great for public relations). If the community in which your business is located has a fantastic home recycling program but no business recycling, lug your recycling home every few weeks and put it with your personal recycling. Also mail your ink cartridges back to the manufacturer or recycle at your local Office Depot or Staples (if you have one). Plus buy paper products made from recycled paper.

3. Use CFLs in your lamps, and don't leave ANY lights on when you're not at the office. Also turn off all equipment when you're out of the office.

4. Turn your utility settings lower or higher (depending on the season) when you are out of the office to conserve energy (and keep your bills lower).

5. For those employees (and yourself) who live close to your office ..... commute together unless you must have separate cars for business travel.

6. It's a small thing, but also use stamps.com to calculate and print postage, which cuts down on trips to the post office. You can also recycle the paper leftover from printing the postage.

The above ideas, tips, and insights should be more than enough to get your small business on the way to going Green.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Simple "Go Green" Ideas For A Small Business

This is just a list to get you started thinking about going green for your small business. If you have other ideas/tips .... please share them as comments.

1. Recycle all recyclable products (check into it - you'll be surprised how many things can be recycled).

2. Turn off machines or use smart strips to control phantom power usage.

3. Work close to home or at home to reduce transporation costs and fuel usage.

4. Reduce paper print jobs wherever feasible, use Internet- or email-based FAX, etc.

5. Use common sense for your micro-environment: use natural cleaning agents for cleaning, keep air filters clean, replace old fluorescent tubes and ballasts, etc.

6. Reduce heating and cooling expenditures by utilizing natural sunlight, opening and closing vents and windows as needed, and other climate controls.

7. Use recycled paper goods for shipping and packaging, stationery, labels, etc.

8. Support other local businesses that are conscious about about being green and tell others about your own efforts.