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Supporting Veteran Owned Small Businesses

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

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Tribute ...."OUR COUNTRY IS IN MOURNING, A SOLDIER DIED TODAY"

He was getting old and paunchy
And his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion,
Telling stories of the past.

Of a war that he once fought in
And the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies;
They were heroes, every one.

And 'tho sometimes to his neighbors
His tales taken as a joke,
All his buddies listened quietly
For they knew where of he spoke.

But we'll hear his tales no longer,
For ol' Bob has passed away,
And the world's a little poorer
For a Soldier died today.

He won't be mourned by many,
Just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary,
Very quiet sort of life.

He held a job and raised a family,
Going quietly on his way;
And the world won't note his passing,
'Tho a Soldier died today.

When politicians leave this earth,
Their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing,
And proclaim that they were great.

Papers tell of their life stories
From the time that they were young
But the passing of a Soldier
Goes unnoticed, and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution
To the welfare of our land,
Some jerk who breaks his promise
And cons his fellow man?

Or the ordinary fellow
Who in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his country
And offers up his life?

The politician's stipend
And the style in which he lives,
Are often disproportionate,
To the service that he gives.

While the ordinary Soldier,
Who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal
And perhaps a pension, small.

It is not the politicians
With their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom
That our country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger,
With your enemies at hand,
Would you really want some cop-out,
With his ever waffling stand?

Or would you want a Soldier--
His home, his country, his kin,
Just a common Soldier,
Who would fight until the end.

He was just a common Soldier,
And his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us
We may need his like again.

For when countries are in conflict,
We find the Soldier's part
Is to clean up all the troubles
That the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor
While he's here to hear the praise,
Then at least let's give him homage
At the ending of his days.

Perhaps just a simple headline
In the paper that might say:
"OUR COUNTRY IS IN MOURNING,
A SOLDIER DIED TODAY."


Pass On Patriotism! YOU can make a difference .....

- - Annonymous

What Is Mojo For Small Business?

Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith says "Mojo is: that positive spirit--towards what we are doing--now--that starts from the inside--and radiates to the outside. Mojo is at its peak when we are experiencing both happiness and meaning in what we are doing and communicating this experience to the world around us."

In my experience, most small business owners do possess a significant amount of mojo... it's why they started their business in the first place - they love what they do and want to spend their time doing it. I think the biggest challenge for the business owner is to RETAIN the mojo, even in the day-in, day-out stress of running their business. That's where delegating undesirable tasks, daily planning and narrow focus can really help.

In my opinion MOJO is not something that you directly work for, and therefore spending time trying to create it is counter productive. The first, and arguably most important action you can take to have more MOJO is to do the self work you need to in order to find your passion and align it with your business and the team you hire. It’s about knowing and living your personal values, purpose, mission and vision. You can’t directly create MOJO. What you can do is position yourself in an environment where you can more easily have MOJO. You can also practice the necessary skills so that you are prepared to maximize your time with MOJO when it comes forth.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Acquiring Paying Customers - Whats Your Stumbling Block?

Acquiring Paying Customers - Whats your stumbling block?

1. Post your issues and or your stumbling block
2..Be specific in the description
3. Lets all participate either with an issue and or with a solid suggestion for overcoming what was posted

Friday, May 27, 2011

Social Media Marketing Tips

Typically when I attend a webinar or teleconference I get bored and begin multitasking, and then I am certain to miss some really good nuggets. However, now I listen with a new purpose: to share what I learn with you, my readers. Here are my takeaways from two webinars I attended recently with some great social media marketing tips.

* When can you get the most retweets? The most retweetable times are late in the day and late in the week. Check your own most retweetable time at www.tweetwhen.com

* Tweet more! Send the same link with different copy multiple times in a day. Guy Kawasaki, says he models CNN or the New York Times, as they report the same story multiple times a day, because not everyone is in front of their television at the same time. Not everyone is in front of their twitter stream at the same time either. Tweet more often and give yourself a great chance of being seen.

* Weekends are best for Facebook sharing.

* Send email very early in the morning. Similar to my "Inspiration to Start Your Day" messages.

* Most business owners should be sending more email. However, that does not mean sending more sales pitches. (On that note I must rant a bit. I am so done with getting the same email message telling me, "my good friend so-and-so has agreed to _____." Now, I don't mind receiving that message from one person, but when I receive the exact same message about the exact same good friend, well, that ticks me off. I too want joint venture partners who will support me in my endeavors, but I would prefer that they be honest in that support and actually have some knowledge of what they are promoting. Okay, I’m done with my rant.) It does mean you need to stay in front of your readers by providing valuable content. Your readers gave you permission to build your reputation when they subscribed to your list. You don’t want to abuse that permission; however, you have an obligation to your business to build your reputation in their eyes.

* Blog on weekends to get the most comments.

* Blog early in the morning for an increased click-through rate on links.

* And finally, the more you blog, the more readers you will attract.

I hope these tips are useful to you in your business.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

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.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Best Small Business Resources ..... "Follow Me" Toll Free 800 Service

This simple tool makes business easier....AND more profitable for your small business.

What is it? Kall8.

What is Kall8? Kall8 is a toll-free number, but the definition of Kall8 service doesn't stop there. In fact, it only starts there because Kall8 adds a lot more features and capabilities with the toll-free service. Consider for example:

* The user can go online at any time and change where their Kall8 toll-free number rings to. This is ideal for sales reps, real estate agents, etc who need to be always available to their customers.

* The user can setup a schedule, so that the Kall8 number rings in the office during business hours Monday through Friday, and to his cell phone or home phone after business hours.

* Kall8 also will take a voicemail message for you, which you can listen to by calling your voice mailbox from any phone, or have your voicemail emailed to you.

* Calls can be recorded, so that if you are doing a conference call for a great business deal, you can listen to the call afterwards to make sure everything is covered based on exactly what was said. This feature can also be used for training new employees or capturing important weekly training calls.

* If you have multiple locations, Kall8 can route the incoming call to the nearest location, based on where the caller is calling from.

* International toll-free numbers are available for many countries if you have a customer who is trying to create a professional international image.

* Detailed billing is provided every month.

* Vanity numbers are available.

All of these features make the Kall8 service much more than simply a toll-free number, but make this service a true "business partner" to increase productivity. Allow your customers to spend less time playing "voice mail tag" and more time being in touch with you!

For more info .... go to Kall8 Toll Free 800 Service

Thursday, May 19, 2011

How Can Small Businesses Beat The Economic Bad Times??

One of the best things we ... as small businesses ... can do to turn around the economy is work together and share best practices. Doing so creates an environment where those who are struggling can improve, those who are surviving can thrive, and those who are winning can lead and shine.

Some examples of such master mind brainstorming and sharing include; think big - if you are local think regional, if you are regional think national, if you are national think international – there’s customers out there just further afield; go back to basics, call your customers and ask how you can be of more service.

With this goal in mind ... help others and be helped yourself .... what tips would you share?

It's easy .... simply contribute your thoughts as comments to this blog post. Come back .... read .... share some more .... and don't forget to pass it on.

So .... what are your tips???

Monday, May 16, 2011

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!

Innovation Audits

Whilst it is generally recognised that innovation is important and enhances shareholder value, what is less well understood is how to become more innovative. Innovation audits review current practices enabling the consultant to advise on alternative and additional measures and techniques that companies can adopt to improve and maximise their innovation capabilities. As such, they are designed to assist companies in understanding their current innovation practices, and how these might be improved upon or added to. Indeed, the audit might illuminate some practices which are hindering innovation, and these need to be reduced or stopped. Why? All companies interested in growth will be looking at how they can be innovative and it is increasingly, and widely, recognised that innovation capability is one of the key determinants of long-run profitability and survival. Companies will, therefore, all be wishing to improve their processes to maximise their innovation capabilities and maximise their opportunities for growth.

A summary of the benefits of an innovation audit is as follows:

1) It enhances the company's innovation capability;
2) It identifies the opportunities for increasing innovation;
3) It clarifies where the organisation needs to focus to maximise innovation success;
4) It embeds innovation in the company's processes;
5) It can build on individuals' creativity to be more innovative;
6) It can identify and control the barriers that stifle creativity and innovation;
7) It fosters innovation in the organisation's culture; and
8) It can align the organisation in common purpose and action.

There are different forms of innovation audit, but a common one is to review five principal areas:

1) Innovation strategy - the why, what, where, when. This element performs two vital roles - it provides a direct link with the organisation's corporate strategy, and it provides a framework and guidance within which to direct the organisation's innovation efforts;
2) Idea generation - the creativity. Ideas are the lifeblood of any organisation's innovation effort. It is, therefore, critical that there are processes, procedures and methods in place to capture ideas from a diverse range of sources;
3) Selection - which. Whilst ideas are critical, knowing which projects to pursue can make or break the innovation effort. Resources spent on the wrong projects divert necessary funds and time from those which might prove successful;
4) Implementation - making it happen. Innovation includes the successful commercial exploitation of the idea. Making it happen defines the culmination of the whole innovation process;
5) Organisation - how. Successful innovation requires more than processes. It requires the whole organisation to have an innovative ethos.

In conclusion, organisations need to review their innovation processes in the light of the above comments. Failure to innovate can often lead to failure to grow. Just think about all those great companies of yesteryear which no longer exist today!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

2 Simple Ideas .... Ways Of Thinking That Can Open The Many Online Paths To Gaining Great Prospects

call me

To gain prospects, figuring out how to master the many on line paths to acquire customers & grow is now a must.

Here's 2 simple ideas, ways of thinking to do that without leaving your existing comfort zone:   

* continue to use your best, most familiar skills
* not have to change your current favored time proven paths to growth
* stay in your familiar comfort zone
* become quite comfortable with the Web,social media & use it like pros.

1. Perspective, how you view the web & its challenges:

  • It may be helpful to realize that Its really not a change nor a challenge to our core skills & who we are as business people at all
  • Its just a new "delivery and connecting" system
  • It’s not really an unknown, Its the good old connecting with prospects path "wearing different clothes" so to speak.
  • Your familiar methods for reaching out, are still applicable, usable:
    You still can use the same familiar, comfortable skills for getting business, gaining a reputation as the “go to” person, establishing leadership & visibility.

Example1: Selling skills are still selling skills just deployed via different media today

Fact: The media changed, the method of connecting changed, but the core ability of the person who can sell, the process of making an approach & moving through to a "yes" has not changed. 

Here's what I mean:

1. As you always have before, search how-where folks source but this time look for their on line routes to information, research decision makers, influencers. Read-participate via blogs, join into "the family" of targeted audience types via networks, where they gain their insights reading on line, where they go for info &use it. Google is great for doing that.


2. So, in reality, you don't have to change your familiar process. You just change the "how" & "where" of how you gain traction, visibility, reputation, prospects, become the "go to" expert by using the paths of the on line media that best connects with the right audiences for you. 

Its simply re-tooling our unique ways, paths,outlets of “selling” or delivering our expertise, services, products,solutions into an on line connected world instead of face to face, or via ads, or brochures.

Example 2: Public speaking, featured speaker skills
If we use & are relying on public speaking to gain traction then use webinars, record a you tube.   You can reach an audience far greater than speaking at a conference although you still should do that.

Example 3: Writing skills as your route to growing business, a following & an “expert” reputation:
- If writing is how you go after markets & establish yourself as the expert "go to" person, blog on line & participate in blogs that your target audience looks to for ideas, guidance & insights.
- Create an e-zine online magazine of sorts. Invite your target audiences to read your writings.
- Use an on line newsletter. Find your target audience in the same way you would find it before & use their established on line sources for learning-discussion information to post your writings.
- post to the trade journals in their on line magazine versions.

See what I mean.

Web based-online connection-communication concept is not unfamiliar territory.

Its not a change at all from your comfort zone, just in the paths in which you “prospect”, “reach out”, "public speak" or use "article writing" as your way of gaining traction and customers.

 
Seeing the web & on line tools in this way can take the fear of change away, help us demystify & use our web based world to thrive.
Try some of these ideas and ways of thinking out. As you do, I know your fear of the "rules of the game" change from the impact of the web will evaporate. You will be once again “full speed ahead” on very familiar &comfortable footing to grow,profit, be "great" yet still be “you” without making any drastic changes at all.

Neil Licht  CEO, HereWeAre http://www.wix.com/ndlicht/hereweare

Thursday, May 12, 2011

How To Improve Your Professional Image ... Get More Customers ... & Make MORE Sales

If you're a small business owner who - works from home, on the road, or with a dispersed team ... and are looking for a way to instantly upgrade your phone presence (and at the same time make your communication headaches disappear practically overnight) ... then the iTeleCenter Virtual Phone System is for you.

Creating a highly professional phone image couldn't be easier!

Would You Like To .....

* Gain trust and credibility in the marketplace ... stop losing business because of a poor phone image?

* Improve your ability to connect with your customers ... no more missed opportunities because prospects and clients were unable to reach you, or because their messages got lost in the shuffle?

* Increase your efficiency and handle your business calls smoothly and effectively ... a host of communications tools under one convenient roof to save you time and effort ... all at your finger tips 24/7?

* Be backed by proven experience and reliability ... 99.9% uptime rate ... over 260,000,000 calls processed to date?

You'll get all the features of a high-end, robust phone system - features like private toll-free number, voice mail, multiple extensions, send/receive faxes online, enhanced call forwarding, and music-on-hold (to name just a few) - but without the hassle and pain normally associated with such systems ... and at a mere fraction of the cost {how does just $9.95/month to start sound??).

Your existing phones - whether home, office, VOIP, or cell - and current Internet connection provide everything you need to put iTeleCenter to work for you today .... and in less time than it takes to brew a cup of coffee.

No hardware to buy, nothing to install, and a setup so simple even the most diehard technophobe can handle it with ease.

Simply click on this link .... and take advantage of the FREE trial:

iTeleCenter


Here are just a few of the things you'll get when you put iTeleCenter to work for your business today…..

* Your very own toll free number accessible from anywhere in North America

* Unlimited number of incoming calls managed simultaneously ... your customers and clients will never hear a busy signal!

* Multiple extensions you can designate for any purpose you choose - employees, departments, recorded information about your products and services ...

* Call forwarding number(s) for each of your extensions (for example, your "Sales" extension can ring to your cell phone and your "customer Service" extension can ring to your partner's home line).

* Enhanced call screening enables you to talk with whom you want when you want .. send "time wasters" to voicemail.

* Online faxing - send and receive faxes without a fax machine.

* Music-on-hold while your customers are waiting to be connected - choose from a variety of genres such as jazz or classical ... or upload your own custom music or on-hold commercial.

* Entire system easily manageable via convenient online interface ... make changes to your system effortlessly as needed "on the fly".

* Voicemails and faxes quickly converted and emailed as MP3 audio or PDF links.

* Instant notification of new messages by email or cell phone text message.

* 24/7 Informational Mailboxes let you provide information about your products or company 24/7.

* And much, much more. Take advantage of our no cost, 7 day, full-featured trial TODAY ... and find out just what iTleCenter can do to change the way you do business!


No contracts .... Pay Month-to-Month .... Cancel Anytime

Monday, May 9, 2011

A New Way to Market Your Small Business

One of the most difficult challenges small businesses face is making their brand known. Fortunately, technology has created a multitude of ways for small businesses to launch an appealing marketing campaign. Social Media cannot be ignored, and it certainly does not look like it will be going away anytime soon. Businesses do well to take full advantage of the marketing opportunities that can be found through sites like Facebook and Twitter. Owners should also keep their eyes open to a new way to market their small business. The launch of Siglat Mobile Apps is a crucial stepping stone for companies wanting to solidify their brand identity. This is small business news worth spreading: the face of small business marketing is changing.

Siglat Mobile Apps is a unique line of mobile marketing apps that allows small businesses to market their products directly to one of the fastest growing demographics on the planet, the more than 4.6 billion mobile subscribers. If it’s hard to imagine getting that kind of exposure for your business, just think back to how marketing campaigns worked before the internet became a normal part of our everyday lives. Who would’ve thought that so many customers could be reached at one time by only using 140 characters or less? Web sites and internet exposure have brought new life to entrepreneurship.

Mobile applications are expected to grow higher and higher in demand. The thirst for new applications is seemingly unquenchable. Businesses are already expected to have a website, but soon their customers will be searching for a company app as well. With Siglat Mobile Apps, a small business can be on the front end of technology. The first of many mobile applications specifically designed to allow small business owners to market their products directly is Mimosa, an iPhone app available on the iPod touch, iPhone 3GS, or iPhone4.

With unique mobile marketing applications, small businesses like Mimosa Creations can offer direct product purchasing to their customers through PayPal from a mobile device. Feel free to download the free Mimosa app to see how this new small business marketing tool can work for your company.

Siglat Mobile Apps has tested and proven development patterns. They can build a customized application for a business or product in a matter of weeks. Can you imagine giving more than 4.6 billion mobile subscribers the opportunity to purchase your products directly from their mobile device? For more information about how your small business can tap into the mobile device advertising market, visit www.siglat.com. Isn’t it about time your company launched their own app?

How To Recycle Your Cell Phone & Other Electronics .... & Go Green

Would you like to recycle your cell phone .... laptop .... PDA .... other "gadget"?

Recycling may be getting easier each year, but let's face it .... People are lazy. That's why bottles get thrown into trash bins when recycling bins are a foot away. It's also why technology ends up in landfills .... digital electronics will eventually break or get replaced. But it's hard to know just what to do with the gadgets that get left behind.

Not any more ....

Go Green

Tip ... they also pay you cash for recycling. PLUS send you a box and pay for the shipping.

Also, if you have a sponsor relationship with a school, church, Boy Scout or Girl Scout group, or other non-profit organization .... this makes a great fund raising activity too.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dream the Work

You're not always going to be successful, but if you're scared to fail, you don't deserve to be successful" -- Charles Barkley

For many, the idea of running their own business never enters their mind; they are happy and content working in a good paying job where they have benefits and know what will happen every day when they clock in. But for others, the dream of being their own boss is uppermost in their thoughts. Whatever the reason, they have the goal of being a success at something that has their hand print on it. Like me, many have known from childhood that they wanted to control their own lives based on being their own boss. Each day would be a new day with different challenges and excitements.

But what really comes with being the boss is a lot more than excitement: it's hard work, long hours, persistence in the wake of adversity and a never give up attitude. Anyone thinking that they're going to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is probably going to be out of luck. Nothing worthwhile ever happens without hard work, planning and time. But even then, there are other issues that need to be taken into consideration.

One of the biggest challenges, I believe, that people run into when they're starting out (and even later in the cycle) is fear. The fear of failure is that irrational fear that we will not succeed, and unfortunately, it is often something that we all experience. It's human nature. And with that fear comes an inability to more forward. There's the dream, and then there's the fear of not being able to succeed. What happens if no one wants what you're selling? What if you can't make a living at your desired business? Will you lose your home? What about the benefits you may be giving up by quitting a job? These are all fears that may crop up to stop you from moving forward.

In order to get past these fears one needs to figuratively "bite the bullet." Success or failure is in your hands -- you just need to do your homework, set goals, figure out what your customers want, and work towards creating the perceived need for your product or service. Most of all, you need to understand that it is going to take time, effort and money to get where you want to be. How to do this? There are lots of people and books out there that show you maps to accomplish this work; it's up to you to find what resonates with you -- what makes sense to you and what seems doable for you.

Don't try to do it on your own, but search out those that believe in you and your product/service; those that are willing to help mentor you and guide you along the path. Keep an open mind -- listen with your ears, your mind and your heart. But be wise; listen to your gut as well, making sure that what you're being told makes sense to you. Don't try to be everything to everybody. Stay true to your goals and your vision. It will see you through.

Dream that Entrepreneurial Dream

I have known since I was 11 years old that I would grow up to be an entrepreneur. As a kid, I owned a craft shop with my mom and sister where we made handmade items and sold them out of my folks' basement. Called Things-n-Stuff, it was a lot of fun and actually made a little bit of money -- mostly from family and friends but it was a great learning experience. During the summers I worked with the neighborhood kids and we had a "day camp" where we read, played (actually getting exercise) and did the kinds of things that kids don't do any more because they're too busy in front of computers, TVs and Gameboys.

As I grew older, I started babysitting and did things like deliver newspapers for contractor wages (50 cents an hour I think at one point!). Along with all these great efforts I worked as a library page, in a gift shop on the Indiana Toll Road, and in college in the Psych department. Of course, even there I typed term papers for other students and helped with editing. So, it's no surprise that after graduation from my Master's program (and while working on my PhD) I started my own business as an Administrative specialist -- becoming involved in incubators, referral groups and training programs for businesses long before they were the "THING" for businesses to do.

In the big city people were interested -- even excited -- about doing things to help support their companies; there was a sense of anticipation and looking to the future. People wanted their dreams to grow into reality. They had ideas and were willing to do whatever it took to get those dreams to come to fruition. The SBA has organizations throughout the country that were created to help these nascent businesses start, and prosper. The Women's Business Center in Springfield, VA was always buzzing with women -- young and old -- who were taking classes, networking, competing with business plan contests. There was always something going on. It was a great time for the world of entrepreneurs.

Now, however, back in small town midwestern USA, things are much different. Of course the economic environment over the last 8-10 years has not helped, but I feel a sense of fear; of desperation. People have lost their jobs. They've lost their customer base. They've lost their businesses. Money has been really hard to come by and people have retrenched. They seem to be looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; chances to get big buck referrals and meeting just the right person at networking events. The promise is there, hanging in the air -- if you do this, they will come. But I haven't seen Kevin Costner building the baseball field, and I don't believe that simply by hanging out one's shingle, that the work will be there.

It takes a long time, hard work and experience to get a business off the ground. Unless you're awfully lucky, just being in the right place at the right time, isn't going to get the business where you want it to be. You can make the best darn widget in the world, but unless you know how to market it, how to cost it out, how to maintain your books, and much more, you're eventually going to fall flat.

I think its very important to have those dreams -- to work towards getting that business off the ground with smooth sailing. But I also think that one must not put all their eggs in one basket. Understand that you need to network. You need to get and give referrals. You need to read, to study, to talk with others who have been there and done that before. It is a very hard, challenging existence, but if you can determine that what you provide is something that the people want, and if you can devote the time and energy to letting them know you can provide it, then you'll be well on your way to being an entrepreneur. Good luck!!!!!

My Company Grew Too Fast -- and Went Out of Business

By Jim Picariello, CEO, Wise Acre Frozen Treats, Blue Hill, Maine

When I started Wise Acre Frozen Treats, no other company was making organic popsicles from unrefined sweeteners. Working out of a schoolhouse kitchen in March 2006, I developed my recipes using honey and maple syrup. A year and a half in, I brought on my first employee, and then it really took off from there.

By 2008, we had 15 employees, a 3,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, and distribution to all of the natural foods stores and many major supermarket chains on the East Coast. Then we landed a contract to distribute on the West Coast, too — but we never got the chance to fill all the orders. By the end of the year, we’d gone bankrupt and I was unemployed.

A meteoric rise ....

After our first year, opportunities started coming up really fast. We won the “Most Innovative Product” award out of more than 2,000 products at a large food show called Expo East. From there, we lined up a contract with a huge national distributor, United National Foods, and got freezer space in premier stores like Wegmans and Whole Foods.

Previously, we’d been filling orders for eight stores for a few hundred dollars each, but our first order from United National was something like $45,000 worth of product. It was a quantum leap.

The company’s progress was right in line with my business plan’s best-case scenario.

A run-in with the local billionaire .....

Once business took off, I knew I needed to raise more capital to cover our operating expenses, which included labor, equipment, ingredients, packaging materials, insurance, taxes, legal fees, design and marketing, as well the lease on our building.

Local bankers gave us $300,000, split between a regular loan and an equipment loan. We also received $200,000 from an investment firm. But because we had so many orders to fill, I knew we really needed about $1 million to keep us solvent.

We made a handshake deal for that amount with a local billionaire at the end of spring 2008. He told me, “I’ll be able to make this happen really quickly,” so I went back home and bought equipment — even though I didn’t have the money to pay for it.

Weeks later, the bottom fell out of the economy. Our would-be investor was all wrapped up in the stock market decline and pulled out of our deal. That was the beginning of the end.

Investor issues .....

There were five or six months when I was constantly doing a mad dash between running the company and meeting with potential investors. The investors would always say, “We’re looking for someone making $2 million in revenue.”

At that point, Wise Acre was making about $200,000. I’d ask them, “If we were making that much, why would I need you? I have a product that sells really well, no one else has it — what else do I need to do?”

They all said, “We’d like to see what you can do without our money first.”

It’s a chicken-and-egg thing: If you’re already really successful and you don’t really need the money, they’ll give it to you.

Why we failed ....

Our business plan indicated that it would be about two years from starting production to making a profit. But one of our biggest problems was that we didn’t raise the money we needed before we hit milestones like getting distribution throughout the East Coast. We went from eight stores to dozens, then hundreds, immediately. We were burning through about $30,000 a month at our peak, but we didn’t have the capital in place to back it up.

I also wish I’d hired people who were good at raising money. The people I did hire had good contacts, but they didn’t have the background or experience to effectively raise the funds we needed. Even in that economy, I could have raised the money if I’d had the right people on board from the start.

The aftermath .....

By the end of 2008, Wise Acre had gone out of business. Even though the orders were still coming in, we couldn’t pay our bills. The $300,000 bank loan was in my name, and I had to declare bankruptcy. Now the bank owns the product, the equipment and all of the trademarks.

To add insult to injury, I live in a remote area without many jobs, so I was unemployed for about a year. To go from being the boss of a big shop to being unemployed was really demoralizing. Now, thankfully, I have a professional job, but it’s not at the same level.

It was incredibly frustrating and depressing to have things end the way they did, but running my own company was a hell of an experience. It’s important to stand behind a product that you believe in. A lot of it is timing, and a lot of it is making your own luck.

Jim Picariello co-founded his first of three ventures at 25. He lives with his wife and two girls in Downeast Maine, where he does a comically bad kids’ magic show at Halloween, and dreams up wild business concepts he could launch while living in the middle of nowhere.

– As told to Kathryn Hawkins

Monday, May 2, 2011

10 Ways to Differentiate Your Customer Service & Make Your Clients Actually Feel Valued

Every business owner and organization knows if they want to attract and retain more loyal customers, they need to provide high-quality customer service. That's why organizations today focus heavily on communicating how valuable their customers are to the organization. Now, the question is... How much do they truly value their customers?

Most of you probably had the experience of being a "valued" customer, yet you didn't feel valued at all! For example, you call a company for either customer service or to order one of their products and you enter into the electronic triage system only to be put on hold. You're told: please stay on the line, your call is important to us. Sometimes we dutifully follow the electronic request, and we wait, and even wait longer. Other times we hang up in pure frustration.

Or, have you been asked to complete a customer satisfaction questionnaire? Again, you are told that your comments are "very important to us". Really?

How maddening it is when you have taken the time to complete such surveys after receiving poor service, spelling out in detail what the issue was and why you were dissatisfied, only to receive no acknowledgement of your issue or concern?

Perception, as we have heard endless times, is reality. The reality here is that you won't go back or use them in the future. And likely, you will tell your friends!

We believe that providing excellent customer service should be an obsession.

Here Are Our Growth without Sabotage™ Tips That Will Help Your Organization Differentiate Your Customer Service

* Have a real, live person answer all of your calls. If you cannot have someone answer all your calls, subscribe to a voice message service and include a message that you will return all calls within one business day – and do it If it is late in the day, it can acceptable to wait till the next business morning. Remember, the message and perception in timing/promptness is, "you count"-- you are important and a priority to me.

* Return emails within one business day (two days maximum)

* Learn to be comfortable introducing yourself by your full name. When meeting in person, look at people directly in the eye, especially when you first meet them and insure you know how to give and reciprocate a firm handshake.

* Insure you clearly understand the customer or prospects need and priorities. Do this by listening sincerely and asking clarifying questions. Listen FIRST and actively listen more than you talk. Ask questions to clarify your understanding of your prospect's motivation to buy – but do so respectfully and carefully.

* Keep agreements you make to the prospect or the customer. When you say you will do something, do it when you said you would do it. Emergencies should be the only exception.

* Eliminate negative surprises for the customer. If there is a problem, acknowledge it quickly, apologize if appropriate and do your best to fix the problem to the customer's satisfaction.

* Always have your clients' and prospects' best interest in mind. Think of ways you can help them improve their needs to be in the forefront.

* Think of the long term sale. That means go slow, don't push now to sell or attempt to up-sell. Think of the longer-term relationship and resulting opportunities forthcoming.

* Warming- Flirting and fawning are forms of overselling (as well as demeaning) yourself. Realize how unprofessional and damaging these behaviors are with your customers and prospects.

* Warning - Don't expect the customer to understand that you are busy or short staffed. They won't and they shouldn't have to.

You may be thinking that this is obvious. Yes, indeed, it is not rocket science. While it may be obvious, the truth is that it is also frequently not practiced. And because it is not done well or consistently, it represents a key differentiator.

You need to capture the attention of your future customers and keep your current customers. Without consistent excellent customer care, customer loyalty is improbable, especially in this economy where buyers are more cautious. Now more than ever in business, we need to find ways to differentiate ourselves. We find that customer service is a simple yet powerful differentiating strategy.

Sara LaForest and Tony Kubica are management consultants with more than 50+ years of combined experience in helping organizations improve their business performance. They say, failing to improve customer service by showing your clients that you value them is just one way to sabotage your business growth. Get their complete "Self-Sabotage in Business White Paper" now at: KubicaLaforestConsulting.com