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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...

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Vision For Business Growth In 2013

All businesses, from a child’s lemonade stand to Verizon, have four specific areas or divisions....

Marketing: The “selling things” part of your business – getting customers for your products and services.

Operations: The “making things” part of your business – what you do for your customer.

Human Resources: The “people” part of your business – recruiting, developing, supporting and compensating your staff.

Finance: The “enabler” of your business – more than financial statements and tax returns, it is what makes your business possible.

Each division is important to the success of the business and they all must work together, but at any given time one usually needs more attention than the others. This is especially true in a growing business since different parts of a business often grow at different rates.

There are four steps involved in researching, creating and evaluating a growth plan....

Step One: Diagnosing the Health of Your Business

This formal analysis ensures you take a realistic look at where your business is now so you can be confident you are working with facts, not assumptions.

Step Two: Focusing on the Key Division and Setting Goals

This will help you examine every part of your business – marketing, operations, human resources and finance, so you can identify where attention is needed most and set realistic goals.

Step Three: Developing Your Business Strategies

This is where you will identify the best strategies to break through the toughest roadblocks and plan for the growth of your business.

Step Four: Implementing Your Growth Plan

Now you need to put the strategies into place, measure the results and watch for unintended consequences.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Tips For Getting A Patent On A New Product

My suggestion is that you do as much work yourself as possible upfront. Read up on getting a patent but don’t submit it or even write it up yet. Get a nondisclosure agreement made up and have everyone involved sign it before you show them the idea. Get a prototype made. You can get someone to design it at www.freelancer.com . Get the part 3d printed or look for a manufacturer that specializes in prototypes. There several places online that can do it for you.

Once you have the prototype, find a factory that can make it for you as competitively as possible. By now, you will have gone through several iterations of the part and you can write up and submit the provisional patent. You can use the www.uspto.gov site and the Google patent search at https://www.google.com/?tbm=pts . You now know what your final product is, how much it will cost to make in volume and now the real work begins.

Now that you have a working prototype, with a patent pending number on it and hopefully some marketing literature and video, get yourself a independent rep that works in that industry to find distributors and wholesalers and try to get a mutually exclusive contract with them for one to two years, where they can’t buy a competing product and you offer them an exclusive territory as an authorized exclusive distributor. For this right, they must buy a minimum quantity , usually the same minimum that your factory requires. I would sell the part to your distributor at double your landed cost. With the p.o. and contract from your distributor, your provisional patent and a quote from your factory in hand, you can make a trip to your local bank for a line of credit. With the loan, you can buy your product and have the money for the full patent.

I want to emphasize a few points. If it is a unique product, the most important thing you can do is get the right partners and get it to market first. Start doing the research on as much in the beginning as possible. Including on how to write the patent and selecting the best Rep. You will only have a certain amount of time from the time your provisional patent gets approved before you have to get real patent or it will expire. In my opinion unless the product is revolutionary, the process of getting a provisional patent is the most important part so that even if you don’t get a full patent, at least you can prove prior art and no one can file a patent to keep you from making it. Most importantly, remember I am not an attorney, so verify everything I mention and that everyone else tells you as well.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Starting Saving – With a Purpose

  
Do you know only slightly more than half of all non-retired Americans (52%) think they are saving enough for "a retirement in which [they] will have a desirable standard of living?" Even fewer Americans say they have a goal in mind when it comes to saving (Consumer Federation of America (CFA), American Savings Education Council (ASEC), Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI)) 2012 survey).

So what can we do to improve those statistics? February 25 through March 2 has been designated as "America Saves Week." It’s an annual opportunity for organizations to promote good savings behavior and a chance for individuals to assess their own saving status as well as an excellent excuse for business owners to promote good savings behavior among employees.

Consider this: Finances are employees' #1 cause of stress, which leads to higher health care costs for your company and negatively impacts employee productivity and morale (http://ezinearticles.com/?id=473303).  Employees who learn how to effectively manage their benefits are more empowered, more engaged, and more satisfied with their compensation, benefits, and overall jobs (financialfinesse.com).

It simply makes good business sense to get employees thinking about saving for the future and participating in your company’s retirement plan. If you have a 401(k) plan, for 2013, the maximum you may designate to your 401(k), not including any matching company contributions, is $17,500. If you are age 50 and older, you can contribute an additional $5,500. The total contribution limit, including employer contributions, is $51,000 or $56,500, including catch-up contributions. Now of course many people can’t afford to save at this rate but it’s likely almost everyone can find some way to save more than they are today – particularly if they aren’t participating in your company’s retirement plan.

Even if you don't max out your retirement plan to take advantage of the tax savings, you may want to review your retirement plan's asset allocation, investment options, and your contribution levels just to be sure that the plan fits in with your overall savings strategy.

If you need more information, the Employee Benefits Security Administration will be hosting two webcasts during America Saves Week. The first is for small employers who do not yet offer a retirement plan. This will be sponsored in coordination with the Small Business Administration and Consumer Federation of America and will discuss the benefits to employers as well as employees and will provide information about the many retirement plan options available. That will be held February 27th from 2—4 pm, Eastern.

The second webcast will also be for small employers and will focus on using the new retirement plan fee disclosures to select and monitor your retirement plan’s service providers. That will be broadcast on February 28th from 2—3 pm Eastern.
 
Information on both webcasts can be found at the Employee Benefits Security Administration website at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/.


 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How To Market Your Small Business With A Budget Of $1,000 A Month

We all are aware that small businesses don't have large marketing budgets. In fact, every dollar counts more than ever especially as a start up. When considering how to market a small business, look for ways that allow you to do "more with less".

There is no definitive "best way" though. Your market will judge the best way by the response you get.

Whatever you decide to do I would recommend....

(i) BE CLEAR ON YOUR MESSAGE & MARKET

Before you commit any money, be sure of the message you want to convey. You're servicing both business and consumer - will your message be different for each? What problem do you solve; what is the result they will achieve by buying your service?

(ii) ADVERTISE FOR A LEAD, NOT A SALE

If you go for the sale straight off - you either get it or you don't. If you can evoke a response to enquire, or to request more information, or a free report or "a something" and capture the contact details of your prospects - then you can market to them over a period of time, building a relationship and building value.

(iii) LOOK TO OTHER INDUSTRIES

Often, business owners have an unconscious compulsion to market their services in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY as their competitors. Look outside of your own industry and see what others are doing. How can you adapt and adopt some of their strategies to make you stand out in your own industry?

(iv) TEST! TEST! TEST!

Start small, track and measure your response. Based on the response you can decide to scale it, tweak it, or drop it.

What follows is a more specific strategy and plan for marketing that allows you to "do more with less"....

TASTE, TRENDS AND TECHNOLOGY

What does your research indicate is the trend in your field? Will it stay the way you are currently offering supplies and services or will it change? This item covers the developments you expect for the next few years. Evan a 'perfect' business can become obsolete overnight due to future developments. Specify a 5 year forecast of your field in your area.

SALES REVENUE FORECAST

Have you developed these targets? This section shows your estimates of future sales revenue for your business. Your strategic plan, needs to spell out the specific actions you will take to achieve your forecast sales revenues.

DIFFERENTIATE YOUR BUSINESS FROM THE COMPETITION

How does your business differ from the competition's strong and weak points. Again, remember to carefully look at your business from the customer's perspective. If you're not sure how your pricing policies compare to the competition, here are some guidelines. Most people associate high prices with high quality and extra service, while they associate low prices with low or average quality and minimum service. Make sure you provide extra quality and service if your prices are higher than your competition or make sure that your prices are lower if your quality is average and your service is minimum.

DECIDE HOW TO REACH CUSTOMERS

Once you describe your target customer, it's easier to create a list of possible ways to reach that person. One of your jobs as a businessperson is to decide which of all the possible methods of communication will give you the most exposure for the least cost in money or time.

EVALUATE THE RISKS FACING YOUR BUSINESS

COMPETITION: Most businesses have competition. How will your business differ in significant and positive ways from your competition? If your competition is strong, don't minimize that fact, but figure out ways you will adjust to or use that strength. For example, if you plan to open a restaurant next to an extremely popular one, part of your strategy might be to cater to the overflow. Another might be to open on days or evenings when the other restaurant is closed.

PIONEERING: If you anticipate no direct competition, your business probably involves selling a new product or service, or one that is new to your area. How will you avoid going broke trying to develop a market?

CYCLES AND TRENDS: Many businesses have cycles of growth and decline often based on outside factors such as taste, trends or technology. What is your forecast of the cycles and trends in your business? For example, if your forecast tells you that the new electronic product you plan to manufacture may decline in three years when the market is saturated, can you earn enough money in the meantime to make the venture worthwhile?

SLOW TIMES: Every business experiences ups and downs. Is your business small and simple enough, or capitalized adequately enough, to ride out slow times? Or do you have some other strategy, such as staying open long hours in the busy season and closing during times of the year when business is ?

OWNERS EXPERTISE: Nobody knows everything. How do you plan to compensate for the knowledge you're short on?

Write your risk analysis by first thinking of the main dangers your business faces. This shouldn't be hard, as you have probably been concerned about them for some time. Some of these may be on the list set out above; others will be unique to your business. Once you have identified the principal risks facing your business, write out a plan to counter each. But don't bog yourself down worrying about all sorts of unlikely disasters

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Biggest Challenges Growing Your Small Business

While starting a business can be an exciting and fulfilling experience, the real test arises when it reaches the key inflection point for growth. The following challenges of business growth deserve serious attention.

Funds

Funds are very critical to promote growth in a business. It is important for start-ups to have a solid business plan to acquire any financing. Cash is the lifeblood of any business. Managing cash flow is very important for businesses to avoid illiquidity and, even, bankruptcy.

Customer Base

Businesses exist due to customers. Identifying customer and prospect pipelines proactively and growing the customer base is definitely a challenge. Developing a successful marketing strategy is a crucial factor to build a large customer base.

Market Conditions

One of the key challenges lies is in taking business decisions with changing market conditions. Investing in new and relevant technology is very necessary to stay competitive in today’s business world. Innovations help accelerate business expansion. It is a necessity to work on your existing product/service alignment with the market and at the same time, invest in innovation to build a stream of new, profitable products to market.

People

Hiring right people, good people management and effective leadership are vital for operational efficiency required for sustained growth.

To put it more simply.....

1. First challenge is identifying on where to grow your business. When people start their business first- they shoot in all different directions. I believe(based on personal experience) it is good to identify your IDEAL TARGET CLIENT and then focus all your energy and time towards them. So in short, the first challenge is PROPER PROSPECTING

2. Following up properly - When working for a company, there are multiple departments each responsible for different things. However as a business owner or entrepreneur one has to wear many hats. This sometimes could conflict with managing your communication with your customers and prospects. It is important to put the time spent with clients and prospects as a first priority

3. People - dealing with the right people internally and externally. There are lots of people willing to work with you- however you have to find out who is best-suited. Many times this becomes trial and error.

The above is not necessarily intended to be an all inclusive list. But it will help you focus your efforts for your small business.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My 401K Isn't Free?

My 401(k) Isn’t Free?
Have you considered how fees impact your 401(k) account? A survey of employers by Congress’ nonpartisan Government Accountability Office uncovered some alarming facts, including:


  • Half didn’t know what they are paying in fees for their retirement account and,

  • A fee reduction of 1 percent of assets per year was possible and would increase the retirement account of the average worker by 28 percent.*




Do you know what you’re paying in annual fees? If the answer is no, you’re not alone. Locating and deciphering these fees has been difficult to say the least. You have to look at investments, administration, recordkeeping, trustee, advisory, trading, custodial fees, etc. Plan fees and expenses generally fall into three categories:


  • Plan Administration Fees. These fees cover such services as recordkeeping, accounting and other plan-related services.


  • Investment Fees. These fees are associated with your investments.


  • Individual Service Fees. These fees are based on account activity choices, such as processing a loan or taking a withdrawal.



It’s complicated but you can get help! There are places you can compare your fees with industry averages- like www.yearsofretirement.com. Use the calculator there to decipher some of these fees so you can better understand what you’re getting for your money. Plus your research will help you be better prepared to answer questions you may receive from your employees who also are reading about the fees associated with their 401(k) plans.



*United States Department of Labor

Monday, February 11, 2013

How To Choose A Name For Your Small Business

Naming a business is a lot like laying the cornerstone of a building. Once it's in place, the entire foundation and structure is aligned to that original stone. If it's off, even just a bit, the rest of the building is off, and the misalignment becomes amplified. So you should have a sense that choosing a name for your new business is vitally important. next, you need to understand what methods are available that allows someone to come up with just right business name.

As mentioned, creating a name is much like the cornerstone of a building. However, different buildings require different types of cornerstones and different materials. In order to find out which is the best type and material for a structure engineers and architects have to do testing for what works.

In this same way, you have to test your names with your audience. Make lists of names that you think describe the main characteristic of your business or its unique proposition. Then test each list with different audiences and compare the results. Make another iteration of the list and test it again. Test it against another audience group and see what they have to say. It may take a while, especially if you are eager to start selling, but believe me it is worth your time when you finally come up with the name.

Keep in mind that you are not choosing a name, you are creating a brand. Much like a person, a brand has a personality of its own and should be named accordingly.

You can use a lot of methods to choose your business name, but in the end, I believe it is the audience who will choose your brand.

The ideal business name is (a) simple and memorable, (b) descriptive but non-limiting, and (c) evocative.

The way to keep the name non-limiting is by using a tag line as well: take the Marines. For years their slogan was "We're looking for a few good men." When they started actively recruiting women, they changed it to "The few, the strong, the Marines." Their name (The Marines) and logo remained unchanged and kept all of their brand equity, but by changing the tag line, they redefined themselves.

Contrastingly, when McDonalds (a simple and memorable but not descriptive name) started serving fancy coffee like Starbucks, nothing in their name limited their ability to do so. Meanwhile, who wants to buy a $4 coffee from a place called "Burger King" (too descriptive/limiting).

As for "evocative": think Victoria's Secret and Maidenform, or UnderArmor, and Spike TV. All use words dripping with connotative value that reflect the spirit of the products.

Beyond that, use common sense...run your top name ideas past some potential customers to see to which one(s) they respond most favorably.

What's in a name........well everything.

If you are running or intend to run a proprietary business; and for many proprietors the business is an extension of their personality, then a family name could be used as a business name.

But a common sense approach would have your business name either be synonymous with your intended business activity or be a verb which encapsulates your business positioning statement.

You will also need to evaluate how your business name can be leveraged across social media platforms so as to break through the clutter, and the availability of the domain name in the social media space.

If you intend to trademark your business name, you will need to check with your regulator on the availability of that name for registration.

Here's some simple steps you can follow to get you started on your way to choosing a name for your small business....

1) Brainstorm words that describe your business's services or products, or even your company's mission and goals (look in your business plan as a place to start). Over a period of a few days, immediately record related words when them come to mind.

2) Then, plug some of your favorite words into an online thesaurus and see if you find more possibilities. Search for descriptive verbs, nouns, and adjectives.

3) Begin combining some of the words to see if the phrases reflect who you are as a company. Keep verbs as active as possible -- avoid being verbs like "is" and "be".

4) After you've chosen some favorite names, search for them online to be certain that your name choice will not be easily confused with another, existing company. Search for names registered to businesses in your state to ensure that your favorite names are not currently in use by companies that offer similar services/ products to yours.

5) Once you've narrowed the list down to a few finalists after taking the previous actions, create a survey using a free online survey tool (such as Survey Monkey) and ask a group of professionals and potential or existing clients in your network what name they prefer.

6) Use the results to help you choose your final name!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How To Market Your Small Business On A Budget

Cost-effective marketing is definitely one of the numerous challenges that businesses encounter. Developing a solid marketing plan is a must for effective marketing.

With the rise of inbound marketing as a result of internet boom, continuous customer engagement is becoming a very cost-effective marketing strategy to retain customers and also attract future prospects. Effective inbound marketing approaches like content marketing, using blogs, infographics, e-newsletters, e-blasts, vlogs, podcasts, e-books, whitepapers, toolkits and social media help in retaining customer interest by engaging them actively through conversations between your company and the consumer, as well as boost the company’s presence in search engines.

Over the years, social media has become an increasingly popular way to generate long term website traffic and is an essential component in lead generation.

Building a quality, professionally designed, engaging and user-friendly company website is a great tool for cost-effective marketing and brand enhancement. Developing good, original content for SEO help in ranking higher in the search engines.

Referral marketing is another viable marketing option. In general, customers are more inclined towards products/services referred by family, friends or acquaintances.

With the rapid increase in mobile users, mobile marketing is becoming an instant, easy way to connect with prospective customers.

Capitalizing on your drive-by and walk-by traffic is the absolute most effective means of focusing in on what is known as direct marketing. When you stop and count the hundreds to thousands of vehicles or people who drive or walk by your business or event, it’s amazing how much business opportunity is lost by not capturing their attention.

There are many different products that will attract attention to a business or event. Utilizing different types of products that will get the message across to those who drive or walk by your business is really very easy to accomplish.

Even with many city and county restrictions on "marketing" that are becoming the new norm for many communities, there are many products and methods of using them that will be approved and pass those ordinances that are restrictive. In order to capitalize on those that are passing either by your business or event effectively, you first need to first identify what your clients are telling you they didn’t know you had as a product or service available. After this is determined, then it’s time to decide which product and how to use that product effectively. This runs the gamut from signage, displays, audio messaging, color/layout schemes, etc. Whatever grabs te attention of "people traffic" (car, foot, bike) around our business.

You should generally organize your approach to marketing around the following strategy ....

TASTE, TRENDS AND TECHNOLOGY

What does your research indicate is the trend in your field? Will it stay the way you are currently offering supplies and services or will it change? This item covers the developments you expect for the next few years. Evan a 'perfect' business can become obsolete overnight due to future developments. Specify a 5 year forecast of your field in your area.

DIFFERENTIATE YOUR BUSINESS FROM THE COMPETITION

How does your business differ from the competition's strong and weak points. Again, remember to carefully look at your business from the customer's perspective. If you're not sure how your pricing policies compare to the competition, here are some guidelines. Most people associate high prices with high quality and extra service, while they associate low prices with low or average quality and minimum service. Make sure you provide extra quality and service if your prices are higher than your competition or make sure that your prices are lower if your quality is average and your service is minimum.

DECIDE HOW TO REACH CUSTOMERS

Once you describe your target customer, it's easier to create a list of possible ways to reach that person. One of your jobs as a businessperson is to decide which of all the possible methods of communication will give you the most exposure for the least cost in money or time.

Monday, February 4, 2013

How Often Should You Edit Your Small Business Plan?

A business plan is a living document, thus it should be visited weekly, not only to make edits but also to ensure you are taking the daily steps needed to reach the goals stated in your business plan.

I advise spending 30-40 minutes a week ON your business, not just IN your business. This includes spending 5-10 minutes a day reviewing your business plan, determining what steps you need to take to reach each goal, and planning out your week.

Goals must not only be written out, but also reviewed on a regular basis.

The need for a dynamic business plan is mandatory in today's rapidly-changing, unpredictable and competitive business environment. Staying current with the business plan is necessary as the business environment evolves regularly.

The frequency of business plan updates is dependent on the maturity of the business. The initial business plan should be reviewed and updated whenever there is a change in business idea, marketing strategy, solutions etc.

As the business matures and becomes stable, there are certain updates which can be captured in phases. Financials, market and industry statistics, and factual information can be modified once a quarter. Specific chapters and sections that need updates (e.g. product info, customer base etc.) can be modified once every six months. It is advisable to conduct a major review of the whole plan at least once a year.

An up-to-date and comprehensive business plan provides a great roadmap for running a successful business.

Your business plan is your battle plan for your business. Like all battle plans they change every time you meet with the enemy. Dwight D Eisenhower said "Plans are nothing, planning is everything".

Military planning is focussed on high level objectives. Business planning is the same. Your business plan sets out the long medium and short term financial and business objectives for the journey, not the detailed route plan, as it is impossible to take into account the vast number of variables and changing circumstances that you will encounter along the way.

Unless your ultimate objective, your vision and your value proposition change there is no need to update the master plan. The master plan is supported by marketing, sales, financial and product development plans which will need regular updating and validation against the master plan.

My business mantra is "How does what I'm doing or planning help me achieve the final number in my master plan". I find this far more valuable than updating plans which may be out of date in two hours time.