Best Resources for Small Businesses

Being a successful small business is not easy. The five core challenges most small business face are time management, pricing, cash flow, managing growth and marketing / client acquisition. In order to succeed, you must arm yourself against these challenges. The good news is that there are a number of fabulous resources to help you with these issues.

Actively seek out the right small business information.
Many small business owners are so over-extended that they neglect staying informed about business trends. This is a fatal error. In today’s modern marketplace, you simply cannot succeed if you run your business on intuition alone. You may stay afloat in the short run, but you will eventually lose out to better informed competitors.

There are a number of incredible online resources that are both free and invaluable. Sites like Inc.com and Entrepreneur.com provide tips on just about everything from starting your business to navigating advanced legal issues. They feature in depth information on running your business, leadership / management techniques, sales & marketing tips, small business technology and finances.

Helpful Tip: Set aside at least 1 hour each week to review these sites. If you find that you prefer to read in bed, consider subscribing to a few of these magazines. This information will make you and your business stronger.

Know your industry and target market in real time.
In our modern age, trends shift at break-neck speed. It is important to stay abreast of developments in both your industry and your target market’s microcosm. After all, more often than not, what concerned your target market 3 months ago is now ancient history.

Subscribe to industry related publications and consume the same media as your target market. If you sell jewelry for eco-friendly women in their thirties and forties, spend an hour each week reading news and publications that are relevant to that market. Likewise, be sure to check industry news every week. For example, using the same eco-friendly jewelry analogy, you might read up on green product developments, new fashion trends or even ecological political issues.

Helpful Tip: Set two separate Google Alerts – one on your industry and one for your target market – to send you period updates on relevant news. Google will send these news stories to you automatically, making it easy to skim over the headlines and read through the meaningful stories.

Find the right on-line partnerships.
The proliferation of online office supply stores makes economically and efficiently stocking your office a lot easier than it was 10 years ago. Buying office supplies online takes less time and makes price comparison easy. Because of online competition, online suppliers are eager to earn your business. The good ones will provide a wealth of free information on their site and happily take your calls to field questions and offer advice. For example, if you are looking for discounted printer ink cartridges but are a little confused about toner versus regular stores like compandsave not only provide free yet invaluable printer cartridge information resource center but they also eagerly accept calls and offer advice on how to save on office supplies.

Helpful Tip: When you find a supplier with great prices and customer service, hold onto them for the long-haul. A good supplier relationship can save you thousands, streamline your operations and free up your time so you can focus on growing your business.

Successful Home-Based Business Owners Develop a Marketing Plan

I’m always surprised by the people that fail to work with a business or marketing plan. The idea seems to be intimidating to many otherwise fearless entrepreneurs. The plan doesn’t have to be a long drawn-out process to be effective. You can take a few minutes and sketch out something quickly that helps you to formalize your goals, establish a budget and evaluate your expected returns on investment.

It will also serve as a roadmap to help you maintain consistent sales throughout the year. Savvy marketers often develop the entire project around a sales and marketing proposal in order to bring in joint venture partners.

There are many ways to develop a marketing plan. The approach taken here is a simple six step process. If you are really creative you can accomplish all six steps on the back of a napkin.

  1. State your purpose – Dr. Stephen R. Covey is famous for coining the phrase; “Begin with the and in mind.” This simply means to have an idea of what your results should look like before you begin your journey.
  2. Quantify the result – if you are selling glass figurines online, you should know how many units you’ll need to sell in order to make the kind of income that will make the project worthwhile. You must identify what success looks like even before you begin.
  3. Situational Analysis – this simply means you are acknowledging where you are in the process at the moment. You will also want to look back in the past to evaluate the decisions and actions that lead you to the present situation.
  4. Marketing Focus – take a close look at consumers to whom you wish to sell your services or products. Get a clear understanding of your ideal prospect; get to know and relate to the problems they face and recognize how your solutions can benefit them.
  5. Tactical – now we brainstorm to find the various methods to get our message to its intended target. Don’t be afraid to get wild, crazy and creative during brainstorming. There are often a few really good ideas hidden among the off-the-wall stuff. Write them all down and review them later.
  6. Budgets Analysis and Performance Milestones – I saved the bean counting for last because it is usually the part that entrepreneurs don’t like to do. Once you have roughed out your marketing plan of attack, you will want to create a budget for which to work your plan. You will also need to set realistic milestones to monitor your progress along the way.

In the end, a marketing plan is just a road map for your objectives. You can create a formal marketing plan with spreadsheets, graphs and even PowerPoint presentations. You might simply look at your worn out napkin one or twice a year. Whichever technique you choose will be perfect as long as you get it done. When it comes to marketing your business, you need to know where you’re going so that you know when you’ve arrived.

Time Management Checklist for Super Busy Entrepreneurs

Anyone who has started their own business or who has been running their business for years; will agree on one thing – managing time effectively is pivotal to success or making money sooner. It is as simple as that, it directly influences your results in business.

If you have just started, it goes without saying that you are most likely juggling several balls at once. Helping hands are few, so you are forced to do everything and be everything, the accountant, the marketer and the visionary, etc. You work like a ‘one man army’, it leaves you out of breath and often overwhelmed.

There are only a certain amount of hours a day and you need to optimize how you spend those hours, because time is certainly money. If you are able to chalk out a time management strategy, your productivity will increase tremendously and so will your results.

Developing time management skills and finding ways to really leverage your time, is often pushed down the list of our priorities due to pressing operational demands. If you don’t have time to create a strategy, here are 5 simple ways that you can improve your time management skills and your results.

1. Be specific about goals and how to achieve them

Always align your actions with your goals. This might sound obvious, but are you doing it? There are two parts to this tip… first you need to have clear goals that you are working towards; with deadlines. How much money do you want to make by a certain time for example.

Secondly, you need to be clear on what you should be doing every day that will lead to the achievement of your bigger goals. Don’t aimlessly take action based on what you ‘think you should’ be doing. Your goals and actions need to be connected; otherwise you will find that you work on tasks that give you a sense of accomplishment, but no real results. It all starts with creating your roadmap to success.

2. Organize yourself

Implement whatever type of system will work best for you, but you need to have some sort of structure to be organized. Getting organized is about having an organized mind, and a system which supports you to do things more effectively and efficiently. There are many time management tools that ironically, unless used properly, are actually counterproductive. So don’t be put off if what you have tried doesn’t work, it most likely doesn’t work because you have not been shown how to make it work.

3. Know where you need to improve

Nobody is perfect, while you are good at some things, you could be weak at some others. Of course we all have our blind spots, but the real question is, are you open to identifying them? There is no point in learning new time management skills, if you haven’t mastered the skills you have now. Identify your time thieves, what are you doing that is undermining your results? Be honest with yourself and focus on correcting one thing at a time. You know if you don’t manage your email well or if you procrastinate every day, now you need to do something about it.

4. Develop your awareness skills

Time management is not only related to planning, prioritizing, delegating, etc. In fact, most of your struggles to manage your time come from you, and how you are thinking. Developing awareness at times when you don’t feel like doing something, or when you fear something or resist something, will help you to manage your time better.

Why? Let’s say that you are procrastinating with certain tasks. You might be procrastinating because you aren’t actually motivated to do that task, or you aren’t actually clear on why you are doing it. Either way, unless you take time to become aware of the reasons you are behaving the way you are, you won’t be able to fix the root, the cause of the problem. Until you fix the root of the problem, you will continue to experience it and your business will suffer as a result.

5. Stay focused

Even if you have your sights set on your goals, you might find it difficult to stay focused. Just before you begin the task at hand, make it easier for yourself to stay focused. Remove distractions around you, prevent interruptions and commit to completing the task before starting something else. It is when we start and stop, when we change our focus or we give into other stimulus, that we really waste the most time. There are many ways in which you can boost your focus, go for it!

Starting a business isn’t easy, but well worth it. Don’t waste time doing things ineffectively, when the effort required to master your time, will support you in mastering your success. Often, it is not time that is lacking, but time management skills – Kirstin O’Donovan

To Your Success!

Marketing Tip – Small Business Owners Need to Keep in Touch to Get More Referrals

The phone rings.  You answer it.  The person on the other line says, “Bob Smith suggested I call you.  He said you can help me.”  Ahhhh!  It’s a beautiful day!!!

How often does that happen to you?  Probably not often enough.  But with a little marketing planning, you can dramatically increase your referral business.  The result is bigger sales for your small business. The most important thing is to keep in touch with people on a regular, consistent basis.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Most small business owners know they need to do these things.  But few have any type of marketing system for keeping in touch with the right people.  Even fewer small business owners know the right way to ask for referrals.

Who should be on your contact list?  

EVERYONE!  Past clients, prospects, business associates, friends, neighbors, even people who at one point thought they might use your services, then changed their mind.

The biggest mistake we make is to think, “Oh, those people know what my small business is. I don’t need to market to them.” 

Yes, your neighbor, your banker, and the people in your Rotary group probably do know about your business.  But when they think of you, they think of you walking the dog, making a deposit, or organizing a meeting. 
 
Because they don’t see you in your professional capacity, they don’t think of you that way–unless you use a smart marketing strategy to remind them.  And, as much as we’d like to think we are unforgettable to our past clients, they start to forget about us in as little as six weeks!

Obviously, when making a marketing plan to keep in touch with your contacts, time and budget need to be considered.  You will want to see some people once a week.  Others will simply get a monthly e-mail newsletter.  No matter what, talking about your business, mailing personal notes and cards, and sending regular e-mail newsletters to all of your contacts is vital to building business. 

 
By marketing to your contacts on a regular, consistent basis, you will ensure these people think of you whenever they hear of someone else who might need your product or service. The result? More referrals, more business and more sales!