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Category — Small Business Advice

Building your business and succeeding

Study The Target Market
Marketing planning is an essential part of every small business. A study of the target market should be the first step in any marketing plan. Relating the findings of this study to sales and marketing helps define plan implementation as well as creating links to the best methods for small business promotion. In-depth knowledge of target markets has other benefits such as networking for business referrals through business associates and contacts.

Building Small Business Roots
A small business is not unlike a tiny seedling that can grow to massive proportions with the right amount of care and maintenance. Too often, through the breakneck speed of daily business transactions, the fundamental care and maintenance of a small business operation is overlooked. The small business growth phases from start-up to stable revenue should be considered carefully. A solid start-up with an energized propulsion for growth usually determines continued success.

Build roots from business start-up to insure the best promotion. These roots can begin locally or with a core group of business associates and client prospects. This may mean involving your business in a more diverse plan of promotion in order to cast the widest net. Though the net cast may be wide, small businesses need the security of discretionary choices of promotion. Advertising professionals know that small businesses with consistent, rather than sporadic, advertising visibility enjoy a healthy saturation of their products and services in their business community.

Know Your Business Promotion Style
With full knowledge of the target market, determining service or product saturation is less complex. The methods used to infuse the target market with the initial offering of services or products should reflect quality, consistency and reliability. Offering services or products in a unique style of promotion reduces competition for the same sales and marketing territories. Determine the style of promotion so it reflects business image as well as intent. Promotion style quickly becomes a formidable method of business identification and branding.

What To Do With Product or Service Saturation
Know the limits of saturation of the business offering. Acknowledge the point of saturation and effect a consistent method of maintenance for the saturated area to insure continued revenue. Recognize the saturation point as an opportunity to extend business roots beyond that particular region or domain. In addition, there’s a secondary opportunity to creatively reinvent promotions, advertising and presentation to suit the needs of the prospective clients in the newer sales and marketing territories.

Practicable Methods To Stable Revenue For Small Businesses
The small business composite of planning includes:

  • In-depth knowledge of target markets
  • Solid start-up with energized propulsion for growth
  • Building business roots through business associates and contacts
  • Discretionary sales and marketing promotion
  • Create a unique promotion style
  • Know service or product saturation limits
  • Maintain saturated areas for continued revenue
  • Utilize points of product or service saturation to extend sales and marketing territories

In addition to these mechanisms for growth, be vigilant of changes in market trends.

March 28, 2011   No Comments

Smoothly Starting Your Business

All business owners want their business processes to be completed as smoothly as possible, this is especially true for small businesses that are just starting to operate. If you are a business owner looking for ways to help your business obtain a smooth start then keep on reading.

Save Some Money, and then Save Some More

While SBA loans are an advantageous financial tool to lean on when starting a business, saving one’s money should always be the first thing listed on one’s business-starting checklist. There are too many people that believe they can take out a business loan and start repaying it immediately with the profits their business brings in; however, for most businesses it takes several months (sometimes even a couple of years) before profits are gained. So, for the first several of months a business is in operation a business owner should remember that loan repayments will probably have to come from their own personal savings.

All business plans should include a way for the business owner to make the first year’s loan repayments, while at the same time keeping in mind that personal living expenses will have to paid too. Most small business owners find it very helpful to first save up enough money to pay loan repayments for a year and also have enough money saved to pay their living expenses for a year; this helps them to keep their financial stress levels down, enabling them to focus on expanding their business, which helps them to begin enduring profits as soon as possible.

Think Realistically

It is always important for small business owners to remember to think small when first opening their business. While renting a huge workplace and hiring on a number of full time employees may seem very adventurous, it is not realistic for most small businesses when they are first beginning. Employees should never be hired on until they are absolutely necessary. In fact, there are a large number of temps that can be hired on until full time work becomes available.

Most small business owners that start out small endure less harmful consequences when they make mistakes, and any early screw-ups they make most times do not lead to harmful debt issues.

Understand Your Legal Business Entities

Many small business owners have learned the hard way that any business debts they incur become personal debts if they are not protected in the proper manners. A large number of small business owners find it financially wise to open their business as a corporation or LLC; this helps them avoid becoming personally liable for any debts that are incurred during their business operations.

Watch Who You Hire

There are a large number of job seekers in today’s society that are perfect candidates for small business operations. Instead of hiring average, competent employees, small business owners should hire employees that have special training in the job duties they will be performing.

March 24, 2011   No Comments

Small Business Owners: How To Let ‘Em Know You’re There

For the small business owner and the home based business owner, getting people to the on-ground store or the website is paramount to staying in business. Everyone knows about business cards and fliers, but what else can these owners do to catch the attention of potential clients? Since people respond to visual stimulation, small business owners can do three things immediately at little cost to stimulate that recognition and get some foot traffic going on. If the business owner knows of a dollar store nearby, it will have most of what he needs to get started.

Uniform Recognition

Chains use uniform tops to identify their employees which are usually worn over black or khaki pants or skirts for the ladies. These uniform tops are embroidered or sport a name tag with the company logo on them. If the business owner can go to a dollar store, T-shirts, ball caps, stencils and children’s finger paints. Paint the company name using the stencils onto the ball caps and shirts. If you’re not the artiste type, companies that embroider logos and company info onto uniform tops have specials for everyone from beginning business persons to those already established. Wear the T-shirts and ball caps everywhere and just listen as people wonder and ask where you got that great T-shirt.

Windows On The World

Shrink plastic that adheres to glass has been used for many years for holiday decorations. How many windows have you seen sporting scary stuff on Halloween, snowmen and Santas at Christmas and bunnies and Easter eggs at Easter? Well, why not letters? Why not spell out the name of the business and/or its website at home and the rear window of cars? Asking the owners of buildings just built but not rented yet or buildings with space for lease if you can use your letters in the windows until the space is rented, upon which removal would be required might help as well. Seeing your letters in windows might stimulate someone with a business of his own to rent the space, so you’d be helping the landlord or owner of the building to market his space.

Yard Signs

Have you ever noticed when you need something, such as a junk removal or the lawn mower repaired, there’s a yard sign advertising it just when you were looking for it? If you’ve been looking for a jazzercise class or learning to kickbox, there’s a yard sign for it. It works for them and it will work for the small business person, too. Just a white sign with your company name and address or your web address is all you need and they’ll run to check it out.

These are ideas for when the business is young and needs recognition. When revenue increases it will be time for Internet marketing and SEO, blogging and forums. Freebies in this area are all over the web and can be utilized by the small business owner. For now, get out there and visualize more clients.

March 22, 2011   No Comments

Benefits of Outsourcing

Small businesses often outsource various important functions—such as IT, payroll, and accounting—because that is the only option they have. However, it is important to realize that outsourcing provides many other benefits in addition to helping the business owner run a smooth operation. They include the following:

  • Outsourcing is a cost-cutting measure because it releases funds that can be used in some other investment in the business by changing fixed expenses into variable expenses. It also helps startups to forego large expenses at a time when they can least afford them. In addition, your company will attract more investors if you outsource because you will use more of your capital for activities that are income-producing.
  • Any small business that does not use outsourcing will have higher advertising, distribution, and research and development expenses, along with others, which causes them to raise prices. With this in mind, you may be ahead of competitors in your industry if you decide to take that step.
  • With outsourcing, there is no need to hire temporary employees for short-term projects and seasonal activities, and your staff will be free to devote all of their time to conducting regular business.
  • A reliable outsourcing company will have the resources you need to begin a project immediately. Without their help, you might spend a considerable amount of time trying to find the workers you need and giving them the necessary training to do the job. Also, if the project calls for a major investment of capital, that can result in further delays as well.
  • With the benefit of outsourcing, managers can focus on the company’s main mission and satisfying customers without having to worry about being distracted by the peripheral issues that vie for their time and attention
  • Outsourcing levels the playing field for small businesses, because it enables them to provide the support services that large corporations offer to their customers with expertise, efficiency, and impressive economies of scale.
  • Competition, market conditions, the state of the economy, technology and government regulations often change rapidly and create a certain element of risk for any business. A good outsource provider will assume the risk you are facing, and as a rule, they are quite adept at knowing how to lessen and avoid it. They should also provide systematic reports as a sign of their effectiveness and accountability.
  • Some functions that are part of your company only have to be done on a part-time basis. For example, if you need someone to spend a few days each month to take care of payroll, that would be the time to think about outsourcing the task, as opposed to paying your employee a full-time salary to do the job.

March 4, 2011   No Comments

Importance of Small Business Event Planning

Many small businesses are affiliated with larger business organizations that regularly offer the opportunity to promote products or services. For small businesses these can sometimes be cost-prohibitive. However, with good planning and creative design a small business can increase their visibility and revenue by producing their own small business event.

Introduce Your Business With An Open House Event
An open house event is a good way to introduce a small business to the local community. This can also work for small online businesses. There are no restrictions to the amount of promotion that can result in long-term vestiture in the business community online or off. Thanks to social networking there are now even broader opportunities for online businesses to go to the head of the line of competition by sponsoring these events.

Propping Up A Flagging Business Presence
Opening the doors of a small business online or off helps prop a flagging business presence. It’s a perfect way to quickly re-energize sales staff, prospective customers and the local community. It’s important for small businesses to be constantly conscious of the level of their visibility. Choose a specific theme that will catch attention quickly. The lure of the public to your small business event should be as magnetic as possible. This usually means offering a unique sales pitch or a bit of complimentary discounts or promotional items.

When A Small Business Event Goes Annual
If the small business event is well received, it can become an annual event the public will look forward to with much anticipation. The main hook to any small business event is advertising it to the point of maximum saturation. For a local event, this might mean utilizing strategically placed public billboards or making personal public announcements of the event at open public meetings if approved. Radio, TV and internet advertising is also important. Try to focus on the main target market where possible.

Chase Away The Small Business Blues
If business seems routine or somewhat robotic, it may be time of a change of pace. A small business sponsored event can be designed by one business which may also include several kindred vendors. Planning a small business event can help chase away the business blues with up close and personal contact with the public. Be sure to take notes during the event so that any new ideas that crop up can be reinforced with staff later.

Event Program
Rather than a cut and dry orientation of services or products, it may be a good idea to plan specific programs that act as steps to the final goal: familiarizing the public with your business. Programs to consider may be professional or experts who can support the basis for the need for your products or services. Make certain at least one part of the event programming includes introduction of staff. Sales prospects always like to know who they are dealing with. Keep the event casual, yet intentionally business-focused for best results.

March 1, 2011   2 Comments

Using the Loss Leader Principle- Build Your Presence

As a small business owner, you’re no doubt acquainted with the marketing principle of using a “loss leader” to draw additional potential customers to your business. Companies have continued to use this strategy of offering a free or extremely discounted item in order to entice shoppers, who will hopefully continue shopping at your establishment or on your website. The resulting increase in sales will, in most cases, not only make up for the “loss” you took on the initial offer, but also gain new customers and the potential for future sales.

This principle can be easily applied to online marketing and used to build a base of loyal customers for your website. Some initial effort will be required to set the campaign in motion, but the results will be well worth it.
For our purposes, we are going to apply the loss leader strategy to help you build or increase your email list.

You may have heard the often repeated Internet marketing chant, “The money is in the list.” That’s true because email can be one of your best marketing tools, but only if you have a substantial amount of subscribers. (What that amount is will depend on your own business goals and how many online customers per month you need to be successful.) And the best way to gain a quality list of subscribers is not by purchasing one, but by building it via your own website and social media marketing sites like Facebook and Twitter.

First you will need to decide what your offer will be. Free ebooks relevant to your market are very popular. If your industry is one in which potential customers typically do research before making a purchase, create an ebook (even a relatively brief one) or white paper with useful tips and information to help them make their decision. You can easily outsource this work by searching for qualified writers on sites like Elance.

If your product or service is relatively simple, you can offer a free trial or discount coupon to introduce them to your company. Set it up so that once they’ve opted in to your email newsletter and confirmed their email address, they will instantly receive the download link or coupon code. Welcome them to your newsletter and remind them to check their in-box weekly (or however often you plan to send emails) for future discounts and/or valuable tips.

Once you have built your list, keep your subscribers interested. Make sure your headlines catch the reader’s attention and make them want to open your email. And always provide something of value within.

Continue to engage with your customers through occasional surveys. Just remember to keep it brief and offer a coupon or other reward for participating. Your surveys will help you get to know your customers and better meet the needs of your target market.

Successful email marketing does take some time and effort, but it can also prove to be one of your company’s best marketing tools.

February 16, 2011   No Comments

Alternative Funding for the Small Business

Launching a new business entails comprehensive planning, unwavering ambition and implementing appropriate financial strategies. With determination and persistence, the aspiring entrepreneur will certainly succeed, however; maintaining and managing the small business can be a daunting task. Many small businesses, especially new businesses, will encounter monetary difficulties such as inadequate working capital and inability to pay vendors. A steady cash flow and obtainable funding is imperative to keep a business afloat and ensure its continuous growth. There are many financing options available for the small business when additional funding is essential. Since most small businesses will experience complications when trying to obtain funding through the conventional bank loan, many will opt for alternative funding options such as the Merchant Cash Advance, Invoice Discounting and Accounts Receivable Factoring.

In contrast to the traditional bank loan, alternate funding is generally an uncomplicated and effortless process. Whereas a bank loan approval will only be given for a business with superior credit history and prior lending experience, alternate funding providers will base their approval on other applicable factors. Authorization is provided promptly, which is imperative when immediate funding is necessary for the business to succeed.

Merchant Cash Advance

The Merchant Cash Advance Company will supply the firm with a one time loan to invest in the business. In return, the business authorizes the MCA company to withhold an agreed upon percentage amount of future credit card and/or debit card sales directly from the processor. Once the loan’s obligation is met, the automatic monthly retrievals cease. Small businesses benefit from the process of reimbursement as the payments go according to the business flow. If the business is advancing and sales are increasing, the retrieval rate will be expedited. If business is rather slack and there is a decline in sales, the rate of return will take longer. This flexibility gives the business the ability to focus on fortifying and improving, as opposed to being occupied with the demands of repaying a loan.

Accounts Receivable Factoring

Accounts Receivable Factoring enables the small business to obtain immediate cash to stabilize and further invest. The factoring provider will purchase the outstanding invoices from the business at a discounted rate, by this means taking full responsibility of payment collections. The business, in exchange, will acquire instant funds to increase its cash flow and facilitate expansion. The business will also be benefiting of having less time spent on accounts receivable handling and more effort put towards the firm’s development and growth.

Invoice Discounting

The Invoice Discounting Facility will lend the business funds against issued invoices awaiting payment. This option bridges the gap of when the invoices are initially issued and when payment is actually received. Unlike the factoring option, where the business will relinquish its accountability of payment collections, invoice discounting will allow the business to maintain constant interaction with clients and strengthen customer relations.

Many businesses rely on alternative funding options when financial assistance is crucial, especially during tough economic times. The accessibility and convenience of acquiring funds to increase its working capital and pursue new venues, motivates the small business to choose alternative funding when short-term loans are essential.

February 1, 2011   1 Comment

Easy SEO for Small Business Owners

Establishing a web presence is a vitally important marketing tool for most businesses, but it’s just the first step. Potential customers have to be able to find your site. That’s where SEO (Search Engine Optimization) comes into play. SEO is the process of giving search engines the right type of information to help them rank your site above the others jockeying for the top spot. These tips will give you a head start in becoming a strong contender.

SEO is based on keywords, the terms an individual enters into a search box when looking for information. So you’ll need to create a list of keywords or phrases that someone might use to find the services or products your business promotes. Be as specific as possible and keep in mind that you will need a separate set of keywords for every page in your website. It can be helpful to check out the sites of competitors who rank highly with the search engines and learn what keywords they use.

When you register a domain name for your business, consider including the most important keyword or phrase in the name. Selecting unique widgets.com is more likely to bring you targeted traffic than xyzmanufacturing.com. However, if people will look for your business by name, use it in the domain.

Page titles should also include keywords. If you already have a domain name that doesn’t include your key phrases, don’t despair. Descriptive, keyword-rich page titles can give any domain a boost. Your main page will display only your domain, but select meaningful titles for each subpage. Instead of www.yourbusiness.com/catalog.html, choose www.yourbusiness.com/buyblueitems.html.

Tucked away in the HTML code for any website are several more opportunities to add keywords. Visitors won’t see them, but the search engines will. Add key words to the alt tags for all images, making sure the entries are informative. The description and keyword metatags, while not carrying as much weight as they once did, provide additional spots for key phrases.

Content is arguably the most important component of any website. Great information is what visitors hope to find when they visit. So write content with your ideal customer in mind, but also write for the search engines. Include several instances of the relevant key phrases for each page and include them as headers and sub headers, as well. Don’t overdo it. Keep the flow natural and use keywords where they make sense within the flow.

If you plan to create your own site, it will all be up to you. But even if you hire a web designer, you should do your own keyword research. Then go a step further and provide your webmaster with optimized page titles, content, and image alt tags. While additional online marketing strategies may be needed to claim a first-page spot in the search results, a well optimized site is likely to reach that goal more quickly.

January 31, 2011   3 Comments

How to Treat Your Employees Right

Small business owners spend a lot of time and effort looking for ways to cut corners and find ways to add a few dollars onto the profit margin. What they overlook is their most valuable assets: their employees. If employees aren’t happy working for you it really doesn’t matter how much money you’re making or how much work you’re generating. Disgruntled employees can sink the best of ships with waste, poor attitudes, and discourteous customer service. Though you can’t fix everyone, here are a few tips on how to make your good employees even better. After all, happy employees are what makes your business a success.

The first thing to remember when relating to your employees is that respect is a two-way street. If you expect someone who is working for you to respect you as the boss you’re going to have to give it back. Mutual respect invites your employees to be loyal to you as opposed to just giving the job lip service when you happen to be looking. Respect begins with how you view your employees. Each one is an important person, a valued part of your organization, and someone you never talk down to.

Ask anyone what he or she expects from the boss and the answer is almost always “be fair”. This means that everyone is treated the same, the rules apply to all employees equally, and favorite employees aren’t allowed to soak up the advantages of a good relationship with the boss through manipulation or dishonesty. Other employees may not say anything but rest assured, when the workplace isn’t fair and the rules don’t apply to everybody, they all know it. Fairness also means disciplining rules violations or even firing when appropriate.

The best wages and benefits packages possible are great motivators. Not all small businesses can pay well and even fewer can afford to provide insurance for health, dental, and vision. Employees know what you can afford to give them for an honest day’s work without seeing the books. They might not be on the dollar but it doesn’t take a genius to know when he’s only scraping by on what he takes home and the boss is off vacationing in Europe or living in a mansion. A big discrepancy between your benefits as the business owner and what you pay your employees is a sure-fire disaster waiting to happen. Pay as much as you can. You’ll be loved for it.

Everyone wants to know what’s going on. Trust your people enough to be honest about the financial status of the business and where the business is heading. Good employees will help make things happen that you want to see.

Last but not least, go the extra mile. Give an office party once in awhile. Touch base with the janitor to see what he or she might be needing. And it doesn’t hurt to smile.
The overall principle of employee/boss relationships is simple. Treat your employees the way you want to be treated.

January 25, 2011   No Comments

Creating a Marketing Plan

Too often businesses open their doors fully expecting a large customer base to suddenly appear. In reality, it is up to the business owner to draw the customers in. The key to growing and maintaining a profitable small business is developing an effective marketing plan, complete with the following components.

Creating your marketing planProduct or Service Development and Design
Development and design includes deciding what products or services your business will provide, what purpose they will serve, and at what cost. Details such as product color, size and packaging are selected during this process. Development and design turns an idea into a reality.

Research the Competition
Find out how long your closest competitors have been in business, what products or services they offer and how much they charge for them. Learn your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses to help improve your advertising plan.

Research Your Target Customers
Knowing details about the customers you are trying to reach helps you create an effective advertising plan. Age, gender and location are common factors when determining your target customers.

Advertising
Although there are many avenues available, generally the most valuable method of advertising is word of mouth. Ask your satisfied customers to share their experiences with their friends and family. Networking groups can also help increase your customer base. Many business owners will display your business cards or brochures at their location if you agree to place their materials at yours.

Another useful tool is your website. Several companies offer free or low cost sites with easy, do-it-yourself instructions. When preparing text for your website be mindful of search engine optimization, or SEO. Using commonly searched for keywords and creating links to and from your site are ways to become more visible to search engines. Be warned that designing a website can be a daunting task If you are unfamiliar with the proper website setup procedures, it might be advisable to consult a professional.

Printed material like newspapers, magazine and direct marketing materials can reach a larger audience. Other media such as radio and television also get your information out to the masses. Make sure your printed material is being sent to people in your target demographics.

Branding
Your brand is the image you want your customers to have of your business. Being known as faster, cheaper or friendlier than the competition are a few of the endless possibilities. Decide how you want your business to be perceived and then take the appropriate actions to make that perception a reality. Create a slogan or motto for your company to support your brand. Make sure your slogan is catchy, compact and easy to remember. A memorable slogan goes a long way toward reinforcing your brand.

Marketing strategies should be reviewed at regular intervals to assure your plan remains effective and keeps up with current market trends and services or product lines offered. Whether you are opening a new business or you have been in business for years, making a marketing plan can be both beneficial and financially rewarding.

January 24, 2011   No Comments