Diving Sales and Visibility for Small Business

Dear Professor Bruce:  I am the owner of a small travel planning service and summer is typically our busiest season, but with the increase in gas prices I am concerned about a decrease in business.  Are other small business owners feeling the financial stress due to the economic climate and what are they doing about it to keep their business afloat?

An overwhelming majority of small businesses are feeling the strain of high gas prices.  A recent survey  found that a majority of small business owners said that if gas prices continue to rise, it will negatively impact their business.

Other factors like hiring, healthcare and taxes can make it difficult for small businesses to grow and expand during these tough economic times.

According to Pamela Springer, President & CEO of Manta,  small businesses need to find new ways to drive sales and visibility.  Small businesses need to get creative and focus on factors they can control, including:

  1. Make customer service your competitive edge – Some small business owners wonder if they should cut prices in lean times because customers are spending less or looking for deals.  While it makes it difficult to compete when other businesses start slashing prices, don’t follow suit.  Maintain your standards when it comes to high quality goods and services, and you’ll be able to charge more than your competitor.
  2. Reduce don’t cut – Rather than cutting personnel or services, offer reduced hours or limited service on “slower” days.
  3. Stay engaged with your community – Technology makes this easier and more cost-effective than ever.  Get involved in online communities like and market what your business has to offer.  Keeping everyone aware of your business and ensuring they hear about the service you provide is crucial to competing. While customers tend to buy and spend less now, it doesn’t mean they won’t remember you down the road when they have more to spend.
  4. Cash flow is critical – Focus on addressing overdue accounts firmly and in a timely fashion. By allowing accounts to remain overdue for a long time, you not only hurt your cash flow but it makes collecting harder. One tip is to send invoices more frequently than you have in the past. In addition, keep your inventory to a minimum and put the extra money aside to deal with cash-flow issues.

For further information, please visit www.manta.com.

E-mail questions to Bruce@Smallbusinessprofessor.com.

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Utilizing Local Business Listings to Market Your Business

Dear Professor Bruce: I am the owner of a small electronics business. The traditional yellow pages are not as effective as they once were and are being replaced by local business listings. How can I use local business listings to market my business to the local consumers?

If you are a business dependent upon the local consumer for your revenue, then local business listings at multiple local listing websites is an important local business marketing tool for you. Here are a few important tips:

Claim Your Local Listing: By claiming your listing you are effectively protecting your listing from hijackings and also allowing yourself to use your local business listing as a marketing tool.

Update Your Local Listing: Not only insure that all your basic business information is accurate, but add photos, videos, coupons, and events to your local business listing. The added information helps your ranking position amongst local listings and the consumers have more information to entice them to your business.

Monitor Your Local Listing: Consumers have been posting their experience about a business, products and services into local listings for years. Business owners who have been less than aware of this practice are finding themselves in a public relations problem. These reviews show up in web searches and mobile searches. Monitoring and managing these reviews will insure that you are up to date on any problems and also encourage customers to post positive reviews too.

With each marketing tool come the management and the time it takes to insure that it is effective. We have to keep in mind that this work has to be performed at multiple local listing websites. If you are constrained with your time resources, there are Local Business Listing Management Services that can help you.

The internet has become an effective marketing source for the local business dependent upon the local consumer for their revenue through web searches and mobile searches. Tap into the power of Local Business Listing!

For further information, please visit www.smartfindslocallisting.com

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Utilizing Facebook for Business Growth

Dear Professor Bruce: I’ve been told by colleagues that a company’s Facebook page is a must have for business growth. I only have a web site and am still pondering whether I need a Facebook page for my company. Can you please advise me on this Facebook opportunity?

Profitable growth planning for small business includes the smart goal to “attract, convert and retain” customers. Whether you own a corner deli or a construction business, your opportunity for profitable growth is through initiating a viable internet publishing foundation. Small businesses need to focus effectively on:

  1. Unique, highly creative foundations designed to “attract” customers.
  2. Marketing magnets for hunting, finding and “converting” customers
  3. Valuable “retention” programs building lifetime value for old and new customers.

The largest publishing model today at one billion global users is Facebook. With Facebook’s mammoth user base, many small businesses have turned to this social platform to connect to potential customers. Smart owners realize Facebook is a competitive weapon of choice, but like any business tool, requires an investment of time to learn and tune for optimum performance.

According to Peter Weedfald, President, Gen One Ventures and author, Green Reign Leadership, “creating a highly successful small business storefront on Facebook will require your focus and time on 10 digital Facebook principals”.

1. Your customer conversations need to be fresh, relevant and updated daily.

2. Focus heavily on customers “liking” your page to accept messaging, engagements and offers.

3. Deliver a clear mission statement inclusive to who, where and what you offer; why it is better.

4. Project value: relevant content, time sensitive coupons and reward programs.

5. Build a community of fans with discussion boards, surveys and reviews building wider engagements.

6. Create a referral benefit program for fans who engage with your business.

7. Enlist RSS (really simple syndication) feeds from your blogs and Twitter account inserting content directly into your Facebook page.

8. Link your company’s Facebook page on your company website and emails sent.

9. Ensure physical customers are introduced to your Facebook site.

10. Thank your customers by highlighting them, adding photos visible to their friends and neighbors.

Facebook is based upon face to face common sense for any small business: valuable products, smart pricing, genuine customer care. Facebook optimization for small business allows you to attract, convert and retain customers. Once you master the Facebook proposition you will begin the process of super-fueling competitive business growth.

For further information, please visit www.GenOneVentures.com.

E-mail questions to Bruce@Smallbusinessprofessor.com.

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Advantages of Cloud Storage

Dear Professor Bruce: At my bookkeeping firm, I have lots of important data on my computer server. I know I need to backup the server files but am confused about what method is best. I’ve heard that making a copy of the files on an external hard drive plus backing it up “to the cloud” is a smart strategy. Can you help me understand this better?

To enlighten us about the advantages of cloud storage for small business owners, I consulted Mike Nikzad, chief operating officer of the Iomega Corporation. He said that digital data is indeed the lifeblood of today’s small business – and the loss of data (customer files, business operations, and so forth), even for a brief amount of time, could prove to be trying if not fatal.

Keeping you original files on your business server makes sense; backing up those files to a removable external hard drive that’s taken offsite – away from the potential loss from a fire, flood, or the like – is another good way to keep a backup copy. But remember, new files continue to be created and existing files often change. You have to continue to save your business files to that external hard drive on a regular basis to keep true backup copies.

Today, cloud storage offers another way to backup important files remotely that can be easily accessible anywhere you have an internet connection. However, there are caveats, including private cloud and public cloud alternatives:

• Private cloud: In a private (or internal) cloud installation, a company installs its own server and storage hardware, and has the flexibility to shift workloads among servers to account for usage spikes or new applications. Though more secure, the need to purchase servers and software can make a private cloud costly. Businesses such as bookkeeping firms like yours often operate in regulated compliance environments typically choose internal private clouds – if they can afford it.

• Public cloud: Public cloud companies, like Amazon Web Services and Mozy, appeal to small companies and others that want to immediately start using storage and other services via an online portal. Creating an account with a public cloud company eliminates the need for onsite servers, operating systems, and support staff. Here again, a word of caution: the more you store in the cloud, the more that storage capacity costs. Pricing typically starts at around eight cents per gigabyte of stored data in the cloud. Depending on your storage needs, you can see the cost increase quickly. Focus on business critical files that need to be backed up in multiple places.

For further information, please visit www.iomega.com.

E-mail questions to Bruce@Smallbusinessprofessor.com.

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Launching a New Product with a Limited Marketing Budget

Dear Professor Bruce: I run a small technology company. We are about to launch a new product and have a limited marketing and public relations budget?

According to Mike Berman, Technology Blogger for Scrippsnews.com, getting someone to write about or review your product is a fairly simple task, as long as you follow a few rules:

  • Make sure you’re sending your press release or pitch to the correct person. Don’t do a mass mailing to every reporter or editor, and expect it to make it past the waste basket. Many publications list the specific duties of their staff members either on the editorial page or on their websites. You can sometimes find them listed on the third or fourth pages of a publication along with the publishers’ statement.
  • Determine what makes your product different from others on the market. Notice I didn’t say “unique,” because NOTHING is unique.
  • Emphasize this in a written pitch, either in a press release or an email.
  • Only send ONE copy of your pitch. Those that I receive multiple times end up in the trash bin.
  • Feel free to follow up to see whether I received your pitch after a few days either by phone or email. (Hint: Phone calls are rarely returned unless I know who you are, so an email may garner better results.)
  • If possible, offer a review sample for me to look at and evaluate.
  • Don’t be a nudge! It sometimes takes a couple of months for a product pitch to make it in print due to the flood of requests we receive every day. One reminder is fine. We know you’re anxious for us to get the word out.
  • Get directly to the point in your pitch. Try to avoid flowery language or annoying keywords such as “stupendous” and “marvelous.”

It is very rare that a press release will make it into print, unless it is submitted to a publication that collects them and reprints them. In our case, we have a special category on our website where press releases we think are interesting are placed. But we make the clear distinction that these are press releases and offer no endorsement of the product.

Also, many times only the first two or three paragraphs of a release make it, especially in print publications. This means you should put all of the facts related to your product or service in that part of your release. In fact, it’s a good rule of thumb to put all of the essential information in the first paragraph.

For further information, please visit http://www.scrippsnews.com/blogs/michael-l-berman and www.jocgeek.com.

E-mail questions to Bruce@Smallbusinessprofessor.com.

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Competing in Sales with Well Established Competitors

Dear Professor Bruce: I am a small business owner who is forced to compete against well established, much bigger competitors. My sales force is trying, but losing ground rapidly and asking me what they should do better to compete, to win. Can you please offer me council and guidance on how to compete better to win?

The art of highly successful competitive selling is first and foremost a numbers game: the more sales calls your team makes, the more chances for successful engagements, and for rewarding opportunities. Just as important is the truth regarding sales as a formidable, scientific, and highly competitive business practice. According to Peter Weedfald, president of Gen One Ventures, “Selling is as much a science as it is an art”. You should docent your sales team with the proven “steps to the sale” designed to council, guide, and sell any prospect during any type of sales call or presentation. Whether it is for five minutes or an hour. Think of these smart steps as the ribs of the umbrella to profitable opportunity ahead. The steps are: The Opening, Market, Buyers, Competition, Summary, Proposal and the Close. These steps are the logical actions and ribs to professional leadership selling at its best.

Selling is all about smart, highly relevant and logical presentations designed to stimulate a sale. Selling is also about turning objections and rejections into profitable opportunity. But selling is not a solitary art form. Selling, nearly by definition infers tough competition to contend with, to steer around in order to profit. As you surely know, hope is not a strategy. Hoping your sales team will sell more is not the substrate of competitive advantage. You need a professional and highly effective selling foundation, mirrored and delivered by each and every sales team member. Train them this way together in a room: observe them, critique them, enforce them, strengthen their selling ribs, and then benefit from greater ensuing results.

Your open must be creative, focused and highly relevant to the prospects world order, not yours. You must discuss market conditions, dynamics, and changes that may reshape opportunity positively or negatively for your prospect. The subject and profile of the buyer community for your customer is critical: “Who are they? What do they buy? Where do they shop? How much will they spend? How do you make potential buyers more active, more profitable for your prospects, products and services?”

For further information, please visit www.GenOneVentures.com

E-mail questions to Bruce@Smallbusinessprofessor.com.

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Standing Out and Building a Brand Online

Dear Dr. Bruce: I have a new, Web-based business selling men’s clothing. What is the best way to increase site traffic and build my brand online?

With thousands of online businesses, it can be difficult to stand out from the competition and build a brand. According to Dr. Dhavid Cooper, FramesDirect.com Co-founder, there are several ways to increase site traffic and brand awareness:

Selection and Price

Regardless of whether you sell men’s clothing, eyewear (as is the case with FramesDirect.com) or any other product, it’s essential to give your customers want they want. Research your target market and understand them. Know what they are looking for and provide a bigger selection of products than the competition…at fair prices.

Credibility

Large marketing budgets from the competition can be intimidating to any new business owner. But you don’t need a large amount of money to build awareness.

Instead, focus on the quality you provide and how you provide it. You need to let people know you are a credible business. To do so, it is important to list good testimonials on your site and have high grades with industry associations, local business groups, rating sites, and more.

You’ll also want to provide information about your company leaders including why they started the business and their expertise in the field. If you can get some local media venues to write about your business, you’ll receive third-party credibility you simply can’t buy.

By showing your customers the experts behind the business, how you operate and what others have to say about your products, you’ll increase credibility. People want to do business with people they trust.

Customer Service

Listening to your customers and providing high quality service is a major part of building brand awareness and positive word-of-mouth. But it can be easy to forget.

Always focus on how you are treating your customers. Ensure they can get your products and services quickly, easily and at a fair price. If they have questions, make it simple for them to talk to one of your representatives within seconds.

Build Brand Awareness with Basic Business Services

While it’s wise to use traditional marketing tools to increase awareness (social media, direct mail, SEO, etc.), having a successful online business depends on the basics — offer your target market a large selection of quality products they want at fair prices and in an easy way. Provide information about the expertise behind your business, testimonials, and competent 24/7 customer service representatives, and you’ll see your brand grow quickly and cost-effectively.

For further information, lease visit www.framesdirect.com.

E-mail questions to Bruce@Smallbusinessprofessor.com.

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Creating a Great Internship Program

Dear Professor Bruce: I have a small, marketing company and would like some additional help growing my business. How do I find some great interns in the local area?

By hiring good interns you can complete numerous projects, tap into creative ideas, and even find your next “star” employees. But how do you create a great, internship program?

According to Walt Wilson, founder and chairman of Global Media Outreach, a 501 (c)3 non-profit ministry with a successful internship program, there are three key ways to find great people that will help your organization while providing valuable, on-the-job skills.

1. Figure out exactly what you want and market accordingly.

Before you start posting want ads and calling local college campuses, think about the staff profile you want your interns to fit. Then create internship descriptions that will entice top candidates to apply.

Just like you do with potential clients, you want to market your services and provide all of the benefits you have to offer. When searching for candidates, be creative and think past traditional college campuses. For example, you may want to post your listing at local churches, bookstores, coffee shops, game centers, and more.

2. Give interns real projects that help them build their portfolios.

Once you find the right interns, don’t just make them “pay their dues” with tedious work. Give them interesting projects that actually involve on-the-job training related to the career they are pursuing. Also, provide them with written feedback so they can share it with their professors and learn from the experience.

3. Listen!

Let your interns provide their insights. Give them the opportunity to be creative and listen to what they have to say. After all, they see your company as outsiders, and can provide valuable information you can use to increase sales and beat the competition.

Great Interns Are Out There.

If you think about the type of people you want and market them accordingly, you can find great interns. By giving your new interns the opportunity to learn valuable skills on the job and listening to what they have to say, you can help them build their portfolio while you grow a more successful business.

For further information, please visit www.globalmediaoutreach.com

E-mail questions to Bruce@Smallbusinessprofessor.com.

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Estate-Planning for a Business’s Future

Dear Professor Bruce: I co-own a small business with a buddy of mine. What do we need to do in terms of estate planning in order to protect our business should something happen to one of us?

Small business estate planning is just as important as planning for your own personal finances. Depending on the structure of your company, what you need to have in place varies. Since your business has multiple owners, your needs are different from that of a sole-proprietor.  In your case, you will need a Buy-Sell Agreement.

“Figuring out a succession plan for your business is absolutely essential, because people’s lives are always changing. No matter what happens–whether a co-owner goes through a divorce, dies, or just wants out, planning ahead will help ensure that the business stays intact.  Things like this can really rip apart a  business–and create unwanted legal costs–if you haven’t planned ahead,” adds Rocket Lawyer Founder and Executive Chairman, Charley Moore.

A Buy-Sell Agreement, sometimes referred to as a ‘business prenup’ or ‘business Will’, has many functions. The agreement can let your co-owners purchase your shares of the business. Alternatively, these agreements can designate an heir, so that a capable child or designated successor can inherit your part of the company. In this case, all the owners must mutually agree on that heir. You can also set up provisions for what happens if a co-owner simply wants out of your business.

Ownership transfers are complicated and potentially costly processes, but a Buy-Sell agreement can help actually lower the taxes on estate transfer. You and your co-owners can also set asides portions of your life insurance policy to provide the liquid cash necessary to help your deal with estate taxes and other costs associated with this type of asset transfer.  Consider their needs when creating your life insurance policy or when creating your estate plan, so that the transfer of assets is a gift, not a burden.

For further information, please visit  www.rocketlawyer.com

E-mail questions to Bruce@Smallbusinessprofessor.com.

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The Ease of Building a Technology-Based Business

Dear Professor Bruce: I’m thinking about starting a small technology-based business. Is now a good time? If so, what are some of the initial steps to turn my idea into reality?

Small technology-based business are budding all over the country despite the recession. This is for two reasons: 1) the rewards have never been better and 2) the costs and difficulty have never been lower. Online marketplaces, social media, and the Internet in general are a “yellow brick road” with no speed limits on the velocity of your sales. Vastly improved tool sets, templates, and online support communities have made product development easier than ever. While in years past, the deck was stacked in favor of businesses that had software development expertise, now it’s stacked in favor of the businessperson with a strong idea.

“Focus on what you know. If you don’t know much about doctors’ offices, don’t build a product for them unless you want to spend a lot of time learning about their business,” explains Alex Cowan, author of Starting a Tech Business. “Build the simplest possible version of your product and then go validate it with your market. If it’s a website, for example, don’t worry about a fancy back end – use a spreadsheet for starters.”

The ease and speed of producing technology-based products means that successful business are the ones that engage and adapt with the customers most intimately and most frequently. If you’re an expert in an area and you think the existing solutions are poor, you’re probably looking at an opportunity. Start by laying out all the assumptions that need to valid for your business work, and then figure out the quickest and cheapest means to validate those assumptions. There’s great data online you can use for that purpose, but be sure to balance that research with hands-on observation of your target users and buyers. Build the simplest possible product, get it in front of customers, and determine whether you’re on the right track or need to pivot to a new approach. In the worst case, you’ll learn key skills that are likely to serve you well in another endeavor.

For further information, please visit www.alexandercowan.com.

E-mail questions to Bruce@Smallbusinessprofessor.com.

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