Managing International Payments

Dear Professor Bruce: I own a small business that imports products from overseas, what advice do you
have for managing international payments?
 
As a small business, the international payment stakes are large. Without a strong strategy in place, you can wind up paying far more than you should for your imports, while burdening the business with unnecessary complications. To fix this, Karl Schamotta, Senior Market Strategist for Western Union Business Solutions, shares a few basic principles to keep in mind:
First – don’t reinvent the wheel – building and maintaining a network of global banking relationships is difficult and complex. Think about working with a currency provider that can give you access to a range of incoming and outgoing payment facilities – without burdening you with unnecessary costs.
Use technology: paper cheques and manual procedures have no place in the modern small business. Online platforms can support your international growth by allowing you to make, track, and manage your payments more easily.
Keep it simple: payments are often subjected to “death by a thousand cuts” as they travel across the global financial system. Fees, exchange rate spreads, and delays can cut into the amounts that are ultimately transmitted. Try to remove as many of these transaction points as possible in order to put more money in the hands of you and your trading partners.
Think in other languages: the majority of the world’s businesses use currencies other than the US dollar at home. When they handle the conversion process themselves, they incur costs – which are often invisibly passed on to you in the form of higher invoice prices. So think about paying in foreign currencies instead of dollars. Your partners will thank you – and so will your bottom line. Rapidly shifting foreign exchange rates can make it difficult to plan for the future. Consider using tools like forwarding contracts to match your expected payments with fixed exchange rates – allowing you to
protect your profit margins and focus on growing the business itself.
For further information, please visit:
http://www.business.westernunion.com/
E-mail questions to Bruce@Smallbusinessprofessor.com.
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Champagne Marketing on a Beer Budget

Dear Professor Bruce: I’ve got a small retail business, and I don’t have a lot of time or money to spend on marketing. I’ve got a great product that people love, but they can’t buy it if they don’t know I’m here. How can I get the most bang for my buck?

If there is one thing I know a lot about its “champagne marketing on a beer budget.” The Small Business Professor has just celebrated a milestone. Defying the odds, this column has been up and running for ten years. Like most entrepreneurs, I could not have sustained this venture without professional support. I’d like to extend a special thank you to the McClatchy Tribune News Service.

Over the past ten years one of the biggest hot buttons for readers is finding prospective customers. Old marketing strategies are no longer cost-effective, but fortunately, there are new approaches that require surprisingly little time or money.

Your prospects are looking for you on Google, but how can make sure that they can find you? Alfred Poor, author of “Power Marketing for Small Business: How you can boost sales with low-cost video,” offers some excellent advice.

Your link must appear on the first page of the search results because people rarely click past the first page. A study showed that the first link in search results gets more than three out of five of all the clicks. Second place gets about half that. Tenth place gets just 1% of the clicks, and everyone else shares the remaining 1% of the total traffic.

You have to be on the first page. The easiest way to do this is to add video to your web page. It does not have to be fancy or funny or go viral; just share some useful information. A video can make your page 53 times more likely to show up on the first page of a Google search.

Okay, but video is expensive, right? Wrong. In fact, it can be much cheaper – in both time and money – that many marketing strategies you might use already such as newspaper ads or direct mail pieces. You can hire a professional videographer to shoot and edit a three to five minute video for $500 or less, and you can post it for free on YouTube. From there, your webmaster can add it to your page in just minutes.

For further information, please visit: www.thecenterforsmallbusiness.com.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Readers may send him questions at bruce@smallbusinessprofessor.com.

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Always be Prepared with a Crisis Plan

Dear Professor Bruce: I own a small company that manufactures and markets toys. I am worried about what to do if some child is injured when playing with one of our products and the media calls.

Unfortunately most small businesses rarely consider their vulnerabilities they face and that can quickly develop into a company-killing crisis. While the inquiry deals with toys, the advice is equally appropriate to most small businesses. The first thing is to create a crisis plan that is based on a worse case scenario. Ask yourself how things can go wrong and remember that even if you have done everything possible to keep bad things from happening – they still can.

According to Jack A. Gottschalk, author and lecturer on the subject of crisis management, there are many crisis plans out there and you should consider some of them. Gottschalk offers some excellent advice.

Don’t be awed by the details, many of which are geared for use by large organizations. Pick out the points that you need. The document itself should contain all of the steps necessary to implement it. It should be a loose leaf document that will permit easy revisions as staff members change. The names of the news media people who cover your industry and your locality should be in the plan and that list must be kept current.

Designate the key person in your company who will speak to the media. If there are technical personnel involved in product design and production they should be available to provide the spokesperson with that kind of detail. Get your attorney involved right away but do not use him or her to stonewall media inquiries. There are many ways to avoid admitting liability or that you don’t have information without saying, “no comment.” One really good response is to say, “I don’t have that information but when I have it I will get it to you.”

The idea in creating the crisis plan, as with any other, is to put one together that is flexible and not one that will create organizational paralysis. Keep it simple and keep the group who will be charged with implementation as small as possible.

Finally, there are a few simple rules once the plan is in place. If you know the crisis is coming, get ahead of the story by advising the news media. Remember the rule that only one person should talk to the media. Also remember to keep employees informed.

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Survey Building Tips for Efficient Feedbak

Dear Professor  Bruce: I own a few pet shops and am struggling with the right way to survey my customers and get much- needed feedback about my offerings without annoying them too much. What do you suggest?

Surveys are a great way for your business to stay in touch with your customers and to enable them to share their feelings about your products and services. It’s important that you design your survey so that you get the most useful information without burdening your customers with lengthy questionnaires. Think about the key things you hope to learn and craft a set of questions that you most want customers to respond to. For example, “how does my business compare with the competition?” or, “what new ideas do my customers like best?” Then, visualize the reports you want to create from the survey and collect the data for your analysis.

You can now take advantage of new technologies that provide do-it-yourself survey tools; with them, you can obtain information that was once available only to large enterprises. According to Justin Wheeler, VP and General Manager for SurveyBuilder, “surveys are an effective way for small businesses to better compete in the marketplace. With these new tools, entrepreneurs can now gain useful business insights much more efficiently and at a lower cost than ever before. And online assistance is available, so business owners need not hesitate about asking for help.” Online surveys can be cost-effective for small businesses, but make sure to avoid long-term contracts, since you may not want to survey your customers all that often.

He offers these tips:

— Think of your survey as a conversation with your customers. Build a dialogue with them by listing questions in logical order so you get the answers you are looking for.

— Know your audience. How smart are they? How well do they understand your business?  Never assume that your customers’ knowledge is equal to yours. Avoid technical or professional terms since that could turn off your customers.

— Create clear, concise questions. Ask direct questions such as “Do you like…?” or “Which of these would you prefer?” Avoid leading questions that could influence the answers.

— Keep it short. Remember that many people don’t really like taking surveys, so make the questionnaire brief and interesting. Doing so will result in more completed questionnaires.

— Engage your customers. Once you have designed a clear, crisp, and direct survey to get information from the widest possible range of customers. Use your own customer list or a purchased list and make an effort to distribute the questionnaire as widely as possible.

For more information, see www.surveybuilder.com.

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Authoring a Book and Opening Doors

Dear Professor Bruce: As a consultant in the financial services industry, I have been developing an expertise in a very lucrative niche for my clients. What’s the best way to go on record as the go-to person for this topic?

There is nothing that provides a greater impact of a person’s expertise in an area than to see that person’s information in print. According to Grace Freedson, president of Grace Freedson’s Publishing Network, “more and more experts in all categories are turning to the book format as a means to validate the information they are offering and the advice they are providing. Authoring a book has become a much sought after 21st century calling card that ultimately opens doors to new clients and new business opportunities. Perhaps it is the selectivity on the part of publishers that provides the cache that will lead to career advancement.”

Of the millions of books you see on bookstore shelves it represents only a small portion of the proposals that aspiring authors submit to publishers. Proposals must be presented in such a way that the unique qualities of the topic, the approach, the quality of the writing, and the potential size of the audience for the book are immediately evident. It is usually a lengthy process from submitting a proposal, usually through a literary agent, until a final decision to publish is made. Publishers rely increasingly on literary agents to filter the types of projects that are submitted, and to assure the credentials of the author and caliber of the writing. Literary agents have therefore become much more selective in the type of books and authors they will represent. Content will be vetted at every stage of the publishing process so that the final product can be assumed to be authoritative. Ultimately, the book that you can hold in your hand may lead to media appearances, speaking opportunities, and interviews that will lead to revenue from the sale of the book as well as an increased client based.

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Using Publicity to Your Advantage

Dear Professor Bruce: I own a small management consulting firm. Lots of senior managers have been laid off in my area so I’m competing against more and more people. How can I stand out from the crowd? I don’t have a lot of money for advertising and my buyers generally don’t believe advertising anyway. I get most of my clients from referrals. What can I do?

You might be holding the answer to your problems in your hands right now – the newspaper could be your best marketing tool. Publicity is the least expensive form of marketing and the most effective. That’s because it is totally credible. People believe what they read in the newspaper and online media.

“It’s never been easier to get publicity than today because of the internet,” said Dan Janal, president of PR LEADS PLUS.com a public relations consultant who offers done for you services and discounts on name-brand PR services like press release distribution and media databases. “There are more media outlets than ever before and they need more content, which means more opportunities for business experts to get quoted.”

Keep in mind that reporters are looking for information – so you have to give them advice, opinion or facts so they can write their story. They aren’t in business to do an advertisement for you saying how great you are, so steer clear of any blatant self promotion. However, they will reward you by printing your name, your company name, and they might even print your website.

When you get that article, you will have a tremendous piece of marketing that will set you apart from your competitors. After all, you all have impressive credentials, but you will have the endorsement of the media and they won’t. That could be the key that makes you stand out and become the obvious choice to be hired.

Use that article in your new business meetings, put it in your sales kit and post it online. Send a link of that article to all your current clients – so you retain them; to your former clients – so they hire you again; and to your prospects – so you get them to commit to hiring you.

You can find your local business reporter’s name on the internet or in the daily newspaper. They might even post questions to their readers asking for advice. What could be easier than that? Or you could go online and find a PR consultant who can show you the ropes.

Bruce Freeman, The Small Business Professor, is president of ProLine Communications, a marketing and public relations firm in Livingston, NJ and co-author of Birthing the Elephant (Ten Speed Press division of Random House). E-mail questions to Bruce@SmallBusinessProfessor.com.

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Strategies to Achieve Success in a Growing Self-Publishing Market

Dear Professor Bruce: I am a writing consultant and an aspiring author. I am working on a book that I want to be published, but I know how difficult it is for an “unknown” to get a contract with a traditional publishing house. I heard that self-publishing is becoming increasingly popular, but I’m wondering whether there’s still a stigma about “vanity press” and if there are ways to inexpensively market your book and make a profit.

Self-publishing (also known as “indie” publishing) has grown dramatically, tied to advancements in digital technology and the Nook and Kindle: Self-published titles have increased 160%, from 51,237 in 2006 to 133,036 in 2010, according to publishing analyst R.R. Bowker. Today, with so many quality indie books available, the main concern among writers isn’t fighting the negative perception of self publishing but figuring out how to differentiate their title and getting strategic advice on how to achieve success.

Terri Giuliano Long, author of In Leah’s Wake, which she self-published, offers some excellent tips:

Key to the process is using social media to the fullest extent: creating a web site, setting up blog posts and blog tours, and developing a following on Facebook and Twitter.

Social media has removed the former divide between authors and readers. While people don’t buy books simply because they like the authors, communication is important. The reading and writing process feels more personal and collaborative. This is a plus for everyone involved.

Developing an Internet presence takes time but is not expensive. A publicist specializing in social media can be a great help, but that requires more of a monetary investment.

As far as profitability, e-books and books printed on demand have a much longer sales cycle than traditionally published books whose shelf life used to be determined largely by retail stores. And even though e-books prices are priced as low as 99 cents, authors can do well (unknown authors offer their books for only 99 cents to lower the risk for readers who might not otherwise take a chance.

For authors who aspire to publish traditionally, indie publishing can be a platform that leads to other things such as being released by a more traditional publisher.

For more information, visit www.tglong.com.

Bruce Freeman, The Small Business Professor, is president of Proline Communications, a marketing and public relations firm in Livingston, NJ and co-author of Birthing the Elephant (Ten Speed Press). E-mail questions to Bruce(at)SmallBusinessProfessor.com.

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Receiving Product Reviews from Publications on a Limited Budget

Dear Professor Bruce: I own a small technology company. We just came out with a new product and really don’t have any experience in getting the product reviewed. Right now, on a limited budget, we were going to try to contact some publications ourselves.

Contacting publications on your own is not a bad way to start, but you need to be very focused in who and how you approach. Editors and reviewers get blasted daily with product information and press releases. A lot of it ends up in the recycle bin. Here are some ways to minimize that happening:

• First, make sure that your initial communication makes it clear that you’re asking that your product be reviewed. You need to communicate that you’re asking that time and effort be spent looking at your product. Don’t assume that the person reading your request will intuit that you are asking for a review.

• Next, let the editor or review know what their readership will gain from the review coverage. The fact that your new product is the most wonderful thing in the world isn’t going to get it reviewed. What problem does the product solve for their reader? What process is made easier? What does the product actually do that the reader would want to know about? Does it do the same thing as an existing product but at a greatly lower price? You have to provide the editor/reviewer with a compelling reason to invest time and money in performing a review. The best way to do this is to learn about the target’s readers. Read current and back issues of a magazine online or in a library. If the publication is a web site, analyze it to determine who it appeals to.

• With a limited budget, you need to be much more targeted in who you approach. Make sure that your request for a review goes to the appropriate person. Check the staff either on the masthead if a paper publication, or the “About us” on a site. If there is someone listed as the reviews editor, your chances are better if your review request goes to them.

• Finally, if you decide to use a loan agreement for a piece of equipment, be reasonable about the length of the loan. Understand that a reviewer or editor often has dozens of products in the review queue, and is not going to move yours to the front of the line because you want it back in two weeks. And understand and be realistic about the fact that there will be people and publications that accept a piece of hardware or software and never return or review it. That’s just the way it is.

BIO: Ted Needleman was the EIC of a technology magazine for 10 years and has been reviewing hardware and software since 1978. He is currently a Contributing Columnist to Investor’s Business Daily and writes and reviews frequently for other publications.

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With One Tuchus, You Can’t Dance At Two Weddings

Dear Professor Bruce: I am a sole proprietor who builds computer networks for small businesses. My revenues are growing, but I need to do a better job selling to new clients and managing client relationships. I’d like expert advice, but don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of. What do you suggest?

One of the problems of a solo entrepreneur, is having a limited skill set. You want to do everything and soon find you cannot. There is an old Eastern European expression that a good friend reminded me of, “With one tuchus, you can’t dance at two weddings”.

Phil Hood of Transcend Strategy Group  has some excellent recommendations:

As a sole proprietor, you are in business for yourself, but you don’t have to be in business by yourself. Working on your own, you have one brain and two eyes and yes, one tuchus. That’s why, whether you’re a solopreneur or you have a few employees, you need trusted support and guidance in key areas such as finance, production, distribution, and marketing. In larger companies, this is the kind of counsel that a board of directors provides.

But at this stage of growth, a board of directors would be too much horsepower. You need a mentor: an experienced, trusted advisor who can help you strategize about business development. Good mentors are like good teachers, both insightful and capable of inspiring you to excel.

Finding A Mentor

How do you find a mentor with the expertise you need? It could be someone in your field with more experience who’s built a successful enterprise — or a pro in an unrelated business. Scan your contact list. Think of people you have worked with or learned from. Do any of them fill the bill? Since marketing and customer communications are challenging for you, your best advisor could be someone skilled in these areas.

Some entrepreneurs use creative approaches to find expert help. One restaurateur found several advisors by asking returning patrons for advice. Through this technique, he met several people who not only liked his restaurant, but also invested in it and served as his unofficial board of advisors.

There are also organizations that connect entrepreneurs with mentors. Score (www.score.org) matches retired executives with new business owners. The U.S. Small Business Administration also has mentoring programs.

Getting the Most from a Mentor

No one is as interested in your success as you are: When you find a mentor, you do the work; your mentor merely advises. But it’s an important job. He or she tries to help you see the bigger picture, learn news skills, and nudge you out of your comfort zone in ways that will help you grow and succeed.

When you find a mentor, make time to reap the benefits from your relationship. You’re investing in your own education and the mentor may be giving his or her time for free. Don’t let day-to-day demands prevent you from gaining the tools and skills you need to build your business. And when you have a success or meet a milestone, be sure to share the good news.

Once you’ve found one trusted advisor, you can find others through targeted networking. Attend professional conferences and join trade associations to expand your contacts. Experienced accountants and lawyers are invaluable resources because they’ve worked with businesses like yours in the past. As you create a trusted circle of advisors, the challenges you face will become more manageable and may even turn into opportunities.

For more information, please visit www.transcendstrategy.com

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Finding Investors for Your Business

Dear Professor Bruce: I just opened a new, small business selling a software program I developed for sporting events.  Can you give me some suggestions for finding investors to take my company to the next level of success? 

When it comes to finding investors to grow your new software business, it’s important to plan in advance so you make a good first impression. According to Bentley Charlemagne, a business coach and CEO of myQme, suggests the following tips:

Business success is more than just an idea.

Many times, new entrepreneurs have a great concept for a new business, but that’s all they have. Is this great business idea part of your core skill set? Even if you have created a business in the past, or think you have the skills to start a new business, knowing your past mistakes in business can help you in your future ventures

Select the right team members and strategic partners.

Investors will look closely at the team members who will implement your business idea. As an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to conduct a full evaluation of the people you are going to need to create a successful business. Select a team based on your core needs and expertise, not by friendship. To find the right people, start by communicating your business idea in written form so everyone has a similar perspective. Then, weigh their interest and passion, and measure their true interest. Clearly define the benefits to potential partners and exactly what you expect of them.

Be honest.

Study your target market and know how your business solves specific problems in a unique way. Then, research various investors and decide which ones to pursue. Good businesses do not just wing it. They plan, anticipate, calculate, and take action.

When you are ready to meet with investors, present the facts with a clear business plan. Communicate your background, core beliefs, business philosophy, and what you have accomplished in the past. Investors will want to get to know you and develop a comfort zone. In simple terms, tell them what you are going to do for them and how you will solve issues in their space.

All investors want a return on their investment. Successful investors invest in people first. To help your new software business grow with investor financing, know your strengths and weaknesses, research your business and audience, develop a business plan with a unique solution to a problem, and provide a straight forward presentation. Your knowledge, personality type, and professionalism will help you stand out from the competition and increase your chances of finding the right investors for your business goals.

For further information, please visit www.myqme.com

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