Category Archives: Business Talk

Chicago Minimum Wage Increase

MW

In December 2014, the City of Chicago City Council passed an ordinance to raise the minimum wage for all Chicago workers to $13 per hour by 2019.  The ordinance raises the minimum wage in steps, beginning with an increase to $10 per hour July 1, 2015.  The minimum wage then increases to $10.50 in 2016, $11 in 2017, $12 in 2018, and $13 in 2019. Over the five year phase in, the increase is projected to raise the earnings for approximately 410,000 Chicago workers and lift 70,000 workers out of poverty.

Key Highlights

  • The ordinance requires all employers to pay the new minimum wage of $10 per hour for all employees beginning July 1st 2015, subject to certain limitations.  You can read more about the covered and non-covered employers/employees via this post.
  • All businesses operating within Chicago and/or employing persons working within Chicago are required to comply.
  • All employers are required to post this Notice to Employers and Employees in each place of business beginning July 1st and include the Notice in each employee’s first paycheck following the July 1st implementation date.
  • The full text of the Chicago Minimum Wage Ordinance can be found here.
  • The Chicago wage increase follows several other recently passed increases. For a list of the wage in effect in other states, check out this link.
  • This increase is for the City of Chicago ONLY.  The proposed wage increase for the State of Illinois appears to be on hold as of the time of this posting.

Marketing Your Service Business

Whether you are a seasonal tax preparer, a neighborhood car wash, a painter or a realtor, consumers can’t go a week without the services of a local entrepreneur.  One the hardest parts of being in a service business lies in how you go about creating your market. As such, a sizable roadblock often encountered is how hard it is to promote a product that technically does not exist until the customer has made their purchase.

Listed below are 5 ways that you can promote your service business.

Make sure customers can find  you.  The vast majority of both male and female shoppers do research on the web before making a purchase.  Furthermore, women shoppers in particular look for “deeper” information when deciding on which company or service to choose.  For these reasons, having a company website is a smart and affordable way to ensure that your business and the services you offer can be found.

Let customers know you.  Good relationships are built on trust. So it’s natural that customers want to learn as much as they can about your company and the people that stand behind it.  Once you’ve created your website, why not consider integrating your blog into it?  Studies (like this one) indicate that business blogging can lead to as much as 55% more site visits when compare to sites that don’t.  But the real point of the blog should be to let customers know more about just who you are!

If you look at the category Who’s The Boss on our site, you can get some insight into our CEO Jared Rogers.  Under this category, he showcases things about the company and his story, photos, family and hobbies.  Why?  So that you get to know more about him and see if his personality matches with yours.  The reality is that most service businesses are differentiated not by their services, but by the people who provide and stand behind them.

Tout your USP or value proposition.  What will make customers or clients select your company vs. your competitor’s? Many people choose the service provider that offers the greatest value for their money, as there’s often price parity among the principal players.  Thus, one should craft their  Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and communicate it to each and every prospect you interact with.  So the best way to win business is not to cut your prices or rates, but instead add products or services that elevate your USP – making it too good to resist!

Offer your customers incentives.  Customers who’ve had positive experiences with your company in the past will happily return.  But tempting new customers requires making a special offer.  Businesses that provide home services (e.g. rug cleaning, painting, home heating or air conditioning) can benefit by sending consumers coupons through a service such as Valpak. Your coupon offer will be mailed in an envelope with others, thus your cost of mailing is less than if you did it stand alone (thus allowing you to send to a greater number of people).  Although you won’t have the undivided attention of your consumer, mail from a known marriage-mail provider is often well-received.  For long-term results, create a offer that will motivate new customers to make more than a single purchase.

Communicate with your prospects frequently.  It costs considerably less to keep a customer than to win a new one.  Thus, it’s smart to maintain campaigns that upsell or resell to existing ones.  To do this, you should communicate with your customer database at least every four to six weeks.  If you don’t, you’re missing opportunities to grow your business.  Now, every communication doesn’t have to be a sales pitch.  What you are trying to do is create Top Of Mind Awareness.

In this post we talk about how you can get new clients via a referral program that emphasizes TOMA.  Essentially, you want to use a combination of alternating sales calls with e-mail and postal mail.  By interspersing e-newsletters containing case histories, postcards with promotional offers and calls offering relevant and valuable information, you will ensure that YOU are the one they think of when it’s time for them to make a purchase.

10 Ways To Get Word Of Mouth Marketing

It’s not uncommon for us to get new bookkeeping clients who are relatively “new” in their business endeavors.  When we discuss their business and needs, we will often ask “What are you doing from a marketing perspective?”  When “word of mouth marketing” is their response, we often feel compelled to have a teaching moment with them.

Word of mouth marketing is not a marketing vehicle in and of itself.  It is the direct result of doing other tasks well within your business, one of which is other marketing.  This post highlights 50 ways that you can market your small business.  Shown here are the things that will help you generate that word of mouth buzz that so many businesses crave:

Provide an excellent product or service. If what you have to offer is just average, or even worse undesirable, don’t expect customers to extol your virtues.  What you sell and how you sell it, should live up to or exceed what your customers expect.  This is based on your ads, sales pitch and industry standards. If they’re happy with what they’ve bought, they will sing your praises to the heavens. Yet remember, word of mouth works two ways.  If customers are unhappy with your company, they will complain loudly and publicly about their bad experience. Don’t believe us?  Just look at this post about a poor customer service experience we had.  Which leads us to our next point…

Excel in your customer service. This post will give you several ways to be better than your competition, so we urge you to read it.  Yet a few basics to know: Be polite. Answer your customers questions as accurately and quickly as possible. Don’t keep them waiting unnecessarily. If you can do something for a customer, then do it.  If you can’t, tell them so and send them to someone who can (even a competitor).  By helping your customer solve their needs, they will remember you and send your their friends and family when they have a similar problem.

Give your customers something for FREE. People have needs that require solutions.  When they look for those solutions, they will go to the internet, call their friends or even visit your establishment.  However, there’s so much noise in the world  that it’s hard for prospects to know exactly what’s worth buying. Most people buy stuff that they have a personal connection with or that is recommended by a trusted friend.  By giving away your work (or a sample of it) you allow future customers (or readers or fans or whatever) the opportunity to hear about it, see the value in it, and then reward you for it.

Thank your customers for their business. Everyone likes to be appreciated and customers are no exception. When a customers pays you for services or a new customer signs their paperwork, why not send them a handwritten thank you card?  Doing something your competitors don’t will set you apart as a business who cares about their customers and is worth recommending.

Make you and your employees “likable” in their interactions. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, customers do business with those who they know, like and trust.  As such, make sure that when you interact with your customers, that they like dealing with you.  Be friendly; no matter how rude or angry a customer may be. Never raise your voice, be sarcastic, or speak in a demeaning way to customers.  Smile when you speak to them.  Take a genuine interest in their needs, concerns and wants.  When a customer likes dealing with you, they will like sending others to you.

Be personally visible to your market. The goal here is to not be viewed as a salesperson, but as a friend or problem-solver.  If you take the information regarding providing “free” stuff and combine it with this point, you will be seen as just that.  As such, join networking groups and industry groups that your customers join and be a regular attendee at meetings and events. Talk to people at meetings to find out what they do and what’s important to them and what challenges they face. When you can, give them tips or point them to resources they need, even if it isn’t a service that you offer.

Be Active in Social Media. A social media “share” spreads the word about your company to all the people who follow and like your information.  While you don’t need to set up an account on each, Facebook, Twitter, Linked, Pinterest, Instagram and SlideShare are all good places to start. Choose the social media channels that are most likely to reach your target customers.  Also, the easier you make it for customers and prospects to share your information and promotions, the more likely it is they will do so.  As such, consider adding the corresponding social media buttons to your website.

When people praise you, ask to use their testimonial. You can post it on your website and/or in promotional material. Their comments can help prospects “hear” good things about your company.  This is exactly why we have a testimonials page!

Make your business easy to find. Start by having a website, even if it is just a simple landing page.  Make sure that it is listed on Google, Bing and Yahoo’s business promotion sites.  If you have a location, make sure that you have singe indicating what you do, hours of operation and phone number.   If you have vehicles, make sure your name is painted/wrapped in big letters on them so anyone who sees it knows how to reach you. Leave “extra” business cards with customers so they can hand them out when a neighbor asks if they were happy with the job you did… and how to get in touch with you.

Refer business to noncompeting businesses. When you refer customers, patients or clients to others, those businesses are more likely to refer business to you.  Remember, those who give freely of themselves will receive the same in return.

Reward those who refer business to you. How you thank them will depend on the nature and what is considered ethical in your line of your business. It may be in the form of a hand-written thank you card, a coupon, a cash reward, or whatever else is practical or expected for your line of work. But the point is this; rewarding those who help you will make them feel their efforts are appreciated, which will make them be glad to recommend you to more people.

Top Small Business Marketing Mistakes

Recently we were having lunch at Columbus’ Curry, a new quick dining establishment specializing in Indian cuisine.  During this visit, we had the fortunate opportunity to meet the owner.  Turns out that they had only been open for four weeks, but they indicated that things were going well thus far.  At some point, our conversation turned to what the “most important” thing to focus on should be.  Our response?  Generating sales!

As we’ve said in previous posts, nothing happens in an organization until a sale is made and sales don’t happen without marketing.  Unfortunately, many new/fledgling small businesses often underestimate their marketing needs.  With that said, we figured we’d discuss the top marketing mistakes new business often make and how you can avoid them.

No marketing plan.  Failure to plan is like planning to fail – we’ve all heard that statement correct?  Well, if you don’t have a marketing plan, then you can rest assured that your marketing will not be is effective as it needs to be.  People often think that a marketing plan needs to be this overly complicated document that takes months to develop.  That is not the case.  A simple marketing plan can be made in short order.  Take a look at this article to see just how to put one together and what it should contain.

No marketing budget.  Equally egregious as not having a marketing plan, is not having a marketing budget.  When you start a business you may be consumed in pouring all of your dollars into research and development, product engineering, hiring staff or outfitting your headquarters.  However, if you don’t have the budget to tell your target market about your product or services, how will they find you?  “Oh, if we build it they will come” is your response?  Read the next bullet dear friend.

Having a “build it and they will come” mentality.  We’ve written about this before in our Small Business Marketing 101 post.  The key takeaway from it is that even with a highly visible location it’s EXTREMELY hard for potential customers to “see” you.  The only way to ensure that the do, is to market to them.  Furthermore, even if they know you are there, what is going to make them choose you over your competitors?  For that, we recommend that you emphasize your Unique Selling Proposition or USP in all of your marketing collateral.

Failing to “test” your marketing.  Marketing should never be viewed as a “one and done” type of activity.  The one thing that is constant in the world is change.  Thus, you must frequently look at your marketing activities, vehicles, collateral, etc. and make sure that it is working.  If it isn’t, then you need to make adjustments to it.  If you do a mailing and you get a 2% response rate, test doing a similar mailing but tweek the headline, body, mailing list, etc to see if the results change.  Keep “testing” various elements of the campaign until you get the desired result.  All of this leads us to the next point.

Not holding your marketing accountable.  If you are involved in various marketing activities, you should always hold your marketing ruthlessly accountable for revenue.  One of the first things we ask customers is how they heard of us.  Why?  We want to know which vehicle brought them to us.  We then track various metrics associated with this such as number of leads, leads converted to customers, revenue spent per customer, cost of client acquisition, etc.  If we don’t see the return on investment for a particular vehicle we either 1) test it, 2) change it or 3) abandon it.  If we get to the third, that allows us to shift those dollars to something that IS producing desired results.  The worst thing you can do is continue to pour money into something that is not generating sales.

Trying to reinvent the “Marketing” wheel.  Marketing is not hard stuff (in simplistic terms of course).  Yes, there is the need to reinvent and refresh your marketing so that it remains relevant and in sync with the times, but you don’t have to go back to the drawing board to make it yours.  In this post, we talk about 50 ways that you can market your small business.  The point?  You don’t have to start from scratch; look at the items, choose what works for you and then make it fit your business.

Continuous planning without execution.  The fear of failure is a very powerful thing.  In this post, our CEO Jared Rogers talks about getting over his fears when he struck out to head the Beverly office.  In the end he got over them and started doing things. The point is that you can be so busy preparing, organizing, and researching your marketing to prevent failure that you never get around to the actual marketing.  To combat this remember:

  1. Activity is not productivity.
  2. In order to sell a million of something, you have to sell the first ONE.

At some point you have to start your marketing and just see what happens.  Remember, mistakes are the price of entry into the world of success. A failed promotion means you have SUCCESSFULLY determined what does NOT work; and that is a invaluable tool in getting you closer to discovering what DOES work.

Spending to Save Taxes vs. Generate Revenue

A few weeks ago we were speaking to one of our business clients about their tax planning needs for the upcoming year.  During this session, we got to talking about how spending money yields a “tax rate” reduction of one’s taxes for every dollar they spend.  This then prompted the analysis of spending to save on taxes versus to generate revenue.  Let us elaborate.

How Income Taxes Work.  A while back, we wrote about how the income tax system works with regards to refunds and balances due in this post.  The short version is that for each $1 you earn, you have to pay an associated amount of taxes based on your marginal tax bracket.  Conversely, for each $1 you spend on a deductible expense, it reduces your associated taxes by the tax rate applicable to your highest marginal tax bracket.

Spending To Save On Taxes.  One of the things we always try to convey to clients is to spend money on what makes financial, life or business sense.  Don’t spend money to save on taxes; if you receive an associated tax benefit, that’s just icing on the cake.  Why?  Let us illustrate.

Let’s say that Ricky lives in his mothers basement.  She doesn’t charge him any rent, but he gets this “idea” of buying a house so he can get a tax deduction.  So he goes and gets a mortgage and spends $10,000 on mortgage interest, which is tax deductible.  To keep things simple, we’ll assume that all of the mortgage interest is reflected on his return and that his last marginal tax bracket is 25%.  Based on this, he can expect to see his tax liability drop by $2,500.  But let’s look at it another way…

Ricky wasn’t paying anything to live in the basement.  Zero, zip, zilch!  But to get a $2,500 tax deduction, he went out and spent $10,000 on mortgage interest?  In the world of Finance we go by two rules:

  1. Cash now is better than cash later – due to inflation $1 today is worth more than $1 in the future so give me the money NOW!
  2. You only “save” money when you spend $0 – spending money is just that, an expenditure (no matter how big of a discount; sorry discount shoppers).

Using these two rules, it’s pretty clear that Ricky is in violation of the second.

Spending to Generate Revenue.  Thus, if you are faced with a decision to spend money, we usually recommend that you do so to generate more revenue (especially if you are in business).  Why?  There are numerous reasons but some include:

  1. You won’t see as big of a tax reduction as you would hope for by spending it on deductible expenses (see the example above).
  2. Increased revenue will allow you to spend on more beneficial expenses (e.g. increased payroll for yourself).
  3. Who doesn’t like more money?  Oh yeah, the Capital One Baby!

So let’s change things up and assume that Ricky owns his own delivery business.  He files his business income and expenses on a Schedule C so any profit from his business shows up on his personal return and is taxed at his marginal tax rate (25%).  For this tax year thus far, he has $50,000 in profit (income less expenses) from his business.

Instead of buying a house, he decides to spend $10,000 on some billboard advertising.  Now his profit is only $40,000 because the advertising expense is tax deductible.  But those ads generate $25,000 of new business.  Way to go Ricky!  So his profit then becomes $65,000.  Sure, he will have to pay $3,750 more in taxes ($65K – $50K = $15K x 25%) then he would have had to if he didn’t run the advertisements.  But the flip side is that he will be left with $11,250 in more cash.

Now, if Ricky has a smart tax accountant on his team (like us), they might tell him to open a SEP IRA where he could put almost all of that additional $15K above his original $50,000 profit towards his retirement savings.  Best thing about that is 1) it’s deductible on his tax return and 2) he’s funding the day he can park that delivery van for good!

Need some help with your tax planning?  Want to brainstorm on how you can best spend your money?  Give us a call or shoot us an email and we’d be happy to chat with you!

Until next time…

Want New Clients? Ask Your Existing Ones!

re·fer·ral
rəˈfərəl/
noun
  1. an act of referring someone or something for consultation, review, or further action.

There are certain professions (e.g. realtors, attorneys, tax professionals, etc.) who source a majority of their “new” business from referrals.  However, ALL businesses can benefit by asking for them.  The key is to make sure you have a program in place to do so and that you actively utilize it.  This post will tell you how to create such a program and set it up so that the probability of you reaping the rewards are maximized.

Create your customer database.  The first place to start when creating a referral program is your database or “house list.”  Don’t have one?  Well, this is where you start!  Create a list of anyone and everyone that you have ever done business with.  “But I’ve been in business for 10 years.  Do you seriously expect me to go back and find everyone who’s ever paid me during that time?”  Well, you certainly don’t have to, but it’s to your advantage to so.  It’s often said that it cost 5-7 times more to obtain a new customer than it does to keep (or sell to again) an existing one.  Thus, the more existing clients you can identify, the better your referral program will work.

Mine your customer database. The next step is to review your database and identify those who match your IDEAL profile.  Who are those clients?

  • The ones who you like to work with.
  • The ones who you have a good relationship with.
  • Those who pay their bills in a reasonable amount of time.
  • Those whom you have helped with a particular challenge.
  • Those whom you saved money.

The list goes on and on.  But essentially what you are looking for are those clients whom you would like more of in your portfolio AND those whom are most likely to recommend you.  Those who you have helped in the past are already predisposed to mentioning you to others.  But why not just ask all the clients whom you’ve worked with?  Well, clients tend to refer those who are similar to themselves.  So if you want more problem clients, then ask the ones you hate working with to send you business and you’ll wind up with more of the same!

Create a touch program. Now that you have your list, you need to stay in regular contact with them.  You’ll understand why in the next step.  You can do this in a number of ways, but essentially you want to create what is referred to as a touch program.  A touch is considered an interaction and can materialize in many forms.  These include monthly newsletters, email blast, blog posts, holiday cards, birthday/anniversary cards, client promo gifts, client appreciation events, phone calls, emails, etc.  The exact mechanism that you use to “touch” your customer is pretty irrelevant.  The key is that you simply do it.  How often should you contact your customers?  The numbers vary depending on who you talk to but most agree that monthly is a minimum.

Maintain top of mind awareness. The real point of the touch program is so that you create Top Of Mind Awareness (TOMA).  What exactly is this?  Well, it’s when you are the first person (i.e. top of mind) your client thinks of when either they OR a friend have a problem that needs to be solved.  You want them to call you first, not the competitor.  You want them to tell their friends about you, not that store down the street.  Chances are, if they hear from you every month, you will be the one that they think of.  But what if they throw your monthly communication straight into the trash?  Doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is that they knew that it came from YOU before they threw it into the trash!

Ask for the referral.   Okay, so now that you’ve done all of the above, it’s time to do the following:

  • Ask your client for referrals. Yes, ASK them.  The number one reason sales folks fail to get business is because they never explicitly ask for the sale.  The same can be said for referrals.  When you complete a sale or a job, ask your client if there is anyone else they know whom you could help.  If the client seems squeamish, hand them a stack of business cards and tell them to just pass them on if they think of someone.  If they are willing to give you a name and phone number, that’s even better!
  • Have a letter made describing how to refer to you. If you can tell your client who your ideal client is, how to spot them and how to send them to you, it makes the process run that much smoother.  We no longer use this exact document, but it is one that we would give our clients who visited our office and picked up hard copies of their returns.
  • Incentivize your clients to refer you. Some clients will be motivated by monetary compensation.  Some will be happy if you mention their referral action in your newsletter.  Some don’t want anything and just want to make sure their friends are sent to someone they trust and know will do good work.  But no matter how you incentivize the act of making a referral, make sure that you have a way to say “thank you” to your clients.

If you need help with a business matter (like how to get more clients), why not give us a call for your FREE 30 minute business brainstorming bout.  This session (valued at $250) is yours for FREE if you mention this post (or BBB).  In it, we’ll evaluate one challenge facing your business and give you an actionable way to address it.  To schedule your BBB, simply give us a call at 773-239-8850 or shoot us an email via the link in the footer of this page.

Anatomy of Bus Bench Ads

First Generation Bus Bench Ad; Soon To Be Retired...

First Generation Bus Bench Ad; Soon To Be Retired…

When you’re in business, effectively engaging your prospects and potential customers is half the battle of generating revenue.  However, when you communicate via different advertising media (e.g. TV, radio, internet, outdoor, etc), you have to make sure that the design has been properly tailored.  If the ad design doesn’t match the media, you risk the possibility of losing a lot of money.  Case in point; our bus bench ads.

In 2014 we began using bus bench ads to extend our marketing reach around our retail office.  While the bench didn’t “break even” from the standpoint of how much we spent on it versus the revenue generated, it did bring us some customers.  With that said, we went back to the drawing board when it came time to redesign it for our contract renewal.  Why?  Well, we felt that the original version may have been a little too “busy” and cluttered.  Thus, we tried to streamline it so that it delivered our message in line with the media (i.e. quick view, limited space and only a few seconds to capture your “on-the-go” audience).

Revised, Revamped and Ready To Reap Revenue!

Revised, Revamped and Ready To Reap Revenue!

Designing for outdoor media is a challenging communication task.  It requires that one transmit their concept with both clarity and focus.   With that being said, here are the top ten points to keep in mind when developing effective outdoor advertising:

The Five W’s.  You want to convey the what, where, why, when and who in the most expedient manner possible.  Some of you may say that the w’s aren’t in the order that you remember them in from school.  Well, when it comes to advertising, the prospect wants to know what’s in it for me before they even care who is offering it.  Thus, tell them what you’re offering, where they can get it, why they need it, when they can buy it and who you are in that order.  They can always find out who you are, but that isn’t going to initially spark them to continue reading your ad.

Keep your message short. Refine your message to its most basic elements; you may only have 30 seconds of their time if you are lucky.  You’re NOT trying to sell them on the spot so don’t waste your time or money attempting to do so.  Remember, you just want the person to desire to learn more about the goods and services of the company so they will follow your call to action.

Use a “call to action.”  The main reason businesses fail to make the sale is because they never ask for it!  If you want the person to do something, explicitly tell them what steps they should take.  Things such as call now, visit this website or visit us at 123 Anywhere Street are what we’re referring to.  If your space is limited, at a bare minimum the ad copy should be designed so readers have the essential information and are stimulated to respond.

Use bold, vibrant colors.   Colors that complement and contrast each other work best. Using more than two or three different colors isn’t advisable.  Designs have better readability with opposite colors used next to each other for higher contrast. With colors that are too similar, design elements can blend together at a distance and get lost.

Eliminate unnecessary information.  You’re probably not advertising services from Chicago to prospects in Florida.  Thus, eliminate items such as area codes and city names if they aren’t absolutely needed.

KISS.  Keep it simple sweetheart!  Limit the complexity and number of concepts communicated.  The more that prospect has to digest, the harder it will be for them to remember just what it is you do.

Use photos and graphics.  There is a reason that Jared’s picture is on the benches.  Pictures help to create intrigue, convey mental images as well as help an ad stand out.  For example, if you see the bench with Jared’s face on it, you might just look at it simply to satisfy your curiosity as to who that guy is?  Ads with images are viewed far greater than those with only text, so make sure to use those pictures!

Use large, clear fonts. You want to ensure that you copy is readable; especially for the most important concepts of the ad.  In our first generation benches the company name was the most prominent.  In the second generation we changed this so that our services were primary.  Why?  See the five w’s above.

Use intrigue. Make your prospects want to learn and know more about you and what you have to offer.  Thus, be intriguing in both words and imagery.

Keep the layout simple.  Remember, you’re trying to say a lot in a little amount of time.  Make sure that the layout is clean with a clear-cut message and focus.  Remember less is always better.

50 Ways To Market Your Small Business

The age old saying goes, nothing in business happens until you make a sale. But any marketer will tell you that sales don’t happen until we market the goods and services to the customer. With that said, here are 50 things that you can do on the marketing front to ensure that the sales start to flow through your front door, into your business and ultimately into your bank account!

  1. Craft an Elevator Pitch. You should be marketing all the time — wherever you are. Therefore, you need a compelling elevator pitch. Research shows the average attention span of an adult is about 6 to 8 seconds. That’s all the time you have to grab someone’s attention so practice and make it count.
  2. Collaborate. Put together a group of synergistic, non-competitive businesses in your area and agree to cross-promote. You can use coupons, fliers, reciprocal website links, bundled promotions or social media platforms.
  3. Ask for referrals. Don’t be shy about asking for customer referrals. The majority of people say they are willing to provide a referral if asked, but very few take the initiative to do it on their own. Referrals make it easier to get in the door with new customers. If you aren’t asking for them, you are missing opportunities.
  4. Ask For Work or Leads. Contact nonprofit organizations, schools and colleges, and even other businesses that have customers who may need your services.
  5. Partner. Partner with others who are doing the same type of work you are. Let them know you are available to handle their work overloads if the opportunity arises.
  6. Demonstrate. If your product or service is appropriate, give demonstrations of it to whatever groups or individuals might be interested.
  7. Talk To The Government. Find out what federal, state, and local government programs are in existence to help you get started in business. Most offer free counseling and some can put you in touch with government agencies and large corporations that buy from small and woman-owned businesses
  8. Become Certified. If you are a woman-owned or minority-owned business look into getting certified by private, state or federal organizations. Many purchasing agents have quotas for the amount of goods and services they need to buy from minority- and woman-owned businesses.
  9. Direct Mail – Send out sales letters to everyone you think might be able to use what you sell. Be sure to describe your business in terms of how it can help the prospect. Learn to drop a business card in every letter you send out. Follow up periodically with postcard mailings.
  10. Wrap That Vehicle. If you use a car or truck in your business, at a minimum, have your business name and contact information professionally painted on the side of it. If your budget allows for it, consider vehicle wrapping. If you don’t want the business name permanently on the vehicle, consider using magnetic signs.
  11. Network. There is no better way to build a business than to get out there, shake some hands, and get to know people. Networking requires a time commitment and it doesn’t provide instant gratification, but a strong network is one of the greatest assets any business person can have.
  12. Speak Up. A lot of people hate public speaking. However, there are many organizations looking for qualified, subject-matter experts who can present to their groups. Take a deep breath and volunteer. You don’t have to be a pro as long as the information you share is helpful to the audience.
  13. Turn To Your Community. You don’t have to think big when it comes to your marketing efforts. Think locally. Get to know your ideal customer and think about how and where they spend their time. Then search for opportunities to get in front of them with your marketing message (e.g. by sponsoring a little league team).
  14. Work With The Media. Write an article that demonstrates your expertise in your field. Send it to noncompeting newspapers, magazines, and websites in your field that accept submissions from experts. Services like Help a Reporter Out will allow you to respond to reporters’ queries that are looking for story ideas and resources. Some are small media opportunities, but others are major media outlets that use this service too.
  15. Forge Deep Customer Relationships. It is a lot less expensive to keep a customer than it is to get a new one. That’s why establishing strong relationships with your customer base is crucial. One of the ways you can do that is by keeping in contact with them on a regular basis. This can be as simple as a weekly email tip, a monthly print newsletter or a holiday card.
  16. Offer coupons. Coupons are a good way for many businesses to attract new customers. Research shows that people will go out of their way to use a coupon, proving that this method is successful in expanding your customer base. If you’re interested in using a coupon service, consider ValPak.
  17. Give it Away. If someone has the opportunity to experience your product or service, chances are they will want to purchase more. Don’t be afraid to give someone a free trial or a sample. Remember, you can pay for marketing in dollars or free product/services. Either way, you are spending money to make people aware that you exist.
  18. Get A Website That Captures Leads. An attractive website can make your business look professional. But the real benefits come when you can capture a lead who you can nurture into a prospect and ultimately a customer. If your website can’t currently capture leads (e.g. a sign up or subscription form), consider a redesign.
  19. Blog About It. Blogging is an excellent marketing tool for businesses. Studies show that businesses that blog regularly are more than two times as likely to generate leads via their website as businesses that don’t. It also builds trust in your business.
  20. Build Your Email List. Most businesses are aware of the benefits of email marketing. However, many small businesses fail to leverage their website or blog to build their email list. A simple email sign-up form on your website can produce great results. Giving users an incentive to sign-up to your list is also very important. This can be anything from a newsletter to a freebie such as an eBook or Whitepaper that is relevant to your audience.
  21. Distribute A Monthly Press Release. Press releases are easy to create and can be promotional in nature. The editorial guidelines are straightforward and it is easy to get your releases accepted on major press release distribution sites. It is an easy way to market your business and boost your online visibility. For best results, contact local media including newspapers and magazines to see if they will publish your press release. You may be surprised with the result.
  22. Take Steps to Boost Conversions. There are many small businesses that get a lot of traffic on their website but fail to convert them into leads. Your website traffic is of little use if you cannot convert them into customers for your business. There are many ways to do this. Here are some examples:
    1. Use a good call to action on your website
    2. Make sure your “offer” is compelling
    3. Give them instant access to whatever the “offer” is and automate this process if possible
  23. Run Competitions. Running a competition is another very effective way to market your business. Use a good prize or reward to entice customers. It also gets people talking about your brand.
  24. Use Videos To Market Your Business. YouTube is one of the most widely used channels by consumers with regards to searching for information. Building your company’s presence on the site can get extra coverage for your business and help to attract new customers.
  25. List Your Business. Business directories such as Google Plus Local, Bing Local and Yahoo Local will ensure that you are found when customers are looking for what you have to offer.
  26. Register On Location Based Apps. Location based services such as Yelp and Foursquare are very popular among consumers. Listing your business is a great way to market your business and attract new customers.
  27. Be Social. A majority of small business already have a profile on the main social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. To maximize the benefits of social media:
    1. Post few times per week
    2. Add value for users by sharing content that is of value to them
    3. Engage actively with users – follow, share, retweet, and respond promptly to customer complaints or concerns
  28. Try Google Adwords. Google Adwords, Google’s pid advertising program, is a very effective way to get your website listed on search engines for your desired search terms. It can be very effective particularly in the short term while you work on improving your organic rank in the free listings.
  29. Social Media Advertising. If you are new and do not yet have a large enough following on social media, you can consider paid advertising on social media. Social networks like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube offer cost-effective advertising options for businesses.
  30. Design Your Calling Card. If you’re just starting out and don’t have a business card and business stationery, have them made up — immediately. Your business card, letterhead and envelope tell prospective customers you are a professional who takes your business seriously.
  31. Pass It Out. Get your business cards into the hand of anyone who can help you in your search for new clients. Call your friends and relatives and tell them you have started a business. Visit them and leave a small stack of business cards to hand out to their friends.
  32. Talk To Your Vendors. Talk to all the vendors from whom you buy products or services. Give them your business card, and ask if they can use your products or service, or if they know anyone who can
  33. Attend Meetings of Professional Groups. Consider attending the meetings of your Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, or civic associations. Have business cards in a pocket where they are easily reachable. Don’t forget to ask what the people you speak with do, and to really listen to them. They’ll be flattered by your interest, and better remember you because of it.
  34. Become a Card Carrying Member. Pay for membership in those groups that attract your target customers. If the group has a website and publishes a members list on the site, make sure your name and website link get added.
  35. Get Involved. Become actively involved in 2 or 3 of the above groups. That will give you more opportunity to meet possible prospects.
  36. Dial and Smile. Get on the telephone and make “cold calls.” These are calls to people who you would like to do business with. Briefly describe what you do and ask for an appointment to talk to them about ways you can help them meet a need or solve a problem.
  37. Pass Out Samples. Get samples of your product or your work into as many hands as possible.
  38. Free Consultation. Offer a free, no obligation consultation to people you think could use your services. During such consultations offer some practical suggestions or ideas – and before you leave ask for an “order” to implement the ideas.
  39. Create A Marketing Department. Use other people to sell your product or service. Instead of (or in addition to) selling your products yourself, look for affiliates, resellers or people who will generate leads for you in return for a commission on sales.
  40. Develop A Marketing Kit. Have sales letters, flyers and other pertinent information printed and ready to go. Ask prospects who seem reluctant to buy from you: “Would you like me to send information?” Follow up promptly with a note and a letter that says, “Here is the information you asked me to send
  41. Billboards. If your budget can afford it, billboards are a great way to announce your product or service to the public. There are also a good way to promote “top of mind” awareness in those who aren’t ready to purchase now, but may do so in the future.
  42. Bus Benches. Same concept as above, but on a smaller physical and monetary scale. The key to their success is location, location, location. Ensure that the bench is at an intersection where drivers are forced to stop. This will afford them a few seconds to notice and then read the information presented.
  43. Yard Signs. Talk to local residents or businesses about placing a small sign in their yard. Just make sure that you check with your city to see if there are any permits or prohibitions.
  44. Conventions. Trade and other expos are a great way to get your product in front of a group of likeminded people. Ensure that prospects have a way to leave you their information so that you can follow up with them later, send them samples, etc.
  45. Charitable Giving/ Sponsorship. Giving for monetary gain is never a good thing. But if you can find a cause or charity that aligns with your mission, the exposure of your gift or voluntarism could lead to sales down the line.
  46. Promotional Items. Everyone loves free stuff. Pens, key chains, stress balls, business card refrigerator magnets, etc. This stuff often costs pennies and will stay in people’s possession for many months.
  47. Use Mailing Lists. The use of targeted mailing lists (combined with direct mail campaigns) can lead to identifying and engaging customers who are interested in buying from you. The key is to make sure that you are specific in your list criteria so that there is a good market (person) to message (mailing piece) match.
  48. Client Appreciation Events. Your current customers and clients are your best source of finding new business. Having a client BBQ, holiday party or children’s day can go a long way to reinforcing your relationship and demonstrating that you genuinely care about them.
  49. Launch Parties. Most people like a party and new stuff. Combine the two and there you go! If you are releasing a new product or service, or just refreshing an existing one, getting people together to see and experience it are always a good thing.
  50. Targeted Internet, Radio, TV Advertising. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get your message out there, especially if you limit the distribution to a specific market, location or demographic. Consider using targeted advertising in the same manner as the mailing list discussed above.

 

6 Quick Negotiation Tips

Whether you work for an employer or own your own business, the ability to effectively negotiate can make the difference between success and mediocrity.  It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, or how far you are in your career.  This is because the skill of “getting to yes” is one not widely taught.

With that said, whether it’s a multi-million dollar contract, a job offer, or a luncheon, keep this advice in mind the next time you approach the negotiating table:

Know what you want. Don’t go to the table without a clear, realistic idea of what you want to achieve. It will help you negotiate with confidence.

Ask for what you want. Don’t be afraid to make the first offer. You’ll set the tone for the discussion, and studies suggest that the negotiator who goes first usually comes closer to getting what he or she wants.

Understand what your partner wants. A successful negotiation should satisfy both sides.  Instead of trying to crush your competition, find out what he or she hopes to get, and try to work together toward a solution that works for you both.

Don’t concede unilaterally. Usually one side or the other has to give something up. If you do that, be sure to get a comparable concession from the other person. Giving away something for nothing will be taken as a weakness to be exploited.

Don’t rush. Time can be your friend if you’re willing to wait for the right deal. If the other side senses a deadline, he or she may be motivated to hold out until the last minute, or try to force you into accepting unreasonable terms. Be patient and let the time pressure work against your partner.

Be ready to walk away. This can take a certain amount of courage, but it’s necessary to avoid being backed into an agreement you don’t want. If possible, keep an ally in reserve—someone with the power to approve or reject the deal. This can give you an out if you need to turn down a deal, or motivate the other side to make the best offer

Why You Shouldn’t Become An Entreprenuer

poor-entrepreneur-ceo

Many of us dream of having our own company or at least working for ourselves.  Let’s face it, how liberating would it be to not have to report to the “man” day in and day out?  Well, while that might sound all fine and dandy, it’s quite another thing in practice.  We’re in the fortunate business that we get to counsel many aspiring entrepreneurs before they take the big leap.  Our advice?  Simple; don’t do it.  Well, don’t do it for the wrong reasons at least.

Outlined below are five reasons you should NOT become an entrepreneur; which account for 90% of the reasons people want to become one.  However, we then follow this up with five reasons you should take the plunge.  Ready?  Let’s get started.

Reasons against becoming an entrepreneur

You want to be rich. Going into business because you want to make loads of money is just a bad idea.  Truth be told, making money on your own is an extremely hard and volatile venture.  And if you think it’s a good return on investment, that’s just bad math.  Most businesses fail within a few years and those that do make it often take years to become profitable.  Plus, for the first few years don’t expect to take a check.  Total up all of the above and the phrases “starving artist” and “struggling musician” start to make sense.  So if you’re motivated by money, you’re far better off being a banker, investor or consultant or something.

You hate your boss. If you think that getting rid of your boss frees you up from having to report to anyone, think again.  Every CEO of a major company still has a boss.  They are called the Board of Directors, shareholders and customers.  So when you become the CEO, all you really do is just trade one boss for thousands more (e.g. customers).  And guess what?  Customers are some pretty demanding folk.

You want to work less.  People often tell us that they want to work for themselves because they want to spend more time with their kids or family.  Okay.  Unfortunately that’s not how it works.  In reality you will get “flex time” but in the form of you picking any 24 hours of the day to work your tail off.  Over time a successful entrepreneur may work less than they did in Corporate America, but this often takes many years to accomplish.  In the beginning, you will be responsible for making everything happen.

You like the idea of control. Some individuals are enamored with power.  Titles, money, expensive toys etc. exemplify this for these individuals.  What it’s really like: everyone else is your boss – all of your employees, customers, partners, users, media are your boss.   On top of that, there is very little control in a business.  Things are constantly happening and needing to be addressed.  What’s worse is that if you’re one who likes predictability, you will soon find yourself pulling your hair out.  Entrepreneurship is far from predictable.

You want to get rid of the stress of corporate life.  Sure, reporting to a demanding boss is stressful.  So is figuring out how your going to negotiate a line of credit to keep the company open 20 more weeks while you wait on that Federal Government vendor payment to come in.  The reality is that we make our own stresses and they follow us.  Building a business is cool but it involves a lot of work.  So if you’re trying to escape for stress reasons, you may want to reconsider.

Okay, so now that we’ve got that covered, why should you take the plunge to head up your own endeavor?  Follow us please.

Reasons for becoming an entrepreneur

You’ve identified an unfulfilled market space.  Most ideas that come to market tend to be slight modifications of existing concepts.  This is not to say that we don’t derive benefit from what they provide, it’s just that it’s not earth shattering (e.g. ATMs vs. a personal banker).  However, if you have figured out a new concept that isn’t being used by your competitors and can truly cause a paradigm shift, therein lies a market opportunity (think Segway).  And where opportunity and demand intersect, money is often made.

You are passionate about something.  A good friend of ours always says that you shouldn’t go to college to major in what you love, but what you can find a job in.  While that is good financial advice, it’s not the best advice for those seeking to run their own show.  You see, we’re big believers that passion carries a lot of weight and can take you places that “doing a good job” simply can’t.

Take Tony Robbins for example.  While many will say that Tony isn’t extremely talented and he didn’t go to college, few will argue that he hasn’t made himself a household name.  How did he do it?  By taking the bull by the horns so to speak and forging his own way.  That takes a lot of guts giving how hard this entrepreneurship journey tends to be.  But if you have passion, good things tend to follow; which is typically a result of how hard you are willing to work and the lengths which you are will to strive to make your dream a reality.

You’ve figured out a better way to do something. Capitalistic societies are cool in the sense that if you have an idea that can improve life in some fashion, you can probably do well financially.  Thus, if you have a concept or product that will truly change the way things are done (e.g. powering cars off water vs. gasoline); you should by all means go for it.

You want to make a difference in society.  This world is full of individuals and companies that just want to make a quick buck.  The ones that are truly great are those that want to make things better.  Back in the day Ben & Jerry’s was one of the pioneers of the now common “Corporate Responsibility” movement.  But some companies such as One Laptop Per Child (see them in this article) take it a step further in trying to improve situations, people, socioeconomic groups and the like.  So if you are trying to make things better and you can make a little coin in the process, by all means be our guest.

You just can’t live your life any other way.  Sometimes you will hear people say that they weren’t meant to go to college, or work inside an office, or work for someone else.  If you truly thrive in working in an entrepreneurial environment, then it’s probably best that you become one.  Yet, the keyword here is thrive.  Whenever you find a situation that lets you be the best that you can be, you should embrace it.  Whether it’s your job, hobbies or love interest; when you find something that fits perfectly, don’t attempt to resist it.  Often times, you will regret it if you do.

"Do what you love. The money will follow!"

“Do what you love. The money will follow!”