5 Common Small Business Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

1. Technology: Everyone in small businesses understands the need for technology but don’t truly understand what really makes it valuable to your business. Valuable technology has really only two purposes: to make you money and to save you money, period. Although that sounds rather generic, the truth is technology’s primary function is recording data; therefore, the data your systems are using should increase client retention or decrease the time spent on your staff or product fulfillment. Finally, don’t undervalue your technology; don’t pinch pennies here because the right technology is the foundation of your business.

Essentials for technology:
A. Website for lead generation
B. Contact management system for recording clients’ sales history
C. Secured network for growth, sharing, and remote employees (sales team)
D. Technical consultant for helping you determine the best and most cost-effective software and hardware for your company
E. Powerful e-mail marketing system
F. Good accounting software

2. Marketing: Many small businesses don’t think much of marketing until their sales are slumping or they are not generating enough customers (or enough revenue). To compensate for this error, we begin panic promotions, which usually will not lead to greater sales or more clients.

Essentials for marketing:
A. Marketing is essential for business growth and should be implemented before the doors open and continue throughout the business life cycle.
B. Marketing and sales are not the same thing (marketing generates sales leads).
C. Develop a marketing plan and stick to it for a minimum of 90 days.
D. Review and refine your marketing plan consistently; what works for the grand opening may not work next year.
E. Develop a marketing budget and stick to it; marketing is a business cost and should be treated as importantly as your rent (if not more so).
F. Remember “If you open, they will come” is a myth; only marketing will get clients to your business.

3. Know or learn your customers (market research): In my opinion, it is better to know who your customer is before you open the doors, but for the young entrepreneur, this is seldom the case. The good news is if you have done steps 1 and 2, this step will be a little easier because you will have the data to help you see who your true customer is.

Essentials for market research:
A. Know what your best and worst selling items are.
B. Determine the clients’ gender, race, and socioeconomic status.
C. Send out surveys (including some form of incentive).
D. Determine the clients’ buying patterns (every month, week, or year).
E. Include new information in the marketing plan.

4. DIY (do it yourself): Of the entire group of successful entrepreneurs I have met, they all had one thing in common: they did what they were good at and delegated the rest. We all have strengths and weaknesses; as a small business owner, you don’t have the time to correct your weaknesses, so focus on making them irrelevant to your success instead.

Essentials for business management:
A. Delegate effectively.
B. Use technology.
C. Prioritize your strengths.
D. Delegate all weaknesses.
E. Use outside talent when necessary.
F. Hire based on the company’s weaknesses.

5. Being too nice: Most small business owners develop a peculiar bond with their employees and a fear of their clients, which develops to this unique situation. The employees tend to feel that they can do what they want in the company as opposed to what they are told; your business is not a democracy. As for the client side, many new small business owners are afraid to charge what they should or believe they should be cheaper than the competition; nothing could be further from the truth. You charge what your value proposition supports, period.

Essentials for employee and client relations:
Employees
A. Hire slow; fire fast.
B. Business is not a democracy (you are king/queen).
C. Personal feelings have no place in business.
D. Hire to fill a company void.
E. Develop an employee handbook.

Clients
A. Prices are not negotiable.
B. Friends and family are still clients (if they are friends, they would understand that this is your livelihood).
C. You can’t be “all things to all people.”
D. Don’t be afraid to say no.
E. Apologize as well as stand your ground when necessary.

Best wishes,
Darrin Jackson

3 Key Reasons Why Your Small Business Blog Will Fail (And How To Make It Succeed Instead)

Whether you are blogging already to promote your small business or thinking of starting a blog, using a blog to promote your small business is not enough in itself.

You may be considering blogging, or have been an owner of a blog for some while now, believing that this blog will bring you more customers. That’s what you were led to believe by all the hype around blogging, and possibly by your tech people too, right?

If this is you then you are not alone. Many small business owners believe, either because of hype, or from seeing competitors take up blogging, that a blog is the key to attracting more customers. In times of recession and downturn any thing that can bring in money to your business is good right?

Wrong.

Starting a business blog can be the worst path you will take in your business. Why? Because many times over small business owners believe that their blog will promote their business.

If this is you, thinking this way will lead you to 3 key reasons why your blog will fail before it gets started.

Key Reason 1: Not understanding the fundamental principle of what blogging is really all about.

Many small business blogs bore people (especially potential customers) with dry sales-speak such as how competitive their prices are. They use their blog to sell first and foremost. This is a BIG mistake.

What To Do Instead:

Stay away from dry sales-speak. Instead entertain and support. Use your blog to offer information that improves, saves and supports potential customers in finding solutions to their wants.

Key Reason 2: Believing that the most important task of your blog is to promote your business first and last.

This mistake leads many small business owners scratching their heads, and disappointed that no one has arrived to spend money in their business. For example, a florist may think that their blog should promote what their florist’s business does – sell flowers in beautiful ways.

What To Do Instead:

Concentrate first and foremost on becoming an advisor. This means actively stepping out of the role of sales person, and stepping into the roles of counselor, expert and leader offering interesting, useful, helpful and entertaining information that improves, saves and supports potential customers.

People are attracted by people who give them short cuts to what they want most. Become that person and people will flock to you – and your business.

Key Reason 3: They pay a lot of money to have their blog designed for them and allow these designers to design a blog that they (the designers) think is “cool”.

Cool is fine – if it sells. Trouble is most of what passes for Cool for other people, usually does not fit your potential customers’ idea of cool. Sure they may think “Wow!” when they see your super-duper blog design (possibly) but will they be persuaded to buy from you because of it? 97% of the time the answer is “No.”

What To Do Instead:

First establish your target niche. Once you have established who you want as customers, you are ready to establish what goals your blog will achieve for you.

Only when you have establish these two fundamental facts are you ready (and able) to decide what kind of blog is best for your particular business to enable you to achieve your goals. It is then that you are in a position to discuss and decide the best design for your blog. Anything that detracts, or leads away, from achieving your goals must be rejected.

Nothing must get in the way of you giving your target niche of people what they want. Establish who your target niche is. If you are a florist remember your target niche is not “people who buy flowers”. Your target niche comes from those people. But you need to hone in on who, what, when, why, how and where among people who buy flowers are your target niche.

When you have established this by answering those six vital honing-in questions, you will be able to establish the target niche – and aim – of your blog. For example, you may have established that: out of people who buy flowers in your area, your target niche are women entrepreneurs between 30 and 40 years old, who want to have beautiful flowers, not only brighten their homes, but their work places too. But they don’t want to bother with arranging bouquets themselves. Oh yes, and they’re Fung Shui addicts too.

There’s your blog’s target niche and aim: Inspiring, saving and advising these women entrepreneurs on how to best use flowers in partnership with Fung Shui principles in order to enjoy increased flows of positive energy.

The Bottom Line:

Blogging can bring increased numbers of people to your business and increase your bottom line – if you understand how to avoid the 3 key reasons business blogs fail and instead make your blog successful.

8 Golden Success Secrets for Small Businesses

Running a small business is as challenging as trekking to Mt. Everest without having oxygen cylinder, prior practice, and a valid map guide. The challenges are only because there are no authentic rules that can lead a small business towards success while other major obstacles comprise: low budget, limited manpower, and lack of efficient resources. But as a small business owner, you must delve into the passcodes that help you decode the secret patterns of operating a successful startup or small business. It not only helps you to sustain your current growth but also excel your business planning’s to achieve higher objectives. There are a few suggestions based on real-world experiences, which can assist you to hit the bull’s eye.

1- Utilize the power of social media:

Nowadays, the entire world revolves around social media and if you are able to use its full potential, it can immediately help you increase your sales and brand reputation with very minimum resource and effort. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, help you connect with a large scale of users, where you can directly interact with them, thereby allowing you to convert them into your potential clients. It forms a two-way channel that not only allows you to put your message across but also, listen to what your targeted audience want, which eventually goes a long way in improving and growing your business.

2- Research and analyze your competition:

A business turns to be successful only if it runs on some finely grinned facts and figures. And competition analysis is one of the most important elements of the process. Competition analysis tells you the strength you will require to establish your brand in the market as well as it helps to prepare your business planning adequately so that you could avoid the chances of business failure. An additional benefit of competition research is it allows for designing and developing more feasible and user-oriented products that eventually help you attain a competitive edge over the current market.

3- Work as per your plan but be flexible too:

Efficient planning is a roadmap that drives your business to the top in the long run with predefined routes. It is always advised to stick with our planning even if we face a few hurdles while running our business given that the strategies are designed after in-depth analysis. And day-to-day challenges should not incline you to alter with whatever you planned. The winners always back their business plannings regardless of the stiff challenges, but on the other side, a successful business requires the owner to be flexible enough to embrace new changes. Adapting the new ideas and concepts not only makes a business owner take smart decisions but also, keeps their core planning intact and fresh.

4- Use informative materials to build trust and loyalty:

The Internet is the best medium to reach out to the huge audience with less effort, but you should keep the fact in mind that there is already a heavy flow of advertisements and endorsements all over the web. So, what can be an efficient way to create our presence with a significant impact?

There are definitely some better ways to do it like using informative online materials such as well-written blogs, well-designed infographics, animated videos demonstrating some set of skills, and presentation sheets, etc. Following such practices will attract a huge mass to our platform to learn and engage with us, which gives a sense of trust and ultimately convert them into our long-term clients.

5- Hire your weaknesses:

A small business consists of a team of limited dedicated professionals, having different skill sets of all the corners to tackle most of the business requirements. Small businesses, sometimes, compromise in some crucial areas since they can’t hire specific individuals due to the lack of budget. To get your business positioned to the top, please don’t bear with your inefficient area. Rush into hiring experienced professional(s) so that all parts of your business fire with the same intensity.

6- Be ready for mergers and acquisitions:

Even after working with your full potential, you may not generate enough force to compete with the leading competitors. Other small businesses with the same concept may face the same situations. Just find them and join in the talks to check the possibilities of the merger to form a combined force, which can provide the required pace and power to achieve the common business goals. Mergers have a long, rich history of producing successful businesses, so don’t shy away with it. Similarly, business acquisitions are a noble idea to inject more strength to our business if budget allows us to do so.

7- Keep the quality service always on:

Quality service is the most important source that keeps your client for a longer period of time and it spreads huge positive feedbacks in the mass, driving in a large number of new clients. There have been more than just a few businesses reaching to the top just on the base of excellent service and even without spending a bomb on advertisements and business promotions. While there are other businesses which have failed miserably because of giving no importance to the quality of the services they provided. All in all, having the sound quality of the products/services is the key to succeeding in today’s cut throat competition.

8- Don’t give up:

Running a successful business is not a child’s play since it requires a lot of guts, courage, and risk-taking capabilities. It, sometimes, shakes your ambitions when going through some rough patches, and you need to have the burning desires within you to keep it alive. Keeping patience is also an important character that the small business owner must have, as the formation of a business and climb the ladder of success, demands to wait for long period of time. So, as a business owner, you need to instill never give up attitude to see your dreams come true!!

Summing it up, though the above-mentioned points are not entirely foolproof but yes, following these points will definitely help you to become a smart small business owner who can defy all the challenges and get on the top of the competition. Of Course, the chances of success or failure of your business completely depends on your planning and execution.

Freelancers and Small Business Owners: What to Look for in a Chamber of Commerce

In a previous article, Why Every Freelance Writer Should Join a Chamber of Commerce, I advised that every freelancer should join a Chamber of Commerce. However, not all chambers are effective.

Here I will outline what every freelancer and/or small business owner should look for before joining.

1. Dedicated Leads Meetings: What are these? Simply put, a time set aside just for passing/getting leads – no hobnobbing, no meet and greet, no speakers – a time just for getting and passing leads.

In my previous article, I outlined how this works, but a quick recap is as follows:

Members are given a specified time (usually 30-45 seconds) to give a short commercial about their product/service. Mine usually goes something like:

My name is Yuwanda Black and I am a freelance copywriter. I write/produce web copy, newsletters, sales letters, brochures and other marketing materials for small business owners. I work quickly and cost-consciously.

Recently, I provided a newly licensed realtor with all the copy for her website in just two days. A good lead for me today is a web designer, printer and/or communications manager.

NOTE: The reason I highlight the word today is that sometimes, as a business owner, you may be targeting a different market. For example, I do a lot of work with realtors and mortgage brokers.

However, I also write resumes. So, the next week, I may target recruiters at staffing agencies. Why? They often need resumes written, rewritten, edited and/or copy edited before they send them to clients.

As this example illustrates, it’s important to think carefully about what you want to say during your presentation – because, as I stated in my last article, people listen peripherally UNTIL they hear something that strikes a chord for them.

After all members have completed their commercial, leads/referrals are then passed (hence, the need to be highly specific in your message).

2. Dedicated Leads Meetings – ON A REGULAR BASIS: One chamber I belong to offers networking events on an irregular basis. In my opinion, this is not effective, for the following reasons:

a) People do business with people they know, like and trust: If you don’t see prospects on a regular basis, there is no chance to build a rapport. So, you never get to build any of these sentiments.

b) No chance to imprint your brand: If you can’t get in front of prospects on a regular basis, there is no chance to imprint what you do on a prospect’s brain. Most people have to meet you 3-4 times before they will remember your name, never mind what you do.

c) No chance to get a pulse of the community: Chambers of Commerce are the local business community – eg, realtors, bankers, web design companies, staffing agencies, physicians, etc.

Via this network, a wealth of information is often gleaned about the local economy – eg, how new zoning laws affect x, which companies are closing, which are expanding, types of industries projected to do well in the next 5, 10 years. It is a readily available research vehicle to learn a ton about what you can do to increase your business’s bottom line.

For all of the above reasons, it is critical to know HOW OFTEN your chamber meets. In my opinion, it should be at least weekly. One of the chambers I belong to has dedicated leads meetings twice a week – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. This allows everyone – no matter their schedule – to attend at least one.

3. Responsive Chamber Representative: As a new member, you are likely to be intimidated meeting other members. Even if this is not the case, you may not know anyone.

A good chamber will have a representative who literally takes you by the hand and introduces you to other members. S/he probably won’t introduce you to everyone – but will at least make 2-3 introductions to get you started. It will usually go something like:

“Mary, this is Yuwanda Black. She owns Inkwell Editorial, an editorial services firm in the area. Yuwanda, Mary here has been a chamber member for the last three years. She owns the local print shop. I thought it would be good for you two to get to know each other.”

Usually “Mary” will converse with “Yuwanda” about what she does and will introduce her to a couple of more people. Any savvy business owner can take it from there.

NOTE: It can be intimidating to walk into a room full of people you don’t know and tell them what you do. But, and you will just have to trust me on this – chamber members are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.

They are usually hardworking small business owners just like you – and most will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and at ease. AND, once you get a foothold in the organization, most members really do work to give you qualified referrals.

4. Lunch & Learns: Most chambers have enhancement seminars on a variety of topics of interest to small business owners – how to hire the right sales person, how to live a balanced life, the ethics of business, etc.

These are offered free or for a reduced fee to chamber members. Many times, the seminar presenters are chamber members themselves. Why is this important? It’s an excellent chance for you to get your product/service in front of a group of interested prospects.

This also builds your presentation skills – and could ostensibly add another revenue stream to your business. Many times after a seminar I’ve had attendees approach me about doing some type of work for their firm – ie, an in-house seminar, produce a sales letter, an employee manual, etc.

5. Advertising: The final tip I have is that any chamber you join should have some way for you to get the word out about your business via more than just the networking. Eg, via an e-blasted press release, a job posting board, an online member directory, etc.

One of the chambers I belong to offers all of this. It’s usually in some type of limited capacity, eg, no more than one press release per quarter, but is highly effective.

In summary, I was in business for years before I joined a chamber. My thinking was that they were just another organization that wanted a fee and would serve no real benefit. Boy was I wrong!

Building relationships via your local chamber will take some time (remember, prospects have to get to know, like and trust you), but the long-term benefits are beyond immeasurable.