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Stick to the Basics to Stay Afloat in Hard Times

Morrow Bay, CA Photo by Linda C Smith

*My article first appeared at Technorati [dot com].  I did just a bit of updating.

Have you heard the news?  Economically speaking it’s tough out there!  But we all knew that.  The small business sector suffers just the same as Big Business…so what to do?  Stick to the Basics and do what you do best.

First things first:  be sure you know your business.

  • Have a dream and passion for the business that you chose.
  • Have determination to make the business work.  Show up every day and be the poster child for hope.
  • Give great customer service. Even if your business has slowed down, the very fact that you are still in business means that someone is paying for your business’ products and services and these customers and clients deserve your attention.
  • Offer added value. Go beyond just being in business…make your business different by giving the customer more than they expect.  Instead of merely selling your product or service, engage the consumer in a conversation about his or her needs and wants and how your product or service can meet or fulfill that.  In 2010 pure sales won’t be enough.  Added value will be key.

To weather the economic storm, you might think about:

  • checking and double-checking your current business plan; bring up-to-date your stated vision and mission statement; determine if you are on target.
  • checking and double-checking your current business strategies: are you in the correct marketplace for your products or services?  Are you actually and effectively reaching your desired customer-base?  Are you sure you’ve correctly identified your customer base and know how to communicate with them?
  • keeping your products and services clean, polished and ready to deliver…be proud to represent the products and services you have in your current inventory.
  • contacting your customers – have you shown your current customers that you appreciate their business?  It is not just a cliché saying that ‘happy customers bring referrals,’ it is a truism: satisfied and happy customers will often be a good source for new customers…have you asked your customers for referrals?

This is not to say that you oughtn’t to try anything new during an economic downturn; to the contrary, one thing you could do is experiment with new ways of communicating with your customers, find new ways of finding customers.  If you aren’t already, make internet marketing a part of your strategic communication and marketing plan.  You don’t have to get complicated to start, begin small:

  • build a web page...or do a little web page redesign and clean-up
  • tout your business on a few top social media sites like Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIn
  • direct people to your website by writing articles
  • anything new or improved you do, write and submit a press release about it
  • start a blog, either as a part of your business web page, or independently [and have it point back to your business web page]
  • if appropriate for your business: (1) have classified and display ads in your local newspaper and regional magazines; (2) run radio and/or television spots; (3) arrange speaking engagements for yourself at local groups who might be interested in your area of expertise; (4) leave your business card everywhere and with everyone

I read a fantastic article in my local newspaper over the weekend that highlights a solo-preneur in my area who does stick to the basics and has built a successful business.  The article is written by David Morrill, the online title: One-stylist hair salon thrives on personal connections. Mr. Morrill wrote about hair stylist Jenny Mui, whose business is Zen Jen Hair Studio, and she has built her business on:

  • customer service
  • added value
  • word of mouth

…which builds her reputation.  According to the article Ms. Mui says, “…’How great is it to know that it’s your reputation that has built your business,” she said. ‘For me, it’s always been about making sure the customer comes first, and people appreciate that.’…”

The article describes how she marketed her business through personal service and word-of-mouth: “…When she first started in the profession, she would go to the nearby coffee shops and seek out the baristas. Mui would tell them that she’s going to do their hair for free. The only thing asked in return is if someone asks them about their hair, she refers clients to her. ‘I got many clients that way,’ she said….”

The present economy might not be the rosiest to look at, but you don’t have to let it ruin your day…or your business.  Just keep doing what is working and use the present climate as a time for continuous improvement.

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6 Questions to Spark New Year’s Business Planning

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=business+people&iid=7290606″ src=”a/d/0/8/High_angle_view_9e7e.jpg?adImageId=8463437&imageId=7290606″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]Whether you’re planning global expansion for your business or you just want to see if it’s time to design new business cards, December is a great time to revisit your business. Pull up a chair, get a cup of eggnog, a plate of decorated Christmas cookies, a pad of paper and a pencil and see if any of these questions can help you spark some new thinking.

1.  Why do you have your own business?   [Are you a small business owner or the owner of a home-based business?  Or are you still in the idea stage…the entrepreneurial-thinking stage?]

  • What do you hope to achieve with your business?  Are you looking to augment your current situation or replace it altogether?  Do you plan to serve your local community or do you see a global presence?
  • Can you, in one sentence, declare the purpose of your business?  Do you have a purpose at the core of your business that is larger than the details?

2.  Can you state exactly how big you want your business to be?  Not everyone dreams of being a multi-national, multi-billion dollar business; some people are happy and comfortable being “thousandaires.”

  • Is it big in annual profit margin?
  • Is it big in philanthropic outreach?
  • Is it big in the numbers of people it touches?
  • Is growth part of your plan?

3.  What makes your business special?

  • What differentiates your business from another that is similar?  You might be an independent distributor with a direct selling company, but your business is still your own business – what sets your business apart from another independent distributor selling the same product?  Is is customer service?  Added value?
  • What is your uniqueness?  Is it your product or service?  Is it the quality of customer service your business offers?

4.  Do you know who your customers are? Do you have a business-to-business product or service making other businesses your potential clients?  Do you have a consumer product or service that appeals to a specific niche or does it have broad appeal?

  • Do you know where they are?  Are they your neighbors?  Are they online?
  • Can they find you?  Are you distributing information about your business and products/services in as many ways that potential customers can understand and find?

5.  Do you have a road map of strategies to get you where you want to go?

  • Do you know where you want to be this time next year?
  • Do you have strategies that apply to the short-term “survival” needs of your business?
  • Do you have business-building strategies in place that will lead you to where you’d like to see your business in ten year’s time?

6.  Do you have outlined how you’re going to achieve your stated goals?

  • Do you have recognized milestones in place that will let you know where you are on the path to your goals?

You may not want to totally revamp your 2010 business plan halfway through December, but these questions might give you a way to tweak some spots in that plan to make 2010 more of a positive adventure.

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A business plan built by a fortune cookie

I’ve heard of people planning important business strategies by scribbling such on cocktails napkins.  I’ve even seen such planning diagrams on the paper coverings of little Italian cuisine eateries.  Once, at a Mexican cuisine dining establishment I saw some business men using crayons and drawing organizational boxes on the back of the child menu.  Needless to say, utilizing what is at hand at the moment of original thought is timeless and much practiced.

So why not a fortune cookie fortune?  This particular piece of fortune paper was not so much used to record business strategy as the fortune itself has become part of the vision planning…of the “you can do it,” “go get ’em!” encouragement part of the overall business vision.

This fortune reads:

  • One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety-nine who have only interest.

This little scrap of white paper with blue ink was folded inside an already crumbled cookie from the Kari-Out Co., NY.   I have not done any research to discover where “they” find the pithy sayings “they” use as fortunes, but I’m grateful for this one. 

What does this fortune have to do with business?  The basic, most underlying foundation of any business is the vision of its founder(s).  At the core of that vision is belief.  Sometimes the vision will start with belief in an idea and grow from there.  Sometimes it is belief in the vision that sustains the leaders and managers of a business during times of difficulty.  At other times when business is good, that belief is vindicated and applauded. 

It is a fortune worth repeating to anyone and everyone who has a small business, a home-based direct selling or network marketing business and who must rely on their belief in that what they are doing is worth the time and effort; that one person’s belief does, indeed, have tremendous power.

  • One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety-nine who have only interest.

If you know, in your heart of hearts, that what you are trying to accomplish is worthy of your time, effort and diligence…then believe that very thing and take power from it.  It will encourage you and enthuse you…and as I’ve said before, enthusiasm is contagious.

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Everything you need to grow your business

Have you ever considered that everything you need to grow your business can be found inside yourself?  Oh, you’ll need financial resources; you’ll need customers or clients; you’ll need suppliers and outlets; you’ll need sign-ups, sign-ins and hardware and software.  These are details.  You’ll need a business plan.  That, too, is a detail.

What you really need to grow your business is the belief that you can.  The drive, determination, perseverance and “boot-strap” mentality  of belief is what keeps you going.  If you can think it, you can achieve it.

Thinking it so will drive your decisionsin the whats, wheres, hows and whos of growing your business. 

Write out daily affirmations.  I learned the value of affirmations from Naomi Judd’s book, “Naomi’s Breakthrough Guide: 20 Choices To Transform Your Life.” [ http://www.naomijudd.com/product_detail.php?pid=8 ] Many people have written about the importance of positive thinking but in reading Naomi’s book, I learned the value of writing out affirmations – positive thoughts – on a daily basis.  After all, we are what we think about.  The Bible says it best:as a man thinketh, so is he.  (Proverbs 23:7)

Come to believe that everything you need to grow your business is nested right in your own heart.