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Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Reward

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=stock+market&iid=7237024″ src=”d/5/e/2/High_angle_view_6dfe.jpg?adImageId=9873992&imageId=7237024″ width=”234″ height=”234″ /]This disclaimer is quite popular in adverts for stock portfolios and precious metal investments: past performance is no guarantee of future reward.  So true.  Have you considered that it is also true of your business?

You’re only as good as your last iteration.  Or hit song.  Or hit movie.

You shouldn’t rest on your laurels.  Your next “big thing” may bomb.

Here’s a good one:  There is always someone new who’s never heard of you or your products or services.  How do I know this?  The population of the planet is over 6 billion souls.

Our businesses, if they are currently enjoying success, can be something easily taken for granted.  Especially if a business is doing well in these times of recession.  But taking something for granted means that you aren’t really seeing it.  It’s like having a painting hanging on your living room wall.  Perhaps when you first saw it at the gallery you loved it.  It either conveyed an emotional meaning to you…or, as often happens, it simply matched the color scheme of your home.  Either way, you bought it and hung it in a place of visual prominence.  Over time, as human nature goes, you cease to even see it.  We get comfortable when things go well.  This getting comfortable can blind us to dangers and new opportunities.

I’m re-reading Michael Crichton’s The Lost World for about the fifth or sixth time.  [I get in these moods and love to read again the works of favorite authors.]  In the early part of the novel Crichton’s character of Ian Malcolm [played so wonderfully by actor Jeff Goldblum in the movie version ] gives a lecture having to do with chaos theory and the “edge of chaos.”  The character says [on page 4 in my hardcover edition], “…We imagine the edge of chaos as a place where there is enough innovation to keep a living system vibrant, and enough stability to keep it from collapsing into anarchy…if a living system drifts too close, it risks falling over into incoherence and dissolution; but if the system moves too far away from the edge, it becomes rigid, frozen, totalitarian.  Both conditions lead to extinction….”  [Great stuff!]

Said by me, simplistically – if we let ourselves become too comfortable with our current success then our businesses can cease to be alive and “vibrant.”  I think it is very interesting to liken our businesses to a living system because without constant growth and change, our businesses can indeed fall into extinction.  Sometimes staying on that edge means:

  • listening to our customers – what are they telling us about our products and services?  Is there something we can do better or provide in a better way?  Are we not offering a product or service that our customer could truly use in addition to our current offerings?
  • listening and watching the marketplace – trends shift; people may love purple widgets this year but will abandon them for yellow ones the next.  We have to constantly be aware of shifting needs in the marketplace.  This also means in times of recession we should be aware that perhaps our customers aren’t buying, not because there is a problem with our products/services, but because the customers simply don’t have the spendable income.  What can we do to adapt?
  • watching for new opportunities – new technologies come out all the time; how can we adapt them to our business?

Be thankful and grateful if your business is currently showing a profit…or at the very least breaking even…right now.  However, also be constantly working on and revising your business plan so that you are not caught unawares of new opportunities, trends and technologies.

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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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Meandering thoughts about a home-based business

Big companies, corporations…and even mid-size to small companies get to gather their people together periodically to applaud past success and strategize about future direction.  Depending upon the budget, these groups of people might meet at a 4-star hotel and have break-out meetings, key note speakers and catered lunches; or they might meet in the conference room and all go out for lunch en masse to a local restaurant then come back and take turns putting yellow sticky notes up on the white board under the direction of a facilitator.

What if you are a home-based business person and you are your staff ?  What does your annual strategizing sessions look like?  Mine kind of happen in my head with “stuff” bumping around the inside of my skull like a pinball machine.  My mental yellow sticky notes might have on them:

  • what is my Vision?  Can a solo owner, home-based business have a Vision?  Where am I going and where do I want to be with this?
  • Marketing Plan?  Does my business need a marketing plan?  If yes, why don’t I have one in place already?  If I have one, do I have some way of determining its effectiveness?
  • Who’s my customer?  Is there a specific profile to help me determine who wants my product?
  • Do I have competition?  Am I in a niche market so small I needn’t worry about competition?  Or, is my market a big one and my product is “just one more good” something?
  • Is my product’s brand a recognizable one?  What about my personal brand for my business?  As a small business person am I known for giving good customer service?  Can people contact me easily?  Do I follow-up promptly on inquiries?
  • What is my business all about?  Is it in existence because I need to help pay the mortgage?  Am I wanting to set up a trust fund for grandchildren?  Are there some dreams I’ve put on the back burner of Life because resources are too limited to reach for them without this?
  • What don’t I know and how am I going to educate myself so that my business can flourish ?

My mental white board is loaded with yellow sticky notes and now it’s time to sort them.  It’s time to take the information on the virtual notes and put them on actual sticky notes and arrange them on the actual white board in my real world office.  It’s time to take the business from my head out into the world and make it grow.

How is your home-based business strategizing working now that we’re mid-way in January of ’09?

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