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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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The Epic iPod to iPad and Old Bones

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=apple+iphone&iid=7152173″ src=”c/8/3/b/First_iPhone_Goes_2a86.jpg?adImageId=9547642&imageId=7152173″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]Wow. Technology moves with the speed of a sirocco wind sucking the air from our lungs and leaving our brains mushy. This photo shows a gentleman in South Korea who just got his iPhone just this past November and now, today, Apple is announcing the iPad.  Which I have to admit I just can’t figure out.

Here’s my wondering: what would I, as a small solo-preneur business person, need with the iPad?  Actually what do I need with a netbook or notebook when I have a laptop, a cell phone and an iPod already?  I admit I don’t have a smart phone yet, that is on my wish list for this year but only because I’d like to check email on-the-go…I happen to have a 7-year old cell phone that does exactly what I want it to do – send and receive phone calls.  I got an iPod because I really wanted the ability to customize music listening for myself and have it really portable.  And I actually do watch some tv shows on that teeny screen.  Then there’s my laptop for all my other stuff: email, document writing, photo work, blogging, networking…general work and social use.  What would I use an iPad for?

In doing some research for this today I came across the opinions of four members of the Harvard Business School faculty who addressed this new Apple Tablet.  It was very interesting.  Here are my favorite excerpts:

  • says Bhaskar Chakravorti, Senior Lecturer of Business Administration, “…The Apple tablet has already been declared the savior of many chronically – even terminally – ill industries: newspapers, television, movies, and computing, for instance. Enthusiasts believe that the tablet could be the magic pill that will do for all these industries what its predecessor, the iPod, did for the dying music industry in 2002.”  He continues, “…But can Steve Jobs upend the status quo once again? He can if the tablet fundamentally changes our behaviors. But that does not happen through phenomenal design alone. Design can capture our attention and spark excitement. But for a product to lead to sustained behavioral change, we also need an innovative business model that changes our incentives as consumers or content creators or distributors – and motivates the entire value chain to do things differently.…”
  • from Karim R. Lakhani, Assistant Professor of Business Administration: “…This singular focus on owning the customer experience, end-to-end, has separated Apple from its rivals, first in computers and now in consumer electronics. The eager anticipation for the tablet is driven by the expectation that the user experience will be beyond what most firms have delivered.…”
  • here’s an excerpt from Daniel C. Snow, Assistant Professor of Business Administration: “…Watch for the tablet to generate spillbacks that support smart phones, netbooks, and notebooks. For example, increasingly sophisticated App Store apps will take advantage of the iSlate’s screen size and computing power…As technological barriers continue to fall, I expect to see the emergence of a hybrid computing device – something with serious onboard computing and graphics power (always connected to the cloud) that represents the best of both worlds. The iSlate is a stop on the way to this hybrid destination….”
  • and from Stefan H. Thomke, William Barclay Harding Professor of Business Administration: “…If executed well, the tablet could take Apple into entirely new businesses and an aggressive reuse strategy in software and hardware will keep their R&D and manufacturing costs in line. It has also has the potential to change how people work and play with their computers.”  He goes on to say, “…The publishing industry could certainly benefit from an alternative to reading devices such as the Amazon Kindle and more imagination about how its content is packaged, sold, and used. At the technology level, we have reached a perfect storm where components are so advanced that it takes a brilliant integrator to give customers a product that they want, use, and love. This is what Apple does best. It is rarely first to market when it comes to products or technology, but it is often first when it comes to deeply understanding the user…Ultimately, success will depend on the user’s experience with the tablet.…”

These gentlemen have said, sort of, what I’m wondering: will this new invention change any of my work or leisure behavior?  Is this new invention another piece of hardware I need to cart around from place-to-place?  It won’t replace anything, so what is its ultimate value to me, the consumer?  Or is it a step on the way to, as Professor Slate says, “…a stop on the way to this hybrid destination….”

I’m all for improving technologies that can make my work easier or more enjoyable.  I absolutely love that the laptop computer was invented because:

  1. I love the portability – it’s lightweight and I can easily use it wherever I wish.  When there is no internet connectivity I can still use the offline programs and functions.  When there is internet connectivity I can do those tasks needing that function.  I can work at my desk, or the sofa, or the bookstore, the coffeeshop and my daughter’s house.
  2. I love it’s full featured-ness – it’s a fully functioning computer, just like the desktop pc in the bedroom office.  I can do emails, web browse, post to my blogs, do research online, and even watch my favorite television episodes and stay up-to-date on the news of the world.
  3. If I wanted to, I could even add functionality like telephone and video conferencing.

I probably won’t get an electronic reader because (a) it’ll be just one more piece of technology I don’t need and (b) like Captain Picard I just love the feel of a book in my hands.  My husband and I collect books…we have a literal library in our home.  I love to open the cover and turn the pages.

Daily Finance [dot com] today has a great article about the iPad which had a few interesting points.  The article is written by Sam Gustin, Apple Tablet: 10 Things We (Already) Hate About You.   Of those 10 things, the ones that struck me most:

  • point #2: “…You don’t need a giant thousand-dollar smartphone. You’ve got an iPhone. You’ve got a laptop. You just received a Kindle for Christmas. Why do you need a tablet? You’re probably not sure. Unlike the iPod and the iPhone, this is a product without a clear need…”
  • point #4: “…Multifunction devices can do a lot — just not well. Other than your couch, where might your tablet be more useful than what you’re using now? Will you use your tablet instead of the PC at your office desk? Will you watch videos on it instead of your flat-screen monitor? Will you use it instead of your smartphone when you’re out? No, no, and no….”
  • point #7: “… No keyboard, no mouse, no dice. Typing (or “typing”) on touchscreens is annoying. How many Tablet buyers will wind up connecting peripheral keyboards and mice? And then…well, what’s the point? Besides, mobile devices are only as useful as their battery life. Unless the tablet has more than about six hours of power, it’s going to wind up tethered to a wall. Just like your desktop.…”

And from USAToday Technology Live earlier I read as reporters Ed Baig and Brett Molina gave a nearly minute-by-minute account of the iPad unveiling:

  • 1:12 p.m. ET: It’s official. Jobs unveils the very thin iPad tablet computer.  Jobs claims it will offer the best browsing experience you can have, like “holding the Internet in your hands.”
  • 1:14 p.m.: The device will include e-mail, photos, maps, built-in iTunes store and YouTube functionality.

Well, my laptop does all that. I’m one consumer who will wait until I can see an actual need for this new bit of hardware before I put it on my Christmas gift wish list for this year.  Not that I’m being negative, but with money being so tight right now, I just can’t see the need to spend the whatever hundreds of dollars this will cost at this time.

OLD BONES. From new technologies to the work other people do with old bones that just fascinates me.  There are times when I wish I knew how to do software programming because I have this idea for a fun iPhone app – if anyone knows how and wishes to collaborate send me an email.  But my expertise and interest is not in coding…rather in mosaic-ing and painting and writing.  I do, however, have a lifelong interest in and fascination with archeology [see my alltop page for a couple interesting sites] and paleontology.  Hunting for ancient artifacts and dinosaur bones.  There are those romantic times when I wish I’d gone in those directions while still in college.

Today’s newspaper carried a story about dinosaur digs in China.  The article, written by Washington Post writer Ariana Eunjung Cha paints an exciting picture of a massive dig site with thousands of Cretaceous period fossils.  From the article, “…The fossils here — more than 15,000 fractured, mangled and blackened bones from about 65 million years ago in the late Cretaceous period right before they went extinct — support theories of a catastrophe. Global fires. Explosions. Climate change…’This find is very important for understanding the very end of the age of dinosaurs,’ said James M. Clark, a paleontologist at George Washington University who has examined some of the fossils…The excavation here, believed to be the largest dinosaur fossil site in the world, is one of a number of groundbreaking research projects…The pit has yielded some of the world’s largest duck-billed dinosaur specimens, bones of a type of dinosaur that had never been seen outside North America, and at least six new species….”

I just the other evening watched Jurassic Park [for probably the 40th time-looking forward to the blu ray edition] on our new 46″ plasma tv [which is why I don’t need any kind of hand held technology to watch movies].  I would never want to travel in a time machine and go back to the time of the dinos but I find the whole idea of them fascinating.  My husband has a tooth from a megladon that he found back east on a dive trip years ago and it is huge and extremely old.  Yes, I’m a believer in the idea that we humans can learn important lessons from digging up the artifacts of the past – artifacts of societies long gone and artifacts of ecologies long gone.

What would future archeologists think if they uncovered a cache of items that included a smart phone, a desktop computer, a laptop, a hand held reader, an iPod, a netbook, a notebook, a laptop, a personal dvd player, a transistor radio…?

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It’s your Business so do what you want to-Part Two

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=sunshine%2blandscape&iid=5276696″ src=”6/0/b/1/Rays_of_sunshine_8254.jpg?adImageId=9515058&imageId=5276696″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]See the sun peeking through the trees?  There is hope for spring to come and there is good news in this conversation.  *This is Part Two of a 2-part post: It’s your Business so do what you want to.

PART TWO: It is your BUSINESS so do WHAT you want to.

Yesterday I took a break at noon to have lunch and while eating my sandwich [I’m one of those people who just loves sandwiches…my favorite is on homemade white bread with mayo, a couple of green leaf lettuce leaves, slice of provolone cheese, Virginia baked ham slices and thinly sliced yellow onion – good!] I watched the latest episode of Castle.  I’m such a fan of Nathan Fillion – ever since Firefly.  Anyway, the commercials were from Blackberry and their newest tag line is Love what you do and Do what you love. Great advice.  Especially for small business folks – those of us with tiny businesses…the less than 5 employees and the solo-preneurs.

Yes 2009 – even 2008 – simply was awful economically.  However I don’t want to talk about that today.  I’m one of those people who suffer from sunshine deprivation in the winter and we’ve had over a week straight of rain and clouds and I’m missing the sun…I do live in California after all…so I want to bring some sunshine into this conversation.  It’s not all bad out there and there is hope.

One of the proofs of that was in my morning newspaper’s business section.  A medical device maker is going to call my community “home” this year.  In fact it was the second company in two weeks to announce a move to my city.  According to the article by George Avalos five companies have done significant things in the past few months that will bring jobs and commerce to my community.  The companies are Bridgelux IncJLA Inc.Wiley X Inc. Enray Inc. and Admedes Inc. This is good news.  The newest mention is Admedes, a medical equipment maker and, according to the article:

  • “…Admedes has bought an 18,000-square-foot office and research building that it will use for a manufacturing center and a showcase for its medical products. The company makes miniature components for medical devices…’Our plan is to get to 50 employees in about five years,’ said Eric Veit, a vice president with Admedes Inc. ‘We are looking at and interviewing a number of people right now.’….”

There are more positive notes out there in the ether

In an article at Forbes.com, Mark Wolf wrote about “…A remarkable trend is emerging in the U.S. job market–one that will greatly impact the workplace of tomorrow. Women are becoming the nation’s job-creation engine, starting small businesses and stimulating new jobs at a rate that outdistances their male counterparts and disproportionately exceeds their current contribution to U.S. employment….”  He was referencing a newly published report by The Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute and summarized it by saying, “…Specifically, the Institute expects that women who own small businesses will create from 5 million to 5.5 million new jobs across the U.S. by 2018, and in the process transform the workplace of tomorrow into a far more inclusive, horizontally managed environment….”

I know I’m a woman business person and chose this tidbit for inclusion in this post, but don’t take it that I don’t see that men who start new small businesses aren’t also a positive factor for this year because they are.  There are only two genders and we’re all in this together.

INC.Com has a great article, 9 Home based Businesses You Can Start In Your Pajamas In 2010, and gives a short description of the 9 people who are making a go of it:

This article tells me two things: 1) there are innovative and interesting niche markets that people are creatively finding ways to have businesses in – I, for one, had never considered “Online Content Aggregation” prior to this and love the way Chris Jordan has approached the insurance business.  and 2) have you noticed that I was able to find a link to each and every one of those businesses?  Just a marketing hint: no business is too small to have a presence on the web.

Small Business Trends had an article earlier this month by Dawn Rivers Baker, Top Microbusiness Trends for 2010. She says, “…there’s no reason to imagine that there are no opportunities to be had in a sluggish economy, as any astute student of entrepreneurship will tell you. And right now is a particularly good time to run a lean, efficient microbusiness that doesn’t need a bank loan to chase growth prospects….”  Of the trends she mentions the one I’d like to highlight:

  • “…Federal contracting. Plenty of people will tell you that microbusinesses are too small to fulfill government contracts but I’m not one of them. There is still plenty of money appropriated for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) projects that hasn’t gone out the door yet. For microbusiness contractors in construction and related sectors, there will be plenty of contracting and subcontracting opportunities….”
  • Also, in the comment section following the article Ms. Baker responds to a commenter in part: “…nonemployers are a subset of the microbusiness universe. Micros are defined as firms with fewer than five employees. Nonemployers are firms with no paid employees outside the business owner(s), which means they certainly fit the micro definition. They are, in fact, the largest portion of the microbusiness population, comprising about 80% of it….”

I found this article interesting because (a) it reminds us that the government [in the U.S.] does have money to spend on contractors and why shouldn’t the tiny businesses be included?  And (b) I found it a very interesting statistic that 80% of micro-businesses are what I call solo-preneurs…a business that is comprised of me, myself and I.  Just like the business here in my community where my husband and I take our vehicles for maintenance – Ron’s Valley Brake & Auto Repair.  Ron has a shop downtown and he’s the owner and only employee.

Another article at Small Business Trends, this one by Anita Campbell, 10 Small Business Trends and Opportunities, speaks to solo-preneurship; her trend #10:

  • “…More Sole Proprietorships – One thing that we know is that during and in the aftermath of recessions, more  people who are out of work will turn to starting their own businesses…If you are looking for businesses to start, these typically require little startup capital and may not require highly-specialized training or degrees:  pet businesses;  kids products;  Web businesses; consulting for your former employer or industry; virtual assistants; apps development; home based franchises.…”

Again, there is a mention of small business ideas I hadn’t thought of like apps development.  Interestingly, my husband’s cousin is currently developing just such a small business.  This is very cool to learn of an industry about which I previously had not known and discover it is a trend.  Cool.

Even in my industry, fine arts – I consider myself an artist-preneur – there is hope.  This Friday I will participate in the first art event of the year and who knows maybe there will be a sale or two.

So all-in-all there is hope regardless of the screaming headlines.  The sun will indeed shine again and I won’t have to rely on my Ott Lite.

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It’s your Business so do what you want to-Part One

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=business+graphs&iid=6752210″ src=”9/8/3/5/GM_CEO_Fritz_1d7c.jpg?adImageId=9360485&imageId=6752210″ width=”234″ height=”152″ /]*This is Part One of a 2-part post: It’s your Business so do what you want to.

PART ONE: It IS your Business so do what YOU want to.

Sometimes when people are asked to choose between two kinds of news, good and bad, they will take the bad first, to get it over with so they can end the conversation on a more pleasant note.  That’s what we’ll do here.  To that end, here’s the bad part of the conversation for those with tiny businesses, the very small business owner and the home-based business owner – if you happen to have a truly large business or you influence great chunks of our global commerce, well this is the bad news for you too.  If you do what YOU want to with your business at the expense of your integrity, your ethics, your clients and customers, your friends and family and your industry…then you ought not to be in business at all.

That’s a pretty bold statement.  I’ve actually heard a person or two say, ‘it’s MY business so I’ll do whatever I want to do with it.’  I wonder if that was the sentiments of those bullies on Wall Street who claimed recently before the U.S. congress that they were ever so sorry for “…severity of the 2008 financial crisis and apologized for risky behavior and poor decisions….”  I pulled this from the Associated Press story as it appears online at Tampa Bay Online.  Of the quotes that appear in the article that continue to raise my blood pressure:

  • “…Americans are furious and “have a right to be” about the hefty bonuses banks paid out after getting billions of dollars in federal help,….”
  • “…’Over the course of the crisis, we as an industry caused a lot of damage,’ Moynihan said….”
  • “…Like the other witnesses, Blankfein acknowledged lapses in judgment in some practices leading up to the crisis….”
  • “…Dimon said a crucial blunder was ‘how we just missed that housing prices don’t go up forever…..'”

Let’s talk for a moment about lapses of judgment as Mr. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs said in the quote above.  I would ask: lapses of judgment?  How could these people have such huge lapses of judgment as to cause the near collapse of an entire economic structure?  As a home business owner I have to watch very carefully every business judgment I make because I can see instantly what the ramifications of my decisions will be.  Is it that these institutions are so huge that the people who make the decisions and carry the influence can no longer see anything beyond their pen to paper?

Shoshana Zuboff, the author of The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism,  said in a BusinessWeek article :

  • “…The economic crisis is not the Holocaust but, I would argue, it derives from a business model that routinely produced a similar kind of remoteness and thoughtlessness, compounded by a widespread abrogation of individual moral judgment. As we learn more about the behavior within our financial institutions, we see that just about everyone accepted a reckless system that rewards transactions but rejects responsibility for the consequences of those transactions. Bankers, brokers, and financial specialists were all willing participants in a self-centered business model that celebrates what’s good for organization insiders while dehumanizing and distancing everyone else—the outsiders…..”

Don’t you think this hints at an erosion of personal business integrity and an erosion of personal business ethics?  I’m not so naive as to think that money and power won’t always be addictive aphrodisiacs for some people and that the siren call of more zeroes on the check can blind some people as to what cost those zeroes were arrived at?  [clumsy sentence but asks my question]  But what about the folks around those people?  Wasn’t there someone in those overpriced offices who thought, just for a moment, that perhaps this was a bit too good to be true and whenever this question arises it means that someone somewhere down the line is being hurt?

Ms. Zuboff’s references in her article another she had read about the Nazi war trials and the conclusions of “…Hannah Arendt’s ruminations on Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann as she reported on his trial in Jerusalem for The New Yorker 45 years ago….”  What at first might seem an unfair comparison, I find not so and agree as Ms. Zuboff says:

  • “…This message is not restricted to the unspeakable horrors of mass murder. It is relevant to the relationship between individual judgment and institutional processes in any situation. It’s a message that says: you can’t just blame the system for the bad things you’ve done. Yet to the world’s dismay, thousands of men and women entrusted with our economic well being systematically failed to meet this minimum standard of civilized behavior. They did not capably discern right and wrong. They either did not judge, or they did not act on their judgment….”

I guess what I want to say is that just because it is YOUR business doesn’t mean that you get to do what you WANT to do at the expense of other people. Ms. Zuboff says, “…The economic crisis has demonstrated that the banality of evil concealed within a widely accepted business model can put the entire world and its peoples at risk….” Then she asks, “… Shouldn’t those businesses be held accountable to agreed international standards of rights, obligations, and conduct? Shouldn’t the individuals whose actions unleashed such devastating consequences be held accountable to these moral standards?….”

Then she says, “…I believe the answer is yes….”  And so do I.

And why not?  Small business owners are expected to pay their taxes, not cheat their customers, have truth in advertising,  make their prices competitive [not gouging the customer or stealing market share from competitors], recall products that don’t work, offer replacements and a host of other ethical practices…as well as giving to their communities and being good citizens.  So how are small business owners any different from the “big guys?”

I think it’s a matter of personal integrity.  I think a person has to choose to be ethical and to do so it requires that he or she begin with personal integrity.  In an article at Columbus Business First, John Maxwell, author of  The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, said: “…In the midst of an ever-changing and uncertain environment, there is one thing over which you have absolute control – your integrity….When it comes to being principled and ethical, you are the master of your destiny. Other people and external forces might test it in various ways, but ultimately you alone control your integrity….”

Mr. Maxwell continues in the article with, “…This is a good way to think of us as leaders when it comes to integrity. People of integrity don’t live divided lives; their morals, ethics and treatment of others are the same wherever they are and whatever they’re doing….”

Yesterday Arianna Huffington wrote about renewing the hope of Dr. Martin Luther King, ‘…What we need is Hope 2.0: the realization that our system is too broken to be fixed by politicians, however well intentioned — that change is going to have to come from outside Washington…This realization is especially resonant as we celebrate Dr. King, whose life and work demonstrate the vital importance of social movements in bringing about change. Indeed, King showed that no real change can be accomplished without a movement demanding it….”

Maybe what’s needed is a movement from all of “us” – the individual citizens of the world [is that too broad a movement?] or to start local, the individual citizens of the U.S. – to ask that the leaders of policies [government] and industry [commerce] rediscover the meaning of personal integrity and business ethics and apply those meanings to themselves and to their business and political practices.

Is this a naive thing to ask?  No, I think it’s necessary.  The small business sector needs a healthy economy within which to prosper.  Home business owners need homes from which to conduct their business.  Everyone needs customers who have spendable income.  Can we expect a utopia?  Goodness, no…never happen because human beings are involved.  We’re fallible, but we’re also educate-able.  We can learn and grow and improve.  So let’s do so.

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Is your business on the Highway or the Byway?

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=highway+signs&iid=259699″ src=”0256/8cc02d39-2a22-43c0-ba77-ab28011c1391.jpg?adImageId=8890792&imageId=259699″ width=”234″ height=”158″ /]We all can admit that 2010 is going to be an uphill climb for businesses of all kinds and sizes.  Doesn’t matter if you are a solo-preneur or a global conglomerate with 20,000 employees…it’s an uphill climb.  And maybe now, this week, maybe even today, you decide on which road you will travel: the highway or the byway.

The highway is a main public road that connects one town or city with another.  It’s an artery connecting people one to another making commerce both possible and efficient.  The byway is a little out-of-the-way side road.  It is little traveled and isn’t really meant to be a commercial artery.

There was a feature story in my newspaper’s business section this morning that showcased a small family business that I believe is on the highway.  To me, some of the signposts of being on the highway are:

  • a dream and passion for the business
  • determination to make the business work
  • great customer service
  • offering added value

The article by David Morrill, Contra Costa Times, is titled “Vacuum center owner on job 7 days a week,” [different title in online version].  In reading the article, I find that Mr. Raees Iqbal’s business, Western Vacuum & Sewing Center, is not only traveling on the highway, Mr. Iqbal carries all the signposts. [from the article]

  • a dream and passion for the business – “…‘It’s great to be able to offer something that every single house needs,’ he said. ‘We give them good dependable vacuum cleaners to help keep their homes clean….'”
  • a determination to make the business work – “…Raees Iqbal keeps the doors open seven days a week. And he works nearly every day…’Right now we are just trying to hang out here and make it work,” Iqbal said. “I’m going to do everything I can to keep it going….'”
  • great customer service – “…Iqbal knows his company needs to be on top of the industry. Every vacuum cleaner brand that comes in, he needs to be able to fix. If a customer needs a part, it has to be on the shelf.…”
  • offering added value – “…’We have to treat everybody like they’re VIP,’ he said….”

These signposts of being on the highway are no guarantee of success certainly.  They are, however, indicators that the business is making every effort to be alive and vibrant.  Just like Mr. Iqbal is quoted in Mr. Morrill’s story, he’s willing to do what he must to keep his business going.  The article is not a long or comprehensive one, but Mr. Morrill gave a pretty clear picture of one small business owner’s strategy for 2010:

  • be available to customers – keeping his store open 7 days a week is one way
  • provide needed services onsite – keeping up-to-date on his industry and keeping his shelves stocked with parts
  • have a customer-centered business – in his own words, “…treat everybody like they’re VIP….”
  • keep the dream alive – “‘…make sure that you are really passionate about what you want to do and have a whole lot of patience.…'”

Not to put too fine a point on it and turn this into nothing but flowery prose I think what’s important for all of us who own businesses and wish to remain in business this year is to determine what we’re going to be willing to do to stay on the highway and off the side roads: defining the dream and vision; knowing our industry and products and services inside and out; offering customers quality care and added value…and hanging in there.

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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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Standing for the tiny business sector

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=paperboy&iid=75238″ src=”0072/8b6b57a7-cc06-4e2d-b8ac-6459166865c6.jpg?adImageId=8110054&imageId=75238″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]There exists a business segment that I’d like to hear and read about more – the tiny business sector.  Businesses with 10 employees or less. Businesses with only one person – the solo-preneur.  Just like the newsboy in the photo, there are millions of people working [or trying to] around the world to make their living out of their home office or garage or a corner of the kitchen.  Or they have a small shop downtown with two or three employees.   You don’t read about federal government bailouts for owners of lemonade stands or taco lunch trucks do you?

I’ve been noticing some articles around the news that seem to be addressing small business, but most seem to be in the jobs creation department rather than the stimulating more consumer spending department which is what the tiny business sector needs.  One interesting article is at  The Huffington Post [dot com], written December 3 by Shahien Nasiripour and titled, “No Easy Jumpstart to Get Small Business Hiring Again.”  There was one spot in the article that caught my attention and I thought was right on the money [so-to-speak]:

  • “…The two leading small-business advocacy organizations – the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the National Small Business Association (NSBA) – have differing views. The NSBA points to the lack of credit as one of its top priorities. But in a report released last month based on survey data, the NFIB noted that while its members were having difficulty getting loans, it was far from a top priority. ‘Too many [business] owners have no reason to borrow,’ the authors wrote. ‘The biggest problem was a dearth of customers.’…” [note: I kept Mr. Nasiripour’s links intact in this excerpt except one]

What I want to point out is the last statement of that excerpt: “…’The biggest problem was a dearth of customers.’…” – For the tiny business sector getting a business loan seems pointless…what for?  What we need are customers, cash-in-hand paying consumers.  I read a comment on an article somewhere yesterday [forgive my faulty memory as I’m fighting a cold and laryngitis this week] that suggested the U.S. federal government give all taxpayers a monthly ATM card pre-filled with $500 that has to be spent within the 30 days.  The idea was given as a way to boost consumer spending.  An interesting one.

Another article I found today at the Wall Street Journal online by Diana Ransom and titled, “The White House Works It,” summarizes the most recent ideas to create jobs.  Small business owners, about 130 of them, were among those who met at the White House with others representing differing business segments and sectors.  But in looking at those top ideas, none seemed to benefit the tiny business sector – the one sector most probably not expected to be part of  job creation.  The top ideas from the article:

  1. Work Share Tax Credit – the one comment I found relevant was “…Micro-businesses (firms with fewer than 20 employees) would likely be left out, says Dean Baker, a co-director at the nonpartisan Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. “Presumably, you would want to aid firms other than ones that employ close friends and family members,” he says….”
  2. Jobs Tax Credit – solo-preneur businesses will not benefit from this as this type of business does not hire or job share.
  3. ‘Cash for Caulkers’ “…Depending on how many property owners take up the initiative, the plan could not only provide jobs to the hard-hit construction sector, it would limit carbon emissions and reduce owners’ energy costs….” My thought on this one was that if you had a fellow who was an independent contractor, this could be a help to him…and I know two personally; however, this idea does depend on property owners having the budget to hire the work done. [As an aside, it is one thing to offer home owners tax incentives to participate in this type of initiative, but the reality is that they still must have the budget to afford it in the first place.]
  4. Public Works Projects – This one might be valuable to solo-preneurs if there are people with their own business who have these skills and if the initiative would include the solo-preneur.
  5. Payroll Tax Holiday – again this idea is vested in job creation rather than increasing consumer spending.
  6. Capitalizing Community Banks “…would give small businesses a greater chance of landing loans…” – this idea is grounded in the getting loans for expansion which would result in more hiring.  Tiny businesses might need loans for improvement or supplies…what about that kind of loan?

As followers of this weblog may have noted, recently I changed my own solo-preneur business from that as an independent distributor of a direct selling company’s product to being the direct seller of my own [art] product(s).  Life is a journey and it has been interesting to me to watch my own understandings and ‘light bulb’ moments as my business has grown and changed.  I have friends who remain in that other business and this past year their customers have been buying less or dropping as customers altogether.  If any reader is familiar with the art market, for the home-based artist-preneur, the art market for the past two to three years has been like a desert.  I participated in a huge Open Studios tour in 2008 that the previous year had been a financial success for many artists…last year sales were dismal and attendance was down 50%.  People just weren’t buying art.  Even the artists at the event who normally can expect a portion of their annual income went home greatly disappointed and in the red.

So. In all the plans and discussions about economic recovery and helping small business, where are the ideas for the tiny business sector and for jump-starting consumer spending?

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