Category Archives: business

QR Codes and Small Business

With the growth in the use of smartphones among consumers, funny looking barcodes seem to be cropping up all over the place.  What am I referring to?  QR Codes also known as quick response codes.  Instead of a horizontal string of black bars, a QR code looks like a randomly placed bunch of boxes that form a  a square.

Find QR codes on product packaging, advertisements in newspapers, in-store displays, posters and signs.  Consumers will be directed to web sites, email addresses, and yes, cooking recipes.

Android, blackberry and IPhones are all able to read these codes with downloadable apps. Businesses and other entities in the nonprofit world are using them to attract attention with customers, patrons, donors, etc.

An article in The Wall Street Journal, Small Retailers Take Advantage of Smart Phone Boom, cites a coffee shop that is using QR codes to direct customers to their menu.  Busy people on the go can scan the QR code on its ads on trains in Vancouver, BC before ordering their morning coffee and breakfast roll. By the time, they reach the cafe, voila, their order is read to go!

With so many different channels of communications available today, it’s difficult to stand out in the crowded market place.   So, market your business in unique and creative ways to be noticed.

Your local library has all sorts of books about the latest marketing tools.  Just check’em out!

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A Novel Way of Financing a New Business

Obtaining funds to start a business can be difficult. Lenders even with a guarantee from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), expect the borrower to bring sufficient capital to the table as well as quality assets as collateral. 

Here and there, you hear about how people manage to start a business with nearly nothing and you wonder how they did it.  You hear about people who max out all the credit cards, continually transfering balances one from card to another.  And that’s a job, to manage that charade.

Recently, I was reading an article on SmartMoney.com about a startup business owner who was able to fund his new business with a 401(K) rollover.  It’s a really clever strategy if you can pull it off.  It’s known as a Rollover as Business Startup or ROBS.

You set up a corporation with a new 401K.  Then, you roll the funds from your old account into the new one to purchase stock in the new company.  Alas, you now have the cash to fund your new company. Got all that?

For more information, please see article, How to Fund a New Business with a 401(K) in the digital version of Smart Money.

What Online Newspapers and Magazines Have to Offer Small Business Owners

I believe most people are finding the volume of information available in cyberspace to be overwhelming.  Fortunately, information professionals figure out ways of sifting through it.  Within our own specialty fields, we tend to establish a comfort level with a select number of sources. I am one of them.

Several online newspapers provide some very help guides and tips for small business owners.  Luckily they tend to be fairly dynamic and therefore their offerings are always changing.  From day to day, you never know what you will find, so it’s not a bad idea to breeze through them every so often.

One of my favorite sites happens to be the Wall Street Journal.  They have a tab at the top, labeled, “Small Business.”   On April 3rd, I found an article, entitled, “Getting Money Into the Hands of Small Businesses”.  Karen Mills, chief of the US Small business Administration was interviewed by the WSJ staff.  Then, on the 7th of April, I found an article about tapping retirement money to fund a business.

 Another favorite of mine is ColoradoBiz.  As the title suggests, this is a Colorado specific magazine for business although the articles tend to have a broader perspective.  Gain some inspiration from reading success stories of local entrepreneurs.  You will also find lots of tips and steps to improve your business.

The online version of Entrepreneur magazine offers something for everyone.  If you are looking for basic start-up information, you will find everything from business ideas, to business plans and obtaining financing.  Beyond the fundamentals, other content includes, home based businesses, franchises, technology, sales and marketing and more.  You will also find similar offerings on Inc. magazine’s web site as well.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

For Market Research, Use Your Public Library!

Business owners don’t automaticall make a connection with their local public library for valuable information to grow their organizations.  So, if you are a business owner, you’re in for a big surprise.  Best of all, it’s free! 

For consumer demographic data, look no further than your public library.  BusinessDecision licenses data from a premier demographics and GIS company ESRI.  You will get access to the same information that many of the largest consumer-driven companies have had access to for decades.  Not only does it have demographics data, you will also learn about consumer spending patterns and life style information.  Better yet, it’s easy and fun to use.  Generate reports in minutes.

If you are looking for specific contacts, either business or residential, public libraries can provide you with access to an online directory, called, ReferenceUSA.   Identify businesses by location, industry, size and more. Find residential listings by location, median home income and/or median home value.  Lists can be easily downloaded to an Excel spreadsheet.   The owner of ReferenceUSA is InfoGroup, one of the largest providers of business and residential data in the nation if not the world.

So, find out if your library licenses these resources.  In the metro area of Denver, many of the libraries offer them including my library system, Arapahoe Library District.

ESRI Offers Free Market Research

Could you use demographic information or spending habit data about existing or potential customers?  Large companies have had easy access to this information for decades.  ESRI is a premier company that offers demographic and lifestyle data linked to a GIS mapping system.

Your local public library might have a simplified version (that would otherwise cost you lots of money) through Civic Technologies called BusinessDecision.  Residents of Colorado are fortunate in that there are several libraries in the State including my library, Arapahoe Library District to subscribe to this service.

However, ESRI recently announced in their quarterly bulletin, that they have a free app called BIOS for iOS you can use on an iPhone or iPad.  Without an expensive subscription you can assess any area in the United States on the fly. Obtain market and and demographic analysis at an instant.  Do you want to know whether your neighborhood has lots of teens or seniors perhaps? Do they have lots of disposable income? Are they spending lots of money for computers and tech equipment?  Etc. 

For more information, check out, esri.com/baosforios.

Enhance Your Brand!

Do you want to get your name out in a positive way?  How about writing articles to showcase your expertise.  Magazines and newspapers (and in particular, online versions)  are always looking for quality content.  This is a simple way to broadcast who you are and it will only cost you the time it takes to write.

Whether you are searching for a new job, transitioning to a new career or you are a small business owner looking for more customers, consider sharing your expertise by writing. Relatively few people do it, so why not set yourself apart from your competition.

If you want the most control,  go ahead and create a blog.   The downside is that it will your job to market it. Otherwise, it won’t be anything more than your personal diary for few people will ever see it.  So, register with blog directories. Write often and read the blogs of others and post comments.

Do you need some help getting started with a blog?  Lots of books are being written about blogs and how to use them for branding and marketing.  Chances are your local library has some to check out. 

If you are interested in writing articles and if you don’t have any magazines or newspapers in mind, simply do a search in good for free magazines and newspapers.  You should find ample lists of places to write content.   Go ahead and post comments to articles you read online and liked, providing the author with a means to contact you (email address or web site).

Great Business Ideas

Do you ever think about what is it about a great business idea that makes it so great?  Or, do you ever say to yourself, “if only I had thought of that.”  I just read a wonderful article in Inc., called, “The Demand Economy” that in my opinion sums it all up.  I certainly recommend reading it. 

In the old days, you could build it, and they (the consumer, that is) would come.  If you are old enough to remember the famous “pet rock”, a courageous entrepreneur took an ordinary fist-sized rock you could pick up from the ground just about anywhere and packaged it as a very special gift.  It may have been the biggest joke, but it was certainly the rage.  The point is that this brainchild created the demand for something as silly as a rock packaged in a very nice gift box.  I doubt something like that could be half as successful again.

So, Leigh Buchanan in this article, says you need to be thinking about major economic trends, demographics and even, psychographics (or consumer buying habits).  You have to look at the big picture.    According to the points made here, you need to be thinking about  difficult and yet unsolved problems consumers are facing today creating innovative solutions. 

A half -dozen categories are cited in the article from issues relating to an aging population to alternative transportation.  Think about housing for the elderly, transportation, healthcare.    With regard to alternative transportation, the need for storage facilities for bicycles is mentioned.

So, just put on your thinking cap and think about the big issues our society needs to address today.  Is there a hidden need you can solve or address?   Perhaps you have some job skills you can put to better use.

Americans are noted for their ingenuity.  Just go for it!

Tips at Networking Events

For most people, going into a crowded room of unfamiliar faces and having to striking up a conversation is not anyone’s favorite thing to do (unless you are extremely extroverted perhaps).  One way of breaking into a group of people already engrossed in conversation is to try to make eye contact with at least one person.  Generally, if the purpose of the event is to network,  that approach usually works.

Once you break into a group, you can always say, “I’m new here”, “gee, there seems to be a lot of new faces”,  or comment about the site of the event just to make some small talk.

A colleague of mine recently remarked that she seeks out someone who is standing alone.  Chances are that person is in the same predicament (and thinking “how do I get started)”? I think it’s a pretty good trick and I’ve tried it sucessfully myself.

When you approach one person, initiating small talk seems to be a little bit easier.  You can say, “have you been to these events before?’, “what do you think of them”, “have you been a member of this group a long time”, etc.

Lastly, once you get a conversation going with small talk, then, you can ask people questions about themselves and the company they run or represent.  From there, if you wish to share what you can offer to help them either with your job skills or the work that you do, you can say, “What do you do to market your business”? or How are you managing your web site?’, etc.

Although working a crowded room, isn’t always easy, one thing I have found is that the more you do it, the easier it gets.  Afterall, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Staying on Top of Local Business News

If you are interested in regional business news, there are excellent sources of information you may not be able to find in the national newspapers (such as the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Los Angles Times, etc).  Newslink is an online directory to find local business publications.  The listings are organized by state.

In Colorado, we are fortunate to have two wonderful publications that can be viewed in print or online. They are  ColoradoBiz and Denver Business Journal.  Whether you are seeking employment in the business world or interested in news about local business, both newspapers are excellent sources of timely information.   In ColoradoBiz, you will find search tabs for small business, tech, finance, real estate, M&A, and more.   Denver Business Journal contains similar categories but it also includes a separate section a for sales and marketing.

Whether you are a newcomer to a region or city or a longtime resident, you will find a wealth of information you probably won’t find in a popular city newspaper.  For people seeking employment, it seems to be the best kep secret.  Look for companies that may be moving to your area, expanding their headquarters, or companies who have been awarded new government contracts.  The job seeker can get a jump on the competition by approaching potential companies before new jobs are posted on the job boards.

So, find out what’s really going on in your local busines world, by reading business-specific newspapers in your area.

Free Counseling for Your New Business

Did you know you that free counseling is available to help you launch a new business?  Sure, a business coach would be nice, but it could cost more than you care to spend or can afford. Luckily, there’s another way and it’s through the federal government. The government has excellent resources and a lot of it is free or certainly at a modest cost. 

The US Small Business Administration has a couple of avenues to try. You will find Small Business Development Centers (SBDC’s) in each state  They offers a host of classes and workshops plus individual counseling services.  Another alternative is SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives.  another partner of the SBA.  this organizations boasts over 10,000 volunteers in 800 countries around the country who provide assistance to small businesses on a volunteer basis. They offering counseling sessions in person or you can even participate in free online webinars.

It doesn’t end there. In Colorado, we have the Rocky Mountain Microfinance Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring, training, coaching and workhops as well as small business loans.  Of course, check out your public library.  Although librarians are not business coaches or mentors in the formal sense, they can direct you to the best resources.