Blog Archives

Social Media for Small Business Made Easy!

 A review of Face2Face:Using Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer Connections by David Lee King

Many people are quite comfortable using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube in their personal lives but are clueless about where to begin as business owners or professionals. David King provides a very clear and concise approach to encourage business owners and professionals to establish dialogs and relationships in the online world. It’s a terrific resource. Topeka and Shawnee Public Library (where the author is employed as their Digital Services Director) is certainly an excellent example of how to make effective use of social media for any organization.

Build Relationships for Success in Business

I came upon an article today on the website, .Inc that resonated with me. The article was 10 Great Habits of Charismatic People by Jeff Haden.  Have you ever stopped to think about what it is about charismatic individuals that make them charismatic? Hmmm.   Rather surprisingly, it’s not all about having good looks although being physically attractive certainly  doesn’t hurt.  In fact, you may find that good looking folks are not necessarily charismatic.

According to the referenced article, personality probably trumps good looks in the charisma department.  Rather, charisma is about taking a keen interest in others. They are good listeners. They are not solely focused on themselves and tend to be humble. Above all, they like to make others feel good about themselves.  In my opinion, the last bit is paramount.

How is this relevant to being a small business owner or someone pursuing a career?  We all need to establish and build relationships to be successful. In business, it’s about focusing on the customer and being interested in his or her needs.

Similarly, whether you are looking for a job or you wish to be successful on a job, one needs to focus on building relationships.  In the book, “I Got My Dream Job and So Can You”, the author, Peter Leibman says, “Stop Looking for Jobs and Focus on People”.  This simple statement really clicked with me. I have long believed, in order to be successful on the job, the most important element is getting along with people (although you also have to know your stuff).

So, focus less on yourself and develop a greater interest in others!

Startups on a Small Budget

Are you tired of looking for a job or are you tired of the job you have? Chris Guillebeau, author of The $100 Startup cites numerous examples of successful startups that involved very little capital to start. He provides an interesting roadmap for anyone who is ready for the challenge of a new adventure.

It’s chock full of real examples of successful startups based on simple ideas that were launched with a modest amount of money.  Each chapter contains a concise summary of the key points covered which is perfect if  you would like to thumb through the book quickly.

I really enjoyed reading Chapter 2, “Give Them the Fish.”   When the author began discussing the concept of providing “value”, initially, I said to myself, “Oh no, how many times have I heard this one.”  But, alas, it sounded way better than what I had expected.  Simply put, “value” is about helping people.

Above all give people what they want rather than what you think they should have.  Hence, “Give them the Fish”.

Your appeal should be at the ground or emotional level.  Aim to better people’s lives.  There is nothing wrong with that.

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!

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.

Free or Low Cost Assistance For Your Small Business

Whether you have been a small business owner for several years or you are just starting out, you do not need to go it alone. There is lots of expertise and assistance available for free or at a very modest cost.  Government-run business development centers offer some excellent counseling and workshops. 

The US Small Business Administration (SBA) sponsors small business development centers (SBDC”S) in every State.  (For examplte, there are 14 centers covering the state of Colorado and more in the more populous states).  Workshops about writing a business plan, financing your business, start-up basics are offered periodically throughout the year. They  offer a 13-week series called NxLevel for either the new or intermediate level business leading to the completion of a business plan.

The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), a volunteer arm under the SBA also offers advice.  More of a mentoring arrangement, SCORE will match a  new business owner to an advisor who has appropriate expertise.  SCORE volunteers will meet with their assigned business owners on a regular basis to ensure they stay on track.

There may be other nonprofit organizations that will assist the small business owner. In the Denver Metro area, we also have Mi Casa that aids both job seekers and new entrepreneurs.  Aurora Busines Development Center provides services similar to the SBDC’s but offers some customized workshops.  Organizations that aid in small business financing may also offer assistance as well.  An example in Colorado is the Rocky Mountain Micro Finance Institute.

If you need help, take advantage of such excellent resources. Anything you can do to increase your chances to succeed has got to be worth the time.

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.