Archives for 2005

Small Business Fundamentals – The List

When I went through business school I wasn’t taught the fundamentals of small business. It wasn’t until I started researching online business after graduating that I came across practical advice regarding the core facets of successful small business. There was one thing in particular that was continually hammered into me as I read more and more about building profitable businesses – the targeted mailing/contacts list is vital – and the web is the perfect vehicle to collect and maintain a list whether your business operates on or offline.

List Based Direct Marketing

As I delved further into online marketing I realized more and more that nearly every extremely successful online marketer has a highly targeted list, probably many lists. The key, especially for long term success online, was having a list of people interested in your products or services. Fundamentally list building uses the principles of direct marketing, which was developed in print media long before the web came along. The rules haven’t changed, but the delivery method has evolved into something available to businesses of any size, offering a global reach, and it is all thanks to the Internet.

Most business owners know from experience that it’s easier to sell to people that have already purchased from you. Current customers face less inherent risk when it comes time to buy again because they know what to expect from you and what you sell. The mailing list is the mechanism to maintain communications with customers and convert them into repeat customers, or to encourage them to tell their friends and bring in new customers. Without the list you lose access to the best marketing tool you have at your disposable.

When it comes time to sell your business buyers will look for potential future growth and earnings. The best potential for future earnings comes from current customers (repeat sales, up-sales, word of mouth marketing, market research, etc). Without a list, your business’s potential for future income is reduced and consequently the current value is less.

Automating List Building

The message is pretty clear. No matter what business you are in currently or will start in the future you should be building some form of list, preferably multiple lists for different types of customers (potential prospects, first time buyers and repeat buyers for example).

Before I studied my way to the realization that an email list was so important I was already collecting list data, I just wasn’t doing it very well or had no purpose behind it. I collected customer registration information for BetterEdit.com, my first real business project because I knew from time to time I would have to contact my clients. I maintained a newsletter that collected email addresses, at my ex-hobby site MTGParadise.com because I knew it was a good way to keep bringing people back to my site.

My list building has matured since then. I proactively collect specific user data now and have a system of autoresponding emails sent out to various mailing lists. I use a professional list building, newsletter handling and email autoresponding service called Aweber that handles the collection and distribution of all my email communications automatically. Every single time a person comes into contact with one of my websites they are put onto a mailing list so I always have access to people that are relevant to my business. I don’t necessarily proactively email to every list I build because it’s not always appropriate, but it’s comforting to know that I have a formalized and efficient communication method available and reliable technology backing it up (I used to keep hand-written lists on paper – you can imagine how efficient and reliable that was!).

What Data Should You Collect?

There is only one mandatory variable to collect – the communication agent. In my case it’s the email address or the RSS feed subscription. For others it may be the telephone or fax, mobile phone or mailing address. Of course you can collect as much or as little data as appropriate as long as you keep things in balance. Beware large forms, they tend to turn people away, focus on what really matters and keep sign-up resistance low.

Keep List Building In Mind

The important thing is to focus on building communications with people. Even if you don’t make any money now from your business if you have an audience that shares a common interest or trait (a target market) and you have a reliable way to communicate with them through a list, then you have an asset. How you make money or benefit from the list is up to you, but without the list you don’t have the potential.

If you currently operate a business take a look at your information collection procedures and see if there are ways you could start to build a list. If you have any online forms – a contact form, order form or feedback form, any of these can be the mechanism to start building a list. If you work in retail you sign up customers to a newsletter or mailing list when they buy so you can keep in touch with them after they leave your shop. If you work as a service provider, create a free report that people can download from your website as sample of what you do and build a list of interested prospects. The options are endless, just make sure you take advantage of them when you see them and that you have the tools to do so through services such as Aweber.

Yaro Starak
List Builder

Are You A Good Listener? – Small Business Podcasts

If you have ever studied marketing and communications you may have learnt about the different ways people learn and study – by listening, reading, watching or experiencing. Generally most human beings learn through one of these methods and they have a "best" way to digest and comprehend information.

If you follow the 80/20 way of life where you maximize your working hours by only doing tasks that provide the most value for you, then discovering which way you learn most effectively is very important. While some people learn almost equally as effectively by listening to words as reading them, others have a very dominant way of learning and should only study using that method. For example I find I learn best by listening but I’m also good at reading, I’m just a slow reader so I need to skim read in order to best use my time. I tend to mix up my studying with both books and audio.

Some of you may not be regular readers of my other blog, Entrepreneur’s Journey, so I wanted to highlight an ever expanding resource that is available for small business owners that you can use if you enjoy learning through audio.

I produce a podcast show (if you don’t know what a podcast is have a read of this article – What Is A Podcast?) that currently has over 25 episodes, some interviews with entrepreneurs, others instructional "how-to" shows on Internet marketing and business. If you have an MP3 player they make great companions for exercising or road trips or just for times when you can’t read another word but some audio education may be good.

You can find the podcast listings in chronological order with the newest shows first in the Podcast Audio category at Entrepreneur’s Journey. You don’t have to have a portable MP3 player (such as an iPod) to listen to them, you just need some software on your computer that plays back MP3 files such as Winamp or Windows Media Player.

Here is a direct listing of all the shows to date:

Entrepreneur’s Journey Podcast in MP3

Small To Medium Business Branding

It was a coincidence that an article I wrote just before taking over this blog was titled – Small Business Branding – It’s Not “We”, It’s “Me” – which was quite a popular article. It summed up nicely my opinion of what small business branding is today and many people agreed –

Small business branding is not a good logo, a rhyming name, or special font. Small business branding is the owner. It’s what the owner does, says and how the owner’s traits come through in every aspect of the business. It’s the way relationships are built and maintained, the way a person does business and treats other people. It’s how rapport is established at an individual level, where trust and comfort exist as human characteristics, not from theme music, models or slogans.

You can read the full article at Entrepreneur’s Journey.

Writing the article I had no idea that 24 hours later I would in fact be running the Small Business Branding Blog, it was a nice bit of synchronicity. The ideas I presented in the article resonated with independent professionals and certainly anyone running a one person operation would understand where I am coming from. I’d like to elaborate a little further, focusing particularly on growing from a small into a medium sized business where no doubt you won’t be the only person representing and working for your "brand".

I’m A Small Business

One day I hope to be to hire an administration assistant for my business BetterEdit.com and in fact that one day could well be sometime in 2006 if growth continues as it has. This person would become the main contact point for all of my customers and much of the personal branding I currently do would become their responsibility. I would have to be careful that my customer service ideals were clearly understood and implemented by this person so they represented BetterEdit appropriately. Yes perhaps I’m blurring the lines between branding and customer service, but bear with me…

While I don’t presently brand BetterEdit as "Yaro Starak’s BetterEdit.com", many of my customers have an email relationship with me and I have no doubt part of what keeps them using the service is the reliability I provide to them. Every time they email me they get a response in 24 hours or less. This also holds true for the fantastic editing staff I have. I’ve worked carefully to select editors that are good people and share the service ideals that I do, so whenever a client has an issue we all work quickly to meet their needs. It doesn’t run perfectly every time but on the whole the system works well.

I suspect as BetterEdit and my other websites grow my time is going to become more and more valuable and I won’t be able to be as flexible and responsive as I currently am. An assistant role may actually go beyond just BetterEdit administration to representing me personally, responding to emails, providing customer support through forums and managing website maintenance (wow, this is going to be one talented assistant!). I will still be helping with a lot of those roles, but the repetitive tasks will be given to other people as I work on value adding activities to grow my businesses.

From Small To Medium

My case is a typical example of a business growing from small to medium, or really small to slightly larger but still small. I think people generally class a medium sized business as one with over 50 employees but it’s subjective. My point is still relevant. As a solopreneur your small business branding equates to how you do business, how you personally establish relationships with customers, contractors and constituents (the three C’s!) and what image of you as a person you establish in the minds of the marketplace.

When you start bringing in variables such as employees or contractors that represent you and your business you have to be careful that they don’t inadvertently destroy your branding efforts. Ideally your brand (business ideals) are entrenched within your systems, so your new staff simply have to follow your procedures manual and they will be acting exactly as you want them too.

Bzzzz…let’s not fool ourselves. As much as I like Michael E Gerber’s book, the E-Myth, and as much as I believe 100% in the importance and value of systems, there is only so much a system can do to ensure your employees enforce your personality brand. The fact is they aren’t you, you can’t expect them to be you and shouldn’t struggle to force them to become your own "mini-me" employee.

Change and growth may be challenging, but it should always be embraced as a way to improve your business and enhance your brand. Your small business personality brand should not be set in stone. It should be capable of evolving, of having new bits attached, dissembled and reassembled in new and better ways. Fresh employees bring new perspectives, new ways of doing things and new personalities.

If you hire well the people you bring into your business will improve your small business brand and in fact forcing them to comply to your way of doing things without a second thought is a mistake. Encouraging them to learn and replicate what you do is good, but also encourage them to improve and adapt what you do to enhance your business. Encourage employees to challenge your assumptions and your brand will no longer be the sum of one individual, it will become something more.

Branding Big Business

All big businesses started as small business. I’ve never been a part of a big business but I expect the evolution of a business brand may work like this:

  1. The small business owner is a one person show, possibly using contractors to do some tasks but largely doing most jobs him or herself. At this point the owner is the brand.
  2. Small business hires employees and the system evolves to include multiple inputs. No longer is only one person in charge of the brand. The owner still dictates business direction and his or her personality and way of doing business permeates the public perception of the business brand, but it’s no longer directly tied into one personality although it is still dominated by one.
  3. A medium business is born. At this stage the owner loses site of the little pictures as managers and executives come in and take over specific roles. The owner now sits at the top of the hierarchy steering the ship but she doesn’t know exactly how the engine works, or where the food for the crew comes from, etc. The business has become too big for one person to be aware of all the little "ins and outs".

    The brand has now morphed into something more corporate. It’s still very important that every individual within the company represents the brand and delivers output in a human-personal manner, but it’s no longer the business owner that passes on the business ideals to each employee. At this point systems control the ship and the brand has become something more corporate, with a logo, image marketing, and other public perception initiatives.

  4. As the business becomes big, perhaps floating on the stock marketing with revenues of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, offices around the world and staff numbering in thousands, the brand has become completely independent of the founder (ownership may now belong to shareholders). The founder can leave and the business will still convey the same branding image. The personality traits and business principles of the person that started the business may still be evident within the brand but it’s become so much more. It stands alone as an individual social construct that is perceived by the public in a unique way, that is limited by corporate structure and subscribes to corporate ideals of profit maximization above all else.

Enjoying Small Business

While most small business owners probably dream of their little baby becoming something big I think it’s nice to enjoy the "smallness" of running a solo enterprise, where your brand is only determined by how you handle yourself. If growth is your goal then it’s unrealistic for today to be the situation in the future. It’s just not physically possible for one person to manage a business once it grows beyond a certain point, nor should you attempt to or you risk the very life of what you care so much for, despite the fact that your business and brand will no longer be completely in your hands alone to control.

Letting go can be tough, but it’s an important growth step for both a business and an owner. For a hopefully brief period early on in your business’s life it’s enjoyable to craft a small business brand and imbue your business ethics into your "baby". However it’s the lessons you learn growing a small business brand that will keep you grounded as your business expands and becomes no longer under only your sphere of influence.

Yaro Starak
Small Business Owner

My First Hello On Small Business Branding

Yaro at the Big Pineapple at the Sunshine Coast in Queensland during winter doing a pretty cheesy smileHi Everyone. I’m Yaro Starak, the new captain of the ship here at Small Business Branding. I have a few spare moments to write a quick message to everyone reading this blog to let you know what is going on. No doubt a lot of you are probably doing Christmas or holiday activities right now so as shocking as it might sound, you may not be using the net, but in my case a blogger never rests!

Transfer Process

As with any site acquisition there are a few processes that take a while to go through, namely the exchange of the domain name, hosting account, service subscriptions (feedburner, TypePad etc). I don’t know how long it’s going to take but eventually, hopefully within the next few days after Christmas everything will transferred safely.

The biggest problem at the moment is navigating the TypePad exchange. Michael runs many blogs from his TypePad account and Small Business Branding is the main domain (his first blog). Because of this we can’t simply transfer the account into my name because I would also get all of his other domains/blogs along with it! The best solution happens to be a slow one – Michael has to transfer his other blogs away from the Small Business Branding TypePad account. After that is done I will take complete control of it. However I have no intentions of keeping it on TypePad.

Move To WordPress

This blog actually has two addresses, the domain name SmallBusinessBranding.com and the TypePad subdomain, smallbusinessbranding.typepad.com. My intentions are to transfer the main domain to my own servers, migrate the content into a WordPress backend and then get to work pumping out new content and growing the features of the site. However I’d be stupid to completely shut down the TypePad domain and account since there are thousands of links pointing to it and regular search traffic visiting. So I’ll probably leave the TypePad version sitting online as it is with a post stating that the updated blog can be found at SmallBusinessBranding.com.

I’m sure you are not that interested in all the behind the scenes migration issues, you care more about what will happen to this blog.

The Topic

This blog is about small business branding, however as you can no doubt tell from Michael’s past work that can be a very broad topic. In my case I have to play to my strengths and write content from areas I have experience and knowledge to draw from. My area of expertise is online marketing. I have managed offline businesses (including an English School), but where I can offer the most help to you is advice for branding and marketing a small business online, and that’s what my focus will be.

My other blog, Entrepreneur’s Journey, covers the whole gamut of Internet business and money making online. This blog will focus more tightly on topics related to small business owners, independent professionals, and solopreneurs (or savvy solopreneurs as no doubt you are quite used to hearing about!). The angle will be how can these individuals make use of the Internet as a marketing, branding and business tool. No doubt there will be lots of cross pollination between the two blogs and I expect the two audiences share a lot of common traits.

Most folks running Internet businesses, building Internet business or working on making money online are usually independent operators. Some are solopreneurs managing many different projects, others will be strictly devoted to one major start-up. I’m a typical solopreneur, I have an Internet business, I run blogs that earn affiliate and advertising income and I create information and teaching products. Generally though when I blog I write about what works and doesn’t work for me, and you can expect the same here at Small Business Branding.

Stay Tuned

I’ll have more updates for you as things progress getting this blog running again at full speed. In the meantime if you want to know more about my background please head over to my business timeline and you can catch up on all the business activities I have been in or currently manage. I’m really looking forward to further building this blog into an amazing resource for small business owners and solopreneurs and I hope along the way I can meet many of my readers and form new friendships and relationships.

Yaro Starak

My Final Goodbye to Small Business Branding

This post is by Michael Pollock, the original owner of Small Business Branding. Yaro Starak now owns and produces the latest content for this blog.

>> Return to the Small Business Branding front page <<

It’s funny. I have this feeling; it’s a feeling similar to the one you might get when moving out of a house or apartment you’ve lived in for awhile. You look around at everything one last time and realize how much you’ve become a part of the space; and the space a part of you. Perhaps you have some apprehension about such a change; about leaving behind this piece of your life that has become such an integral piece of your soul. Or maybe you just say seeya later and lock the door behind you as you look forward to an exciting new chapter in your life. Whatever the case for you, I feel a need to honor this moment with a few words before I walk out the door of Small Business Branding one last time.

First, a short story. My father, a horseman all his life, bought a horse a couple of years ago. He spent several months working with her day in and day out. He trained her, fed here, nurtured her and rode her around his property in rural central Ohio. Then spring came, and it was time for him to go back to work for the road construction firm that employed him eight months out of the year. That meant he’d have very little time to spend further developing his latest project. And to him, it made little sense to let this creature go for months with little human attention. So he sold her. He let her go to someone who had the time and energy to invest with her. As I lay awake in bed last night thinking about the sale of SBB, I had a similar feeling.

To me, Small Business Branding started out as a compelling idea; an idea around which I might build a thriving business. And the idea itself had all the makings of a solid small business brand. It was clear, focused, easy to grab onto, somewhat unique and at least slightly sexy. But all that doesn’t turn a compelling idea into a solid brand. You have to nurture the idea. You have to jump on the back of it and ride it around the world. You have to feed it, develop it and show it off a bit. A lot actually.

So I did that with SBB. I did that until a bigger, more compelling idea (Solostream) came along. And although it took me a few months, I eventually made the decision to start nurturing my new idea alongside SBB with the hope of integrating the two. Ultimately, it became clear that I couldn’t integrate them, and it was unrealistic to try and invest energy in both ideas at once. Just as it was unrealistic for my father to work 12 hours a day and then expect to have time and energy to devote to his horse. I had ridden the SBB idea as far as I could. It was time to let someone else take over. Someone with the level of excitement and energy I initially had for the idea. Yes, the idea will always be a part of me, but I need to move on.

As I said before, I know Yaro will do well with SBB. He’ll most likely ride the idea much further than I did, and frankly, my biggest fear is that six months down the road, I’ll look at SBB and wonder why I wasn’t able to get it to where it will probably be then. So it’s with mixed emotions and great appreciation that I say a final farewell to Small Business Branding. The appreciation is mostly about the people I’ve met as I rode SBB around the world. I hope to continue those relationships with you via Solostream.

Small Business Branding is Sold

This post is by Michael Pollock, the original owner of Small Business Branding. Yaro Starak now owns and produces the latest content for this blog.

>> Return to the Small Business Branding front page <<

Well, that was quick. I finalized a deal for Small Business Branding this morning, and I’m happy to say the new owner is my friend in Brisbane, Australia, Yaro Starak. I’m sure he’ll do well with it.

Some have asked about a selling price, and I’m going to leave that to Yaro to share with you if he wants. Likewise, I’m sure once he gets the keys to the castle, he’ll share with you where he’ll be taking SBB. When we last chatted about 45 minutes ago, he was headed off to bed (I think it’s about 1:45 a.m. in Brisbane right now).

If you want to keep up with me and Solostream, I’ll be blogging at many of our various blogs, but until SavvySolo is up and running, my main blog will be the Solostream blog found here. The RSS feed is: http://feeds.feedburner.com/solostream. Please add it to your aggregator or subscribe to the Feedblitz update on the site.

Over the next few days, I’ll begin transferring everything over to Yaro, so you’ll see some changes start to happen with the look of the blog.

Small Business Branding is For Sale

This post is by Michael Pollock, the original owner of Small Business Branding. Yaro Starak now owns and produces the latest content for this blog.

>> Return to the Small Business Branding front page <<

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, and it’s time for me to move on from Small Business Branding (I’ll tell you why below), so it’s officially for sale. Here’s what you’d be buying:

  • The domain name: smallbusinessbranding.com.
  • A copy of all the content currently found here, as well as any and all graphics if you want them (I also get a copy of all content and graphics). Update: this includes only the blog posts. You do not get any media files or PDF files linked from this site.
  • The entire site structure as it is right now.
  • I’d be willing to throw in a site redesign for you if the offer is right (an $1800.00 value).

Some Relevant Statistics:

1. This blog currently has a Google Page Rank of 6 (learn about Page Rank here), which is apparently pretty good. It’s a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the highest you can have.

2. This blog holds #1 listing for term "small business branding" in Google, Yahoo and MSN.

3. Technorati Rank: 13,230 (536 links from 111 sites).

4. Traffic stats can be found at Site Meter, but to summarize, the site gets about 5000 visits and 8300 page views per month.

5. I’m estimating there are another 500-600 readers who are subscribed through RSS subscription.

6. Adsense revenue for the past 3.5 months (I started in mid September):

  • Last 15 days of September: $42.27
  • October 2005: $97.17
  • November 2005: $55.47
  • So far in December: $55.49 $46.92

7. Site was mentioned in Entrepreneur Magazine June 2005 (bottom of page) as one of the "cream of the crop" of marketing blogs.

8. The site is built on Typepad, which is a Moveable Type platform. You can look at the source code and see most of it is HTML with some basic CSS thrown in just to format the look of the fonts and such.

In my opinion, this site would be great for either a designer who
focuses on the small business market or a marketing coach/consultant.
Of course, it’s available to the highest bidder regardless of your
occupation.

If you’d like any other info on the site or if you’d like to make an offer, just email me.

Why I’m Selling and Where I’m Going

When I launched this site a little over a year ago, my plan then was to build a marketing coaching practice around it, as well as offer some design services. Since then, my plans and goals have changed. You may have noticed I’ve been moving more into developing Solostream Global Media, and while Small Business Branding is somewhat related, it feels more like an anchor that’s holding me back in that project. It’s true this site is currently the "flagship" brand of Solostream, so this is not a decision I take lightly (nor am I willing to just "unload" the site for a lowball offer).

I’ll be launching a new blog in the near future called SavvySolo (makes sense, right?). I so appreciate the relationships and friendships I’ve created with all of you this past year, and I sincerely hope you will follow me over to SavvySolo when that move happens. Any other questions, just email me.

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