Archives for October 2014

What A Failed Rocket Launch Can Teach Founders

Being a 70’s kid, I did not have the privilege of witnessing the Apollo 11 mission. However, I did not miss out on the Space Shuttle missions.

Each time I witness these take off’s I’m in awe, not just at the event itself but the creation, the many people who make it a possibility. All that hard work. When the mission is a success, there’s such tremendous joy and celebration but when a rocket fails – the disappointment is clearly evident.

Watching Antares go down in a fiery explosion, I felt its loss. One can only imagine how someone who’s been working on the rocket for extended periods would feel.

As founders of small businesses, failed launches should come as no surprise. It’s part of the package. We can only be thankful, as well as hopeful, that most of our losses aren’t as publicized. Rocket launching is an unforgiving business. Thankfully for us, few of our launches are that destructive. Most times, our failures are easier to recover from.

However, like the Antares rocket, that doesn’t mean we don’t feel the loss deeply. It’s OK to mourn the loss of months, sometimes years of hard work.

Despite that, we must review and move forward. In the rocket business, what amazes me is how quickly everyone gets back to work. I’m sure keeping their jobs is a big motivation but aside from that, there’s a spirit of “let’s see where we went wrong and fix this once and for all”. That’s why we still have rockets.

So what launch failures are you mourning over today? If it helps, remember the wins. Antares had 4 successful launches before the disaster. Surely not everything about the failure is to be tossed. Do your post-mortem. Your customers expect and do look forward to a bigger, better return. You are ahead now that you know what not to repeat. Coming back stronger can do wonders for your brand too. For now, it’s time to pick up the pieces.

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10 Qualities of Successful Long-term Entrepreneurs

If you take the time to study any successful business from large to small you’ll notice some qualities they all have in common. If you want to have a long term business it’s important that you learn what these qualities are so that you can develop them within yourself. Thankfully, most things can be learned even if they don’t come natural.

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When I first started my business more than two decades ago, I was building HTML websites, managing newly formed online communities through bulletin board systems and a lot of other things that I don’t do today. I’m still in business because I ensure that I keep moving  forward with technology and the needs of my audience.

They Do What They Enjoy

Long term entrepreneurs are smart to choose to do the things they love to do. Naturally all businesses have some things none of us want to do, but once you get your business off the ground you can outsource the things you don’t love and focus on what you love. But, overall it’s important to choose a business that you’ll be passionate about and enjoy the end results. If you choose something you love you’re going to be more likely to enjoy your life and stick to it long term.

They Take Their Business Seriously

Entrepreneurs who have sustainable businesses do not run their business like a hobby working on it only when inspiration strikes. They create a schedule based on their business plans and stick to it day after day, always looking ahead to the future. They believe in their own abilities and run their business as a serious business and do not waiver. Due to the fact that they take their business seriously, other people do too.

They Know Their Audience

A serious and long term business owner will continue research about their audience on a regular basis. Like technology, audience’s change. For example, big businesses like Unilever which creates personal care products. Over the years they have had to change how they market to their audience. If they marked these products today the way they did just 20 years ago they would lose a big share of the market because the old ads might actually offend their audience today.

They Understand the Importance Branding

Marketing properly requires an understanding of branding. Creating a known cohesive brand in all marketing channels, online and offline is the key to getting a larger share of the market. The larger share of the market you can convert to customers the longer your business will be around. To do this, taking the things you know from audience and competition research and promoting benefits over features of any product or service will endear you to your customers.

They Develop Plans for the Future

A sustainable business owner cannot be afraid of change. Entrepreneurship requires understanding that change is a constant. For example, if one is a Website developer, the tools from just 10 years ago are old hat. The smart entrepreneur stays up to date on the changes happening in their industry and makes plans to move with the changes now and in the future. A really good example of a successful business that has developed plans for the future and changed as technology has changed is Netflix. They have gone from distributing DVD movies through the mail, to streaming movies, to now becoming their own powerful network. Without a willingness to change as technology changes and customers’ needs change, your business won’t be around long.

They Invest in Their Business

Long-term entrepreneurs know that they must invest wisely in their business to earn money. They must pay for hosting for a real website, purchase a good auto-responder service,  use a good project management system, and buy the right software and more to ensure the success of their business. Trying to run your business without the tools you need wastes time and makes you look unprofessional to those whom you wish to work with.

They Build a Team and Network with Others

No CEO becomes successful for the long term on their own. No one is really self-made. People who are successful know how to surround themselves with other experts who can help them succeed. They know that they need to reach out to complementary professionals forming strategic partnerships to get to the next level. Working with contractors and joint venture partners is something all long-term business owners eventually need to do.

They Study and Develop Expertise

No one knows everything. Even if you’re an expert in something today, if you don’t keep informed about your industry you may end up being out of touch with the new technologies and facts affecting your niche. Chances are whatever you are doing today to earn a living will slowly change over time until it’s fairly unrecognizable when you compare today to 20 years from now. Keep learning, take classes, read industry publications, and educate yourself so that you are the go to expert in your niche.

They Study their Competition

If you want to be in business for the long haul it’s important that you keep apprised of what your competition is doing. Figure out who is selling and promoting to your audience and follow them, friend them, and associate with them on a regular basis so that you know what they’re doing that is working, or not working, so that you can do even better.

They Are Available to Their Customer and Follow Up

Smart business owners who thrive during the ups and downs of any economy, the changes in technology, and the changing and growing needs and desires of their customers make sure to find time to follow up properly. Without following up, you’re missing out on your best source of new sales, the customers you already have.

Finally, one last point is that long-term entrepreneurs never stop marketing and promoting themselves, their business and the people who help make them what they are. They keep going during busy times and show times.

How to Schedule Down Time to Avoid Burn Out

As a small business owner you’re supposed to be the master of your domain. Every story you see about working from home talks about working from the sandy shores of a foreign land, enjoying a lot of family time and down time with friends. But, the truth is, most small business owners don’t live that way. In fact, many are so overworked that they suffer from burn out.

How to Schedule Down Time to Avoid Burn Out

Photo Credit © Depositphotos.com/BrianAJackson

If you don’t want to risk burn out it’s important to schedule in down time. When it comes to getting things done your calendar is your friend. Everything I do, whether it’s taking a walk with my husband, or shopping it is scheduled using Google Calendar. We all have access to each other’s calendars so that it’s easy to see what we’re doing at any given time. That might sound boring, but the truth is, if it’s not in my calendar the chances of it getting done are near zero.  This can work for you too and when you try it, you’ll understand the power of the schedule.

Schedule Family Time First

When you start your calendar, open it up and first schedule family time. After all, the main reason you want to work from home or have a small business of your own is to spend more quality time with your family. Even if you schedule thirty minutes to spend with your kids or spouse each day, that is something that should be sacrosanct, avoiding any reschedules for non-emergencies.

Add in Appointments & Regular Infrequent Chores Next

Once you have family time in your calendar add in regular appointments that you have such as yearly doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, and chores you do on a schedule such as changing your air conditioning filter. While this may seem like too much scheduling, the truth is, if you do things such as deep cleaning a closet on a schedule it’s more likely to get done, and since it’s getting done regularly it will take less time.

Block off Your Yearly Vacation Time Now

If you don’t take a yearly vacation on any particular schedule, you’re a lot less likely to do it. Look at your family’s normal schedule such as school and the ability of your spouse to take a vacation and schedule a regular time for your once a year vacation. Block it out, and make it sacred. Even if you cannot afford to leave for your vacation for some reason, make this the time you and your family take time off to be together even if it’s a “staycation”.

Mark the Times and Days that You’ll Devote to Work

Now that you’ve put in all the important things, mark off days that you will be working, including the actual hours you’ll work on your business, billable hours, and even lunch breaks so that you know at a glance of your calendar what you’ll be doing on any given day. It may seem obsessive but you’re going to get a lot more done if you know that from 8am until 11 am you’ll be working on client A’s work, and from 11:05 am. Until 12:05 pm you’ll be at lunch. Be sure to mark off the real time it takes. Don’t underestimate the time things take.

Putting everything, even the mundane in a calendar is going to help you not only have more downtime to enjoy with yourself and your family, it will help you get more work done in a shorter period of time because you’ll be organized and know exactly what you are doing at any given time on any given day.

15 Holiday Promotion Ideas To Keep The Register Ringing

The holidays are right around the corner. Are you prepared?

Holiday Promotions Ideas

 

The beauty of a small business is, we can be light on our feet. Besides, you still have a little bit of time and if you’re stuck with what to offer, this list should get you started.

The Add-On Bundle

Include a not-usually-offered or not-offered-before add-on to your product(s). It could even be a service.

Example: Get a personal coaching session when you buy this today.

The Value Bundle

Gather your best selling products and bundle them at a meaty enough price for you not to lose money but at the same time, give customers a deep discount compared to buying separately.

The Complimentary Products Bundle

Work out a deal with another company who offers complimentary products. Offer a free entry-level product, free trial, discount price or coupon that they can redeem at the other company’s store when they buy from you.

Example: Order a logo design, and get a 20% off coupon for web hosting at ABC host, or business cards at XYZ printers.

The Lifetime Access Deal

This works very well for continuity programs. Offer lifetime access at price that would make the product an incredibly low price if paid monthly over years.

Example: Don’t pay $19.99 a month. From now until the offer expires, get lifetime access for only $199 and never pay monthly again.

The One Year’s Product Deal

Slight different from the lifetime deal if that sounds too crazy for you to stomach. Offer one year’s access or one year’s worth of product for a great price.

Example: You’d normally pay $60 a year but for a limited time, pay only $30 and get the rest of the year free.

The 2 For One

When people buy two items of the product of your choosing, they’ll get both for the price of one.

The BOGO

This might sound like the same but it isn’t although technically the discount would be the same as the two for one. Offer a free item when they buy one.

The Reactivation or Return Bonus

Give customers a bonus when they re-activate their account or return to buy from you. You could offer a discount in place of a bonus but you’d want to be very careful that this is a short term deal and not to be repeated too often. Otherwise, you may end up with people who cancel just to wait for the re-activation bonus later on.

The Pick 3 Deal

Similar to the bundle deal, except this time, you let the customer choose what they want in the bundle.

The 10 Orders & Get Free Deal

Our local grocery store runs this deal regularly. You get a free holiday meal when you shop there 20 times. They do also require each receipt to be at least $20 to qualify and though 20 sounds like a lot. They start the campaign quite early so you have about 10 weeks to earn it.

Your customers may not need to shop with you that often, so you can always adjust the number of qualifying orders e.g. 10.

The $10 off $50 Deal

Instead of giving a straight discount, get them to spend a little bit more with you to qualify for the discount.

The Store Credit Deal

Offer customers store credit or store dollars when they buy from you today.

Example: Buy this today and receive a $10 credit you can spend right away or on your next order.

Private Sale

Reward your most loyal customers by giving them a special offer not found elsewhere. An alternative is to reach out to performing affiliates and offer a special deal just for their referrals.

The You Might Also Like This Offer

Dig into your customer data. Find out who purchased what. Offer them a bonus or discount for a similar or related product. If you don’t have one, consider an affiliate product. You may need to reach out to affiliate managers for the products to do this but can be well worth your time.

The Upgrade Deal

When a customer orders a product, offer them a better product or a higher end package. Something they would consider an upgrade for less than the normal upgrade pricing.

Example: Package A is normally $10 and Package B normally $30. When a customer orders Package A, offer them an upgrade to Package B for only $10 more.

Are You Afraid of Your Own Thoughts?

Of late, I’ve noticed that my down time has vanished.

Poof. Gone.

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I wondered why and when the answer presented itself, it was simple and yet profound.

It’s not because there’s more work on my plate. There’s always a ton of work to be done. No. I realized one day, the real reason is because every bit of down time that presented itself, is filled with something else.

Every spare moment, minute, or hour that’s not spent actively doing, I’ve filled it. By:

  • Reading a book
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Watching a webinar
  • Catching bits of a tutorial
  • Reading RSS feeds
  • Reading a magazine
  • Watching TED videos
  • Consuming that course that I bought weeks and months ago
  • Just about anything I can think of

In short, I’ve been filling those precious bits of down time that pop in throughout the day, with other people’s ideas. Others’ processes and thoughts. There’s an intense need to catch up or finish every book, listen to every audio, learn everything there is to learn.

Somehow, I’ve come to be afraid to spend time with my own thoughts – even if it’s a few minutes.

The idea of sitting on the porch without a book makes me restless.

The very thought of doing laundry without having something to listen to makes me anxious.

I have a sinking suspicion I’m not alone and have a theory why we do this. Because we:

  • Have such great ideas that are dying to bust out, that we feel intimidated by them. Afraid they’ll take us to amazing, yet frighteningly unknown places. So it’s just easier to crowd them out.
  • Are postponing or ignoring a big decision that has to be made.

Sometimes, it’s a combination of both. So we cram our thinking time with lots of information and ‘learning’ to avoid making the decisions we really need to make, or avoid doing.

I’m not saying that reading, listening to podcasts, watching videos and learning from others is a bad thing. Neither am I saying that utilizing your spare moments such as commute time to learn something is unproductive. It is productive. That’s how I managed to lose weight and keep it off – by reading, listening and watching others while I worked out.

However, we do need to leave some of those moments for our own thoughts. Perhaps even go as far as scheduling thinking time if you want to be intentional about it. Thinking time doesn’t require you to have anything in particular to think about. It’s about giving your mind some breathing room.

Thinking time is important so we don’t feel like we’re on the go all the time. Thinking time is required for us to process all that great information we read. It is needed for us to formulate plans. It is healthy for our spiritual and mental well being which is so important for us business owners.

I challenge you. Next time you are waiting in line at the doctor’s. Next time you have a few spare moments in between tasks. Resist the temptation to read, listen or watch. You can read at other times but for at least one down time a day – spend it with your thoughts.

Image © Depositphotos.com/Rangizzz

Create a Memorable Business Card That Nails Your Brand and Gets You Noticed

If you still have a perfunctory business card, you know just something thought of at the last minute and maybe even worse; printed out on your computer you’re not taking your business seriously. You know the kind that you punch out of a sheet?

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You’re missing the point of having a business card. The point is to let someone know your brand and make them curious enough to call you when they need what you have to offer.

Business cards are another way to brand your business. You don’t want to be branded like everyone else, boring or worse… standard. Right?

You want business cards that people look at and remember you, your business, and what you can do for them. Consider getting special cards for events and regular cards for other uses.

With today’s printing technology you can have your information printed on almost any surface and your business card doesn’t have to be the normal shape or even size. Think outside the card, if you want to get noticed, but you still want the people you meet to be able to carry your card so don’t go too nuts as you don’t want them left behind.

Know Your Customer – Before creating any business card design it’s important to understand your customer and what they need to know. Of course your business card needs all the normal stuff on it, how to contact you, your website and so forth. But how can you get through to the person looking at the card that you have what they need? You know who they are and design the card with them in mind.

Consider Your Industry – For example if you are serving people in the construction industry how can you make a card that appeals to them?  This is an excellent way to think outside the card and create a card that is either 3D or can be constructed into a 3D card by the receiver later. The card again, needs to appeal to your ideal client more than to you.

Start With Your Logo – You probably already have a logo, which can be how you start your business card design idea. You want to keep this the same throughout your business card design too, but also make it stand out. If you don’t have a logo yet, this is your chance to really think outside the box and come up with something new.

different business cardsMatch The Brand You Currently Have – If you already have a lot of marketing collateral you likely already have colors, fonts, tag lines and what not. You still want people to know it’s you, but you want them to be impressed by your card which will make them impressed by your business too. Plus, it’ll ensure that they really look at it and take notice.

A good business card will tell your audience who you are, what you can do for them, and how to find you. It will do all this with the right fonts, the right colors and the right designs that will stand out so that they won’t soon forget you. You can use a standard card, or you can think outside the card and use other materials.

It’s up to you. Don’t be afraid to get creative so that you can be remembered and get noticed. I have a friend who owns a chocolate shop, her business cards are chocolate, and they’re okay to eat because they’re wrapped with the right information which is also printed on the chocolate.

However, the final thing that’s most important about a business card is to actually give it out at events. So many opportunities can arise whether you’re at an event or not. You might even meet someone while waiting on line at the grocery store or in the doctor’s office. Have your cards ready to give out and give them out liberally to get the most from them.

If you feel like reading some more here are some awesome examples of non-traditional business cards that might spark your creativity.

29 Cool Business Cards

One of the most clever usable business cards shown here is also a cheese grater.  As you can imagine something like this would be quite expensive, but at the right event you won’t soon be forgotten.  People would actually get use from it and think of you each time.

On the more practical side I love the tearable divorce business card. You can tear it and offer it to a friend, while keeping the information for yourself. Tearable business cards can be used for all sorts of business and won’t really be that much more expensive. Your customers, and those to whom you offer such a card can easily share with others.

Many of these examples aren’t totally efficient for every day, but they work great at events to help make you stand out. What’s more is that you can carry over some elements of the design to your regular business card for normal use. Entrepreneur.com says that you should copy other people’s business cards and stay standard to your industry. I don’t necessary agree. I think you should do what you can to stand out and get noticed within your budget.

What does your business card look like? I’d love to see them if you have created something different.

Image © Depositphotos.com/realcg

7 Habits of Great Decision Makers

As a leader, decision making is part of the deal. Ultimately, everything comes down to what we want to happen and that means we make the final call. It’s tempting to think that small business owners are naturally good at decision making. Maybe. We do make more decisions on a daily basis but the truth is, decision making may not come easily all the time, and certainly not for all leaders. Wherever you are on the scale of decision making skills, we can all benefit from learning from those who are great at it.

Future

Decide & Implement Quickly

When I was still working for someone else, I remember sitting at a meeting all frustrated. It was probably the 10th meeting we’ve had that year on the very same topic and I pushed my bosses – again – for a decision. I didn’t get it. They stalled. Again. Wanting more ‘data’. Again. I couldn’t move forward. Couldn’t do my job. Hardly surprising, our market share didn’t grow that year.

Sir Richard Branson, founder or Virgin has been reported to “make and implement decisions quickly — usually before our competitors in the market have held their fifth meeting on the same issue”.

We don’t make better decisions by stalling. Finalize and implement right away.

Be Brave

“Most people don’t have guts to make the tough decisions because they want to make the right decisions. So they make no decision, and that’s a decision.” Said Tony Robbins.

We aren’t going to make the right decisions every single time. We don’t have the ability to read the future, so the only way is to go forth bravely and try. Inaction is always the wrong decision. Think of it this way. We have the option of making the wrong decision all the time or the right decision sometimes. The choice is pretty clear.

Trust Your Instinct

This is the most intangible of all which can be scary. Perhaps that’s why many of us are afraid to go with out gut. Yet, it’s the one thing that many great decision makers and leaders rely on.

Tim Ferris says, “If you’re insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.”

Trust Your People

“If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to, you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy.” – Steve Jobs

Of course, you need to first trust you have hired the right people. If you aren’t convinced they are right for your company, why are they still there? Assuming they are the right ones – let go of that leash. It frees you up for other (perhaps) bigger decisions too.

Make Decisions Often

According to General Patton, “Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a good leader.”

It is said that the skill of decision making is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it will be. So ahead and work those muscles. It’s a sign of a good leader.

Make Decisions Based On What You Know Now

Sometimes, it isn’t possible for us to have all the information we need. More often than not, we only get glimpses.

Robert K. Greenleaf says it best in his book Servant As Leader. “On an important decision one rarely has 100% of the information needed for a good decision no matter how much one spends or how long one waits. And, if one waits too long, he has a different problem and has to start all over. This is the terrible dilemma of the hesitant decision maker.”

Have A Routine & Simplify Your Life

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “The precept of Order requiring that every part of my business should have its allotted time” and he followed this with a now famous daily routine chart.

Having a routine means you won’t have to decide when you’ll do the daily stuff. Your mileage goes further when you simplify your life and reduce your choices. E.g. Eating the same breakfast daily.

This would make as many daily decisions as “automatic” as possible, leaving you more focus, more bandwidth for those critical decisions you may encounter througout the day.

This doesn’t mean your life has to become monotonous. Rather, you save the variety for areas or things you want to enjoy the most, and not on the mundane like what you’re going to eat for breakfast, or what you should start working on in the morning.

Did you find this useful? Don’t keep it to yourself. Share it.

Image © Depositphotos.com/olly18

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