Small Business

Breaking the Chains

How to compete and win against The Corporate World.

Everyday, customers and business owners are bombarded with billboards, logos, print and electronic ads from huge corporations. With annual ad budgets that are more than our businesses’ SALES in an entire year, our small independent businesses are getting squeezed out of consumers minds (and wallets) more and more each year. But the good news is, there are ways to fight back and “break the chains”:

Build that website and perfect your online presence.

The Internet is one place where, compared to print and other forms of electronic media, the playing field is relatively level. A website filled with loads of great content will be loved by the search engines like Google and Yahoo!, and because of that, customers that may not even know where you are can find you and buy online. If you own a retail store, start an e-store. If you own a restaurant or a service-related business, offer a gift certificate or printable coupon. Starting a mailing list on your website with the latest news, events and special offers is a great way to get (and keep) loyal, regular customers. The options are endless, and best of all, content is the Internet king, not slick, flashy, repetitive advertising. If you aren’t comfortable with all things Internet, there are many companies that are, and can help you with web design, web hosting, search engine optimization, and web marketing.

Join (or start) a co-op or business association.

“Strength in Numbers” is more than a catchy phrase, it is becoming a necessity in our current business climate. Trade organizations can purchase products together to get better rates and buys, they can advertise together with direct mail coupons and newsletters (another big money saver), and they carry more political clout by appointing representatives to call on state legislatures or even Congress in order to promote legislation favorable to small independent businesses. If your area doesn’t have a trade organization, or does but you feel it doesn’t meet your needs, start one! The National Federation of Independent Business is a great resource with representatives in all fifty states and Washington D.C.

Don’t mimic Corporate America

Advertising is not cheap, because the prices that the large corporations are willing to pay for it have priced it out of the reach of most small businesses. This is not necessarily a bad thing; let them have all of the cold, impersonal, beat you over the head repetitive advertising! People only care about this on Super Bowl Sunday anyway! Always go for the personal touch. If you own a restaurant or retail store, introduce yourself. Let them know you appreciate them coming by, and you can’t wait to see them again. Always offer coupons or incentives, and be as unique, creative and memorable as you possibly can. Remember that “word of mouth” advertising is so great you can’t put a price tag on it. Put yourself in the customers shoes, and stay there! Don’t ever do what you want; do what they want. Don’t just market your business, market yourself. It leaves an impression, and with the sorry state of customer service today in most (chain) businesses, people won’t forget it!

Remember, you are an independent business because you wanted to do something new or different, so promote yourself accordingly. Here’s to you “breaking the chains” and becoming successful with your chosen endeavor.

Simple Steps to Small Business Success on the Internet

Did you know that, in America, 80% of small businesses fail in the first twelve months? For those of us who would like to start a small business — maybe even work from home — that’s a very discouraging statistic.

Does that mean that your business idea is doomed to failure? Far from it! There are steps you can take that greatly increase your chances of success. With a little time and some serious research you can hit the ground running. Let’s start from the beginning…

The bright idea

First, of course, you need to come up with an idea. Typically, business opportunities can be divided into four groups:

1. Offering an existing product/service in an existing market.
2. Introducing an existing product/service to a new market.
3. Offering a new product/service in an existing market
4. Introducing a new product/service to a new market.

At this stage of the game the only limit is your imagination. Inspiration can come from anywhere — maybe you have a hobby that you’d like to turn into a full-time job; you may be on the receiving end of bad service one day and decide to try doing it better yourself; or you may have a talent that you’d like to capitalise on.

Once you’ve come across something that you’d like to do, it’s time to take a look at the market and see what’s on offer.

Passing the test

So you’ve had a great idea and you’re keen to roll with it; now it’s time to put it through its paces. For the purpose of the exercise, let’s say that you have a passion for healthy living, and that you want to distribute a range of lifestyle accessories that promote healthy living with a do-it-yourself approach.

Ask around: Is there a market for products that promote healthy living? What sorts of products are available? Who would you be competing with and what do your competitors offer? Do you have the necessary skills to run such a business and — more to the point — what would those skills be? Where would your business be located?

Once you’ve answered those questions you should have a fairly clear picture of what your business will look like.

You source some products and decide to do some further research into the range of lifestyle products offered by a company called Vitality 4 Life. Your own life experience plus some work you’ve done as a dietician has given you the necessary skill sets, and you think that you’ll be able to work from home, giving you more time for family. There is an existing market, but there’s room for expansion. Now it’s time to take a closer look.

To be or not to be?

It’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts. You don’t want to jump into something feet first and find out the hard way that the budget just doesn’t work.

To get started, sit down and work out if you need to hire staff, which means paying wages.

If you lease a premises you’ll need to be able to pay the rent, and your location will have to be suitable for your business and target market (which also means that you’ll have to think carefully about just what that target market is). You’ll also need to work out the likely demand for your product/service.

Ok… you’ve worked out that there is enough demand for good quality juicers, sprouters, water filters and other high end accessories to take a shot at a distributorship as a home-based business opportunity. Now you need to make some marketing decisions.

Look at me! Look at me!

Advertising can be costly so you’ll want to be sure that your advertising budget is spent wisely. That means more market research, this time one-on-one. Profile your customer groups so you can aim your marketing at the right group/s of people.

Draw up a questionnaire (a short questionnaire — people run out patience if you ramble for too long) and hang around outside a few of the local gyms (for our particular example). Come up with a mixture of open questions (What do you think of……..?) and closed questions (Do you have a gym membership? Yes/No.); sliding scales can be useful too.

For our health accessories business, a good question might be ‘How did you hear about this gym? Radio, tv, newspaper, word of mouth etc…’ Such a question would then give you an indication of the types of media that your target group responds best to.

Choose a business name, print up some business cards, buy some stock and get ready to trade!

Measure it, manage it!

A teacher of mine made the point that, in business, if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.

You need to be able to plan ahead, and to do that you need to know — or to be able to accurately predict — your total sales. The equation is simple: number of customers x average sale x frequency of visits per customer per year = total sales. Remember it, revise it often, measure your business and you’ll be able to manage it!

Keep an eye on your bottom line and, most importantly, always be aware of your cash flow — the cold, hard cash that you have in the bank. Allow for invoice periods (14 days, 30 days etc) when you’re planning your budget.

The market place has a life of its own, and no one can prepare for every contingency. Put some thought into your idea; make sure that there’s a market for what you’re offering; research, research, research; promote your business effectively; always know what’s going on in your bank account and don’t forget about cash flow!

It’s not perfect but, if you follow these few simple steps, you’ll be miles ahead of many new small business ventures. If you’ve heard of a great home-based business opportunity, or have a product or service of your own to market, you’re off to a great start!