September 19, 2021

All About Small Business: Click here to enter the site https://joannlaing.wordpress.com

From Idea to New Business

September 7, 2021

To start a new business, you begin with a process.

Having a process makes the first dozen plus steps to starting a business more manageable and hopefully more successful.

Here are some of the steps you should include in the process that launches your new business.

  • Upfront check-out your idea.  Run it by family and friends, industry experts; do research.  Does your business idea make sense?  Is there a need or want in the marketplace for it?  Is the marketplace big enough and is it expected to grow?  Also, checkout competition; what are other businesses doing; how will your business be unique?  Are you passionate about your business idea and will it fuel you through the challenges of starting a new business. 
  • Select a name.  What your business is called is important.  Does it reflect what your company does?  Is it easy to pronounce?  Is the URL available?  Check its meaning in other languages where you might conduct business and/or the languages used by your customers, vendors, partners, and others you will be doing business with; make sure it does not have a meaning you do not want.
  • Write a strategic business plan.  Your plans may change along the way, but you will have a starting point and make adjustments.  Include your vision, culture, offerings, financials (revenue, expenses), profit margins, capital expenditures, staffing, competitive analysis and your business’ advantages, partnerships, planned acquisitions, etc.  Your business plan will come in handy as you meet with bank managers, potential investors, possible hires, and hired experts.  There are a number of online templates to get you started.
  • Decide on your business formation structure.  Unless you plan to work as a sole proprietor, you should look into creating a limited liability corporation.  To learn about the different business structures, go to the Small Business Administration website (https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/launch-your-business/choose-business-structure).  Also, an advisor, such as an accountant or lawyer, can guide you. 
  • Select your business location(s).  Consider where you live or want to live; as well as look at where are your target customers (if you are retail you will want to be easily accessible), business partners, and potential hires.  Further, you should consider the costs, benefits, and restrictions of different government agencies.
  • Register your business.  Your location and business structure determine how you will need to register your business.  Register with federal, state and local agencies; if you do not register your business, you could miss out on personal liability protection, legal benefits, and tax benefits.  Then stay up to date with registration requirements; some states require you to provide reports soon after registering depending on your business structure.  Also, check with your local tax office or franchise tax board, if it applies to you.
  • Get a Tax ID number.  You willneed to file for a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), which the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses to administrate tax laws, unless you are a sole proprietor or a LLC without any employees.  It is issued either by the Social Security Administration (SSA) or by the IRS. However, if you plan to have employees, you will need to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) that they can use for filing taxes.  An EIN can be applied for online if your business is located in the United States or U.S. Territories, and you’ll first need to have a TIN to apply for an EIN. 
  • Apply for licenses and permits.  Learn about the business licensing requirements and the permits you need depend on the city, county and state in which you are doing business as well as the kind and size of business you plan to start; then apply for them.
  • Get a business bank account.  Choose a bank that goes the extra mile for small businesses is vital to your success.  Look for banks that offer dedicated business checking accounts with low or no fees, small starting deposits, ATM accessibility in your area, interest-earning accounts and online or mobile banking tools geared toward making small-business processes easier.
  • Get business insurance.  If you are not protected with the right insurance, accidents, natural disasters, and lawsuits could put out of business.  Select the type of business insurance you need.  The federal government requires every business with employees to have workers’ compensation, unemployment, and disability insurance.  Some states also require additional insurance.  Then, assess your risks, find a reputable licensed agent, and shop around for the best prices and benefits for your business.
  • Set your business culture.  How you do business, your mission/purpose and values, is important for hiring, developing, and retaining employees as well as establishing partnerships and building your customers.  Be transparent and consistent with your culture.
  • Create a brand.  Decide what the emotional resonance of your company should be and then use that to inform all your branding choices: images, graphics and how products make customers or clients feel.  Once you’ve decided on a look and feel, stick with it. Consistency of messaging is vital to brand awareness and success.
  • Build a website.  A good business website is a fundamental part of the business creation process, and it is nearly impossible to do effective business without one, much less reach your growth and sales potentials.  Get a web presence up and running by the time you’re ready to launch.
  • Plan, execute a digital-marketing strategy.  Digital marketing is going to be important to how you promote your business and engage your customers.  The voice you use must reflect your business and be consistently applied across channels.
  • Get business insurance.  If you are not protected with the right insurance, accidents, natural disasters, and lawsuits could put out of business.  Select the type of business insurance you need.  The federal government requires every business with employees to have workers’ compensation, unemployment, and disability insurance.  Some states also require additional insurance.  Then, assess your risks, find a reputable licensed agent, and shop around for the best prices and benefits for your business.
  • Set your business culture.  How you do business, your mission/purpose and values, is important for hiring, developing, and retaining employees as well as establishing partnerships and building your customers.  Be transparent and consistent with your culture.
  • Create a brand.  Decide what the emotional resonance of your company should be and then use that to inform all your branding choices: images, graphics and how products make customers or clients feel.  Once you’ve decided on a look and feel, stick with it. Consistency of messaging is vital to brand awareness and success.
  • Build a website.  A good business website is a fundamental part of the business creation process, and it is nearly impossible to do effective business without one, much less reach your growth and sales potentials.  Get a web presence up and running by the time you’re ready to launch.
  • Plan, execute a digital-marketing strategy.  Digital marketing is going to be important to how you promote your business and engage your customers.  The voice you use must reflect your business and be consistently applied across channels.

Starting and owning a business is a full-time commitment, one that owners put their all into.  Make sure you start your business off well to enhance your chances of having a successful small business.

Once In A Life Time Opportunity For Small Business – Seize It!

August 6, 2021

Not since the end of World War II have small businesses had the opportunities afforded them with the easing of the pandemic.

Small business leaders should take lessons from the company managers of that period and move boldly into this holiday season and beyond.

One excellent example from that post-war period is the Lionel Manufacturing Company, along with Ohio’s American Flyer Manufacturing Company, these companies competed against German and Czech companies in the model train sector before the Second World War. With conflict’s disruption of normal trade patterns and shifting to wartime production of miniature warheads, both companies ceased making large batches of model trains. Moreover, women replaced men in their workshops as males were drafted for combat engineering duties.

In August, on the day Japan surrendered and Lionel’s defense contracts automatically cancelled, the company owner order his staff to clear wartime equipment and ramp up the train dies. Within two weeks, the company was producing model trains for delivery to stores in time for the Christmas 1945 season.  By contrast, American Flyer chose a more leisurely conversion aiming for 1946.

The Lionel owner contacted Sears Roebuck whose Christmas catalogue was already finalized without trains and offered to have enough trains for delivery in time for the holiday season. What he demanded in return was five years exclusivity. Between Sears and holiday sales in Chicago’s Marshall Fields and New York’s Macy’s, Lionel became the industry leader for the next 30 years.

One added bonus for the company, there was enough work needed that men returning to their company jobs did not replace the women who had kept it going but rather supplemented them.  Many stayed on until the company was sold and manufacturing shifted to Asia.

The Pandemic and this year’s sales explosion coupled with distribution disruptions being experienced means nimble small businesses can also prosper widely in this holiday season and earn additional sales in the months beyond.

Like Lionel’s owner, it is important that small business leaders start now building inventory, establishing new sources of material, adding lines of credit, and training staff to meet the groundswell of buying expected this fall and winter.

Suggested key components to capture opportunities:

  1. Establish and enforce rules about job location, mask wearing, and lines of authority.
  2. Find additional lines of credit to assure ability to procure supplies.
  3. Train staff in best procedures in a post-pandemic world.
  4. Seek new sales by identifying potential clients who are also seeking or need new suppliers.
  5. Improve operational support by streamlining support functions.
  6. Leverage multi-channel marketing.
  7. Focus the company on growth and bolstering morale; consider adding inventive for achieving goals.
  8. Above all, be flexible and recognize it is a new world out there..

Preparing For Inflation

July 6, 2021

We could see high inflation* (when the cost of goods and services increases rapidly) in late 2021 and beyond.  It would befit the small business owner to be prepared. 

Let’s look at how inflation can affect your business and what you can do to contend with it.

Evaluate Revenue Streams – Ideally do this before inflation actually occurs.  If your offerings are discretionary or if it is unlikely that you will be able to compete on price during a time of inflation, your business model may be in serious jeopardy.  Reconfigure your revenue forecast to accommodate inflationary pressures and make necessary adjustments in advance of rising prices.

Borrow Now, if you have to – As interest rate are expected to rise.  Begin by securing an operating line of credit at today’s rates to buffer the impact of cyclical lending needs later.  Also, consider borrowing now for capital that will result in a reduced cost structure and/or more secure revenue streams.  

Ask for a fixed-rate loan (instead of an adjustable-rate loan) so your interest rate stays the same regardless of economic conditions.  The larger and longer the loan period, such as for a mortgage, the more important it is to have a fixed-rate loan.

If you have a variable rate loan, they are going to renew at much higher rates during times of inflation; pay these loans down as soon as possible. 

Wages – It is not feasible to lock in your employees’ wages; they are going to, at a minimum, demand cost-of-living increases.  Plan for wage increases.  Also, consider hiring interns and freelancers who you can get at a fixed rate and do not have to pay benefits to.

Inventory – One way to fight an anticipated inflationary scenario is to lock in prices early.  You can do this either through options/futures contracts or simply by signing long-term contracts with suppliers. 

If you cannot lock in prices, consider stocking up on inventory.  Purchasing goods before price increases could put you in a much better competitive position than your competitors.  But, don’t risk cash reserves just to buy inventory.

Finally, renegotiate with your suppliers and ask suppliers for discounts.

Efficiency And Productivity – Spend time improving your processes productivity.  Look for areas of waste; then spend time and effort implementing ways work can be done more efficiently.  Conduct timely technology and services audits.

Reduce Other Costs – Consider relocating to a smaller, less expensive working environment.  If you rent, lock in the amount you pay.  Eliminate finance charges by paying on time.  And, prepare for the possibility of workforce reductions should the economy enter a period of prolonged inflation.

Prices – There are going to be some costs that you can’t lock in ahead of time, so you may be forced to raise the prices of your products or services to offset higher expenses.  However, smaller businesses are reluctant to raise prices when they already see business tailing off due to inflation and increasing the risk customer alienation.  A couple of ways to raise prices include: giving your customers some warning, saying and/or posting we need to raise prices starting on this future date to continue delivering the top-notch offerings that you’re grown accustomed to; and consider frequent small price increases rather than one or two big price increases. 

Customer Loyalty – Reprioritize your customer loyalty initiatives.  To prevent your customer base from moving to lower priced alternatives, secure your customer base by creating value added incentives to encourage them to stay with you.

Receivables – To minimize customers taking advantage of you by not paying on time and then you having to bridge cash shortfalls, reduce collection issues by tighten up payment terms, possibly instituting penalties for late payments.  Stay disciplined in collecting payments.

Investing Funds – With inflation and the value of the US dollar decreasing, the purchasing power of your cash will be dramatically lower after just a few years.  Any funds that you don’t expect to use in the near-term should be invested in assets that protect you against inflation; talk to your financial advisor about possibly investing in treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS), mutual funds, and ETFs.

In summary, inflation can be a nightmare for your business if you are not prepared.  However, if you prepare before we start seeing higher prices, you can mitigate the effects of inflation or even benefit from it.

* Inflation is a period in which the overall prices of everyday goods and services start to rise.  Business cost of materials and labor rise squeezing profits.  Rising costs may or may not be able to be passed on to customers depending on the price elasticity of demand for of your offerings.  When inflation causes costs to rise, often interest rates will spike.  Inflationary pressures cause customers to try to delay payments in order to be able to pay with “cheaper dollars” so business cash flow suffers.

Satisfy Customers and Generate Sales

June 5, 2021

People, like butterflies, are emerging from the pandemic lockdowns.

During the pandemic many people changed their living habits, became isolated, more concerned about hygiene, and purchased more things online, and perhaps gained weight.

Besides purchasing more items online, they also broke other shopping habits.  Fortunately for small businesses new ones are developing.  Most immediately, there is going to be a period when buyers will experiment with new buying channels to fit their emerging lives.

Smart small businesses leaders will see this dynamic as an unparalleled opportunity to add new customers and welcome back old ones.

As early surveys show, consumers and businesses are eager to buy.  They have pent up demand and also new fashion, food, and hygiene needs.  Small businesses need to step-up their game in their local and online stores, making both more user friendly as shoppers seek new venues.

Consumers and B2B buyers have also learned to look for different ways to satisfy their needs.  Thanks to various aid programs, they have more money to spend and reasons to do so.  And they are not limited to what, where and how they previously bought.

Fashions for the office have changed, requiring wardrobe additions.  Grooming has become more demanding as has the foods people eat which are changing.

In the new era of socializing, people want to: look well turned out yet comfortable; order the best food and beverages for these activities; update their abodes to meet new lifestyle and for others who come visiting; and in general lead different lives.

Small businesses need to spruce up their local and online stores to draw the attention of these new and former shoppers.  Once in their stores proprietors need to concentrate on four area to compete in this new economy: curation, personalization, immediacy and now.  Plus beyond sight and sound, local businesses can add to their inside edge by being able to appeal to the senses of smell, touch, and taste.    

Let’s look at each area and consider the added sense advantages.

Curation – yes, curation can be done online; but in person it can be so much better.  Make it easy for your former and new customers to shop.  Put together kits of your products such as complete outfits, ingredients and recipes for meals along with decorations and beverages (perhaps provided in partnership with other stores), and essentials for body/home/transport make-overs.  By customers not only seeing your offerings with accompanying sound, they can more fully experience them with smelling, touching and perhaps tasting.

Personalization – of course, personalization can be done online; but by seeing the responses of your customer you can immediately refine and sharpen your personalization while adding to your knowledge bank their likes and dislikes.  Remembering and using names is important, as are colors and preferences.  Providing samples of products to try can lead to greater sales.

Immediacy – a light, very brief touch on the shoulder or elbow can provide familiarity without being too intrusive.  After months of isolation, people crave contact of friends and family.  A friendly, but not overly friendly, shop keeper who smiles and adds just the right touch can become a more trusted source of products and services.

Okay, you might think this might be creepy; but consider the success of airline attendants in 1st or premium class who make their passengers feel at ease with these same gestures.

Now – online can provide next day and often delivery in a few hours…for a price.  Stores can do better by having the products available now for an outfit to wear, a meal to prepare, a personal or home project to complete that day.  Many people put off activities until they are pushed for time; local stores can meet that last minute challenge.

Above all, view this period as one of opportunity.  Be smart and draw the consumer and businesses to your local and online stores to gain long-time customers and greater sales.

Is Your Supply Chain Causing Product Availability Problems?

May 9, 2021

Small businesses power themselves to profitability by superior service and immediate gratification that give them the edge over bigger competitors.  Not meeting product availability is rated one of the highest causes of customer defection, according to experts.

Yet, forty-four percent of small businesses reported temporary shortages or other supplychain problems in March, according to a recent survey highlighted in The Wall Street Journal.

You know how critical it is to get customers what they want, when they want it.  As a business owner or manager, you need to accomplish this task in the lowest cost, most efficient way possible, without sacrificing on quality.  That is why supply chain management is critical to the success of your business.  Yet two-thirds of small business owners and managers do not have full visibility into their supply chains, which is how you get your parts and products from point to point.

When building your supply chain consider:

  • Supplier relationships – search for suppliers that are cost-efficient, reliable (have product available when you want it), and easy to work with; monitor their performance; and build a partnership with them.
  • Ethics – before forming a partnership with your suppliers talk about ethics, human rights, sustainability and other issues that are important to you, your employees, and company.  Make sure you and your supplier align; this positioning can help to strengthen the relationship and help to set up a long-lasting partnership.
  • Risk management – proactively manage supply chain risk, be ready when supplier disruptions happen.  Keep up-to-date on what is happening in the marketplace due to weather, economics, social, political and other changes; these can and often do impact your business and its supply chain.  Also, consider your risk due to events such as industrial unrest, product recalls, safety scares, etc.

To strengthen your supply chain, consider:

  • Doubling or tripling where you source your critical components and offerings; if one supplier or avenue of delivery has trouble delivering, you have a back-up or two.
  • Sourcing products from the US, or same hemisphere as it is often to easier to move goods north and south as opposed to east and west.
  • Bartering with others to get the components or offerings you critically need.  Have business partners in addition to your suppliers; other businesses to stay informed, have other resources, and perhaps obtain supplies and products you need.
  • Putting in place penalties to keep your supply chain going with suppliers; if the suppliers does not deliver or is late it is going to cost you money, time and even customers, so ask for assurances backed with non-performance clauses.  On the flip side, you might put in incentivizes for your suppliers that deliver during times of strife. 
  • Digitizing your supply chain to have maximize insight into where your components or offerings are in real time and when they are expected to arrive will make your life as a business owner or manager a bit easier.

With your small business advantage imperiled by a supply chain disruption, it may be time to pre-plan responses when customer expectations are not met.

Here are some pre-planning strategies to consider:

  • Learn as early as possible if your product shipments will be late or even cancelled.  Knowing a problem could exist enables you to have alternatives available.  For retailers, the anticipated busy fall season makes them extremely vulnerable.  Already, some apparel shops are reporting delayed shipments.  Remember, suppliers are going to make every effort to keep their biggest clients happy, not their smaller customers.
  • As soon as you know products will be late, notify your customers.  If you have taken deposits, offer to return them or preferably provide a credit.  Experts believe a majority of clients will leave their deposits in place.  If you have used the deposits to fund your own purchases, keep a running score and notify your factoring agent and/or bank.  Secure an additional line of credit to insure you have enough capital to weather the supply disruption.
  • Develop alternative product fixes for clients.  One way is to offer to lend them refurbished product until their new products arrive.  Another is to do what New Jersey bridal shop owner did.  When the distribution disruption delayed delivery of wedding gowns, she lent bridesmaids dresses she used as display models and refunded the deposits.
  • No matter how angry or abusive your customer becomes, always have a smile on your face.  Be sympathetic to their plight and concentrate on their problem not yours.  Remember, the customer has needs and at the moment he or she really doesn’t care about your problems.  Above all, do not minimize their plight.  You will never know the full details, so remain in concert with the customer trying to solve the problem created by your failure to deliver what you promised.
  • Provide a business credit to your customer(s), if possible instead of a refund; the former will more likely get the customer to come back perhaps sooner and spend money with you, with the latter you may never see your customer again.
  • A sales agreement represents the promise by one person to do or provide to another person something of value.  Despite all the legalese in the sales document, this transaction represents explicit trust on both sides.  With fewer customers, small businesses need to keep that trust for as many buyers as possible.  Doing this when events happen out of their control, they must act to keep that trust.  Having a plan in place is the first step.

Supply chain disruption happen in all size businesses.  Your best bet is to prepare for them, active swiftly when they happen, and keep your customers.

Successful Marketing Stunts Can Boost Your Campaigns

April 11, 2021

Generating attention and ultimately sales are what marketing campaigns are all about.

Any element that acts as a megaphone multiplying mentions of the company’s product or services adds to the campaign’s success.

Marketing stunts have proven to be the burst of energy to campaigns.

Have you thought of boosting your marketing campaign?

Well thought-out marketing stunts can generate lots of publicity for products and brands.

Particularly in today’s world, if not properly conceived and executed, a marketing stunt can backfire. In companies need to protect the trust built with customers when considering any marketing stunts. Here’s two examples of two stunt cases generated by well-known larger companies; one worked and the other seems to have broken trust plus caused brand confusion.

Pulling off a successful marketing stunt can turn into a positive viral wave such as in 2018 when IHOP teased that it would change its name to “IHOb” as part of a marketing campaign for its line of burgers; the result in the company sold four times more burgers after its campaign.

Recently, Volkswagen had a negative experience when it claimed it was changing its name in the U.S. to “Voltswagen” in a nod toward its heightened commitment to electric vehicles.  Here the stunt failed because at a time when America is grappling with a misinformation crisis, is it acceptable to mislead reporters and the public as a marketing strategy?

In Volkswagen’s case, it didn’t play well, especially since the company admitted guilt to having tricked us before*.  Volkswagen’s decision to lie about the nature of its announcement marks a breach of trust that could undermine the automaker’s reputation.  Plus, customers became confused by the brand and began asking if diesel cars were still going to be available.

When considering a marketing stunt, as a business owner or manager there are three things to consider.

  • Are you brave enough to risk all you have done in the past generating trust? 
  • Surrounding your stunt is your message so good it would be properly understood and trigger your audiences’ positive emotions?
  • Is your communication channel efficient enough to reach your target customers, is your timing right, and is your tone of voice reflecting your idea as it should?

If you decide to go ahead and try a marketing stunt to differentiate your brand is a sea of other brands and in the hope of boosting your business, please consider some of these important elements to ensure the outcome is successful as possible.

Know your audience – get to know your audience on a personal level.  Consider how your stunt impacts them. Are you being funny, provocative or thought-provoking? Whatever you are doing, make sure that your target audience is on board and understands your message.

Design a bold maneuver grounded in research – a marketing stunt, without research, is based on intuition and designed for shock value; but it may not resonate with your audience(s).  A bold maneuver, or marketing stunt grounded in research, is still gutsy and requires risk, is more likely to succeed in attracting the attention and affection of your ideal audience(s).

Trigger a core emotion, if possible – a marketing stunt should tap into a core emotion to make it successful and effective.  The key to a successful stunt is the emotion you are looking to target needs to coordinate with your brand or project.

Use the right content strategy -stunts can be effective with the right content strategy surrounding them. Start with a vision for the story you aim to tell, beyond the initial audience reached, and planning for what content needs to be deployed and captured. A stunt can have a much longer tail if photos of audience reactions, social media reactions, etc. are captured and distributed quickly to relevant media outlets.

Add value to your brand – make sure that whatever you are doing adds value to your brand.  Usually, it is a waste of money to pull a stunt for the sake of getting short-term attention.  Only do a stunt if it reinforces your brand.

Ensure the stunt does not cheapen your brand – driving sales is can be tough in our current market, and a well-designed marketing stunt can increase brand awareness and sales. However, be careful and make sure that your stunt stays within your branding and does not lessen or hurt your offerings.

Have a PR plan in place – having a PR plan in place is imperative.  You want to be talked about in the best possible light.  If you are able to get a marketing stunt into the mainstream news, it is good opportunity for your business and brand to expand.

Tie your stunt to a larger campaign – marketing stunts can be very effective, but only if they tie into a larger, long-term brand message or campaign.  A stunt often can be short lived, over as soon as it starts.  Bit, if you tie it into a long-term brand strategy, a stunt can spike your brand message and bring it to a higher level.

Get it to go viral – the goal of pulling off a marketing stunt is getting it to go viral.  However, there is no specific formula as to what makes something go viral.  Often, it is a random and organic phenomenon that happens.  In general, focus on understanding and addressing the problems and/or interests of your target audience(s).

Make it visually engaging – today, marketing stunts must be visual so as to engage the hearts and minds of the desired target audience.  Consider using video in executing the stunt and in recording your audience reactions.

Time it right – timing can play a critical role in the viral nature of a stunt. If you opt for an occasion-based day, the creative idea has to be compelling for the brand to own the occasion.  Otherwise, the originality and the authenticity of your stunt take precedence. Be unusual to grab attention, but make it relevant.

Consider using the #Challenge format – marketing stunts often take the form of #challenges.  The keys to creating a viral challenge are to know your audience, put it on the right platform, and partner with an influencer who is popular with both your audience and users on that platform. If you can pull off all three, your #challenge could sweep the nation and go viral very quickly.

Embody the brand’s central narrative – a marketing stunt is effective as long as they are an authentic extension of the brand.  When they truly exemplify the brand and its overarching narrative, the stunt becomes a creative storytelling device that generates media coverage and buzz.  Make your stunt simple and brief; if your stunt is too elaborate or takes too long to get from the brand essence it may not resonate with your audience(s).

Pay attention to detail and manage risk – attention to detail and risk management are, by far, the most important things to consider if you are planning to pull off a marketing stunt.  Analyze how and what you are about to very carefully.  Consider your audience as well as what going on in the world at large.  You want to make sure that you do not offend anyone.

Marketing stunts can be brand positive.  If you are willing to take the risk, plan and execute it so it has the best chance at success.

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

* Volkswagen admitted in 2017 that millions of its diesel cars had polluted the earth above acceptable standards and paid more than $30 billion in penalties throughout the world.

How to Move Your Business Forward

March 8, 2021

This past year with the pandemic was one of disconnection, isolation, perhaps numbness and desperation.  With multiple vaccines rolling out, there is hope for moving forward in a different way. 

Recent past blogs highlighted Trends and Opportunities (January 2021)­ and Ask for Help (February 2021).

To be successful, HOW you move ahead is important.  You need to listen well, create a positive company culture, as well as be empathic.

The starting point is listening.

To ensure and accelerate growth in today’s and tomorrow’s environment it takes humility, authenticity and vulnerability.  And the starting point is listening.

Listening is participative; you need to be all in and fully present.  When we give others our full and undivided attention, we let them know that they really do matter.  We are interested in what they have to say and who they are.

These days, we all need to listen more closely and attentively to our employees, customers, vendors, partners and others.

With so much noise and so much that needs to be done, taking the time and effort to listen may seem counterintuitive, but this really is the time to listen with open ears, open minds, and open hearts.

Foster a positive company culture.

Organizations need to find ways to improve engagement, retention and performance to move forward.  Creating a positive culture for your business helps.  Here are a few ways to make your workplace a happier and more dynamic place to work each day.

Flexible and remote working has become more prevalent due to the need for social distancing.  For businesses that can adapt to the needs of their employees, the outcome is positive.  Businesses see a greater result in terms of culture and employee retention.  

Transparency is key in any organization, but particularly now that access to information is so important.  Being transparent with your workers helps to encourage innovation and builds trust among the team, both in the company and in fellow employees.  Further, transparency helps to develop a culture of honesty that is critical to success and happiness in the workplace.  Make sure everyone has access to common information to keep them working from the same page.

Be more open to staff requests.  And adapt and understand the need for work-life balance.  Whatever it is that your staff needs to be happy, stress-free and productive should be something that the business considers important, whether that’s updated training, remote working or flexible hours.  While not all requests can be accepted, it’s important that employees feel able to ask and discuss their needs with their employers, without fear of being told no without consideration. 

Not all aspects of fostering a happier company culture need to be immediate; sometimes, it can be hugely beneficial to have something to work towards in the future too.  One way of doing this successfully is to plan a celebration that everyone in the company can look forward to and enjoy together. 

Communication is of paramount importance with so many business challenges (and opportunities) at the moment, as well as staff members working from numerous locations.  Remote management demands plenty of regular feedback so that everyone can work on projects efficiently, while still enjoying autonomy, so make good use of email, phone and video technology to ensure that interactions are regular and thorough. 

Further, make sure that not all of the check-ins are business-related; remember to listen thoughtfully, let people know they can come to you to discuss issues and keep virtual meetings as ‘in person’ as possible.  This will help to maintain great relationships within the workplace and ensures that your company remains a fun and friendly place to work.

Empathy reigns supreme as businesses move forward. 

While some businesses seem to be starting from scratch, others are transforming to be relevant and responsive in today’s business world; yet at the same time we all remember how it used to be. 

We need to develop approaches that blend empathy and usefulness.  So, imagine what you will miss; perhaps services, community, spontaneity, among other things.  Then think about what you will need to proceed, such as patience, confidence, creativity and more.  Then transform your efforts to anticipate and honor what is needed, to be of use.  Finally remember, we all are trying to emerge from the pandemic; please think in terms of unity, rather than suffering.

We can move forward by allowing ourselves the grace to acknowledge the fear and discomfort.  Recognize that we have always been pursuing new benchmarks in business, challenging ourselves to be more efficient or more innovative.

We still have the capacity to do that and, perhaps more than ever before, we have a better sense of the emotions of those we are trying to serve.

Let’s hope these suggestions of listening, fostering a positive company culture, and empathizing help you to move your business forward.

Ask For Help

February 8, 2021
A lifetime of experiences crowded us this past year due to the pandemic.  
How we process, learn, recover, and grow from this season of adversity will set the tone for our next decade or more.   
But wise people are learning recovery need not be a lonely adventure. We should all be seeking out others, asking for their help.  
There are very few things in life where we can achieve success by going it alone. The process is made easier when we have guides.  
Having the right guide, at the right time, accelerates our learning and supports us in identifying meaningful lessons and making better choices from our experiences and journey.  
Without guides we can find ourselves either really busy and not moving forward or wandering aimlessly on a path that doesn’t lead us towards the destinations we seek. 
As we grow in our ability in knowing ourselves, we also learn to lead in business, at home, nearby communities, and the world in general.  
All great leaders had moments of crisis and failure in their lives. From these setbacks came the fortitude to move forward and bring others with them.  
Remember, motion doesn’t always equal progress.  Guidance from trusted advisors can ensure your efforts lead to results, while also bringing us clarity and direction.  
Yes, it can be difficult asking for help.  But no one knows everything and bringing in an expert can be like using a Sherpa to guide you to the top of the mountain.  
Also, you can create your own board of advisors with knowledge in different areas where you may need expertise or a sounding board.  As your needs change and your advisors’ ability to contribute change, they can be swapped out.  
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.  It might take courage on your part.  But the person(s) you are asking will be flattered that you are requesting their expertise and input on how to move your business forward.  
There are at least two types of guides: paid and unpaid.  They both are invaluable.  To find the help you need ask for recommendations from others you trust and check if there is ‘fit’ for you and your needs.   While you test for the latter, consider leveraging the advisor’s skills on a small project. 
If you discover a good ‘fit’ then the project can be expanded.  If not, seek out another advisor you can work better with to guide you.  
Finally, the clearer you can be on what you want to achieve, how you will be measuring success and the input you are seeking from your guide(s), the more likely you will get the desired results.

2021 Trends and Opportunities

January 11, 2021

Even though last year was fraught with obstacles for most small businesses, with these challenges also came some interesting and potentially innovative changes you can make to your companies. Moreover, they can be viewed as opportunities. 

From a host of sources, our own experiences, and lessons from history, here are some trends and opportunities (with possible actions) to make your business more successful.

Agility. Pandemic restrictions will continue to affect businesses of all sizes. Small businesses have an advantage over the big corporations: quick shifts of focus can happen with less disruption, be they in service delivery, marketing or team structuring.

The quicker small businesses are able to pivot and adapt during these ongoing turbulent times, the higher their fitness and success will be.

Remote (and gig) work is the future of work. Studies have found that employees are more (and in most cases, much more) productive than your on-site workers.

This means that you may need to invest in additional technology and software solutions going forward to ensure that your employees can telework.

Consider using gig or freelance workers, you can hire temporarily without benefits and they can work remotely. There are several ways to keep the work environment professional while making your staff feel supported from afar: check in on your employees regularly using communication platforms such as Slack, Zoom or Google Meets; also take time to socialize virtually with your team, preserving your unique company culture and expressing your appreciation for their hard work.

Clarity is essential.  Be absolutely clear about whether a meeting or training is going to be vital. Almost everyone is tired of being on virtual meetings that waste our time, leaving us frustrated and overwhelmed.

Before the meeting, collaborate on a clear agenda, clear objectives and desired outcomes. Also, start and finish on time.

Mobile-first communication will become the standard. From communicating with your millennial workforce to reaching your at-home worker, communication is now centered around mobile technologies.

To adapt, your website must be responsive, which means that the size changes to fit the screen on which it is being viewed.

Also, many job applicants will apply directly from their smartphone.

Use text (not email) to communicate with your applicants (as well as customers). To boost employee communication, shift to using communication apps to strengthen productivity, lift engagement, reduce misunderstandings, and so much more.

E-commerce and storefront are the one-two punch to score additional revenue. Give your customers a reason to come to your store; and to shore up the storefront, it is a logical time to invest in e-commerce options.

Fine-tune your small business’ e-commerce presence in 2021; and get everyone e-commerce-facing. Create a seamless e-commerce experience for your customers by making your site mobile-friendly. 

Also, leverage social media to gain more sales, and use a cutting edge warehouse to ship orders more quickly.

One way to start an online store is with Wix; it has e-commerce tools to help you set up a variety of specialized services, and its advanced features include drop-shipping, managing orders and payments, using data-driven insights to monitor performance and more.

Go cashless. The economy is predicted to go cashless in the near future. Digital pay is convenient and secure, and companies like Google Pay, Apple Pay, and PayPal offer businesses a way to reap the benefits of selling products in a touchless environment.

While e-commerce obviously lends itself to the digital payment, at least having a cashless payment option beyond a credit card is a good for your business.

Being eco-friendly and socially responsible. Customers, especially younger ones, are demanding companies step up and address social and environmental issues such as climate change, species extinction, and more.

You should focus on going green whenever possible in your business; it will save energy, lower carbon dioxide. Publicize your efforts on social media and your website, and reap the benefits of more customers in 2021. Plus, in the U.S. there are tax credits and incentives on a state level for companies using solar and renewable energy.

Companies are embracing change and supporting multiple causes around the world.

Raise awareness and make a difference with strong nonprofit websites, petition and other forms of supporting causes, both online and off.

Virtual services will continue to be in high demand. The pandemic has led to increased demand for certain business types, particularly those related to technology and virtual health and fitness. These include cybersecurity, at-home fitness, food delivery, gaming, home improvement, and telemedicine businesses.

If you are considering starting a business, or are looking for ways to pivot or expand your business, look to these business categories for inspiration.

Focus on user reviews. Users have started to focus on a single aspect above all others, the reviews; they feel a lot more comfortable purchasing something that another individual has bought and tried, especially if it is from a smaller business that might lack the credibility of a big brand. There is data that shows 92% of potential customers will not purchase your products if there is not a review online.

Having a 4-star (or higher) rating by 100+ customers makes your offering that much easier and more appealing to customers. When real people advocate your brand online, your business and product become more trustworthy and can lead to increased sales.

Online reviews cost you nothing on sites like Yahoo!, Yelp, or Google My Business; plus the site traffic is high and it does a lot to help you build trust and your reputation without spending money on paid advertising.

Talent challenges. The war for talent was only paused during the early months of Covid-19, and it has already resumed in most industries; small businesses will continue to battle talent problems.

Organizations have a choice: they can build learning and people-development cultures to keep teams engaged long-term, or they can build recruiting empires to address the constant turnover of employees.

Employee happiness matters. Employees want to be happy at work and that means feeling like they matter. By keeping your employees happier through company culture and communication, can boost productivity 10-25%, and that contributes to the bottom line. What people believe, think, say and do as well as the collective output of their behaviors define their company culture.

Having open and responsive communication will result in better alignment to vision, values, goals and prosperity.

Non-monetary benefits and perks. Today’s employees want their daily work experience to include more effective motivators like telecommunication, flexible work hours, paternity leave and more.

While it appears like these perks are “just nice to have”, they are very important.

Companies need to recognize there is a strong correlation between engaged employees and key business results.

Listen to your customers.  The businesses that will survive and thrive are those that evolve with their customers.

Talk to your customers as much as you can, not because they can tell you what they want or need because they can tell you how they feel. Expect fear to be feeling number one for most and tune your strategic thinking to finding ways to be the light in the dark.

Empathy is the gold standard. Customers are looking for more than just quality products and services from businesses, they are looking for compassion and empathy. In fact, customers are four times more likely to buy from and recommend a business that has a strong, identifiable purpose. A business’ purpose includes its core values, business practices, customer service philosophy, and support for social causes. 

To build trust with customers and create brand loyalty, you have to connect with their minds and hearts. Forging that connection means demonstrating empathy, and demonstrating empathy comes down to addressing your customers’ needs and fears.

To do that, you may have to tailor your products or services, reexamine your customer service policies, or use a more compassionate voice in your marketing materials.

Customer personalization. Providing your customer with a personalized experience is what it is all about, after all, customers are individuals with their own tastes and wants. People today do not want to be bombarded with too many options and prefer a personal touch instead.

You should cut out the noise and show the options most relevant to your potential and existing customers. 

By taking a few simple steps, your business can offer personalized service, thus strengthening your customer engagement; fully engaged customers are 23% more likely than average customers to spend with your business, which may also help increase your long-term profit.

Start thinking like your customer. Develop a buyer persona to gather some invaluable data about who your clients are.

Explore web analytics tools such as Google Analytics for gathering insights about your visitors. Use the knowledge you have gathered, track strategic points as your customer navigates your site and tailor their personal experience using marketing automation and customization.

Smart personalization engines that recognize customer intent will also enable digital businesses to increase profits by up to 15%. Learn more about your customers’ past purchasing behavior, then make product and/or service recommendations.

Treat your loyal customers well. Learn from the airline industry. Make a special effort to cater to those customers who come back to you time-after-time.

For loyal customers, create a Members Area, site visitors can log into their personal account to manage their order status or appointments, chat with other members and access other types of gated, exclusive content and offers.

Grow an online community. Create an online community of like-minded individuals to foster valuable connections around your brand.

By sharing quality content about your field of expertise, from webinars to blogs, you will be able to establish yourself as an authority in your industry and gain the trust of your audience.  Other forms of video content you can create and share includes live streaming, a live Q&A, or an online course. A good way to support your community and keep it growing is by providing a forum where people can share and exchange ideas around your site. Create a blog to help solidify your voice in your field of business and continuously link you to your audience.

Sometimes your online community needs extra support.

Allow site visitors to reach you instantaneously by adding a live chat app to your site and help guide them through any queries they might have.

Think smaller and simpler. In addition to people’s desire for something that feels more personal, there is a trend for smaller and simpler.

That means less content, shorter videos, more intimate launches, mini-courses, 142-page books (instead of 284 pages).  Changes in design include larger headline fonts, muted color splashes of retro illustrations, and more white space on web pages. Also consider nostalgia and the emotional desire for simplicity.

Use mobile marketing. It means marketing your business to your mobile user audience by reaching them via their smartphones or tablets (an estimated 5 billion people carry mobile devices worldwide); it is likely the most direct channel to your audience.

Beyond crafting a great mobile website, there are a number of ways to take advantage of mobile marketing for your small business: you can keep your customers up-to-date by sending text messages of your latest promotion with consent; and use geo-targeting to reach out to potential clients who are in your area using Google ads, which allows advertisers to target mobile users in specific geographical locations.

Consider your own app. With more people using their mobile devices to conduct daily, it might be time to pair your small business website with a mobile app of your very own.

With a designated app, you can manage your business at fingers’ reach. Your customers can book services, purchase products and stay connected via chat, groups or a forum on the go. You can also up your marketing strategy by sending mobile push notifications from your app. Create a mobile community with your app and invite customers to become members to better engage with your business and stay up to date with your latest offerings.

Understand Generation Z.  Not only is Generation Z (86 million people) entering the workforce, they make up around 40% of consumers.

In order for you to fully take advantage of Generation Z employees coming of into the workforce, you need to understand how their needs and priorities (stable work-life balance, positive relationships, transparency, know what to expect, feedback, up-to-date technology, ability to lower stress levels, view failure as an opportunity to grow) differ from generations. This will allow you to better prepare your hiring process so you know what kind of candidates to look for and what questions to ask.

Video will continue to grow as a content medium. People prefer viewing and listening over reading. Think of video as asynchronous virtual content.

Create and use video to draw, engage people and perhaps they will pass it along to others.

Provide more personal 1 to 1 platforms for sales, technical support even as a form of commenting and collaborating. Consider using tools such as Loom and BombBomb. 

Stories are more important than a news feed. Stories, short video content that disappear after 24 hours, are “in the moment” content that makes a stronger connection to an audience.  

Your business needs to build an authentic voice and use it to connect with your audience. While stories are short in length and disappear, you are able to reach a larger audience and can quickly catch their attention. 

Unique online courses. Online courses are a great way to your pivot business during the pandemic.

If you have a unique knowledge base and a customer engagement model, pouring knowledge into do-it-yourself courses can independently save your business this year. It is not limiting, and it becomes passive income, as long as you use quality cameras while conveying your original course content.

Create an excellent digital footprint and visibility. As nearly everyone is spending significant time on the internet, having a great digital presence and branding will help when competing for new projects, contracts, partnerships and opportunities.

Digital presence is an excellent way to highlight your product or service, engage and build community.

Be active on social media. Understand that 84% of Americans are shopping for something at any given moment so ensure you are capitalizing on social channels to bring these consumers to your site to purchase your goods or services.

Use social media to be visible and promote critical business functions such as sales, marketing, and customer service. It will translate into more traffic, customers, and profit for your small business. It can help to bring aboard a Generation Z worker who is incredibly tech-savvy when it comes to social media marketing as this channel alone can open doors to better profit and more customers. Also consider hiring a social media influencer to bring your brand to their ready-made audience, and sales usually follow as a result.

UX and SEO are attached. Unless you provide a great mobile user experience (UX) your business is going to suffer in search engine optimization (SEO).  UX is navigation, content structure, site speed and security. With its mobile first point of view, Google is raising the SEO bar with core web vitals in May 2021.

Be prepared, Core Web Vitals are designed to measure how users experience the speed, responsiveness, and visual stability of a page. Specifically, these are defined as the Core Web Vitals: the time it takes for a page’s main content to load, an ideal LCP measurement is 2.5 seconds or faster; the time it takes for a page to become interactive, an ideal measurement is less than 100 ms; and the amount of unexpected layout shift of visual page content, an ideal measurement is less than 0.1.

Trend of supporting small, local businesses. The pandemic has driven many customers to support small businesses and local economic growth. Customers are recognizing their ability to shift their own local economies in states, counties, and cities. 

For business owners, capitalizing on this trend requires investing in local marketing and community growth. In addition to boosting your social media presence with local hashtags and campaigns, consider donating to a local cause or participating in a virtual community fundraiser or event. 

Local community networking. People buy from people, especially now that we are limited in where we are able to go. If small businesses want to compete with the big brands and online options, they will need to connect with their communities more than ever.

Nothing helps a small business more than locals spreading the word to their friends. So get “out there” on network sites like LinkedIn, Meetup, among others and watch your business thrive!

Consider joint ventures. While structuring and managing take time and effort, small businesses that seek out creative collaborations and joint ventures with others can be beneficial.

Explore diversifying the risk via another collaborator and entering markets not previously considered will increase your business’ chances of longer-term survivability.

5G helps. 5G networks can open avenues; it pushes download speeds of about 1 Gbps and with high download speeds, and changes how we interact on the internet.

Using 5G makes interactions far more instantaneous which benefits small businesses so much because they can communicate and get things done so much faster.

Leverage AI.  AI and predictive analytics will not replace the human when it comes to delivering the customer experience.

Think of AI as the co-worker who helps us become more efficient; use AI to augment your workforce, to give people better information, greater insight and the ability to perform their roles better so customers are better served.

Voice recognition is developing. Smart speakers being used for voice search because of its ease of use and speed. This will reshape search engine optimization, as search is shifts to conversation and long-tail queries.

Businesses need to create a “voice” presence on their online channels – it is a golden opportunity for small businesses to adapt while voice searching is so new. 

Technological disruption expands marketplace. Pandemic-fueled technological disruption will continue to shift the very nature of work, affecting how organizations maintain a sustainable competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Small businesses, which, in an increasingly interconnected virtual world, will be competing not only with bigger players in the market, but also with other small businesses from around the globe.

Promote data transparency. If you are handling personal information, from collecting your customers’ names and email addresses to their credit card details, it is important you implement and provide a privacy policy for your site; it is a statement that discloses some or all of the ways a website collects, uses and manages the data of its visitors and customers.

By creating a privacy policy, you are fulfilling a legal requirement to protect your client’s privacy, while also following a good business practice. Make sure to be clear with your customers about the type of information you collect and how you use it. Also mention your site’s use of cookies, which are small pieces of data stored on a site visitor’s browser. Being as transparent as possible with your customers builds trust and reinforces your credibility.

Data-driven digital strategies. Small companies need to work intensively on digital strategies to adapt to new forms of consumption and other consequences of the pandemic.

It is important to carry out market studies that allow small businesses to know the new demands firsthand. Additionally, small businesses should work on the flexibility of structures and costs to make them viable and competitive.

Virtual efficiency. During the pandemic, every business has faced being forced to digitize, virtualize and dematerialize.

There are huge opportunities to help businesses recover from lost revenue and use new technology more effectively with virtual teams. Efficiency and productivity experts that specialize in virtual teams can help.

Investments in infrastructure. Next year will pay dividends to small businesses who invest wisely now in themselves and their customers. The small businesses that are operating out of fear right now will face even more fear and losses to competitors who are investing in their infrastructure (basic facilities, structures, services, and software upon which the rest of a business is built) to stay relevant now.

Do not let fear drive you. Find the opportunities and capitalize. Your investments now will pay dividends.

Small business funding. Whether your goal is to move your business, add staff, increase marketing spend, or invest in e-commerce, small business lending will continue to be a go-to resource for companies in all industries.

Alternative cash resources like 401(k) funding are just as important to companies as traditional small business funding. The current low interest rates coupled with the cash infusion from the Paycheck Protection Program this year will help many small businesses get through a difficult time.

Focus on profitability. Companies are focusing on their operations and taking stock of where they can optimize processes to save money. 

To stay nimble and profitable, you may have to pare down your offerings and focus only on the services or products generating the most revenue. 

Financial transformation projects, can help reduce costs and keep cash flow steady; think: automating administrative tasks, consolidating software systems, renegotiating vendor contracts, or outsourcing tedious services. 

In summary, paying attention to the latest small business news and trends, plus re-engaging with customers, and taking up ecological and societal responsibilities puts you ahead of your competition. It is easier to grow company sales, offer better customer service, and operate more effectively. And do not be afraid to ask for help along the way.