Friday, July 20, 2012

Good News and Bad News

Small Business Owners: The Good News and the Bad News

By: Brent Barnhart
The small business community has seen its share of ups and downs, and by the looks of it, the negative has far outweighed the positive in recent months. While Europe's financial crisis and the Presidential race are dominating most mainstream media outlets, there are a number of small business headlines you may have missed out on. Are you in the loop?

The Bad News

Small Business Owners Going Without

Recent reports show that more than half of small business owners in recent months have been going without a paycheck in order to keep their businesses running, with nearly a quarter of such business owners doing so for over a year. Based on a recent Citibank survey, small business owners are paying a huge personal price when it comes to keeping their business alive and in-tact, even if they're just barely breathing. Nearly 80% of surveyed business owners stated they have taken in less profits, while 70% have been forced to work more hours and slash vacation-time. Are you feeling the same crunch?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Oh, quit whining

                       Click link for full article: Oh, quit whining

May 29, 2012
Excerpted from a Bridge e-magazine article
by Nancy Derringer/Bridge Magazine

MACKINAC ISLAND — Everybody knows a chirpy optimist, one of those sunshiny people always telling you to turn your frown upside down and look on the bright side.

But spend a while listening to Fareed Zakaria, and it’s hard not to be swept along by this self-described seeker of the bright side. The writer, editor and CNN host, the first big-name speaker at the Mackinac Public Policy Conference, has a way of backing up his optimism with strings of data points to suggest, with wry humor, that all Americans have to fear is … fear itself. Also, our bullheaded representatives in Washington and the hand-wringing elderly who clamor for more than their share of the public purse, but more on that in a minute.

He started his talk Tuesday by recounting a few of the end-of-America moments he’d encountered in his career — the 1987 stock market crash, shrugged off in a matter of weeks. The early-’90s recession, which crushed the presidency of George H.W. Bush. The mid-’90s crises in Mexico and Asia. The bursting of the tech bubble. And so on.

And then he got to the good news: Zero countries with hyperinflation today. Relative political stability has allowed a “plug and play” world economy in which countries that would never have had a seat at the table otherwise are free to pull up their own chairs. An information revolution that has given voice to the previously powerless like no other in history. He recounted that in 1991, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Saudi government was able to keep it a state secret for six days before letting the rest of the world know.

“Ask yourself how long it would last today,” he said. The “monopoly on information,” once enjoyed by repressive governments around the world is broken.

That’s not to say it’s all good. One of the most arresting statistics he offered was bleak: Since 1945, recessions have resolved themselves first with GDP rebound, and then job growth following six months later. But in 1990, that started to change. Jobs lagged that recovery by 18 months. After the tech bust, by 39 months. And the current one? The economy, in terms of GDP, is fully recovered. But jobs will take five years to catch up.

“How to handle that is the central problem of the American economy,” he said. Easy for a CNN host to say, and he didn’t offer any solutions.

But you don’t get to be a headline speaker by hanging crepe. He offered a locker-room pep talk of all the U.S. has going for it, if only we can shake off the gloom and start thinking differently, with innovation and creativity, backed up by hard science.

Which led to the sobering portion of the session, when he reminded the audience of how much of America’s greatness was born of, and fostered by, the U.S. government.
“The federal government funded massive amounts of research during the Cold War,” he said. “Silicon Valley grew on the back of (California’s) great universities.”

And yet, the government is in danger of becoming, in Washington Post writer Ezra Klein’s words, “an insurance company with an army,” spending increasing amounts on the elderly and less on the young — $4 for every person over 65, but only $1 for those under 18.

We shouldn’t argue over the size of government, but what kind of government we want, he said, one that “panders to the future,” rather than the past. Spending on infrastructure is spending that pays off in growth...

Friday, May 25, 2012

What Small Businesses Can Learn from the Rise of Facebook

By Brent Barnhart
SOURCE: www.chamberofcommerce .com

It started out a fad. Something for kids. Something meant for the underground. Today, Mark Zuckerberg's seemingly innocent social experiment has exploded into a business phenomenon that has taken over the world; quite literally. Hundreds of millions of unique visitors per month in the United States alone. It's been estimated that over 40% of the country has a Facebook account. And it's only going uphill from there.

With founder
Mark Zuckerberg taking the company public and introducing a multi-billion dollar IPO, one can't help but drop their jaw. How did one college student's seemingly innocent idea transform into this; an integral part of our Internet experience, both socially and economically?

It all started with an idea. A seed.

Perhaps it's corny, and perhaps it's overdone. But we all start somewhere. An idea. A plan. It's how we execute and evolve which determines the speed and direction of our growth, especially when it comes to our businesses. Zuckerberg faced his fair share of twists, turns, betrayals, lawsuits and setbacks. And he's overcome them all, never slowing down. He keeps moving forward. Where is he now?

“We don't build services to make money,” Zuckerberg states in Facebook's SEC filing. “We make money to build better services.” Zuckerberg certainly has plenty of money to work worth today; yet how did he manage to get Facebook where it is now? What's his secret?

There's no secret. Sure, maybe a bit of luck involved. Right place, right time. But no secret.

There's so much than small business owners can learn from the rise of Facebook. Zuckerberg's story in and of itself is enough to make you want to stop reading and getting down to work. It's these sort of stories that light the fire under us, and push us to work for something greater.

Something greater. That's what businesses are always striving for, aren't they? A better project. More reach. That's what Facebook has always been about; seemingly constant updates in features and functionality to keep up with the times and offer something fresh. Never jarring, always on the cutting edge. Better features and functionality results in more reach, and more reach results in more buzz. Are you taking leaps to improve your own products and services? What does your reach look like?

Facebook also managed to take advantage of its growth by observing the behavior of their growing user-base. They learned what they liked and what they didn't. They tested. They observed. They came to conclusions. Are you doing the same when it comes to your customers? How well do you know your average buyer, really? Understanding behavior became key in Zuckerberg's masterplan; likewise, understanding customer behavior is incredibly important to any thriving SMB. The more you know, the more you may be able to appease and provide for your base. From there, the buzz will continue to grow.

There are many Social Media sites that have come and gone over the years. There's only one Facebook. Zuckerberg managed to slay MySpace as the “hip” place to make friends on the web, meanwhile the “Facebook killer” in Google Plus still hasn't come to fruition. Facebook's dominance of the social space didn't happen overnight; it took time, understanding, and patience. Time to grow the buzz, understand the weaknesses and flaws of competing sites, and the patience for new users to arrive. And they most certainly did. Could you pick apart your competition if given one shot to do so?

One of Facebook's biggest strengths comes through its ability to diversify. The social giant isn't only making money from ads, games, and integration with other big brands and sites. It's this sort of diversity that allows Facebook to become such a phenomenon. While perhaps it’s not so easy for the average small business to diversify, there are probably more ways you could be bringing in revenue than just one product or service. Be creative and don't be afraid to branch out.

There are certainly good things in Facebook future. What about your own business? Maybe you don't necessarily strive to be a multi-billion dollar marketing machine, but you may always strive to build your
small business into something better. If not, why get into the game at all?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

How to Acquire New Customers Through Recession Marketing

Many of our clients and customers are still in a recession mindset.  Here’s some tips to help you relate:

By: Brent Barnhart on Sunday, February 26, 2012

The world of marketing often seems so fast-paced and ever-changing, and it's easy to want to rework and overhaul our strategies in order to fit the times. While this line of thinking may seem progressive, it often takes our “eyes off the prize” and causes us to lose focus on what's really important when it comes to small business marketing.

True, the world of marketing is fast-paced. Times change. People change. Behavior changes. Businesses don't necessarily need to change, but rather, adapt.

For example, today's customers are adapting. They're adapting to having less disposable income and doing more and more in order to make ends meet. Adapting to such a lifestyle takes time. For some, it's easy. For others, it's difficult. Likewise, businesses need to pay attention to their customers and potential customers. Everyone's tightening their belts and holding on to their wallets. Businesses should be well aware, and their marketing strategies should adapt accordingly. Marketing to consumers who aren't so eager to spend is somewhat of an art, yet recession marketing should definitely be in the repertoire of the modern small business looking to acquire new customers despite today's struggling economy.

What exactly is recession marketing?

Firstly, let's look at traditional marketing. A traditional marketing strategy may push a low price point or the immense features of a new product or service at a customer in order to drive them to buy. While such techniques certainly do have their place in the marketing world, recession marketing takes a slightly different slant in an attempt to reach customers who simply don't have much money in the bank.

Recession marketing instead places emphasis on the cash a customer may save by buying or switching to a product. These savings may be due to the shortcomings of a competitor's product or perhaps the result of the product eliminating the need for other products for the customer, thus resulting in more money saved. In short, recession marketing forces the consumer to weigh “wants” and “needs,” with the product in question hopefully being seen as a “need,” urging the consumer to buy.

We've seen these tactics at work over the last decade. How many infomercials have you seen for a cleaning product or super-sponge that heralds in the end of paper towels forever, saving you hundreds and hundreds over the course of the year? It may seem a bit silly and sometimes even hyperbolic, but such products are incredibly popular and such marketing tactics do work. Now, hopefully your product actually delivers on such promises, for that's what will keep your customers coming back.

Another shining example of recession marketing comes from the hybrid car industry. How many ads have we seen over the years promising us big savings through the purchase of hybrid vehicles? Higher miles per gallon equals more money in the bank, right? Such savings combined with the growing environmental appeal make such cars a booming commodity.

Employing a recession marketing strategy also requires your business to show a bit of emotion. Why? In an economy where so many are struggling, it's crucial to stand apart from the competition. Your customers should know that you understand their plight and that your product and service is here to help. By showing understanding and compassion, you're not only more likely to acquire new customers but also retain them for the long-term. Consider creative ways you can employ such compassion in your marketing strategy, whether through marketing language on your website, emails or signage.

For small businesses, recession marketing is an especially effective route to go in today's economy, granted that you know your audience. By appealing to the needs and emotions of your potential customers, you may grow a loyal base of business that will stay with you even after the recession ends.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Making Your Company Stand Out From the Competition

By: Bobby Gaglini

Proving to your customer base why they should choose you is a difficult that task that few succeed at. The margin between making it and faking it is slim, and setting yourself apart from the crowd is crucial. However, “standing out” is easier said than done. Nonetheless, for success, you must show your potential customers how you can offer more than your competitors. But before reaching that point, having basic marketing materials for your business is the best way to start out on the right foot. Creating cohesive business stationery items such as custom letterhead, checks and return address labels will give your company a strong, unified identity. When customers see them, they will easily be able to associate you with your products. Now, let’s break the mold…

Step One: Research and Analyze Your Own Company

This step focuses on breaking down your company’s ideals into fine details. Apart from making some money, you have most likely created your company because you believe you can offer something that people will use and enjoy. If you haven’t already conducted a SWOT analysis of your industry, it’s highly recommended that you do so. A SWOT analysis can often uncover a way to differentiate you from the competition.  So, create an outline, and focus on: the reasons you started the business, the ways people will benefit from your product or service, and why people will purchase it. From this solid list, you should be able to find three or four bold statements that define your company and why it will succeed.

Step Two: Research and Analyze Other Businesses.

Before prematurely assuming that success is inevitable, it’s a good idea to thoroughly scope out your competition to see how they function and why people use them. Start by finding two businesses on a local level, and two on a national or international level, and see what makes them stand out. To locate these “like companies”, use Hoover’s Similar Companies system. Why are these companies so popular? What makes customers flock to them over other companies? What is their marketing technique? Asking these questions will help you understand what it takes to run a successful business, and whether there are different paths to success within your business’ field.

Step Three: Compare and Contrast

Now comes the fun part—seeing how you can beat the big guys. After looking at your in-depth reports, see where you can improve on what the existing companies have done, and why people would enjoy this improvement. What can you offer that other companies have not tried? Are there any weaknesses within those companies even though they might be successful? When you create an idea that has not been tried yet, make a detailed list of why you think it would succeed. However, make sure you get a few more pairs of eyes to assist you. These important people can give you feedback on details you may have overlooked.

Taking a level-headed approach while researching is the best way to keep an objective view of your task at hand. This objectivity can help launch you into success by simultaneously giving you the viewpoint of a business owner and a potential customer. The idea that you believe will set you apart from the competition must be unique, and must be something that other people find irresistible. So work hard, and use these three steps to increase your chances for success.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Smarter Business in Three Simple Steps

By: Brent Barnhart on Sunday, January 29, 2012

We're always trying to find bits of knowledge here and there to make ourselves a little bit wiser. Why can't we adapt the same attitude for our small businesses? As businesses continue to suffer a seemingly uncertain economy, it's not surprise that only the strong will survive. Such survival will come to the business that makes wise choices and looks before it leaps. We've detailed three smart business strategies that will pay off this year based on what we've learned from the trends of the year prior. Start this year off right by starting off smart.

Smarter Selling

When we talk about “smart selling,” we're not talking about selling at the best product or selling the absolute best product. In fact, it's not much about “selling” at all. It's about giving something away for free.

How does giving something away for free equal smart selling? Because free trials and free products result in profit. There are a number of products and services out there today that are seeing huge returns by “giving a taste” to the public for free and saving the best features for paid customers.

Consider the new streaming music service Spotify which just saw its release in the United States last year. The service offers a massive music library of just about anything you could imagine, available to you absolutely free. The paid version of the application removes the occasional commercials and allows you to access the service on your phone in addition to your computer. Once the customer has had a taste of the paid service, it'd be quite difficult to go back to the free version. Spotify knows this and offers a free trial of the paid version for one month. If you offer your customers enough value, they'll want to hang on to your product.

Free applications and software are immensely popular and for good reason; there's no barrier to entry. If you can offer something up for free to your customer base this year, do it. If you're selling a more concrete product, this may seem like a difficult task. Don't be afraid to get creative. There are always ways to harness the power of “free” that will help you out in the long-run and result in sales.

Smarter Social

Speaking of free, you can't talk much about “free” and “small businesses” without Social Media coming up as a buzzword. To some companies, however, Social Media is anything but “free.” It's not uncommon for companies to have Social Media specialists these days, and pump tons of cash into campaigns that result in few or no long-term customers. Letting cash slide down the drain isn't smart. So what can you do as a small business owner?

Once again, harness the power of “free” and sell smart. Don't get caught up in the sexiness and hype of Social Media; do what works for you and your business and only spend the time and money necessary. In fact, a smart social strategy can be done by yourself for absolutely free. No gimmicks, no “experts.” How?

Facebook?  Free. Twitter? Free. Google Plus? Free. Analytics?  There are free options.

Now, how much is your time worth? What about your “free” time? You can integrate a smart selling strategy with your social strategy by giving something away for free. But we're not talking about products and services here; we're talking about content. Producing and distributing content about your business and industry through Social Media and blogs is invaluable. Why? Because it spreads the word about your business and helps you and your business get found through the major search engines. It could take some advice and expertise to fine-tune your strategy, but you don't need to hire a specific “expert” or pump a bunch of money into campaigns.

Test the waters of Social Media before diving in and see what you find. Have a plan. That's what “smart social” is all about.

Smarter Sustainability

A final way you may make your business smart this year is by investing in sustainability. This may seem somewhat off-topic, but more and more businesses are getting on board and for good reason. Customers are becoming more and more eco-conscious and want the businesses they frequent to do the same. It's another way that you can win over a new customer base, meanwhile also doing good for the environment. There's no better time to start than now.

Make your sustainability goals clear and take them one step at a time. Flying blindly and trying to overhaul everything in your office to be eco-friendly simply won't work. Take small steps. Consider your building's lighting. Shipping supplies. Paper usage. Tackle these obstacles one-by-one and you'll make sure to get them done and not put yourself in financial ruin in the process. It may seem daunting, but your efforts will pay off in the long-run, either to your wallet or in the eyes of your customers.

Choose to be the “smarter” business this year. Don't be afraid to take risks, but make sure to look before you leap. Be optimistic, but also be mindful and cautious. It's a tough climate for small businesses out there right now, and only the smart may survive. Will you be one of those survivors?