Business Tips

     Looking for an expert's point of view - and maybe even some great ideas? Our business tips are written by our founder who is a recognized expert author on several ezine sites!
     

     
    • 15 Nov 2011 7:14 PM | Mandie Crawford (Administrator)
      When I was being trained to drive for the police service - I learned a new method of driving safely - regardless of the situation. 

      Instead of focusing heavily on the vehicles around me - I was taught to 'look for the empty spaces'. This forced me to look for escape opportunities in case an emergency presented itself - or another driver made a move that jeopardized my safety.

      This was a bit foreign to begin with - because it is much more natural to focus on what is going on around me - not looking for what is "not" going on!

      Thinking this way became contagious for me. I began to look for 'opportunities' or empty spaces an many place in my life - and in business it has proven to be very beneficial.

      Those of us who run businesses often are focused on problem solving. We focus on how things are not woring and attempt to make them work better.  We look at the customers we are not reaching, or we look for the sales we are missing.  And while we do this - we often miss the open spaces - the areas where an opportunity is just waiting for us.

      Here is a case in point.  I recently read and article written by Marcia Barhydt - reporting on a large 'lego - man' replica that had washed up on a beach in Florida.  (read it here)

      To the onlookers it was an interesting thing to look at - but the city officials say it as a "BIG" seven foot problem and allocated resources to have the figure removed from the beach.  They missed the opportunity.

      How often does a 'Lego - man' wash up on your beach.  Never?  Exactly!

      Is it  problem?  It all depends how you look at it.  The way I see it - this Florida town missed a huge marketing opportunity.  Had they celebrated the occurrence they could have received tons of free publicity for the town. 

      In fact they could have used the opportunity to permanently secure the 'Lego - Man' to the beach and erected a plaque entitled "The day Lego Man washed up on our beach". Or they could have determined the home town of 'Leg - Man' and formed an alliance with the town - a sort of sister town - and invited residents of 'Lego - Man's' town to come visit.   The opportunities to gain free publicity and use this occurrence to benefit the town were endless.

      What is going on in your business that you currently see as a problem?  Sitting right beside the problem is an opportunity just waiting to be activated.  Is there a lot going on around you?  Most certainly there is if you are a business owner.  The important thing to focus on however - is what is NOT happening.  What are you missing?

      Think of it as driving.  Instead of focusing on the cars around you - take a moment to look for the open spaces just begging for new ideas and activities.  (yes - become an opportunist!) 

      Looking for new ideas for your business?  Why not take advantage of Free Coaching Fridays for a 15 minute meeting with a coach?  Book your appointment here.  (Free coaching Fridays are for members in good standing only)
    • 22 Sep 2011 11:24 AM | Mandie Crawford (Administrator)
      Most of us can agree that one of the most valuable things we use every day is time.  And as small business owners, we often have a shortage!  And I am not sure there is anywhere that I can 'buy' time.

      Over the years, people have often marveled at my productivity.  I personally disagree - I never seem to get that 'list' of to-do's completed.

      But recently, having become more balanced (hopefully) in my life/business time ratio, I became a better 'respecter' of time.  I have made a concerted effort to value the time of others and also to respect the time that I have.  What does that mean?

      When we respect time - we treat it well - we do not ignore it or throw it away.  We handle it carefully - and pay attention to it.  Instead of treating it like a fleeing enemy, robbing us of peace - we treat it like the friend that it is - bringing us opportunities.

      To do this - I had to change how I spoke about time. There were no more 'fleeting moments' but instead 'precious moments'.  Instead of saying, "where does the time go?", I began to say, "wow, good thing there is more time coming my way!".  To respect time - I had to not only think of it in a positive way, I also had to speak positively about it.

      The next step - was to gather the tools together that might help me manage myself better - to use my time well.  And so I began with my email - the ultimate time gobbler!  Organizing folders to effectively sort incoming mail and adding filters helped to keep the in box cleared out!  The came the calendar.

      I took my online google calendar and had all my other applications synch with it.  My phone pulls my calendar up - my appointment booking software works with it - and even my to do list synchs with it. 

      After this was done - I scheduled time off, lunch time, time to exercise and then I took a look at all  my repetitive tasks and scheduled them in over the week.  So I scheduled writing time, web work time, pay bills time, twitter time and even email time.  Once this was done - I was all set.  Now I could see how much time I had every day to offer coaching and other billable services.

      Finally, synchronized my calendar with my appointment booking software. Now my clients know that to get my undivided attention - they need to book into the schedule. No it is not impersonal to do something like that.  In that way we both respect each others' time.

      The result?   As a great respecter of time - I actually have more time off - get more done and am far more relaxed knowing there is time booked for everything that I have to do - so there is no need to panic! 

      Want to learn more about hos you can do the same?  Find info here!

    • 09 Sep 2011 9:10 AM | Mandie Crawford (Administrator)
      Recently I got an email from a self proclaimed 'connection' web site - notifying me of an opportunity that I might be interested in.  After reading the email -  immediately unsubscribed.  Why?

      My business is a marketing and B2B service company.  The web site had referred me to a client who needed at 'pest control company' in San Francisco and recommended that I call the potential client immediately to offer my services and give a quote.

      The interesting thing is that I NEVER signed up for this site - but was added as a member (without my knowledge) by someone likely harvesting names from the internet or researching and locating small businesses.

      This is not an uncommon practice for companies trying to build their lists and market their businesses.  I can only surmise that they were truly trying to connect me or hoped that I would visit the site and revise a profile that I had never posted myself - so that it was accurate.  They may have even hoped that I would upgrade my membership because I realized that they were truly referring people - even though they had mistaken me for a pest control company.

      In another instance this past week - I received a phone call from another company who were 'processing and approving' my application to be listed on their prestigious list of companies.  This was not the first time I had received a call from this company who claimed to be the "who's who" of reputable North American companies - so I was wise to their marketing technique.

      They began asking about numbers of employees, years in business and other questions.  I interrupted the caller and asked where they had received my application.  I was informed that she simply was calling to verify information and she was not sure where my application had come from.  I then asked if there was a fee to be listed - and she replied that there was, but that the fee was not due until I was accepted.  

      What an interesting -  and what I consider unethical - marketing technique.  Find a company - tell them you are approving their application for listing in a so called prestigious directory - and then collect a fee for membership once all the information has been collected. 

      The inference was that a business owner had applied - when in fact they had not. And a busy entrepreneur or business owner could easily be fooled into believing they had applied - were accepted and pay the membership fee.

      Both of these marketing techniques are commonly used to build large membership based organizations. Domain Registry of Canada does something similar - again fooling business owners into using their company.  More info on that here.

      Is list building important?  You bet.  A good list is the foundation of  most successful businesses.  But more important than a big list - is a list that reflects customers and clients with whom the business owner has built relationships.  

      How does a business owner build a good list?

      • Begin by cleaning up your data base - including customers and clients you have sold t in the last 2 years
      • Make sure that you have as much information as possible about them (email and physical addresses)
      • On your web site, offer a some tips, a report or other valuable information and collect names of people who are interested.
      • Communicate with them regularly by:
      1. sending a newsletter
      2. educating them on trends or new products
      3. sending coupons

      This is an ethical and honest way to use a list for marketing your business.  "Fooling" a client into giving you information or 'the sale' leaves the customer feeling cheated - and their likelihood of returning is slim.  And it certainly does not encourage repeat business. 

      Considering 80% of a businesses profit comes from 20% of their clients - many returning over and over again - it is also a flawed marketing strategy.

      Take our Poll and tell us what you think here
    • 24 Aug 2011 9:51 AM | Mandie Crawford (Administrator)
      One thing business owners rarely talk about is succession. 

      We are so busy building our businesses that we fail to think about how we will move on to our next project, will our businesses to our children or sell the business to retire.

      In truth we never start with the end in mind.  And if we do we consider the destination to be a profitable and successful business.  Unfortunately profitable can mean just one cent more than we spend and the definition of success is relative!

      Push Back

      Unfortunately, when I start talking about succession - I get a lot of push back from entrepreneurs.

      "Why should I already be thinking about closing or selling my business - I am just  starting to build my business?"

      Succession planning is not just about quitting, retiring, closing or selling your business.  Succession planning is about how you BUILD your business.  When you build it with the end in mind (eg selling it for a profit) you build it so that it is turn key.

      What is a turn key business?  It is a business someone can buy with little or no training.  In other words it is set up so anyone can take it over with a little education and knowledge. 

      Yes, right now your business has a little of your personality in it, and that is ok. Bur have you looked at the structure of the business?  Is it operated and supported by manageable systems?  Or is it simply, find customers, sell product, find more customers.  If it is the latter - it is not a sustainable or a turn key business.

      What systems do I need?

      A business that is supported by systems includes automated list or data base building systems, automated communication systems, automated or scheduled follow up systems, customer appreciations systems, automated financial systems and standardized processes for all activities.  In addition to having these set up a business also needs a manual (policies and procedures) to explain these processes to anyone new coming on board, and anyone who may be interested in buying the business.

      It's never too late to start


      It's true - it is never to late to start.  Building your business with a succession plan can also free up your time and help your business to become or to be more profitable regardless of whether you want to sell it, give it away or just close it down when you decide to retire or move on to something else.

      My business is too small

      I hear this all the time.  No business is too small to build into a turn key business.  Again it simply require that the business owner set up systems to make it turn key.  And most times - doing that surpises the business owner by making it more profitable!

      How do I begin

      Think about how you could turn what you do or offer into a standard offering, and think about how it (or part of it) can be delivered by someone other than you.  Most often a business coach can help you to see how you can do just that. 

      Succession planning really encourages us to build a business that we can sell - and what better way to end your career - with a healthy cheque in hand!

      If you are interested in business coaching or assistance with succession planing - why not book some coaching.  You can learn more here.
    • 30 Jun 2011 12:17 PM | Mandie Crawford (Administrator)
      Several years ago I wrote a series of articles that I eventually published as a book.  Each article came not from 'knowledge' or 'wisdom' but from inspiration.  They each spoke about energy and universal principles - long before "The Secret" movie and law of attraction teaching became so popular.

      Recently I re-read the book (typos and all!) and realized that I had been operating at an unconsciously competent level. In other words I did not know what I knew!

      There are four levels of competence - according to Daniel L Kirkpatrick - Professor Emeritus, University Of Wisconsin.  In differing areas of our lives - we all operate at one of these four levels.  In business it is essential to know what level we are working at.

      Here are four levels:
      1. Unconscious Incompetence = you don't know that you can't do it well.
      2. Conscious Incompetence = you know you can't do it well.
      3. Conscious Competence = you do it well, and you think about the work as you do it.
      4. Unconscious Competence = you're so successful it's "automatic" -- you do it well, without thinking about it.
      Understanding these four levels can be insightful for anyone doing almost anything.
      In fact all of our failures occur in level number 1 - Unconscious Incompetence. 

      But when we are in level 2 - where we know we don't know  how to do something and we do it anyway - this is where the real problem lies.  This is the area where we need to ask for help.

      If we are operating at level 3 or 4 - we really are working in our area of genius!  This is where we should all be working - and delegating the other things.

      How do we know what level we are operating at?

      Slow down.  Stop and think.  Is this your area of skill and talent?  Does this come easily to you?  Do you have a lot of success in this area?  Chances are you are competent - in level 3 or 4. (In the zone!)

      If we slow down enough and are truly honest with ourselves about our skills and abilities - and ask for help when we need it - we will propel ourselves to success much faster.

      So what I am really saying here?  If you start to do something and make multiple mistakes or start getting frustrated - get someone to do it - where this is their level of genius.  It will save you time and money.  I guarantee it.

      Need help with this?  Register for Free Coaching Fridays and have a conversation with a coach or contact us for a quick consultation.

    • 24 May 2011 9:30 AM | Mandie Crawford (Administrator)
      We all want it. Industries use it. Businesses are built around it. What is it?
      FREE.
      What do you mean businesses are built on free? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of a business. Don't businesses exist to make money?

      And that my friend is the magic question! Why does your business exist? Simply to make money? Most would answer no. In fact many people start businesses because we see a problem and we have devised a way to solve it - and make a living doing so. With that in mind, lets get back to FREE.

      FREE is different than heavily discounted items. Free will make you money. Discounting heavily will lose you money - and here's why.

      Discounting heavily creates an expectation for your clients that you have over priced an item and that you can afford to make money while selling it with big discounts. Your customers then become programmed to wait for a BIG sale or promotion before they buy.

      Unfortunately, business owners KNOW that discounting loses money. Many do it to liquidate a product or to raise cash fast - but in the end it hurts their business.

      FREE, however is magic. Everyone loves FREE. GOOGLE - one of the biggest and most profitable companies on the internet is built on the FREE model. Free email addresses, applications, document storage and much, much more.

      Despite the fact that we think FREE costs us - it in fact builds our businesses. Think of the last time that you got something you liked for free. WOW. What a feeling that can leave you with. As long it is something you like, want or appreciate - FREE is fabulous.

      Cereal is sold using FREE. Countless items are sold by giving something away. Chris Anderson in his book, "Free" explains it in detail and it is a fascinating examination of the new business model built on giving things away.

      Free builds trust, goodwill, can introduce a new product or service, educates consumers and showcases a business superbly. Convinced yet?

      (Now the objections) "But I cannot afford to give away anything for free!" Oh yes you can. Think about the knowledge you have. Are you an expert in your field?  Of course you are! Now think about what a potential client or current customer might like or need. What are their interests?  What bits of information can you offer that will make their worlds a better place or make their lives better?

      Tips. Reports. A chapter of your book. Free sampling of your service. Think outside the box about what you can give away that does not cost you much financially. Small businesses stand to gain the most from offering things for free - because they are more closely connected to their client.

      HOW do you do that? It's not hard. A list capture box on a web site and an auto-responder is all you need. So think about it. Get in on that free model and see how easily you can build your business!

      If you want to learn more about setting up auto-responders - you can learn how to set them up at this upcoming webinar - or by visiting MS Web Consulting (where we give a lot away for free!)

      Need help putting that FREE offering together. We offer FREE Coaching Fridays for members at the Bronze level and higher.
      That's a value of $75.00 for FREE. Learn more here.
    • 23 May 2011 5:44 PM | Mandie Crawford (Administrator)
      For many large businesses - the economy appears to have made a recovery.  For small businesses however, recovery is taking time - much longer than many of us expected.

      So what are the successful small businesses doing to keep their heads above water?  According to experts and researchers, there are four key things that small businesses are doing to stay afloat.

      What can you do?  Follow these four simple strategies and when the skies clear you will be sure to have a stronger business and may even be in a position to expand.

      Here is what small businesses need to do;

      Collaborate more often

      Women are great when it comes to collaboration on most things - but become concerned when it comes to collaboration in business.  Remember - there is enough business for everyone!

      Find complementary services and products and share marketing and promotional expenses - doubling your value and  cross promoting each other’s products and services.  Don't forget to work together with your social media in cross promotion efforts to reach new customers.

      Expand your marketplace

      Expand your customer base by traveling to areas normally outside your reach.  Many entrepreneurs limit themselves by staying close to home.  But in reality by expanding your horizons you can quickly build your data base of potential clients. 

      If you normally make sales to 2% of your data base per month - and that data base increases in number - your sales will grow.  If your sales percentages have shrunk during the recession, expanding your reach may restore your sales figures to pre-recession levels.

      Network more


      Networking is key to the success of small business - and many businesses cut it out trying to reduce costs in tough times.  This is a big mistake.

      To increase the value of networking efforts, entrepreneurs need to follow-up with sales calls within a week of the networking event. Many business owners I know  increased their networking and follow-up sales activity to convert time and contacts to dollars and cents.

      Increase spending on marketing:

      This may be the time to become budget conscious, but don't give up spending money on marketing and advertising. Studies have shown that those businesses who continue with marketing and advertising outlast all others in their industry - and in fact find their business has increased when hard times are over.

      Finally one of the best things a business owner can do is keep a positive attitude.
      There's a great saying that I remember when I feel frustrated and under the gun.  it goes something like this:

      "Things always work out in the end.  If they're not working out - it isn't the end yet"
    • 18 May 2011 7:26 PM | Mandie Crawford (Administrator)
      Recently someone was telling me that they had 500 hits per day on their web site - and they were so excited! Unfortunately it was their understanding that HITS were visits. Many people have trouble understanding the difference - or the explanation they get is as 'clear as mud'!

      This is important information to know if you have a web site so let me explain what each of these really are!

      Hits:

      When we 'go to' a website - we really do not go anywhere - but your browser (internet explorer, firefox and others) sends a request to the internet - finds the page - and it is actually downloaded to your computer to view.

      If the page is only text - it would show 1 hit. If the page has a picture on it - it would also be a 'hit'. So technically if you had 24 pictures and text on the page - when someone requested it and it was downloaded to their computer - it would be 25 hits. If a person then linked through to another page with five pictures and text another 6 'hits' would be recorded.  So their visit may represent (at this point) 125 hits.

      Additionally - everytime GOOGLE or other search engines crawls your site - it also registers 'hits'. So one person's visit to your web site could register as many as  a 100 hits. This means that 500 hits may mean only 5 visits. (which is still better than only one!)

      Visits

      A visit is a visit! And this is good news! When you check your web stats - you get to decide how many 'visits' are good. For some people 10 visits a day is good - especially if they get several orders from those visits. For others 100 visits a day is normal - it all depends on your type of business and your marketing efforts. You can use your visits to measure your ROI for your marketing.

      Conversion

      This is the MAGIC word! Conversion is all about converting visitors into purchasers! If you take your sales and divide it into your visits you will see what your conversion rate is. A web site whose 'copy' is written well - will convert more often than a site whose copy does not have the elements needed to get people to buy!

      The question is....


      How many hits are a good number? We had several months of 1.5 million hits - but the visitor rate was 12,000 per month. So really hits say less about traffic than the visitors.  When looking at your web stats - check to see how many people are visiting a day.

      Other measurements

      There are other measurements that are also important. Number of pages viewed or average page views per visitor, average time spent on the site per visit, top exit pages and referring pages or sites.  Most of them are self explanatory - but many business owners NEVER check their web stats.  This is unfortunate because sometimes a few small changes can increase your conversion rate or help you to see where and when visitors are leaving.

      Understanding web jargon is an art in itself. (Get more info on web jargon here) But when you do learn a new term it can clear up some of the confusion about your site and how it operates - and what changes might be needed.

      Wouldn't it be nice to say to a potential advertiser, "We get 12,000 visits a month, mostly from North America.  The average stay on the site is 5 minutes and the most visited page is xxxxxx page.  Knowing and understanding how to read these kind of statistics can actually earn you income!

      For many of us understanding web jargon is not tops on our list of things to do - mostly because very few people who understand the jargon ever explain it in terms the regular Joe can understand.  Because of this - we recommend you download this free report to have on hand to help you understand the thing you may need to know now or in the future - explained in a way that you can understand!
    • 11 May 2011 7:27 PM | Mandie Crawford (Administrator)
      It's a problem - I will admit!  We get so many emails now that we have to pick and choose what emails we open.  Some days we even take a vacation and open NONE!

      Unfortunately all of us have also experienced missing an important email that had details we needed, or announced an event we really wanted to attend. 

      For people who market and communicate primarily by email - this becomes a dilemma that many do not know how to begin to solve.  Some of us in the past have simply thrown up our hands in despair - thinking "why bother" when sending emails.  "No one reads them anyway!"

      There are however some things you can do to improve your open rate.  (Really?) Yes really!

      The first step of course is to KNOW how many people are opening your emails.  Many email clients (outlook and windows mail for example) have a delivery receipt option - so that we can see if the mail indeed was delivered.  However it is difficult to tell if the email has been read - or opened.  For newsletters and e-news a good open rate is over 50%. (so if you send out 1,000 emails - 500 get opened)

      For my newsletters and bulk emails I have always used an email delivery service that gives me full statistics on delivery rate, bounce rate, open rate and click rate.  (for the links that may be in the email)  This service also ranks my emails for SPAM rating - to let me know if it will be considered SPAM - and moved to someone's junk folder.


      So are you ready?  Do you want to now how to raise the chances that your email will get read?  Follow these simple steps - and measure your success!

      • Have a great subject line!  A boring so-so message will get passed over like day old mashed potatoes.  Peak their curiosity.  Make sure it is relevant - and does NOT sell in the subject line.
      • Personalize the email. ( a good email service will allow you to do this providing your list capture system captures first names) This means ensure they know you know who you are sending it to.  An email that says "HI everyone" tells me I am one of many - and now you just lost me!  (I never listened to announcements on the PA at school either!)
      • Make sure the subject line is under 50 characters so that the entire title can be read.
      • Add some excitement - or sizzle to your email.  It may take a few extra minutes to be a little creative - but it will be well worth it.
      • Use a little humor.  Everyone needs a good chuckle several times a day.  When people realize you can make them laugh - they are sure to open your emails!
      • Provide good content.  When you are well known for giving good information - people will want to open the email simply because they don't want to miss something important.
      • Use the 65/35 rule.  65% should be interesting content and only 35% sales or offers.  If every email you send is chocked full of offers then if the email catches you on bill paying day you are less likely to open it!
      And here's one final tip:  Be sure that the people you email have given you permission to do so.  CAN-SPAM rules regulate email communication and complaints that you send emails at random to email addresses you harvest or find may land you in email purgatory. (Yes that is the place here electronic emails are burned)

      If you are looking for a great email delivery service - go ahead and try out the one we use.  And if you are a member there is a great newsletter report in your members area and some more information in the DIY Marketing section of this site.







    • 21 Apr 2011 4:48 AM | Mandie Crawford (Administrator)
      Almost all of us can admit to driving home from somewhere and taking a familiar route - only to realize we are not sure either where we are - or we find that we have driven past our turn.  Somehow we have drifted into thought - and have lost our focus.

      This is something I am very familiar with.  Having ADHD, I understand both loss of focus and hyper-focus.  The former can be debilitatimg for my business - the latter can adversely affect my personal life.

      Recently I have noticed a number of smaller and larger businesses are suffering from a loss of focus - and the justification begins!  I hear things like; "We'll do that after the election". Or, "we'll get that started after Easter".  "Maybe after the Royal Wedding is over".

      Holidays, special events and even seasons can distract a business owner from focusing on what needs to be done.  How do I know?  I too have fallen into the trap!

      We often refer to intermittent focus as 'driving with our foot on the brake'.  (that can be hard on the car - but most of all makes it difficult to reach the destination!)

      The truth is we lose focus for several simple reasons. 

          •    We are tired, burnt out.
          •    We are not sure not how to proceed with something (unsure of next steps)
          •    Something shiny appears (In other words - our focus shifts because we see something else of interest)
          •    We lose interest.

      The result of this loss of focus can be very harmful to both the operator and the business.  The business owner loses faith in his ability to perform and the business surges ahead and then falls behind.

      A perfect example is like what happened when I wrote this article. I had my computer plugged in and was completing the article online in real time.  Then the hydro when out - only for a moment.  This shut my computer down.  (luckily I had saved my work)  I rebooted as soon as the hydro came back - only to have it go off again.  I realized that this stop and start pattern was going to interfere with my ability to move forward and finish the article! 

      Luckily - understanding that even I can be like the hydro - on again off again - I had a strategy!  I have a standby computer I keep charged up in case of power loss.  I went and got it up and running and began writing again - determined to finish the article.

      I also know from having ADHD, that I need strategies to remain in, and regain focus.  Let me share these 'stay focussed strategies' with you:

          •    Have a great support team.  A support team can cheer you on, pick up slack and gently remind you of your commitments.
          •    Understand the value of your contribution.  Think of the people who may rely on your completing a task - or who may benefit from your business thriving.
          •    Remember unfinished tasks tie us up in knots.  Unfinished business (tasks etc) actually psychologically prevent us from moving forward.  So finishing even the smallest task - even if we are feeling distracted - will actually contribute on a large scale to our success
          •    Take a break.  Burnout can be a great contributor to loss of focus.  Burnout is like a power outage and can destroy every thing you have created to date.  Be sure to take time off and regenerate. 
          •    Beware of hyper-focus.  Hyper-focus may feel good in the moment - but ultimately leads to lack of focus because you are just plain 'pooped'!  When you see yourself in the hyper-focus mode - know it is time to take a break.
          •    Build your discipline to include determination.  Determination can conquer any obstacle and has been the engine to all successful endeavors. (this is where a good cheering section comes in handy)

      So the next time you find yourself putting something off - a marketing promotion, a task  - or executing a strategy, remember how this will affect your business in the end!  A thriving business can bring great joy, spare time, add value to a community and bring freedom  - offering financial rewards and stability.  Focus can bring a business help your business thrive.  Lack of focus will keep us standing in the same place we were last month, last year, last decade - which in the end is actually further behind than when we began!

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