You launch your business in a growing niche market. Out of the blue, a friend tells you about a new similar product or service. After your initial shock, do you obsess about losing your edge or embrace the opportunity? At SCORE, we say “FEAR not your competition!” The right move is to transition into discovery mode. Knowledge about similar businesses may add a creative spark to your thinking or confirm that you’re bringing an authentic solution to a customer want or need at precisely the right time. Continue reading
Networking – face-to-face and online – is essential for not only building awareness of and trust in your brand, but also in you as a small business owner. According to a survey referenced on the Business Networking by Dr. Ivan Misner blog, professionals who said they spend a little over six hours a week networking gained nearly 47 percent of their business via networking activities and referrals. Wow!
The not-so-secret benefits of what networking can do for you:
• Raise awareness of your business and what you do.
• Build credibility.
• Let people get to know the face behind your brand. (Remember, people do business with people.)
• Extend your reach and can lead to referrals. (Expand the possibility of you knowing someone who knows someone who can use your services.)
Combining face-to-face and online networking optimizes business development efforts.
Your involvement in networking in person and your online networking support and reinforce each other. When your contacts cross over from one realm to the other, you build multidimensional relationships. That gives you more options for interacting – and it makes it easier to stay top of mind with prospective clients and existing customers.
Networking opportunities to consider as a small business owner:
Face-to-face networking groups
Availability of networking groups can vary depending on where you live and your specific industry. Here are a few types of networking groups to consider:
• Chambers of commerce
• Industry and trade associations
• Small local networking groups
• Community service organizations (like Rotary clubs, Lions Club, etc.)
Online networking opportunities
As you know, there’s no shortage of social media networks available to businesses. Which networks will give you the most return on your investments of time and effort depends on a number of factors, including your type of business. Most likely, you’re already using one or more of these platforms:
• LinkedIn (the one network we encourage every professional to consider)
• Google Plus
When networking inperson or online, you’ll want to get the most from the time and energy you spend. Here are a few tips for making the most of your networking efforts:
Think of networking as a process, not as an event.
Networking is about building relationships. You can’t do that by attending one or two meetings or mixers. Only through consistency of involvement will you reap the rewards that networking offers. This is true of both face-to-face and online networking.
Cross-connect when possible.
Whenever possible, connect with face-to-face networking connections via social media. Vice versa, if you have an opportunity to have coffee with a social media contact, take it! Cross-connecting will give you more opportunities to stay top of mind with contacts.
Choose platforms and organizations carefully.
Research which will provide the most opportunities for you to interact with your target market. Also, consider how much time you have available for networking and when you’re available to network. Not all online social networks demand the same amount of time and attention. Some networking groups require substantial time commitment and attendance at meetings. Before joining, find out if they hold their functions primarily during the work day or in the evenings. Which work best with your schedule?
Also, find out how much of a financial investment you’ll need to make. Some networking organizations require membership fees which then enable you to attend certain events “for free” as a member, but you might also have to pay for some events and activities. Make sure a group is within your budget so you can actively participate.
Be genuine – and genuinely interested.
People can detect a fake. Be real; be you when networking. Also, make your interactions about them not you in the beginning. Make it a point to ask questions and show an interest in other people before you jump in to share about yourself. It builds goodwill and makes a great first impression.
After meeting face to face, connect on social media (particularly LinkedIn) or send a friendly email. By doing so, you can build on that one-time meeting and open the door to communicating on an ongoing basis.
While successful networking comes easier to some business owners than others, it’s rare – if not impossible – to build a brand without it as part of a business’s strategy. If you’re not sure which networking groups, platforms, and activities might work best for your business, reach out to a SCORE mentor for guidance. We’re here to help!
You are ready to launch your business in a growing niche market. Out of the blue a friend sends you a link to a similar new product or service. After your initial shock, head over and evaluate the competition. Move into discovery mode and look under the hood of the competitor’s engine. That knowledge may add a creative spark to your thinking. Or it serves to confirm that you’re bringing an authentic solution for a customer want or need at precisely the right time.
Take a short drive and see what makes them tick. Scope out their website and metatags. Appraise how they tell their story. Are they solving the pain point in a novel way? If you compete in a new market segment with low barriers to entry, understand the incremental features and benefits promised. How does that compare to the “must have” features you learned in your customer discovery? Tap into their social networks and get a feel for their buzz.
It is critical to plan for and adjust to your product or service sales cycles. Begin by reviewing the 10 steps to deliver a successful sales plan. Each step will affect your resources, budget and cash flow. Properly executed, you will increase your sales and profits and delight your customers.
Understand your product life cycle.
Where is your product or service today? Is it in an introductory phase, undergoing a growth spurt, delivering mature sales, or a slow decline? It is important to know where your products are in their life cycle to properly assess current demand and projected sales revenues. Review the initial buying pattern and current purchase cycle for accuracy. Is your product a 1x purchase, or does it involve multiple and repeat purchase patterns? Think toaster versus buying the bread for toast!
As a business owner, you’re doing all you can to reduce your costs; after all, this is one of the greatest ways to keep more money in your pocket. Whether you run your business from home or a co-working location, technology can help save you time and money. Here are five social marketing tools to add to your arsenal.
MailChimp makes it easy to create content with a catchy, streamlined email formatting platform to reach the masses. Allowing business owners to target specific customer lists, you can target your email blasts to those potential customers who aren’t faithful to your brand – yet. MailChimp is a great free option for business with less than 2,000 email subscribers who send less than 12,000 total emails each month. Another great option is Constant Contact, which “wrote the book on Engagement Marketing.” Offering a combination of free, personalized coaching and a unique set of online marketing tools, Constant Contact helps business from start-ups to well-established companies engage with their customers.
Social Media Management
As you’re probably well aware, being active on social media is a great way to get the word out about your company, but if not done properly, your social networking can actually backfire on you. Unfortunately, there are a lot of business owners out there who believe they simply don’t have the time to be as active on Facebook and Twitter to make social media worth their while. Gremln is one tool that makes posting to all of your social media accounts a breeze. Allowing users to schedule posts in advance, you can sit down and get your weeks’ worth of tweets and Facebook posts created, and allow Gremln to take over and post on your behalf at the times you schedule the posts to go live. HootSuite, another popular option, has built a following of over 7 million users through the ability to easily manage multiple social media campaigns from one platform. Ultimately, it will come down to the ease-of-use for either, but Gremln and HootSuite will take your social media strategies to the next level.
Credit Card Reader
No matter the size of your company, unless you have a retail store, there really is no need for your business to deal with cash transactions. Many small business owners have transitioned toward mobile credit card readers to accept payments when they’re meeting customers face-to-face, while implementing an E-commerce system on their websites to process credit card transactions. With Intuit GoPayment, you can choose between paying a monthly fee or a convenience pay-as-you-go pricing structure that charges you a percentage for each sale you make, helping keep more of your money within the company. Square is another great tool allowing users to accept credit cards on the go. Whether you use an Android or iOS smartphone, just plug the Square into your headphone jack and you’re ready to swipe cards and get paid for your products and services.
Tax & Accounting Software
One of the least favorite tasks many business owners are left with is dealing with corporate taxes. While it’s extremely tempting to hire a CPA to do your company’s taxes, that’s an expense you don’t need to pay for. Quicken provides business owners with more than a simple tax return, allowing users to maximize deductions while breaking down your taxes line-by-line. Quicken also provides users with the ability to manage every single business expense, from purchasing new office equipment to mileage reimbursements. Sage 50 is another accounting software package many business owners have already utilized. Built to handle all of your accounting needs, Sage 50 allows users to view multiple files simultaneously, manage cash flow, payments and collections, and reduce errors while deterring fraud thanks to a screen-level security system included with the software.
Sometimes we need additional help, but due to monetary restraints, we aren’t able to hire the full-or part-time help we need. That’s where Odesk comes in; providing you the perfect way to connect with freelancers for any project you need help wrapping up. By posting your job or task for free, Odesk connects business owners with thousands of qualified freelancers from around the globe. However, if you need help with less specialized tasks, TextBroker is another great tool to take advantage of. Requiring its authors to go through an extensive background process, TextBroker allows business owners to request articles to be written for online content, and also allows you to include SEO options to target specific keywords. With five different quality levels of writing to choose from, you can get the help you need while remaining within budget.
Bradley Derringer is a blogger for TechBreach, giving you the latest on all things tech.