Archive for November 2010
As an entrepreneur, it is imperative to retain a good reputation. Making mistakes during a meeting is avoidable. There are techniques you can use to make sure you make a proper first impression every time. It’s as simple as doing an adequate amount of research on the person and the company with whom you are meeting.
Here are a few tips to follow to prepare for any meeting, and make a great first impression:
1. Research who you are meeting
Use the company website to look up any information you can find about the person you are meeting with. Think about basic things you would need to carry on a friendly conversation. Where did the person grow up? How did they start their career? What are their personal interests? What you are looking for is ways to relate to the person. People like people who are like them. It’s very simple, if you can remember someone’s name and some basic facts about them, you already stand out in their mind.
2. Research the company
When you are looking at a company website, avoid scanning. People can always tell when you have simply skimmed through a website and didn’t spend much time there, or focus on the right parts. Know who their featured clients are, read testimonials and comments, read the blogs that the site features. You should know exactly what the company does and why it is different from their competitors. This will not only help your knowledge about their company but will give you conversation topics should you need them.
3. Have a purpose
Make sure you walk into the meeting with clear and indisputable objectives. Have questions that you want answered at the top of your mind. Directness can go a long way in entrepreneurship. You are not using the meeting to flaunt all of the research you’ve done prior, but to accomplish the objectives you had in mind when you scheduled the meeting in the first place.
How can you make a name for your business? Sure you may have a great product, but your business will never be able to take off if no one knows about it. If you want your business to make headlines and gain the attention of people across the country – you need to bite the bait of media outlets.
If you want the attention of journalists, you need to be very careful. Journalists can be very picky about who and what they publish so use this advice to attract their attention and give them every reason possible to put your business’s name in headlines.
1. What Makes You, You?
The first thing you need to make obvious is what sets you apart from other businesses. Take a pen and paper and write down three attributes that come to your mind that make you unique. What are your selling points? Why should people buy from you and not someone else?
2. Perfect Your Pitch
Your pitch should be concise and to the point. It should be built based upon the three selling points you decided on earlier. Your pitch should stay under 30 seconds (generally 2 sentences). That’s about all you’ll be allowed to gain a journalist’s attention.
3. Be Adaptable
No matter what media outlet you choose to target, they all have different audiences. If you conduct a proper amount of research, you can tailor your pitch and your idea to fit what that audience wants to hear.
4. Have Enough Information
There’s nothing more peevish to a journalist than being forced to dig for more information after taking on your idea, especially with tight deadlines. Be sure to have additional information available in advance. If a journalist does choose to feature your story, have screenshots, videos, or images readily available.
5. Keep Your Submissions Focused
Take a great effort to personalize your submission to the editor you send it to, don’t spam to dozens of editors, choose significant contacts and spend time tailoring your material to those specific people.
As a smaller business owner, you have a clear understanding of how difficult it is to find effective employees. As cautious as you try to be, you always end up with at least one employee that isn’t motivated, doesn’t work to full capacity, or simply doesn’t get it.
In addition, it costs you personally to commit to an employee’s salary and benefits. It’s frankly a waste of money to invest in an employee that doesn’t work to full capacity and it sends a poor message to your customers. The first problems to address are who to hire, when and where to find suitable candidates.
Hiring the right person
The most important aspect of hiring the right person depends on your product. You need a staff that can get the product or service to the market. Generally, high-level executives (like a vice president of marketing or sales) aren’t hired until the company has seen growth.
Also, only hire someone if you absolutely need the help. If you can outsource that position to a free-lancer for example, it would be extremely beneficial to you. If you can intelligently delegate work to the right people, you’re already on your way to having an efficient staff.
Focus on hiring flexible candidates that can function and thrive in a small environment. The best candidate only needs a few instructions and can apply their skills to various areas. Small businesses need these kinds of candidates because there aren’t necessarily set positions and everyone needs to take on a certain amount of work in different areas.
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal guide to small business:
“An entrepreneur’s best bet for finding employees usually is networking. Ask for referrals from your friends, industry colleagues and advisers, such as your accountant, attorney, board members and organization members. If one of your advisers or colleagues recommends somebody, they’ve done some of your employee screening work already. Start-ups typically find their first 10 or 15 employees this way.”
Use any resources you can to find the right candidates. Having employees and staff members that add value to your business is crucial for you success as a business owner
Although there are plenty of stories out there that describe the overnight success stories of several entrepreneurs and small businesses, the likelihood of that is just minute. You need to be able to make the correct choices a long the way – and the way is long.
David Bakke, wrote a great post for Money Crashers about small business mistakes and the reasons why entrepreneurs fail. Listen to the mistakes that I found most helpful from his posts. Read them, study them, and avoid them. If you feel you are weak in any of these areas, fix it immediately because it could cost you your dream of being a successful small business owner.
1. Lack of Focus
I’ve seen a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs fail simply because they were “all over the place” with what they actually wanted to do. They tried so many different businesses in their first few years that they never got anything off the ground. A lot of this needs to be weeded out in your “pre-launch” process. That goes for both internet businesses and brick and mortar businesses. If you know you want to sell things on the Internet, do your research first as to exactly what you want to sell and how you want to sell it. Launching a website and then constantly changing the focus from selling cupcakes to selling screwdrivers to selling women’s lingerie is a sure way to be “finished” before you’ve even started.
2. Veering Away From Your Passion or Talent
You should really stick with what you are good at or what you love to do. Can you be successful being involved in something that you are not great at or feel strongly about? Absolutely, 100%. But, how dedicated are you going to be to that concept in the beginning? How likely are you going to still feel motivated after doing it for six months? How much easier would it be if you had chosen something you are great at or passionate about?
You’ve got to make sure you do your due diligence and do the proper amount of research before starting. This goes back to my first point on focus. I’ve seen people dive in head first to areas that they knew little to nothing about, and the huge mistakes they made in the beginning were just too costly to overcome. Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that mistakes are going to be made along the way, especially in the beginning. Take these mistakes and learn from them. But, you need to be prepared enough so that you can avoid the huge, expensive mistakes that sometimes can sink your idea before it even has a chance to take off.
4. Too Hesitant
As mentioned in the prior section, before you start a new business, even if it is a passion of yours, there needs to be a certain amount of research that goes into it before taking the plunge. You won’t just wake up one day and boom, decide to start a business. This just wouldn’t be smart. There is always going to be a certain amount of risk and uncertainty in any new business that you forge. If you are not willing to assume that risk or simply don’t have the stomach for it, you’ll never succeed.
You have thought long and hard about your company name. Now that you’ve finally come up with one that suits you and your business, you should get it trademarked so that other businesses won’t register under the same name. Getting your small business name trademarked is a pretty simple process.
Many small businesses can even file an application online through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Web site. The whole process can take up to two hours, but you won’t even need help from a lawyer. You should receive a response to your application within about six months after filing.
Searching for trademarks
Before you begin the application process, try out the web site’s Trademark Electronic Search System database to see if the name you chose has been taken by any other company. Protection is granted to the first entity to use a trademark in the geographic region where it operates (it doesn’t matter if the mark is registered or not). If your mark uses a design element, you will need to use a design code to search for it. The web site has a Design Search Code Manual to help you with this process.
Fees and other information
Registering for an online trademark can cost between $275 and $325. You will need to provide very specific information such as:
- The categories of goods and services you’re using the trademark for
- Whether or not you have a design element included
- The date of the trademark’s first use in commerce
For online businesses, avoid registering your name with your web extension (.com or .net) unless you additionally register the domain name by itself. The reason for this is that it makes it very easy for other companies to register the same name simply with a different extension.
Types of Trademarks
There are two possible trademark formats:
- Standard character format; or
- Stylized or design format.
The standard character format should be used to register words, letters, numbers or any combination of these elements. This format does not make any claim to any particular font style, size, or color, and does not include a design element. If you register for a mark in the standard character format, you will get broad rights for use in any form of presentation of your trademark.
The stylized or design format, on the other hand, is appropriate if you wish to register a mark with a design element and/or words and letters that have a particular stylized appearance that you wish to protect.
The two types of mark formats cannot be mixed in one mark; do not submit a representation of a mark that attempts to combine a standard character format and a stylized or design format.
There are several different marketing strategies you can use. However, for the sake of your small business budget, there are 3 very important strategies that help with organic traffic gain as well as giving your pocket expenses a break.
Step 1: Optimize Your Website
You need a base where people can search for your product, find you, and remain interested enough to order from your website. You truly will not be able to succeed in today’s market if you don’t have a website as your platform for transactions. Your website should in essence, run itself. With quality content, enough information, and the encouragement of feedback and conversation, you have the ability to invite people to learn more about your product or service – and buy it. Your site should have:
- Strong and well researched keywords
- Quality content that actually answers questions
- The use of meta tags and descriptions
- E-commerce capability
Step 2: Build Your Customer Base
Once you have your (quality) website up and running, it’s important to keep those customers coming back to you. One of the most basic marketing strategies you can employ is a subscribers list, or membership option. You can build a base of customers through an email list as one example, if your site has:
- A sign-up option
- A blog
- Newsletters and promotions to send to subscribers
Step 3: Maintenance
Once you have your quality website up and running, and a strong customer base with which you consistently interact, you need to be maintaining your website with fresh content. One great way to do this is to write blogs (daily!) and have them on your website and really anywhere else you can distribute them.
This helps with your exposure, search engine rankings, traffic, and credibility. The reason it helps with credibility is that it shows the initiative you have to answer customer questions and constantly provide fresh information. It shows that you are not all about the transaction, but more about the relationship you have with your customers.
If you are a small business owner dabbling with your advertising and marketing strategy, you may be tempted to offer free products as promotions. While this can be a great idea to achieve short-term results, it can actually hurt your business in the long run.
Free can be dangerous
Offering something for free can train consumers to think that your offer does not have much value. In time, consumers might actually come to expect things for free. For example, remember the days when we were all happy to get a free standard cell phone after signing that dreaded two-year contract? These days, we have come to expect a free cell phone with every new contract.
Online businesses are starting to offer free shipping, which can cut seriously into their profits. Hotels offer free Internet service, etc. These things are going to become extremely difficult to charge consumers for because they have come to expect these commodities as “free.” These perks aren’t even free anyway, we pay for these commodities via other buried charges.
Free can be copied
If you are offering some sort of accessory, or supplementary product for free, your competitors are fully capable of offering it too—especially if you are successful. If you are gaining a lot of traffic and attention through your free promotions, your competitors won’t be far behind. What you think starts out as a transient tactical marketing strategy can actually bury you in the industry.
You don’t want to get caught in an industry albatross where you keep cutting prices to undermine your competitor and both of you end up losing an intense amount of money.
Offering products for free every once in a while (everything is okay in moderation), is fine. Whether it’s a free consultation or a free sample, it can be at your advantage to offer something for free as a kind gesture even.
However, offering anything for free requires a significant amount of discretion.
As Steve McKee from Bloomberg Businessweek said in his post:
“It’s when you offer something for nothing as an enticement to buy that the danger sets in. If you try to fool your prospects by making your pitch about what’s “free,” you’ll also be fooling yourself.”
Everyone who starts their own business has made mistakes. There is absolutely no better way to learn. The more mistakes you make, the more you improve as a business owner and more importantly, as a person. Many small business owners make similar mistakes, so here are some ways to avoid making bad decisions that can cost you an unnecessary amount of time and money.
These tips are based off of Steve Pavlina’s “10 Stupid Mistake Made by the Newly Self-Employed.”
1. Sell to the right people
Try to sell to people who would actually use your product. While it may be exciting and you might want to push your product or service on anyone and everyone you talk to, avoid annoying friends, relatives, and new acquaintances. Don’t sell to people who simply do not need what you’re offering.
2. Don’t spend too much money
This is common sense really. Until you have steady cash flow, don’t spend your startup cash unless it’s an absolute dire necessity. “Your business should put cash into your pocket, so before you ‘invest’ money into it, be clear on how you’re going to pull that cash back out again,” Pavlin says.
3. Don’t spend to little money
I’m not contradicting myself when I say don’t spend too little money either. There is a balance between cautious, conscious spending, and frugality to the point where it interferes with your level of efficiency. Get your money’s worth when it comes to long-term purchases, like your business website.
4. Be real
Please avoid putting on a fake front. Number one, people can see right through it. Number two, it will earn you a poor reputation almost immediately. If you are running your business by yourself, don’t refer to yourself as “we.” When people ask about your business and product, you need to be honest. You should be charging prices that honestly reflect their value.