Be a Better Entrepreneur
Think you know it all? We've got 100 tips to being a more effective entrepreneur -- you might just learn some new tricks.
Need help reenergizing your business? Out of creative ideas forreaching your business goals? We've compiled a list of the top100 tips to improve your business. Consider it your checklist formaintaining a successful business.
Expand Your Business
1. Take on the World
Want your company to go global? Keep these 9 tips in mind wheneyeing foreign shores:
- Research and map out your export journey.
- Know where you want to go and go there.
- Take that decisive step and follow it up with sensiblejudgment. Jump in with both feet first, but keep them firmlyplanted on the ground.
- Keep your ego in check. Don't let the prospect of"going global" inflate your ego and causemisjudgments.
- If it smells, looks, or feels bad, don't try to rationalizeotherwise. Trust your instincts.
- Treat people as you yourself want to be treated.
- Make personal contact with attentiveness, courtesy,professionalism, and consistency.
- Factor in a three-year lead-time for world market penetration.It takes time and patience.
- In a global marketplace, welcome the unknown.
2. Where to Find Expansion Financing
You may have used personal savings or money borrowed from friendsand family to get started, but where do you go when it's timeto grow your business? If you've been in business for less thanthree years or have nothing to offer as collateral, you might findtraditional lending institutions unwilling to finance yourbusiness. There are options, though--if you know where to look. Trythese three funding sources to fund your expansion plans:
- Go back to those same friends and family. If your firstloan wasn't formalized, do it this time by drawing up documentswith a set repayment plan and interest.
- Go the government route. Many entrepreneurs getfinancing, including microloans, from SBA-backed lenders.
- Talk to your vendors. Another method of obtainingfinancing for supplies or materials is to approach vendors of thoseproducts about opening a line of credit with them so you can stockyour inventory or buy raw materials for your product without havingto put the cash upfront.
3. Should You Open Another Location?
This might not be your best choice for business expansion, butit's what often comes to mind first for so many entrepreneursconsidering expansion. Take a look at the following six tips to seeif opening a second location is the right move for yourbusiness:
- Make sure you're maintaining a consistent bottom-lineprofit and that you've shown steady growth over the past fewyears.
- Look at the trends, both economic and consumer, for indicationson your company's staying power.
- Make sure your administrative systems and management team areextraordinary--you'll need them to get a new location up andrunning.
- Prepare a complete business plan for a new location.
- Determine where and how you'll obtain financing.
- Choose your location based on what's best for yourbusiness, not your wallet.
4. Franchising and Licensing
Have you ever considered turning your business into a franchise orbusiness opportunity? The key question to ask yourself is if yourbusiness can be converted into a business format that somebody elsecould operate (a franchise) or if you have a standardized productor service that someone could resell multiple times (a businessopportunity). While you may think that expanding your businessrequires raising capital, hiring employees, buying equipment andleasing office or warehouse space, it's often moreprofitable--and less risky--to license your product to a bigcorporation with manufacturing capabilities and an existing salesforce to do the work for you.5. How to Target OtherMarkets
If you sell to teens, start marketing to college students. If yousell to working moms, maybe your product will work for stay-at-homemoms with a few modifications. Another strategy is to take aretail-oriented product or service and sell it wholesale. Forexample, a catering business that specializes in cakes, pies andother tasty desserts can contact local bakeries to sell its goodson a wholesale basis. While the price you get from the bakerieswill be lower (because the bakeries need to mark it up to theircustomers to make a profit), you'll sell more products andgenerate consistent cash flow that you can bank on.
Continuing Your Personal Development
6. Take a Vacation!
Many small-business owners brag about how indispensable they areand that they never take vacations. But if you're not takingtime to unwind, you're setting a terrible example for youremployees. Not taking a vacation is not a sign of an indispensablebusiness owner; it's proof of an ineffective leader. It'sthe mark of an irritable boss with high employee turnover.
You've got to prepare for that first vacation so you canreally take it easy while you're sipping piña coladas onyour Caribbean lounge chair. If you're afraid to take avacation, you may be too active in the mundane day-to-day tasks ofyour business and not be allowing If you're doing the sametasks as your employees, stop it immediately-you're the boss,the leader, the visionary.
You have to start by making sure you've adequately trainedyour employees to do their jobs. Then allow them to perform thoseresponsibilities without you always looking over their shoulders.As your employees have more success and fewer failures, they willrelish the more demanding challenges ahead-leaving you time tobuild your business--and leaving you time for a vacation.
7. Develop Your Social Capital
Social capital is very similar to its monetary sibling. It, likemonetary capital, is accumulated by an individual or a business andused in the production of wealth. Put more simply, it's theaccumulation of resources developed through personal andprofessional networks. These resources include ideas, knowledge,information, opportunities, contacts and, of course, referrals.
Effectively developing your social capital can be a dauntingtask. However, doing so within a structured, organized networkingframework will leverage your efforts and help you begin buildingyour balance of capital to positively impact your bottom line. Akey way that social capital is acquired is through networkingbecause successful networking is all about building and maintainingsolid, professional relationships. Plan your word-of-mouthmarketing efforts just as you would any marketing effort. Givereferrals constantly. It helps build your contact network, and goodbusiness karma as well. And show professionalism at all times.Being dependable, delivering a product on time, meetingappointments consistently and treating others with courtesy willgive you a professional reputation and cause you to be rememberedby those you wish to have become a contributor to your socialcapital.
8. Creating a Think Tank for Your Business
As a business professional, you need a constant supply ofinformation to achieve success. You must stay aware of trends andissues and keep up with rapid economic and technological changes tobecome and stay competitive.
You may have already discovered that it's next to impossibleto keep up with all this information on your own. There is simplytoo much of it. Fortunately, the knowledge you lack is alwayssomeone else's specialty, so you can turn to others for help.There are usually at least a few people who can help you deal withcertain issues or special problems that you may encounter in thebusiness or profession you are in or are interested in entering. Inlieu of specific knowledge, you must know in advance whom tocontact and where to go to get the information you need.
When you've identified your most important contacts, startconnecting with these people to enhance and improve your knowledgenetwork. As you do this, your network and the information you needto build your business will expand and grow.
9. How to Undertake a Personal Learning Program
What do you have to do to enjoy the long-term benefits of apersonal learning program? Subscribe to business magazines ande-mail newsletters, and read them consistently. If you have a Palmor Pocket PC, use e-book software to read business articles ande-books. Listen to audiotapes in your car. Commit yourself toreading (or listening to) at least one or two business books eachmonth. Register for seminars and short classes that teach hands-onskills such as marketing, sales, accounting, legal issues,etc.--the more you know about each such subject, the betteryou'll be at supervising people who do those tasks for you. Ingeneral, you must make your education a priority and schedulesignificant amounts of time for it. While some of this can besqueezed into your day (such as reading while waiting in line),much of it will require you to give up something else that probablyisn't as important (such as watching television). 10. WhyYou Should Never Stop Learning
Long-term business success relies on continuous personal growth.Achieving that means being better today than you were yesterday,and being better tomorrow than you are today. A common mistake formany entrepreneurs is that they "just don't havetime" to work on the things that will make them better at whatthey do. They get caught up in the daily operations of theirbusiness and can't see past that. You may have heard the oldsaw that some things are urgent and some are important, but fewthings are both. Many business owners spend their time on theurgent things because their lack of planning and long-termperspective continually creates additional urgent things.Self-education is a good example of something that is extremelyimportant but not at all urgent.
What you must do is immerse yourself in data and make it yourgoal to absorb and understand that information, turn it intoknowledge and then use that knowledge to gain experience. This, ofcourse, is a long-term task, and the main reason most people failto stay with it is because the feedback loop is so long. It oftentakes months of hard work before you start to see positivechanges--you won't see the changes as they happen, butyou'll look back one day and be amazed at how much yourjudgment and business skills have grown. You'll feel yourselfstart to think more clearly, you'll understand more of what yousee and hear, and your entrepreneurial vision will becomeclearer.
Smart Money-Saving Tactics
11. Buying Brainpower
Sometimes it's not what you buy, but how you buy that will saveyou money. Check out these smart shopping tips:
- Stretch your budget with barter. Swapping one product orservice for another is a good way to avoid cash outlays--and unloadslow-moving inventory. If you'd rather not bargain with otherbusinesses directly, hire a commissioned barter broker (listed inthe Yellow Pages under "Barter"), or join a commercialbarter club or exchange.
- Time your payments. Ask suppliers if they give discountsfor early payment. If not, it's to your advantage to pay yourbills--including utilities, taxes and suppliers--as late aspossible without incurring a fee. The longer money is in youraccount, the longer it's earning interest for you.
- Join an association. Many trade and businessassociations have reasonable membership fees and offer discounts oneverything from insurance, travel and car rental to long-distancephone service, prescriptions and even golf course fees.
- Seek at least three bids on everything. Even mundanepurchases merit shopping around. If you quote a competitor'slower price, a supplier or vendor will often match that price towin your business.
- 12. Employee Economics
Employees can be your most costly investment. If you're notsure you're ready to take the jump to hire a full-timeemployee--and pay for their benefits and deal with the HRheadaches--there are alternatives. Employee leasing--in which youturn over your work force to a professional employer organizationthat leases your employees back to you--can save you substantialcash on employee benefits, says Bruce Steinberg at the AmericanStaffing Association (ASA).
Or, rather than paying for employees who sit idle when businessis slow, consider hiring temporary employees to handle surges inbusiness. Anther way to get free or low-cost help--and give collegestudents a chance to learn the ropes--is by hiring interns. Checkwith your local university for more information.
13. Insurance Intelligence
Buying insurance is one of those necessary evils all smartentrepreneurs put up with. But that doesn't mean you have tobreak the bank. Here are some cost-cutting ideas:
- Save by association. When looking for insurance, checkwith your trade association. Many associations offer competitivegroup insurance.
- Raise your deductible. Raising the deductible on yourinsurance usually lowers your premiums. Even if you end up havingto pay the deductible, it's likely to be less than the amountyou save.
- Make a foul-weather friend. By arranging for analternative place to run your business in case of a major disaster,you may be able to save on business interruption insurance, advisesthe Insurance Information Institute. For instance, you couldarrange with a firm in the same industry to use their facilities incase of damage, and vice versa.
- 14. Office Overhead
Small office essentials can nickel-and-dime you to death, unlessyou buy smart. Purchase recycled printer cartridges. Check Googleor your Yellow Pages for a local recycled printer cartridgesupplier. You can also find free forms online that you candownload, customize and print. Start with our forms on Formnet.Another way to save money is buying used equipment. You can save upto 60 percent with used computer equipment, copiers and officefurniture.
15. Penny-Pinching Promotions
Want to market your business on a budget? The people you know canhelp. Here are three ways the people in your network can assistyour marketing efforts: 1. Split advertising and promotion costswith neighboring businesses. Jointly promote a sidewalk sale, ortake your marketing alliance further by sharing mailing lists,distribution channels and suppliers with businesses that sellcomplementary goods or services. 2. Ask the people you know forhelp. The kind of support you'd most like to get from yourcontacts is referrals-the names of specific individuals who needyour products and services. So go ahead and ask! Your contacts canalso give prospects your name and number. As the number ofreferrals you receive increases, so does your potential forincreasing the percentage of your business generated throughreferrals. 3. Got a happy customer? By telling others whatthey've gained from using your products or services inpresentations or informal conversations, your sources can encourageothers to use your products or services.
Becoming More Tech Savvy
16. Up to Date
Here are some of the most effective and least expensive items youmay want to buy to bring your older computers back up to speed:
Hard Drives. One of the most important features of anycomputer is its ability to store large amounts of data. Whether youneed desktop drives to back up your primary hard drives or storeyour digital video files, or a portable large-capacity drive tocarry a hefty business presentation, there are several solutionsthat may help meet your needs.
CD-ROM/R/RW and DVD-ROM/R/RW Drives. Upgrading to aspeedier CD-ROM drive may be just what you need to give your systema valuable boost in performance.
Processor Upgrades and Accelerators. Processor upgradesand accelerators allow you to increase the overall performance of acomputer by allowing it to process information faster. Acceleratorsdo this by shifting operational functionality and providingadditional cache memory, thereby freeing up the computer's mainprocessor so it can do its real job-running softwareapplications.
Memory. While everything that has already been mentionedcan help increase the usability of your current computers, one ofthe most tried and true ways to improve performance is to simplyinstall more random access memory, otherwise known as RAM.
17. Shopping List
If your company is going to expend the time and resources on newtechnology purchases, they need to be worthwhile. Keep in my thesethree tips next time your company is ready to do some serious techbuying:
- Renegotiate existing contracts for services such as networksupport and consulting. Telecom is especially ripe forbargains. Start by setting benchmarks for rates and auditing billsto ensure you're not overpaying. Then instead of buying alllong-distance, local phone and other telecom services from onevendor, dual-source it. Vendors will treat you better and chargeyou less.
- Make sure you need whatever new technology you do buy.Inventory all PCs, printers and software. Look for opportunities toconsolidate purchases, standardize configurations and root outduplication.
- Set up a system to keep doing it. Pick a team of peoplefrom IT and other departments, and meet with them regularly todiscuss what they need and how to save on it.
18. Buy Smarter
Investing in technology for your business doesn't have to sendyou to the poor house, as long as you know how to get the most outof what you can spend. You can't afford to have a key businesshardware component go down without protection. A warranty will giveyou peace of mind. It's as important to know when not to skimpas it is to know when to go for the extra discount.
Discount stores have decent-size technology sections and can netyou good value on everything from laptops to printer cartridges.What you won't get is a lot of one-on-one service. Ifyou're sure of what you want, go ahead and look out for gooddeals. If you need to ask questions, go somewhere else.
You can also save money by working closely with a value-addedreseller (VAR). This is a good route to explore for large purchaseswhere you want the reseller to also be the installer. The resellerwill be up on the latest special offers and promotions that fityour needs. Selecting the right VAR is also important. See how longthey have been in business and whether they have experience servingyour particular market.
19. Leave No (Paper) Trail
Drowning in paper? Technology can help you reduce or even eliminateyour need for paper. Try the following nine options to free youroffice from stacks and stacks of paper that threaten tooverwhelm:
- Computers: PCs, laptops and handhelds can be combinedfor document creation mobility and flexibility, stamping outrampant paper use.
- Scanners: Scanners create digital images so thatdocuments can be exchanged electronically and preserved easily.When scanning, remember to employ image compression to maintainnetwork performance, and make sure to choose a single, standardizedelectronic document format so that images can be indexed andsearched easily.
- E-mail: E-mail is a great substitute for paper memos.Effective e-mail systems should allow users to filter content andfile messages electronically by topic. They also should let workerscombine e-mail with fax and voice-mail retrieval in a unifiedmessaging system.
- Storage systems: Affordable, robust storage technologyis essential for high-speed, centralized electronic informationmanagement. Check out low-cost systems built upon RAID (RedundantArray of Independent Disks) technology or iSCSI-based storage-areanetworks.
- Fax over IP (Internet protocol): The boring old fax goeshigh-tech with a Web- or e-mail-based fax capability thateliminates the need to send hard copies.
- Wireless local area networks: Wi-Fi LANs are spreadinglike wildfire, making electronic information mobile, portable andeasily accessible to workers anywhere.
- Secure remote access: Virtual private networks (VPNs)ensure that home workers and road warriors get secure, confidentialaccess to the company intranet, abolishing the need to lug around abriefcase full of documents.
- E-learning systems: Workers in training can say good-byeto books and binders when they use online or Web-based trainingsystems.
- Advanced printers: Printers that print on both sides ofa sheet can significantly reduce paper use.
20. Back It Up!
At any time, you could lose your computer equipment, whetherit's a laptop that gets stolen or a desktop that's lost ina house fire. So be prepared: Back up your data weekly--or evendaily. Some backup options include portable hard drives,DVD-writers and online data.
There are also several networked data storage options,including:
- Direct Attached Storage: Known as DAS, this technologyattaches storage media (like disk arrays and tape backup) directlyto servers.
- Network Attached Storage: Called NAS, this standalone,self-contained solution connects directly to a LAN, rather than toa server. The separation of data from servers tends to improveperformance.
- Storage Area Network: SANs create a separate, dedicatedhigh-performance network that is highly secure and scalable.
- iSCSI SAN: This type of SAN offers most of the strengthsof the Fibre Channel SAN, but it's easier to install, haslower-cost connections, is much easier to manage and grows withyour business.
- Managed Storage Network: Managed storage services areoffered by specialized service providers. Businesses can contractwith these providers, who implement and maintain the storagenetwork on an outsourced basis.
Regardless of which backup method you choose, remember it'sbetter to be safe than sorry when it comes to your data.
Get Your Marketing Act Together
21. Marketing on $4 a Day
Research shows consumers need to hear a message at least threetimes for them to have name recognition and recall, and nine timesbefore they become a customer. One-time or sporadic tactics areineffective in increasing awareness, acceptance, preference anddemand for your product. You can create more marketing momentumwith daily action. One way to do this is to use a $4-a-daymarketing program.
The basic strategy is to contact 10 clients, prospects orcontacts each day, five days a week. You can contact them by phone,fax, e-mail, letter or postcard. You can send out press releases,sales or follow-up letters, brochures, special offers, informationsheets or thank-you notes. Your cost is about 55 cents to print andmail five letters for a total of $2.75. The telephone calls orfaxes cost about a quarter each for a total of $1.25. You do themath. If you're communicating by e-mail, your costs will beeven less. Your goal is to create a combination of daily activitiesthat help you communicate with existing as well as potentialcustomers.
22. Take Time for Marketing
The key to maintaining a year-round marketing program, withoutthose nasty peaks and valleys that can cost you so dearly, iseffective preplanning. Have you written down your annual marketingplan? It doesn't have to be elaborate--just an outline will do,so long as you also schedule your tactics in a contact managementsoftware program or even on a paper calendar. With an outline andschedule for your basic marketing tactics, you can "gang"production and planning. For example, a monthly e-newsletter is aterrific way to maintain contact with prospects and takes less timethan making individual phone calls. Each quarter, you can planthree issues at once, picking your topics and compiling content sothat on the designated monthly mailing dates your newsletters areready to go.
There's no hard and fast rule telling you exactly how muchtime you should spend marketing your businesses. In thefastest-growing businesses with sales of $1 million or less, theowners tend to spend from about 25 percent to nearly 40 percent oftheir time in sales and marketing every week. However, if yourbusiness is new, you may need to devote about 60 percent of yourtime for a while to get it up and running. The most important thingis to maintain a consistent effort. This will keep your growth ratesteady and enable you to more effectively build your business overtime.
23. Follow the Rules
If you think most rules were made to be broken, you may want tothink again. Sometimes thinking outside the box can producesurprisingly positive results, but generally not at the expense oftried-and-true rules for effective marketing. Case in point:Recently, an e-mail marketer got dismal results from a mailing to apreviously well-proven list. What went wrong? The solicitation was500 words long, had a nebulous subject line and offered only a dullwhite paper. Next time, this entrepreneur will do well to play bythe rules--with a 250-word maximum, a clear subject line that letsrecipients know what the e-mail is all about and a more compellingoffer.
Thanks to the billions of dollars businesses invest inadvertising every year, all aspects of it have been studied. Forinstance, we know that in magazine ads, one central photo or imageworks better than several small ones, while in newspaper ads(particularly those that feature product sales), several photoswork well to capture the attention of readers. Often, marketing isnot a do-it-yourself job. If you're unsure about the rules foreach medium, it's a good idea to hire experiencedprofessionals.
24. Focus Your Marketing Efforts
Casting too wide a net is a mistake often made by entrepreneurswith big appetites and small budgets. They want to try a little bitof everything--advertising in multiple magazines and newspapers,online ads on a variety of sites and a list of special events--butwith limited budgets, they end up with a tiny presence in each. Asa result, ads and promotions get minor attention and their entiremarketing budgets are wasted.
When it comes to advertising, bigger is usually better. Large,four-color magazine ads generally produce better results thansmall, black-and-white ads. To maximize results from your marketingprogram, narrow your media choices and consistently run larger adswith enough frequency to get noticed.
Similar advice holds true for special events. Instead of takinga small, obscure booth in a half-dozen community events, purchaseone or two major sponsorships per year to ensure that everyone whoattends the events will be exposed to your message.
25. Makeover Your Marketing
Have you recently had flat or lackluster sales? If you'repredicting more of the same in the coming months, it's time toreassess your marketing strategies.
- Study your audience. The clearest sign that yourmarketing needs a makeover is when it stops resonating with yourtarget audience. The first step is to understand yourcustomers' hot buttons by reviewing published articles andresearch. Look beyond how and what your prospects buy. It'salso vital to have input from B2B customers. Visit their job sitesto discover the challenges they face and what they hope to gain byworking with you.
- Add value through innovation. Entrepreneurial companiesexcel at innovation. New products and services are created and oldones are tweaked. So shake off your stagnant marketing approach andfind new ways to communicate the value of your company'sinnovations to your target audience.
- Set the competitive pace. Does your competition defineyour marketing strategy? If you spent recent years reacting to yourcompetitors' marketing messages, it's time to start settingthe pace. Monitor their innovations and how they market, butdevelop your own campaign that addresses your audience's hotbuttons and focuses on adding value.
Making Time for Time Management
26. Filling Your Time
It's essential that you make time tangible because it moves sofast and it seems so amorphous. But if you think about it, managingyour time is identical to organizing your space. A schedule reallyhas boundaries; it has edges. If you start to think of yourschedule as a container into which you need to fit a limited numberof objects--your tasks&3151;you start to get more selectiveabout which you'll put in. And if you group similar tasks bycategory, you can have a better handle on the kind of balanceyou're achieving.27. Preparing for Tomorrow, Today
At the end of each workday, take a blank sheet of paper and writedown everything you must accomplish tomorrow in the order the tasksshould be done. The next day, you won't have to decide what todo first, and crossing off the things you accomplish will give yougreat satisfaction. Don't let the simplicity of a to-do listfool you; it's one of the best time-management tools everinvented.
You should create to-do lists each day or at least weekly. Thiswill give you an overview of what to expect each week and give youtime to make any changes in advance. Use it in combination with acalendar, and keep in mind that to-do lists are for tasks to becompleted, while a calendar is for recording appointments.
28. Is This Worth My Time?
Throughout the day, periodically stop what you're doing and askyourself if what you're doing is the best use of your time. Askyourself these few questions:
- Is the task you're working on a top priority?
- Is the task going to increase your business or income?
- Does the task correspond with your goals?
- Is it a task that someone else could handle, leaving you freeto handle more important tasks?
If you answered no to any of the questions, switch to anothertask or delegate the task to someone else.
29. How Long Will It Take?
One skill entrepreneurs should tackle first is the skill ofestimating how long things take. And that's a very simple skillto develop; you just have to concentrate on it. If you ask the besttime managers to do anything, they say, "How long is thatgoing to take me? I have to gather the equipment. I have to set itup. I have to check for batteries. I have to sit down and think alittle bit." If you go through this process, then you'rein the position to make smart decisions about which tasks you willdo, which tasks you won't, what you should delegate, and howyou can create shortcuts. It's a breakthrough skill.30.Where Does the Time Go?
Examine where your working hours are going each week. You'llneed to keep a log of your time for several weeks. Once the log iscomplete, sit down and evaluate where the time went. Upon reviewingthe log, for each entry ask yourself: Is the task necessary? Then,if it's necessary, ask: Should I be the one who performs it?Immediately drop from your future schedule those unnecessary tasks,as well as any undertaking that doesn't contribute to thebusiness in a real way.
For the other tasks, make a simple T chart. In one column, listthe really important stuff that only you should do. In the othercolumn, list the work that should be done by others. Finally,delegate those duties that should be done by others.
Get a Grip on Your Finances
31. When to Hire a CFO
Does your company have the adequate resources to handle taxplanning, capital raising, cash management and all the otherfinancial functions of a company? Or more simply: Is it time foryour company to get a CFO? Of course, it varies from company tocompany, but answering some fundamental questions may indicateit's time to hire a CFO. Is the bill from your accounting firmsurpassing the salary for a seasoned financial manager? Mostentrepreneurial businesses turn to accounting firms for everythingfrom taxes to raising capital, at a price tag of at least $150 anhour. "A good financial strategist will cost at least $90,000a year, so do the math," says Steve Enright, president of SJEPartners, a Richmond, Virginia, HR consulting firm.
Do you need to raise equity capital to fund further operations?According to Hackeman, if your business wants to go beyond justregular bank loans for funding to the likes of VCs, privateinvestors, the public markets or anyone else looking for a piece ofthe company, then it may be time to bring in a full-time financialexpert.
Is your company beginning to do complicated financialtransactions? While raising capital can certainly get complex,there are other financial factors that can drive an entrepreneur toseek out a full-time financial advisor. One may be that his or hercompany is in the process of buying other companies. Another isthat your business is beginning to set up deals with suppliers,customers or both that demand financial structuring outside therealm of common sense.
32. Costly Cost-Cutting Errors
When times are tough, you may be tempted to cut every expense underthe sun to keep your business afloat. Beware, though--cutting thewrong things could end up hurting your business in the long run.Here are the cost-cutting measures that could ruin your business:Mistake No. 1: Choosing cheaper materials for your product. MistakeNo. 2: Cutting back on advertising and marketing. Mistake No. 3:Not doing inventory or financial reports when times are lean.Mistake No. 4: Cutting R&D during the start-up stages. MistakeNo. 5: Cutting anything that keeps a customer satisfied.33.Smart Spending for Surplus Cash
If you find yourself with extra money, the first thing you shoulddo is sit down with your CFO and accountant to do some seriousprojections. Look at the operating cycle of your business and howmuch cash you're expected to turn under normal circumstances.Make sure the extra money really is excess and not a one-time bumpfrom an unusual sale or savings from a one-time cost cut. Then sockaway enough money in an interest-bearing account or low-riskinvestment vehicle to last several months--anywhere from three to12 months, depending on your industry--should the economy contractand customers be unable to pay. Then, if you have extra savings,pay down debt. Once that's done, look at improvements thatwon't add a fixed future cost, such as employee bonuses andone-time improvements to technology or other essentialmachinery.
If your business still has a surplus after putting away cash andmaking improvements without fixed costs, then consider making moresignificant changes, such as adding staff, expanding to anotherlocation, or purchasing a building for the business if you'recurrently leasing.
34. How Banks Can Help
If you've worked hard on preventing cash-flow issues, but stillfind yourself with an unexpected problem, what can you do about it?If you haven't been planning on this happening, you may facesome painful choices: Borrow from your personal funds, delay payingsome vendors, delay payroll, try to convince a customer to paytheir bill early, etc.
A much better plan is to have a close relationship with yourbanker. Treat your banker as a partner, and send them frequentfinancial reports. The more a banker knows about your business, themore confidence he will have in you, and the more willing he willbe to help out if you get in a cash crunch. Another important toolis a line of credit from your bank. Think of this as businessoverdraft protection for your checking account. If you've gotthat in place (and the time to look into this is not the day youneed the money!) and a customer is slow to pay, you can draw on ituntil your invoices come in.
35. Basics of Cash-Flow Management
If there's one thing that will make or break your company,especially when it's small, it's cash flow. If you payclose attention to your cash flow and think about it every singleday, you'll have an edge over almost all your competitors, andyou will keep growing while other companies fall by thewayside.
Let's take a look at some basics. What does "cashflow" mean, anyway? For the moment, don't think aboutprofits and losses, your balance sheet, gross margins, etc. Perhapsthe simplest way to think about cash flow is to just think of thebalance in your checking account. Will that balance be enough topay your bills when they come due? That's the point of thiswhole concept--the further out you can predict your bank balance,the further out you can see a problem, and the longer you have todeal with it.
As you start to think about it, you'll realize that you canpretty easily forecast most of your expenses, at least for the nextfew months. Once you have that in mind, add the revenue that youbelieve you'll receive, and do the math.
Beefing Up Your Negotiation Skills
36. Good Things Can Come From Bad Deals
Have you ever made a really bad deal? Admit it. We all have. It maynot be taught in any school, but deal-making is a core competencyin life--particularly in the business world, where wealth andsuccess are a fetish. Your negotiating ability directly affectsyour income, your relationships and, ultimately, your station inlife. That's why making a bad deal can be so hard to livedown.
It's possible you did everything right. Sometimes, bad dealsjust happen, even to the best. But more often than not--and whetheror not you're big enough to admit it--you probably hadsomething to do with it. Don't avoid the post-game wrap-up.It's the only way to shave strokes off your score. Ask yourselfthe tough questions: How did you contribute to the problem? Did youmiscommunicate? Did you forget something? What will you dodifferently next time?
It's important to think deeply and introspectively. Why didyou make the mistakes you did? Were you too arrogant to ask forhelp? Were you too easily cowed by this opponent? Were you toogreedy? Did you let things get too personal? If you can, find agood friend to help you debrief.
37. Get Tough
Toughness is partly about your game face, but it's also abouttechnique. When you're called on, or choose, to take the hardline, here are some ways to strengthen your game:
- Don't talk too much. Be terse. The less you say, theless you reveal about your own position. The less you say, the moreyou can listen for weaknesses or opportunities.
- Be stingy with your concessions. It can really grindyour opponents down. If you must give, give just a little, and getsomething back in return--even if it's their agreement to takean issue off the table.
- Be firm. No means no. If you don't want to give apoint, make your opponents feel like they just hit the wall. Youwill not be perceived as a jerk, so long as you offer a plausibleexplanation for your position.
- Keep things moving. Don't let your opponentsbacktrack on you. Once an issue is settled, it's settled. Besupremely efficient and businesslike. Your opponents must feel thatyour time is precious and that you do not suffer fools at all.
- Stay focused. In detailed negotiations, mental staminais a tremendous asset. Victory goes to the dogged. The last personstanding at the bargaining table is the one with the greatest powerof concentration.
- 38. The Ugly Side ofNegotiation
For whatever reason, deal making often brings out the ugly side ofcommerce. At the drop of a hat, parties polarize, one sidevilifying the other. Principal players are overcome by fear andgreed. Egos clash as the insecure become blustery, then arrogant,then insufferable.
Problems like these are unavoidable. As with medicine, earlyscreening and detection are key. What vibe do you get from youropponent at first contact? Of course, some will fool you, but yourgut is often smarter than you are. Watch for goofy or unreasonabledemands early on. Listen carefully to what their own professionalssay about them--and especially look for that omnibus euphemism"difficult personality."
Think of difficult negotiations not as a hassle but as achallenge. The experience will only make you better at handlingothers, but better at handling yourself. Don't becomedistracted by your opponent's antics, however outrageous. Stayfocused on your goals and on the actual issues. Don't escalatehostilities, lest you get caught in a senseless cycle of verbalviolence. Let it roll off you. After all, it's not about you;it's about them. You should also remember that"craziness" can be feigned as a tactic to manipulate you.If that's the case, consider calling your opponent on it,whether tactfully or bluntly.
39. Getting Your Fair Share
Whether it's a commission, a participation, a royalty orequity, when deal makers talk about taking "a piece of theaction," they usually mean some kind of percentage. It maysound simple, but in the real world, cutting someone a fair sliceis not. Here are some things to think about:
- Is it justified? Percentages can mean big upsides.Reserve these rewards for those who really bring value to thetable--usually the people or companies that are key to the venture,or those taking an unusual amount of risk.
- Would an hourly rate or a flat fee be less expensive than apercentage? This is a common theme when professionals areinvolved. If they'd perform the same service either way, runthe numbers to see which is better for you.
- What's the percentage based on? Is it on everythingor just a part? Is it on gross or net? If it's net, what comesoff the gross to get there? Make sure you understand how apercentage is calculated. Crunch some numbers. If your opponent hasany skills, he's good not only at counting the beans, but alsoat hiding them.
- Is equity involved? Stock is complicated, so you mustget professional help. The formalities are legion, and the pitfallsnasty. The actual number can mean little without taking intoaccount voting rights, classes of stock, buyouts, vestingschedules, conversion rights, registration rights, dilution and thelike.
- For how long is it payable? Certain deals can go on foryears. That percentage income stream can be well-deserved passiveincome or a total boondoggle, depending on who is getting it andwhy. Ask yourself: Should these payments go on forever? If not,when do they stop?
- Who's rushing me? The percentage players in a dealoften have a strong incentive to close quickly. No deal, nopercentage; and the faster they get there, the better. This is apredictable current in many negotiations--it's up to you toswim with or against it.
40. Overcoming Your Resistance to Negotiation
An entrepreneur who doesn't like to negotiate is like a chefwho doesn't like to handle knives. Bargaining ability is a keybusiness skill. If you resist learning and using it, you have aserious deficit--not just at the bargaining table, but also inlife.
Some people feel it's degrading, like they're beggingthe other side for scraps. For a few, the problem is systemic.These are the pathologically shy, who wilt at the prospect of anykind of confrontation--they can't get to yes, and theycan't just say no. For most people, however, the problem is notabout some organic weakness in their psyches. It's the naturalawkwardness of facing a new opponent or a new situation. Thesolution is simple: Learn and practice new skills. Ask a colleagueto coach you. Thumb through one of the many good books onnegotiation. Take a seminar. Bring someone along to pump you up orstep in if you get stuck. Make an ongoing commitment to become abetter negotiator. Even the average consumer can save manythousands of dollars over a lifetime if he or she has a few goodmoves at the bargaining table.
41. Off to a Good Start
One of the most aggravating aspects of being in business istaxes--understanding them, keeping up with them and, worst of all,paying them. But there are some things you can do as a new businessowner to make the process a little less painful, including thesefour tips:
- Understand the various taxing entities. All levels ofgovernment--local, state and federal--impose taxes. Be familiarwith the requirements of each.
- If appropriate, preserve your independent contractorstatus. If you operate as an independent contractor, protectthat status by using written contracts and controlling how and whenyou do your work.
- Keep good records. Good records help avoid trouble withthe IRS and give you an accurate idea of how your business isperforming.
- Understand what's deductible and what's not. Adeduction is an expense or the value of an item that you cansubtract from your gross income to determine your taxable incomeand reduce the amount of tax you pay. Even if you have someone elseprepare your tax returns, take the time to learn what you candeduct so you keep the right records and file an accuratereturn.
42. Before Midnight
Take steps to increase deductions. The larger the number ofdeductions you claim, the smaller your taxable income will be andthe less taxes you'll owe. One of the best ways to boostdeductions for cash-basis businesses is to pay as many of yourbusiness expenses as possible during this year. With the cashmethod of accounting, income is taxable when you receive it, andexpenses are deductible when they are paid. To beef up thosedeductions, stock up on business supplies or get equipment orvehicle maintenance done in November or December if you planned toincur these expenses in 2004 anyway. You also will want to considerprepaying some deductible business expenses, including any rent,taxes and insurance due on the first month of the new year.43.Seven Deductions to Consider
Here are seven major opportunities to make your life tax-deductibleas an entrepreneur:
- Your home: As a small-business owner you may qualify totake a home office tax deduction if you use your home officeregularly and exclusively for your business.
- Your car: If you use your car in your business, you candeduct the costs of operating and maintaining your car. However,you can only deduct the portion of your car that pertains tobusiness only.
- Your equipment: You can convert personal assets intobusiness assets by contributing them to your business. You can doso by giving them to your business either in exchange for a loandocument or as contributed capital.
- Your travel and entertainment: Travel expenses areexpenses you incur for your business while away from home. You aretraveling away from home if both the following conditions are met:(1) your duties require you to be away from the general area ofyour "tax home" substantially longer than an ordinaryday's work and (2) you need to get sleep or rest to meet thedemands of your work while away from home.
- Your retirement: You may qualify to participate incertain retirement plans that are available to small-businessowners, depending on certain factors, such as your business'sform of organization, other retirement plans in which you alreadyparticipate, your earned income and whether you are functioning asan employer (owner) or an employee of your business.
- Your family: As a small-business owner, you have anopportunity to hire your spouse, children and even your parents asa way of minimizing your family's tax burden.
- Your self: As a small-business owner, you are able totake advantage of tax-free owner benefits. This allows you and yourfamily to enjoy benefits that are paid by your business and thatare also tax-deductible to the business--the best of bothworlds.
44. Home Sweet Home
There are three ways a small-business owner can consider qualifyingfor a home-office deduction: (1)If the business is operating aseither a sole proprietorship or as a one-member Limited LiabilityCompany (LLC); (2)if the business is operating either as apartnership or a multimember LLC, electing to be taxed as apartnership; or (3)when the owner of the business is alsoconsidered an employee of the business--as in the case of C and Scorporations or an LLC, electing to be taxed as a corporation.
The next consideration in qualifying to take a home-officededuction is that you must be using a portion of your home for yourbusiness, and be doing so on both a regular and exclusive basis.The final element in qualifying is that this home office is yourprincipal place of business--used regularly and exclusively forbusiness, and that you have no other fixed location where youconduct substantial administrative and management activities ofyour business.
45. Be Tax Smarter
Though the tax code is complex, it's not impossible for thecommon entrepreneur to use it and take the best advantage of it.Here are three important considerations for your businessexpenditures that can help you get the best return possible at taxtime:
- Match allowable ordinary and necessary expenses of yourbusiness for each tax year against taxable income. Ordinary andnecessary business deductions include all the expenses that arerequired to operate your business, including: accounting, legal andbank services, office expenses, your car, equipment, travel,entertainment, retirement, wages and salaries, employee benefits,marketing, insurance and payroll taxes.
- You must allocate expenditures between personal and businessuse. An expenditure does not have to be either entirelydeductible or nondeductible, i.e. business or personal. Thepersonal portion is not tax-deductible: however, the business partis fully tax-deductible as a business expense.
- Avoid the IRS's "hobby rule." You arepresumed by the IRS to be in business with the intent to make aprofit. If you do not show a profit in three out of five years, youmay be required to demonstrate and defend the fact that you areoperating with the genuine intent of making a profit.
Improving Professional Relationships
46. Keep in Touch
In order to maintain good relationships with your banker, and otherpartners and providers, you must take the initiative. Try thesethree steps to keep in touch:
- Make an appointment to deliver and briefly review the currentstate of your business, as well as a brief history of your companyand current business plan. Be responsible for educating them aboutyour industry.
- Identify shared personal interests or values. Become a goodbusiness acquaintance. In conversation, be candid; never make falseclaims or exaggerate.
- Never surprise anyone with band news. If things are not goingwell with your company, give everyone plenty of warning.
47. Supply and Demand
Be open, courteous and firm with your suppliers, and they willrespond in kind. Tell them what you need and when you need it. Havea specific understanding about the total cost, and expect deliveryon schedule. Keep in constant communication with your suppliersabout possible delays, potential substitutions for materials andproduct lines, production quality, product improvements or newproduct introductions and potential savings.48. Finding a GoodInsurance Agent
Too many entrepreneurs treat finding an insurance agent like goingon a blind date. They randomly contact an agency, and then an agentis assigned to them. If coincidence played a role in the way youwere matched with your agent, it might be high time to take stockof that relationship and start looking for a new one.
How do you decide whether your agent is meeting your needs? Ask:Does your agent have expertise in your industry? Is he or she up onthe latest in commercial insurance? If not, don't be afraid toswitch. The best insurance agents ask a lot of questions about theoperation of your business-and they ask them often. To see whetheryour agent knows enough about your business, turn the tables andinterview the agent. Ask general questions, such as: Can yourecommend any new coverage? Does your company provide evaluationservices? Why is this the best carrier? Have you asked meeverything necessary to cover my exposures?
49. Bank on It
Bankers aren't in the business of better on your dreams orpredictions; they are in the business of loaning securedmoney--money that is backed by both your personal guarantee andhard assets. Your banker has to answer to his boss and explain whyhe loaned you money, how you are going to pay it back and why youare a good risk.
The more your banker knows about your business, the more valueyou are going to get from the relationship. Create regularstate-of-the-company status reports to share with your banker. Thisdocumentation can help him provide you with better service, aidinghim in making quicker decisions about your business. The bettertabs your banker has on your business can also help him give youbetter advice and maybe keep you out of financial trouble.
50. In the Loop
Your banker, attorney and accountant each have the ability todrastically influence the success of your business. The mostimportant thing you need to do is nurture your relationships withthem. The more they know about your business, and the better youknow them, the more value you'll receive. Develop that close,long-term relationship, and you'll have someone you can dependon in your corner. When you hit the inevitable bumps in the road,they'll be there to help you.
Being a Better Boss
51. Never Stop Learning
In most companies, training and information flow downhill and notuphill. Over the next decade, successful companies will bring theknowledge economy full circle by making sure knowledge flows up,down and sideways. Smart entrepreneurs "hire up," meaningthey hire people who bring the latest skills in technology, sales,accounting and other fields.
How can you create a "learning up" strategy? First,managers need to acknowledge that they can learn from rank-and-fileemployees. Then make continual learning a part of your hiringprocess. Ask management candidates how comfortable they arelearning from employees.
Remember, there's no way you or your managers can be anexpert in every area of your business, so don't be afraid totake advantage of knowledge wherever you can find it, even if itcomes from lower-level employees.
52. Why Recognition Is a Must
Most entrepreneurs don't consider recognition a central part oftheir management practice. Below are three reasons why you need totake the time to recognize the good things your employees do:
- If you recognize and make a bit of a fuss about the good thingsemployees do, then you'll find yourself spending a lot lesstime worrying about the bad things they do. It's far easier tolead people to improved performance by thanking them when they doit right than giving them grief when they do it wrong.
- Praise and recognize your star performers. Spotlight role modelperformances and role model employees. This makes them feel good,encouraging them to stay on board and keep trying hard. And itgives everyone a bit of inspiration and a clearer idea of what youwant employees to shoot for.
- Recognize good effort, not just results. When employees have atough week, throw a mini party for them. Write personal thank-younotes to employees. Recognizing effort has a bigger impact thangiving a prize at the end of the race.
53. Full Speed Ahead
Business owners and managers know they need good bottom-lineresults but sometimes it's hard to remember what each person inthe organization needs to do to accomplish the desired result. Trythese three tips to keep your company moving forward:
- Ask employees what information they need. Use one-on-oneopportunities to ask each employee if they have any questions abouttheir work, what to do or how to prioritize.
- Make sure employees share information with each other.In staff meetings, make a special point of asking each person ifthey have any information that other staffers may not be aware of.The manager running the meeting can get a lot more information outon the table by simply asking this question.
- Make a point of sharing feedback about the work and why itmatters. This gives employees a clear "line of sight"from their daily tasks to the big-picture reasons for them. It addsmeaning and purpose, and keeps the workforce looking forward andmoving in the right direction.
54. Trust Me?
Good communication is grounded in trust. No matter what people say,if they're not trusted, they're not believed. Therefore, inorder to have good communication in an organization, you must makesure you do what you say you're going to do. People who do aretrusted; people who don't are not.
In the name of keeping people informed, many executives tellemployees about things they intend to do that don't happen,often eroding employee trust. Consultants often recommendorganizations actually communicate less often as a step to improvetrust, instructing employers to tell people only those things theyhave complete control over and know will happen as they say theywill.
If managers do what they say they're going to do themajority of the time, employees will give them some leeway if amistake is made. When trust is high, communication can be morerelaxed and casual, but when trust is low, people won't giveyou the benefit of the doubt, no matter how good yourintentions.
55. Show You Care
Here are some tips and tricks you can use with your employees todemonstrate great leadership skills. You'll create trust andloyalty by consistently showing your employees that you care aboutthem and the work they do.
- Be visible. Walk around the company--avoid hiding out inyour office all day. If employees don't see you during the day,they can feel ignored or demoralized.
- Celebrate victories. Set small and attainable goalsevery few weeks or months for your employees. It's easy tobring in cake and soft drinks to reward outstandingperformances.
- Encourage friendships among coworkers. Encourageinteraction by giving your employees the chance to share theirtalents with other employees within your office. For example, ifsomeone in your company plays chess and would be willing to teachchess to others who are interested, allow them to promote theirskill and give them a place to teach those who'd like tolearn.
Put Your Business in the Media Spotlight
56. Throw a Party
Hosting an event for your business or at your business can be afabulous way to garner publicity. The event can take the form of anopen house, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a seminar or a guestappearance by a celebrity, political official or someone else ofsignificance. Once you decide that you are going to have an event,there are a few things to do to get even more bang for your PRbuck.
- Let your target market know you're having an event. Anannouncement can be made first with a press release to publicationsthat reach your target market. Hand out fliers at your place ofbusiness, with customer orders and at any networking sessions youattend to get the word out about your event.
- If you are having a speaker or another guest of honor, aseparate press release announcing the appearance of that person canbe issued.
- Invite the media with handwritten invitations. Just like aparty, invite the people you want to attend. Send invitations tothe media, your customers and important prospects, friends andfamily.
- Have plenty of press kits available to pass out to thoseattending. Pass them out not only to the media representatives, butalso to your guests. Customers and prospects should receive any andall press releases that you issue.
- Include in the press kit a frequently asked questions listabout the company, person, product or service written in interviewform. This makes it easier for radio and TV people to interview youor pick a few questions for press.
57. Write Your Way to Free Publicity
One of the most cost-efficient means to get your message out is towrite articles for magazines, trade journals, web sites andnewspapers that reach your target clients. Even if you have averagewriting skills, if you can propose compelling article topics thatsolve problems for readers, then you'll find editors who willpublish your ideas. Here are four factors that make publishedarticles a powerful vehicle to boost your business to the nextlevel. Published articles will:
- Position you as a leading expert in your field. Thevalue of your knowledge hinges on how well you're recognized bythe public as a qualified expert. A published article communicatesthat you are indeed an expert because your knowledge and ideasmerit publication.
- Convey a sense of third-party endorsement. If a trademagazine is willing to devote valuable space to print your article,then what you say must be important, right? At least that's theassumption readers subconsciously make.
- Become marketing tools that sell long after the shelf lifeof the magazine. There are myriad ways to squeeze promotionalvalue out of each article beyond its impact on the newsstands. Youcan leverage article reprints to enhance your direct-mailcampaigns, networking efforts, sales presentations, e-mailmarketing, press kits and web site content.
- Lead to additional PR opportunities. Reporters andeditors want to interview industry experts to support theirresearch. When you write and publish articles on a consistentbasis, you'll be able to attract more inquiries from the mediaand get your company written about more often.
- 58. Get Ready for YourInterview
The key to a successful interview is preparation. Since the chiefmotivation of most interviewers is to get information or createprogramming that's of special interest to their readers,viewers or listeners, it's your job to provide relevant contentwhile at the same time weaving in your own principal PRthemes.
To ensure your company's central message doesn't getlost, create a PR platform you can rely on as the basis for allinterviews. This platform will be particularly useful if there ismore than one person in your company who may be interviewed by thepress, because it will guarantee consistent messaging.
What are the key messages you want to convey about your company,its products or services? Take a look at your advertising,brochures and web content; and identify up to three primary themesor copy points. Then weave them into a one-paragraph platform.Don't forget, your task is to create a PR platform that conveysyour central themes in a way that also meets the needs of theaudience.
59. Contacting the Press
Always begin by creating a "press list." This is a listof media that reach large numbers of your target audience and arelooked to as reputable sources of information. Then selectdifferent media from your press list to receive various types ofstories.
Before you decide what type of information to send, get copiesof each publication to learn what kind of information will be mostrelevant to that publication's readers. For example, if yourfirm wins a local award, your release may be of interest to yourhometown newspaper. But if you invent a breakthrough medicalproduct, you should target general-business, consumer and medicaltrade press with your story.
To keep your press release from being lost in the hundreds orthousands of releases editors receive each week, take the time toresearch the name of a specific editor, news director or journalistto receive it. If you've become familiar with the newspapers,magazines and broadcast news stations you're targeting, it willbe easy to identify the individuals who typically handle storieslike yours.
60. Why Press Releases Are King
It's a well-known fact that a company's visibility willincrease with powerful publicity. After all, publicity aims tobring the news of your company to the world. And the most importanttool you can use to accomplish this is the press release.
What exactly should be covered in a press release? Think alongthe lines of "newsy" and interesting topics. Examplesinclude: your online presence; important information and toolsregarding a change in management or the business components youoffer; special information that can be obtained online; theannouncement of articles, events and appearances; relevantworksheets, tips and techniques; and so on.
When writing a press release, your goals should be uniqueness,timeliness and top-of-the-mind awareness. Once you achievepublicity and visibility, both your company profile and your clientand prospect levels will rise. One successful story about yourcompany resulting in free publicity is advertising worth hundredsand thousands of dollars.
Get Your Business Organized
61. Get Others Organized
You may have this organization stuff down pat, but what about yourbusiness partners, spouse or business associates? No matter howneat you are, the disorganization of others can impact yourbusiness. Try this to bring a little more order into the lives ofthose around you:
- Use positive reinforcement. Instead of focusing on otherpeople's disorganization, praise them when they make an attemptto get organized. They knows they're disorganized and don'tneed to hear your criticism.
- Teach by example. You can't expect someone to listento you extol the virtues of organization when you're a messyourself. If you've changed your style from disorganized toorganized, be willing to share the secrets behind yourtransformation.
- Be patient and realize everyone is organized to a differentdegree. Keep in mind that if someone changes one bad organizinghabit, his or her productivity will start to increase. Give thatperson time to make changes and offer encouragement when he or shemakes an effort to get organized.
62. Bit by Bit
Organizing projects are best done one piece at a time. Follow thesetips to whittle down each step in your process:
- Determine the main areas you need to organize, and enter themon a list in your daily planner, handheld or contact manager.
- Break these areas into smaller tasks, and enter those tasks onthe list. Make the tasks small enough that they're manageablebut not so small that they're insignificant.
- Put a realistic deadline next to each task.
- As you accomplish each task and organize various areas, removethe task from your list.
- Avoid the tendency to bounce around your office from one areato another while organizing. When you focus on one area, you'llbe able to accomplish more.
63. Clean Out Your Drawers
If you're buried under a pile of papers and your drawers arefilled with more napkins, pen caps and sugar packets than usableoffice supplies, it may be time to clean out your desk. But wheredo you begin? Here are five steps to help you de-clutter your deskdrawers:
- Remove. Whatever your situation, the first step is toremove everything--take out all the pens, pencils, clips, sugarpacks, tea bags, photos, keys and dried-up candy.
- Sort. As you remove items, sort according to like items.Sorting shows that you have 87 pens and 830 clips. Ask yourself,"Do I really need so many?"
- Eliminate. After you've discovered that 54 pensdon't even work, or that the sugar packets are rock-hard, thenyou can eliminate the items directly into the trash or into a boxlabeled "to go elsewhere."
- Contain. Stop and think--if you put all that stuff backinto the drawer, it will soon be a jumbled mess again. Instead,keep those groups sorted and separated at all times by firstcontaining them. If you put each group in a drawer divider orshallow box before placing them back in the drawer, they'llstay in one place.
- Assign. Don't just stick the containers in thedrawer. Assign them a place. Unassigned items simply float fromplace to place.
64. Write It Down
Experts recommend entrepreneurs employ not one but two to-do lists.The master list contains a maximum of three items of long-termimportance, like "grow sales" or "get newcustomers." The second list contains day-to-day to-dos thatrepresent tactical steps to completing those strategic to-dos.
Once you have your lists written, categorize all items, taggingthem as projects, phone calls, errands, agenda items, work to bedone at your computer or desk, things you can do anywhere, anditems that aren't urgent.
Review your list items frequently to see if items are listedcorrectly and should be there to begin with. Working over your listin advance daily and weekly means that, when you consult your list,you don't have to rethink your commitment and your plan rightthen.
Don't forget to cross things off once you've completedthem. Checking off your to-do list not only keeps you organized,but also shows exactly how much you've accomplished.
65. Get in Control!
To work productively and efficiently, you need to create a workenvironment that supports you. Regain control of your work life byfollowing these steps:
- 1. Create your vision of a clean work environment. Usingyour existing office space, sketch the ideal configuration of youroffice on paper. Remember to create a space for your old projectfiles, financial statements and client information.
- 2. Take one day, right now, and organize. You will neverhave the time to organize unless you schedule it on your calendar.Using your sketch as a guide, go after your mess.
- 3. Unsubscribe from information overload. Throw away themagazines and catalogs you will never read--they just sit there andtaunt you. Cancel unwanted subscriptions, and get off any mailinglists that do not help you achieve success.
- 4. Create a new project file folder. A new projectusually generates a temporary mess. To avoid spillover, put all newproject information, drafts and associated paperwork into anexpandable file folder.
- 5.Schedule one cleanup day after every vacation. Add oneday to your vacation to organize your thoughts, projects andpriorities. A cleanup day lets you organize paperwork from previousprojects, pay outstanding bills and answer client mail.
Take Your Sales Skills to the Next Level!
66. Dust Yourself Off
There isn't a salesperson alive who hasn't experienced aslump. If you find yourself coasting downhill, here are four stepsto follow to pick yourself back up:
- Call on your satisfied customers. Look for additionalways to satisfy their needs or new needs you can meet. Learn abouttheir new problems and challenges, and come back to them with freshsolutions.
- Concentrate on bread-and-butter accounts. Differentaccounts have different sales cycles, with some taking up to a fewyears. Sometimes, you get so caught up with landing big one thatyou forget about little accounts with shorter sales cycles that canbring in money now.
- Stay on top of business and world news, and how these eventsmight affect customers. Look for sources that will give you newideas on how to fine-tune your activities and target your customersmore efficiently. Read materials that will help you speak to yourcustomers in their language. Learn more about how other people grewtheir businesses.
- Be selective about the company you keep. If everyonearound you is in a slump as well, you'll drag each other down.Surround yourself with people who are excited about what they doand ride on their momentum until you can build your own.
67. How'd I Do?
How can you improve if you don't find out where you went wrongand what you did right? Always ask for feedback. If you want toimprove your sales presentations or your relationships withcustomers, ask them what you need to do to maintain and increasetheir business. While a great learning tool, asking for acustomer's opinion is also a good way to show customers youcare and are willing to work at solving problems. Asking forfeedback can also save a customer relationship. While dissatisfiedcustomers don't always complain, they very rarely buy from youa second time. 68. Listen Up!
One of the most important things you can do to become a better toseller is to become a better listener. You should be listening atleast 50 percent of the time.
Improve your listening skills by taking notes, observing yourprospect's body language, not jumping to conclusions andconcentrating on what your prospect is saying. Also, track how muchtalking you're doing. If you're talking twice as much asyour prospect, or more, it's time to take the backseat andlisten.
69. Learn From Your Mistakes
While there's no way to completely avoid making mistakes, thereare still plenty of ways to get the most out of the mistakes we domake. Here are three methods to deal with your mistakes:
- Put your ego aside. It's easy to get angry orfrustrated when things don't go your way, and hold on to theidea that it's someone else's fault things went wrong. Butthere's only one way to find out what the problem was--ask thecustomer. Listen to what they have to say and see if there'sstill time to save the sale.
- Use a setback as a setup for future success. Let yourerrors be the motivation for making improvements the next timearound. You've put in a lot of time and effort--and if youdon't learn from what went wrong, all that time is wasted.
- Take a proactive approach. Read everything you can aboutyour profession, industry, products and services. Meet with peoplewho have particular skills and talents and share information withthem. Keeping your mind fine-tuned helps you eliminate makingfuture mistakes.
70. What Not to Do
To sell smarter you need to eliminate all those things that wasteyour, and your customer's, time. How can you work moreefficiently? Try steering clear of these time-wasters:
- Dealing with people who can't make the buyingdecision. Make sure the person you're speaking to is adecision-maker. Don't be afraid to call the higher levels, eventhe president of your target company.
- Working without a priority list. Make a top 10 list ofyour biggest accounts and a top 10 list of your biggest prospects.Look at this list every day to keep yourself focused so you canspend your energy on getting the best return on yourinvestment.
- Relying on technology rather than on relationships.Sales are made from relationships, and it's difficult toestablish relationships on a computer screen. Keep e-mailsshort--remember they're great for passing information but cannever take the place of one-on-one communication.
Protecting Your Business
71. Preparing for the Worst
In case of an emergency, such as a flood, fire or earthquake,it's tough for even the strongest of us to keep a level head.So why worry about what's going to happen to your clients,contacts and important documents in the heat of the moment? Why notstart planning for disaster now? Here are four things to thinkabout:
- Business-interruption insurance and records reconstruction aregood policies to look into. Although disaster insurance can becostly, it may also be worth checking out.
- Be sure to back up all your crucial data and keep those filesoff site in a safe place. And be sure to check on them from time totime.
- Make copies of important paperwork such as customer contracts,employee information and legal documents, and keep those off siteas well.
- Make sure that each of your outside vendors also has a disasterplan in place. You don't want your business adversely affectedbecause one of your vendors hasn't planned ahead.
72. Peace of Mind
Just as you wouldn't drive a car without insurance, it'sbest not to open a business without some type of coverage. So whereand how do you begin? Just follow the steps below to get yourbusiness covered.
- Find an agent. Locating an agent to help you identifythe right insurance at the right price should be a high priorityfor every new business owner.
- Types of insurance. After you decide on an agent, sitdown with him or her to consider what types of insurance you mayneed. These might include property, liability, auto, workers'compensation and business interruption insurance.
- Research your options. As with any buying decision,comparison-shop insurance policies and coverage and make sure youunderstand what you're comparing.
Lastly, here are some general rules for insurance coverage:
- Consider buying a combination policy that covers both propertyand liability coverage. This could save you some money.
- Look for a small-business insurance package that includes afull range of coverage. This is often much cheaper than buyingcoverage from several different companies.
- See what your trade or professional association, chamber ofcommerce or other business association offers for group insurancecoverage. The buying power of a large group may mean lower ratesfor you.
73. Why Can't We Be Friends?
You just lost one of your employees--does that mean clients aresoon to follow? It could if you didn't make employees sign anoncompete agreement.So what is this magic contract? What does itdo? Who should sign it?
A noncompete agreement is a formal contract between you and youremployees in which they promise not to use information or contactspertinent to your business in a competing situation. This couldmean going to work for a competitor or starting a competingbusiness of their own.
Which employees should sign noncompete agreements? While theprerequisites vary from business to business, the following is agood general list. (The term "employees" in this listrepresents executive level, management, supervisory andnon-management personnel that are relative to that example.)
- Employees involved in research or product development.
- Employees involved in the design, fabrication, engineering andmanufacturing process.
- Employees who service products made and sold by yourcompany.
- Sales and service employees who have regular contact withcustomers or sensitive customer information.
- Employees with access to sensitive business information ortrade secrets.
- Most importantly, employees who have sufficient informationabout your business that would allow them to start a competingbusiness.
74. Get It in Writing
If you're doing business with someone, whether as a client or aprovider, you're going to need a contract. Ideally, you'dhave a top law firm at your disposal to hammer these things out foryou, but the reality for most entrepreneurs is that they have to dothese things themselves.
So what should a contract say? Here are the essential elementsof a business agreement:
- The parties to the agreement. In other words, yourbusiness name and the name of the other party, whether that's acustomer or a vendor.
- What each party is going to gain from the agreement.This is referred to in legal vocabulary as consideration.
- The main terms of the contract. For example, what eachparty is promising to do. Obviously, it's extremely importantthat this part of the contract be very specific and include suchthings as the work to be performed, the price to be paid for thework, how and when payment will be made, when the work will becompleted, how long the contract will be in effect, and whethereither party is "warranting" anything.
- Execution. Be sure both parties sign the contract andthat the person signing (if he or she is representing a company)has the authority to sign.
- Date. This is the date the contract is signed.
- Delivery. Make sure each party receives a copy of thefinal signed agreement.
75. It's the Thought That Counts
Assets such as intellectual property, trade secrets, pricingformulas, customer lists, business plans, recipes and the like aretypically the foundation upon which a company is built in abusiness world full of copycat competitors.
Here are five ways to protect the ideas, designs and plans thatmake your business unique:
- Patents, copyrights and trademarks. These are legalfilings that document your ownership and create certain legalprotections to help you protect your property. Have your attorneyassist you with these applications.
- Confidentiality or nondisclosure agreements. Thesedocuments commit a party to keeping specified data and informationconfidential and out of the hands of unintended parties. Alwaysconsult an attorney on this.
- Employment agreements. These agreements stipulate thatall company assets are proprietary and that unauthorized disclosureof confidential information such as pricing formulas, customerlists and other data and information is prohibited.
- Computer passwords, safes and locked file cabinets. Whenused properly, they can restrict access to proprietaryinformation.
- Data backup. Back up everything that is important.Digital documents should be backed up on a server that's in adifferent location or on a zip disk or CD that's kept offsitealong with copies of important physical documents. Absolutely donot attempt to store anything important in your head.
Who Should You Be Marketing To?
76. The Military Market
The armed forces are a massive market, says Christopher Michel,president of Military.com, a San Francisco-based military affinitymarketing company that connects public- and private-sector clientsto military audiences. With about 3 million active armed forcesmembers and reservists, he estimates the tangential markets ofveterans, family members, defense workers and the like to be ashigh as 50 million.
Serving the special needs of this mobile, family-orientedaudience is one way to get their attention--and their dollars.Training companies (which may qualify for reimbursement throughmilitary education benefits) as well as relocation services,financial consultants, consumer goods shops and furnishingsretailers are some businesses that are a natural fit, saysMichel.
Saying you're patriotic is all well and good, but lipservice isn't going to cut it. Michel counsels his clients toback up "thank you" with some sort of discount ortangible benefit, such as a free gift, or even going beyond thecall of duty and hiring veterans or support reservists to work inyour company. And the best way to reach this market, says Michel,is word-of-mouth. Because of the close communities on many bases,people talk to each other about companies that support militarymembers, so the word spreads quickly.
77. The Hispanic Market
Some 38.8 million Hispanics live in the United States, according to2002 Census Bureau estimates, and their influence is huge andgrowing. Hispanics control about $653 billion in spending power,and that number is expected to top $1 trillion by 2008, accordingto the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University ofGeorgia in Athens.
Entrepreneurs can find numerous niches in this vast market.Populations of Americanized, predominantly English-speaking second-and third-generation Hispanics are on the rise. This group wants tobe marketed to as part of the mass market--not as a separateentity, says Luis Garcia, president of Garcia 360°, anadvertising firm in San Antonio, Texas, specializing in theHispanic market. So speak to cultural differences subtly in yourmarketing messages (for example, cast a Hispanic family inads--complete with grandparents in the home, which notes the largefamily influence). Consider using Spanglish, English mixed withSpanish words or phrases, to communicate to this market. Don'tbe superficial, though: Garcia recommends getting into grass-rootscampaigns by sponsoring Hispanic community events or charities.
Opportunities exist in nearly every industry segment--from foodand entertainment to financial services and Web services. Addingnew flavor lines to existing food products, for example, is one wayto enter this market. Or partner with a manufacturer in a LatinAmerican country to distribute its products here in the UnitedStates.
Baby boomers--the 80 million Americans born between 1946 and1964--have a lot on their minds these days. Their kids are goingoff to college. They're watching wrinkles and stubborn poundspile on. They're worried about retirement after losing $8trillion in the stock market. And their parents are passing away,leaving some boomers with inheritances to manage.
Their life changes can be your gain. Boomers comprise half ofthe $7 trillion in consumer spending every year, says Ken Gronbach,president of KGC Direct LLC, a Higganum, Connecticut, company thatspecializes in generational marketing. The key to capturing boomerswill be helping them feel comfortable with themselves--becausetheir worst fear is turning into their parents. Aging "is verypainful for them," Gronbach says.
Boomers will spend whatever it takes to boost their confidence,feel more secure and recapture their youth. Opportunities abound inretirement and financial planning, spa and fitness, comfortableclothing, motor homes, luxury homes, low-maintenance pets andclassic cars.
For many seniors, the golden years represent a period ofrelaxation--a breath of fresh air after a lifetime of work andresponsibility. For today's entrepreneurs, meanwhile, thegolden years also mean a golden opportunity. Visible on the horizonis an unprecedented demand for senior care and other seniorservices. During the next 30 years, the number of people 65 andolder is expected to double, and the number of people over age 85will triple, according to James Firman, president and CEO of TheNational Council on the Aging. "There will be a huge expansionin the need for services to help people stay at home or in whateverfacilities they're in," he says. The senior-care industrywill "definitely be a major growth industry."
According to Steve Barlam, president of the National Associationof Professional Geriatric Care Managers, 60 percent of thoseseeking a care manager's services are managing theirparents' care from a distance, while the remainder live nearbybut don't have time to handle all the arrangements. In othercases, there's a conflict between family members, and anobjective third party is needed. This translates into a growingneed for products and services to help this "sandwichgeneration." These can range from providing senior day-carecenters to in-home care services, companionship and even in-homebeauty services.
Marketers of any product or service can adopt a service philosophythat delivers the product design elements and customer service thatwomen want. Once you translate these expectations to your marketniche, you'll win the hearts and pocketbooks of women.
Women's earning power is escalating: They comprise over halfof all college students and about 38 percent of small-businessowners, according to 2002 figures from the Bureau of LaborStatistics. A February 2002 study by Prudential Financial foundthat, of the 400 American women surveyed, 37 percent live inhouseholds with incomes of $50,000 to $100,000, and 12 percent livein households with more than $100,000 in annual income. Nearly halfof adult women are solely responsible for saving money for theirhouseholds.
So what can you do to make sure you attract women to yourbusiness? Try these tips:
- Get the little stuff right, and the big stuff will take care ofitself. Women develop a collage of impressions about a businessfrom a hundred small factors. Everything from its cleanliness tothe design of the shopping bag gets a woman's attention. Smartbusiness owners turn this to their advantage by investing in smallamenities women can appreciate.
- Women have so many work and family responsibilities, theydon't have time to research and ponder every buying decision.Offering carefully selected choices will have women choosing yourbusiness over an overwhelming A-to-Z plethora.
- Whether buying for themselves or for the businesses they own ormanage, women make final purchasing decisions based on theirrelationship with the seller, not on statistics and quantitativedata. Given a choice between two nearly identical products, womenare likely to decide based on customer service and the ongoingrelationship with the vendor.
81. Chill Out
Unfortunately, building a business doesn't come easy. There aretough choices to make, a million things to do, and stress, stress,stress. Before you pull your hair out, take a deep breath and trythese tips for reducing your stress:
- Create a master list of goals. Break your larger goalsinto realistic short-term goals, and break short-term goals intorealistic steps you can take immediately.
- Remember, happiness is your end game. Instead ofstopping when you become frustrated, simply decide on the bestaction you can take, and take it.
- Evaluate and learn from your actions. At the end of theday, congratulate yourself for what you've accomplished, andlet go of what you have not.
- Realize you don't have to do this alone. As you growyour business, many tasks become routine and can be accomplished bysomeone else. Develop a list of these tasks, and delegate them soyou can concentrate more on growing your business.
82. Get Out of Town
Everyone needs a break, even entrepreneurs. But if you're justnot comfortable leaving your business in someone else's handsfor a few weeks while you sip cocktails on the beach, take babysteps. How about a mini-break? For some business owners, it'seasier to get away if they think of their trip as a long weekendrather than a full-fledged holiday.
If you do manage to get away, it might still be difficult toleave it all behind. On vacation, set clear limits on how longyou'll work--if at all. Remember, you need to get away from theoffice, not bring the office with you. So schedule your vacationtime, delegate what you can and just go.
Here are some easy ways to make your vacation dreams into arelaxing reality:
- Vacation during the slowest time of the year.
- Take three-day weekends as mini-vacations.
- Discover new, fun activities close to home.
- Turn off that cell phone and leave the laptop behind.
- If you must work, limit it to just one hour a day.
- Throw caution to the wind. Just go!
83. On the Home Front
For homebased entrepreneurs, making the distinction between homelife and work life is the most difficult because work takes placein the home. To maintain the stability of your home life, and,possibly, your sanity, follow these seven tips to keep your officefrom completely invading your home.
- Clearly differentiate your workspace from the rest of thehouse.
- Set definite work hours.
- Have a signal that makes it clear when you don't want to bedisturbed.
- Learn how to say, "No, I'm working now," andstick to it.
- Use a separate business phone line.
- Soundproof your office.
- Have a separate outside office entrance.
84. Watch the Clock
There are never enough hours in the day. While you can't slowdown time or make the day longer, you can make the most out of the24 hours you do have. Use these five steps to take the crunch timeout of your workday:
- Plan tomorrow today. At the end of each workday, take ablank sheet of paper and write down everything you must accomplishtomorrow in the order the tasks should be done. The next day, youwon't have to decide what to do first, and crossing off thethings you accomplish will give you great satisfaction.
- Learn to prioritize. All your daily activities can bebroken down into three categories. The first, the "A"list, represents prospecting for new business. Next is the"B" list--growing and expanding current business. Thisincludes activities that build on existing relationships andgenerate more business from current clients. Lastly, there'sthe "C" list, nonselling activities that include writingreports, proposals, follow-up letters and thank-you notes.
- Don't waste travel time. One of the most valuabletime-management tools is the tape recorder. When driving, speakinto a recorder, dictating notes and reminders of things you haveto do. The next best travel tool is your cell phone, which you canuse to make or return calls when riding to a destination.
- Don't put off 'til tomorrow . . . Onetime-management expert's favorite tip involves eliminatingprocrastination. To get his staff ready to go first thing eachmorning, he suggests they spend 20 minutes on the ride to worklistening to motivational tapes and then get started making callsas soon as they get to their desks.
- Give yourself a break. Time-management techniquesaren't going to provide effective solutions if you don'thave the energy to give 100 percent. So take a few minutes and walkaround the office or around your building, go out to lunch. Theideas that wouldn't come to you in the office might pour outonce you're in a new environment.
85. We're a Happy Family
Even if you're not running a family business, your businessstill impacts the lives of everyone in your family. So how do youmanage to be a good spouse, parent and child while powering yourway to the top of the business world? Here are some tips that,while they won't guarantee happiness 24/7, will help harmonizeyour home and work lives:
- Call a "family meeting." Discuss ways you canshare the responsibilities of the home, including childcare,cooking and cleaning. If you and your spouse are reaching yourlimits, are there other adults in the family--aunts, uncles,brothers, sisters, grandparents--or friends who can provide somehelp?
- Don't try to be a superhero and handle everythingalone. Ask yourself, "Is my spouse doing all they can? Arethe children pitching in?" Have you divided both childcare andhousework in your household?
- Take advantage of technology. Stay accessible via cellphones, pagers, e-mail and fax capabilities. If something happensat home, how easily can you be reached?
- Watch for burnout. Live by the motto "If Idon't take care of myself, I won't be able to take care ofanother."
Get Involved With Your Community!
86. Encourage Employees to Give Back
A big part of community involvement is giving employees the freedomto do charitable work as well. One simple way is to offer paid timeoff for volunteer work. Whether it's eight hours a year or 40hours, your gift of time will encourage their charitablenatures.
"At our company, any employee can take off 40 hours a yearto do charitable work, so if they want to spend a week to build ahouse with Habitat for Humanity, we'll pay for it," saysCraig Hall, author of The Responsible Entrepreneur and owner ofHall Financial Group. "Most times, if companies encourageemployees to volunteer, those employees will take them up on it.Now, as a smaller company, maybe you can't be that extreme, butyou could allot a smaller amount of time-say, 20 hours-forvolunteer work."
87. Create a City Where People Want to Live
As an entrepreneur, the first thought on your mind might not be thehealth of your city, but it should be. If your town thrives, yourbusiness is rewarded with a larger customer base and a betterpotential work force. Your business then gives back by hiring morelocal workers and contributing more taxes. And one of the keyelements to fostering a healthy city is to attract the creativefolks who will start and work in innovative businesses.
The newest generation of workers, says Kip Bergstrom, executivedirector of the Rhode Island Econommic Policy Council, want qualitycities and the chance to help build those cities. "By beingpart of that [building process], entrepreneurs are modeling abehavior that's attractive to their current and prospectiveworkers." For example, members of the Rhode Island TechnologyCouncil, a private/public partnership designed to stimulatetechnology and innovation, have worked hundreds of hours with localsecondary schools and colleges to help create a tech-savvy workforce.
Donate your time and know-how to help new companies get a legup. Sponsor arts events. Look into a new location in an areaundergoing redevelopment. Join planning committees. You'vebuilt a great business; now use that knowledge to help build agreat city.
88. Share the Riches of Your Business
Are you interested in doing community work that directly involvesyour business? Try these ideas:
- If you're in the food business, donate excess food tohomeless shelters.
- If you're in the music business, arrange for small, freeconcerts at homes for the elderly.
- If you're a financial person, offer to give some counselingsessions or seminars at a neighborhood center on budgeting or debtmanagement.
- If your business provides an infrastructure-relatedskill--plumbing, electrical, construction and so on--you have ampleopportunities to satisfy your community improvement urges bydonating your skills to impoverished families or local nonprofitagencies.
- If you offer professional services like dentistry, taxpreparation or attorney services, donate your time to those whocan't afford it.
- If you're a b-to-b service provider--marketing, PR,financial, Web design, IT and so on--offer your expertise to localnonprofit agencies.
89. How to Get Involved
There are no end of good causes that can use a helping hand. Everycommunity--no matter how small--offers scores of avenues for anorganization to get involved. Here are just a few ideas that mightwork for your company:
- Join an adopt-a-highway program.
- Offer high school or local college students the opportunity forreal-world experience with an intern program.
- Provide food for the elderly or homeless: Help financially orby serving meals.
- Sponsor broadcast public-service announcements.
- Host an American Red Cross blood drive at your place ofbusiness.
- Help with fundraising for any number of good socialcauses.
- Get involved with a high-profile telethon for your local publictelevision.
- Work with a local environmental group to clean up a nearbynatural area.
- Consider sports sponsorships, especially for teams fromdisadvantaged neighborhoods.
- Get involved with a walk, bike or run for diseaseresearch.
- Approach a service group in your community and ask them todevelop a project for your umbrella sponsorship.
- Look into mentoring programs for local young people.
90. Why You Should Be a Do-Gooder
By their very nature, small businesses depend more on their localcommunities than do large corporations. You don't succeed in acommunity without getting involved. It's good for business,it's good for the community, and, ultimately, it's good foryou. To enhance your job satisfaction and enjoyment of your localcommunity, you and your company should become good corporatecitizens.
There's a range of rewards for good corporate citizenship,including these:
- It brings personal satisfaction, since you can really choosethe public service arenas in which you and your company will becomeactive.
- You'll meet other business leaders and get to know themface to face, often outside their normal "businesspersonalities." This interaction can be personallyrewarding--and it expands your network of business contacts.
- You'll keep from being too one-dimensional through yourwork. If you don't have time for community involvement, youneed to make time for community involvement.
- If you're running your own business, you've likely beenluckier than most on the way up. Making your company a goodcorporate citizen is a way to "give something back."
- When businesspeople go out of their way to make an impact onthe community, that's news. You may garner positive presscoverage for your efforts.
- You can increase the quality of the people you draw to yourcompany. Your high-minded community commitment will attract otherhard-working, like-spirited employees.
Creating True-Blue Customers
91. After the Sale . . .
Demonstrate that you care about the quality of your service. Callcustomers after a sale and ask them questions like:
- Are you pleased with the service you received?
- What did you like most about working with us?
- What would you like to see improved?
Without this invaluable information, you'll have a hard timeimproving your products and services. Besides, when you askcustomers for feedback and implement their comments, they feel asense of ownership in what you're doing and thus become moreloyal to your products and services.
Additionally, consistently write thank-you notes. This is ano-brainer, but you'd be surprised at how many entrepreneursneglect to write thank-you notes--especially when they get reallybusy. Take the time to show your customers that you genuinelyappreciate their business. They'll remember your thoughtfulnessbecause most of your competition won't send out thank-younotes.
92. Hey! Remember Me?
Write old customers personal, handwritten notes frequently. "Iwas just sitting at my desk and your name popped into my head. Areyou still having a great time flying all over the country? Let meknow if you need another set of luggage. I can stop by with ourlatest models any time." Or if you run into an old customer atan event, follow up with a note: "It was great seeing you atthe CDC Christmas party. I'll call you early in the New Year toschedule a lunch."
Also, remember special occasions. Send regular customersbirthday cards, anniversary cards, holiday cards...you name it.Gifts are excellent follow-up tools, too. You don't have tospend a fortune to show you care; use your creativity to come upwith interesting gift ideas that tie into your business, thecustomer's business or his or her recent purchase.
With all your existing customers can do for you, there'ssimply no reason not to stay in regular contact with them. Use yourimagination, and you'll think of plenty of other ideas that canhelp you develop a lasting relationship.
93. Toot Your Own Horn
Let customers know what you're doing for them. This can be inthe form of a newsletter mailed to existing customers, or it can bemore informal, such as a phone call. Whatever method you use, thekey is to dramatically point out to customers the excellent serviceyou're giving them. If you never mention all the thingsyou're doing for them, they may not notice. You aren'tbeing cocky when you talk to customers about all the workyou've done to please them. Just make a phone call and let themknow they don't have to worry because you handled thepaperwork, called the attorney or double-checked on theshipment--one less thing they have to do. 94. Beyond theBasics
Do you have a dedicated staff or channel for resolving customerproblems quickly and effectively? How about online customerassistance? One of the best ways to add value and stand out fromthe competition is to offer your customers superior customerservice. Customers often make choices between parity products andservices based on the perceived "customer experience."This is what they can expect to receive in the way of support fromyour company after a sale is closed. Top-flight customer service onall sales will help you build repeat business, create positiveword-of-mouth and increase sales from new customers as aresult.
One simple way to increase the reach of your customer service isto empower your employees. Giving employees some flexibility inhandling problems that arise benefits your business in severalways. Research has shown that employees who have this kind offreedom begin to think more strategically about their work andabout your business. They endear themselves to your customersbecause they act as customer advocates. They go beyond satisfyingneeds to exceeding expectations. And because they are thoroughlyfamiliar with your company's product or service, the companyphilosophy, the state of the industry, and the ins and outs of goodbusiness practices, such employees can "sell" yourbusiness again and again, giving you a competitive advantage.
95. Keep 'Em Coming Back for More
With the skyrocketing cost of customer acquisition, it makes senseto focus on retaining and up-selling current customers. It can costas much as five times more to win a new customer than to keep anold one. Customer loyalty programs (aka reward programs) havebecome essential in price-sensitive arenas and where there aresimilar products or services. About half of all Americans belong toat least one.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating a rewardprogram:
- Choose the right rewards--in-kind rewards (buy five, and thesixth one is free) are less costly and are clearly associated withyour business.
- Tell customers what to expect; this entices them to makepurchases toward their goals.
- Reward your best customers by offering graduated awards withincreasing cash value. This turns low-value customers intohigh-value ones, and it avoids the pitfalls of other types ofreward programs, which attract less-profitable priceswitchers.
- Reward at enrollment to encourage customers to register, andmeasure performance by setting goals for the program and constantlymonitor the results.
Achieving Your Business Goals
96. Revisiting Your Goals
The value of a goal lies in the way it provides you with arelatively steady, unwinking light toward which to steer in the fogof everyday business life. But that doesn't mean a goal shouldbe as immovable as a lighthouse. You should periodically take afresh look at your goals to see if they need to be changed or,perhaps, dumped. Changes in your personal situation, such as adesire to spend more time with your family, may cause some goals tobecome irrelevant to your true desires. Of course, the best reasonto scrap a goal is because it's been accomplished.
The last thing you need to know about goals is that they arejust that--goals. They aren't preordained events that willoccur whether or not you work toward them. In other words, justhaving a goal of reaching $10 million in sales doesn't meanyou'll achieve it. Nor should the accomplishment of a goal beconsidered absolutely necessary to your personal well-being. Somegoals are more important than others, but it's not wise to beso committed to a given goal that, if you don't achieve it orit's not all you hoped it would be, you'll be emotionallydestroyed.
97. Loosen Up!
If setting and achieving your goals isn't fun, then why bother?Let your imagination carry you away to your greatest and wildestdreams, and don't limit your possibilities. Play with yourgoals; try being outrageous and notice how that feels. Makinggoal-setting a joyous activity improves your chances of achievingyour goals--and setting new ones that will challenge you to reacheven greater heights.
And if you fail? Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and createa new goal. We've all set goals we've failed to reach. As aresult, many people create enormous mental barriers when they thinkabout goal-setting, turning goals into yet another opportunity tofear failure or blocking themselves from aiming at what they trulydesire. A "failure" is only a failure when you learnnothing from it.
98. The Power of Visualization
As you begin to write down your goals, place yourself in thefuture--and make it seem real. Write down the date by which thegoal will be accomplished, then stop, close your eyes and imaginethat you are there. Visualize yourself as clearly as you can--whatyou are wearing, where you are, what you are doing. How does itfeel to have accomplished that goal? Make the vision as real as youcan, involving all your senses.
When you write down your goals, write in the present tense. Forexample, if your goal is to open a restaurant, write as if therestaurant is already successful. That is, "My restaurant,(and put in the name here), is a hit! We're booked solid everynight of the week. I've been interviewed in five localnewspapers and have had dozens of calls from people who want toknow if I'm franchising the concept. Everywhere I go, peopletell me how much they love our food!"
Additionally, write down your vision of your ideal life. This isyour grandest vision of your life and your world as you would liveit at your highest purpose and potential. Let your imagination runwild and create the biggest picture possible for yourself. Arethere real-life circumstances that might keep you from your vision("I can't afford it," "I don't have theright training")? Pretend they don't exist and see whatyou can come up with when your possibilities are boundless.
99. Creating Targets Worth Reaching
When looking at new goals, make sure they have the followingqualities:
- Specificity. You stand a better chance of achieving agoal if it's specific. "Raising capital" isn't aspecific goal; "raising $10,000 by July 1" is.
- Optimism. Goals should be positive and uplifting."Being able to pay the bills" is not exactly aninspirational goal. "Achieving financial security"phrases your goal in a more positive manner, thus firing up yourenergy to attain it.
- Realism. If you set a goal to earn $100,000 per monthwhen you've never earned that much in a year, that goal isunrealistic. Begin with small steps, such as increasing yourmonthly income by 25 percent. Once your first goal is met, you canreach for larger ones.
- Thinking short- and long-term. Short-term goals areattainable in a period of weeks to a year. Long-term goals can beachieved five, 10 or even 20 years from now; they should besubstantially greater than short-term goals but should still berealistic.
- 100. Plan for Success
At its simplest, a goal is just something you aim for. But goalsare powerful contributors to successful business growth in severalways. To begin with, the process of setting goals forces you tothink through what you want from your business and how growthmay--may not--provide that. This process helps suggest directionsfor pursuing that growth, which can greatly improve your chances ofachieving your goals in the first place.
Goals also give you a framework within which to work. This tendsto focus your efforts by helping you rule out actions thatwon't contribute to achieving the goals you have set. A veryimportant part of that framework is a timetable. Any good goal hasa timetable, and that timetable will influence your actionsprofoundly. For instance, if your goal is to retire by age 50,you'll know that any growth plan with a payoff that won'toccur by your 51st birthday is not one you'll consider, nomatter how attractive it might otherwise seem.
Lastly, write your goals down and make a cribsheet to post in aplace where you'll see it every day--a bulletin board by yourdesk, your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator. You may thinkyou'll remember your goals five months or five years down theroad, but a visual reminder will do wonders to help you stayfocused on the goals you've set and on the tasks you need tocomplete on a daily basis to reach those goals.