Saturday, October 31, 2009

Business Planning for the Rest of Us

Having a plan is about managing your company, not explaining it.

By Tim Berry

So let's say you don't need a business plan. You say your understanding has always been that business plans are for starting companies. Or maybe because you're not looking to take your existing company to market, borrow money from a bank, sell it or get new investment, you don’t need a plan. Those are myths, and they don’t really argue against business planning. But let's suspend disbelief for a bit and settle for this question: If I don't need a business plan, do I not want to plan my business?

Here are some reasons to have a plan, regardless of whether or not you need to show one to some outsider:

Long-term goals: You want to manage, develop, review and implement long-term business strategy.

Business management: You need to manage teams, tasks and accountability. The problem of who does what, when and how much it costs comes up again and again. Responsibility has to be defined. All of this needs to be written down. You need to know what's going to happen. You need to coordinate between people, vendors, events and so on.

Cash-flow management: You need to manage money. You have to watch sales to be able to manage expenses and, more important, cash flow. You don't need any surprises.

Staying strong: You want to keep your business healthy. That means watching for new opportunities, threats and new developments in your market. You don't want to stagnate.

All of these goals are related to business planning. None of them, however, relates directly to the classic business plan document. They don't involve validating your market or showing off your management team. Nor do they involve valuing your company for investment or proving your company to bankers.

They are about managing the company, not explaining it.

My suggestion: Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Do your planning, whether or not you develop a full, formal business plan. Do just what's necessary, not what the formal business plan would involve.

But what is it, then? Where is it, how do you do it, how do you share it? Here are my recommendations:

Assume the plan will live on your computer. Don't worry about printing it out.

If you're more than one person in your business, get the others involved. If you're a lot of people, then get the important managers involved. Share the planning process. Do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. Set up a schedule for review meetings for comparing plan vs. actual results and making course correction.

Define your strategy in simple bullet points, perhaps pictures. Identify what's special and different about your business--a focused target market, and what you're offering to solve somebody's problems. Include the SWOT. Don't worry about format or tools or software; do whatever works best for you.

Set up a list of dates and deadlines and decide who does what. Determine what is supposed to happen to make that strategy happen.

Run some basic numbers: sales forecast and expense budget.

You don't have to stop life, even temporarily. Don't wait for the big plan to be done. Get going. Put your plan together one piece at a time, on your own schedule, and keep it somewhere easily accessible. Before you know it, you'll be planning to manage your business.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Stretch Your Dollar With Horizontal Marketing

Partnering with a company that shares your target market saves you time and money.

By Sarah Pierce

It's not an offer you see every day: "Buy a House, Get a Free Electric Car." But that's exactly why Chris Schneider, owner of Honda Motorwerks, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, decided to use such an attention-grabbing sales tactic.

Schneider, 51, has been selling environmentally friendly cars for 30 years, but it hasn't been easy to persuade people to make the switch to alternative-fueled vehicles. Over the years, Schneider has tried many tactics to woo more people into buying energy-efficient cars, but it was teaming up with the real estate agent for his "free car" stunt in July that made the biggest impact.

"It certainly gained a great deal of attention. We did this on a Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon I had already received three messages from people interested in the car," he says. So far, no one has purchased the house, but foot traffic at Schneider's dealership has noticeably increased.

Schneider has learned what many business owners have: Horizontal marketing--two businesses with different products but similar clientele join marketing efforts--is a smart way to increase your customer base without increasing your marketing budget.

"Horizontal marketing is easier and cheaper than just about any other form of marketing," says Shel Horowitz, author of Principled Profit. According to Horowitz, competitors can become some of your best allies.

"In the case of horizontal marketing, a competitor might be someone who overlaps with you but doesn't duplicate your offering exactly," Horowitz says. "Both of you benefit by being able to offer a wider range of services and by pleasing clients who might otherwise have felt a need to go elsewhere."

Of course, you don't have to give away an expensive product like Schneider did to please your customers. There are many innovative ways to market your products and services by getting together with another business. Here are three more creative and cheap ways to jump-start your own horizontal marketing campaign.

Cross-endorsement. "If you're a small company without much brand identity, you can ride the coattails of a stronger brand by offering them some type of promotion for their customers, whether that be a product, coupon, etc.," says Denise Patrick, vice president of creative services for Pierpont Communications. "For example, let's say you own the local miniature golf park. Offer the big movie theater in your neighborhood a ton of 'Buy One, Get One Free' tickets. It's a free gift for the movie theater, credibility for you and access to all the teenagers looking for a fun place to take their dates."

Dr. Desiree Edlund, founder of OC Back & Body Doctors, a chiropractic office based in Irvine, California, that offers acupuncture and physical therapy, has been cross-endorsing with a neighboring gym for seven years. Edlund, 37, offers gym members discounts on services and periodically stations a representative in the gym offering free on-site body fat analyses with the results written on her business card.

"Working with the gym has worked out very, very well because the type of people who work out are people who care about their health and wellness, which is exactly the type of customers we like and who like us," Edlund says. "The discounts pay for themselves in repeat business."

Spread out the cost. Patrick encourages neighboring businesses to "think mall" by turning your businesses into a destination "buying experience."

"For example, say you're a bookstore owner located in a strip center along with a children's clothing store and a discount linens store," she says. Together, you can create 'Build a Fort' afternoon for children. The linens store provides the sheets for the forts, the children's store provides costumes and you host a reading."

Offer a full-service brand experience without increasing your overhead. What other services would your clients like to receive? Michael Hart, a small-business marketing consultant for over 20 years, helped one of his clients reach a wider range of customers through a simple horizontal marketing tactic that any business can use. Hart helped a heating and air conditioning company recruit eight other businesses that had similar clientele to be featured in a full-color, 10-page home services coupon catalog. The businesses in the catalog all offered different services--termite and pest control, lawn care, carpet cleaning--but they all marketed to the same type of customers.

"Each vendor increased sales by 20 percent or more, reduced their advertising and mailing costs, and expanded their client base eight-fold," Hart says about the catalog's success.

No matter what type of business you have, there are creative ways to increase your clientele through horizontal marketing. From product giveaways to coupons and discounts, you'll be able to stretch your marketing dollars further by forming a friendly alliance with other businesses in your area.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Should Your Employees Like You?

Use these 5 tips to gain respect from your team and boost your bottom line.

By Nancy Mann Jackson

When a couple of employees were habitually late to work at Oceanside Photo & Telescope in Oceanside, Calif., owner Craig Weatherwax refrained from harsh words or disciplinary action. Instead, he opted for a heart-to-heart discussion, explaining the reasons behind their start time and how their tardiness was affecting other team members.

“I believe there’s a rough and tumble way to handle things,” Weatherwax says. “But I try to use kid gloves, and we all get along better that way.”

Managing employees isn’t a popularity contest, but if your workers like and respect you as a person, your company’s bottom line is likely to show it. Handling problems gently is one way Weatherwax has built positive relationships with his 23 employees, who in turn have helped his business grow to be one of the largest telescope dealers in the United States since he bought it in 1974.

Increasing the Bottom Line
Taking careful steps to build trust, respect and goodwill among employees doesn’t just make it more fun to go to work, it can also boost your bottom line. Research by Leadership IQ shows that “the overwhelming majority of employees are not giving 100 percent at work; 72 percent admit that they’re not giving their all,” says Mark Murphy, CEO of Atlanta-based research firm Leadership IQ and author of Hundred Percenters: Stop Making Your Employees Happy, Start Making Them Great, to be released in November by McGraw-Hill. “One big reason is because their boss is not leading them in a way that encourages them to give 100 percent.”

Employees of large corporations often view themselves as working for an impersonal entity, while those at small businesses conflate the organization and its owner. Quite simply, if employees like and respect you, they’re more invested in your company and interested in its success. They’re willing to work harder and give more. But if they don’t care about you, they don’t care about your company.

“Dislike and disrespect can turn into resentment,” says James Harwood, CEO of Ravens Fire Group, a rental service consulting firm in Asheville, N.C. “Negative attitudes can turn into mediocre work and even theft. Those with negative attitudes can pull down other workers with them.”

For many small companies, employees are the primary asset, says Stephone Darby, president and CEO of Advanced Information Technologies, Inc., in Florence, Ala. “For companies like us, if employees perform their work with expertise and timeliness and provide good customer service, the employer will retain their customers, grow their business with them and get referrals based on their relationship with them,” Darby says. When the employer provides an environment that is conducive to earning respect, employees will perform their work to these levels of expectation. But if there is not a mutual respect between an employer and employees, there is a great likelihood that one or more of these requirements will not be met. In turn, the employer will lose customers and sacrifice the growth of the company.

Employee Relationships in a Recession
While it sounds good to build and maintain positive relationships with employees, priorities often get shifted during an economic downturn--and relationships with employees may suffer. “For the majority of leaders, their leadership performance is suffering right now,” Murphy says.

Some business owners are slacking simply because they can get away with it, as employees are just happy to have a job at the moment, Murphy says. Some others are dealing with such high personal stress levels that they are neglecting to give feedback or provide coaching and training. “They’re so stressed and frazzled that they’re forgetting some of the basics of leading a company,” Murphy says.

But the recession won’t last forever and those companies that survive recessions are the ones that continue to focus on developing high performers and keeping people engaged, Murphy says. “The best way to win in a recession is to keep employees’ chins up.”

Murphy’s research shows about 70 percent of companies that make positive progress during a recession will continue those gains after the recession is over. The organizations that suffer during a recession “often maintain that suffering for a great deal of time after the recession is over,” he says, frequently due to increased turnover rates when the job market improves. “A recession shakes things up in the marketplace and offers an opportunity to take market share. What if you’re the one company that’s able to motivate employees and keep them going while your competitors’ employees are frozen in fear? This is your chance to win.”

Bridge the Boss-Employee Gap
Keep your company afloat through the recession--and ensure that employees will stick around when times get better--with some of the following strategies:

1. Nix double standards. Don’t expect employees to follow your instructions if you don’t follow the same instructions yourself. “You can’t just sit back and not have the same standard for yourself as you have for your employees,” Weatherwax says.

2. Share the work. Nothing widens the gap between employer and employee like doling out the “dirty work,” such as asking employees to do something unethical or simply to work an unreasonable number of hours. To earn employees’ respect, business owners, “should never ask an employee to do something that they would not be willing to do themselves,” Darby says.

3. Make them laugh. Humor is proven to reduce stress and take the edge off of a tense conversation. “As the boss, you can set the tempo or the mood for the business day,” Weatherwax says. “If you can have fun with your employees and joke with them, they’ll have more fun and they’ll joke with the customers too.”

4. Enforce consequences. Whether it’s rewarding good work or holding employees accountable for mistakes, enforcing consistent consequences helps workers know what to expect. “Sometimes in tough times we overlook bad behavior and don’t recognize the good work being done by high performers,” Murphy says.

5. Share your thought process. Especially during tough times when employees are worried about keeping their jobs, you can earn goodwill by being open about the choices you make, whether it’s to cut costs or cut personnel. “The more transparent a leader becomes with his decision making process, the more likely employees are to trust those decisions,” Murphy says. “Share the data, explain where you got that data, and why you decided what you did. What scares employees is the unknown, and if you’re not transparent, they’ll expect the worst.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Proactive Ways to Avoid Legal Trouble

Make sure you aren't discriminating against employees or failing to protect yourself against other legal liabilities.

By Cynthia McCay

After a tumultuous year, I'm thrilled to leap into 2009 with the expectation that this year will hold a myriad of mysteries, successes and peace of mind for us all. However, as a business owner who's crawled through the trenches with the best of them, my wishes are accompanied by a feeling of trepidation. I handle those feelings by making certain I have control over the things I can control.My New Year's gift to you consists of some handy tidbits to keep you in control when it comes to legal liability.

Is there any liability within the workplace that you can prevent? The simple answer is yes, but all of these require attention:

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): Depending on the circumstances, as a business owner you may be liable for what occurs within your workplace. Be familiar with your employees and their relationships with other workers, vendors and clients.

I know an attorney who hired a law clerk in her late 50s. The office manager routinely berated the woman and frequently mentioned that the previous employees were "much younger and faster" than she. Behavior like this is no longer tolerated. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 3 that employees do not have the burden of proof to show intentional discrimination against them based on age to win a case under federal law.

The employee can prevail in a suit and be awarded a handsome settlement on the theory that an employer's practices offered a stronger negative impact on older than younger workers. The ADEA applies to workers ages 40 and up. Congress targeted age discrimination under the ADEA because older employees were disadvantaged in maintaining and recapturing employment, restricted by age limits and adversely affected by unemployment. Congress also knew these issues had an unfortunate influence on the American economy.

The ADEA applies to employers, employment agencies and labor organizations.

Title 7: Another employee at the firm mentioned above often referred to her distaste for homosexuals. A hostile work environment presents a likelihood for litigation if you allow such verbal attacks to occur. Title 7 protects individuals falling within certain protected classes:

Race and color

National origin

Sex, sexuality and pregnancy

Religion and religious practices

In the case of religion, for example, the employer has an assumed duty to accommodate an employee's faith. There are some exceptions to this rule. If the accommodation for the employee is too burdensome and somehow adversely affects business, there may not be a duty to provide certain alterations.

When it comes to national origin, the Act prohibits discrimination against ethnic groups (Italians, Latinos, Poles, etc.). It further prohibits discrimination based on cultural differences (Armenians, Gypsies, Cajuns, etc.). A simple joke at an employee's expense may open the potential for a federal law suit.

Here are additional ways a business owner might experience liability:

Underinsured. State statutes may make the owner of a business liable for accidents or worker's compensation within the workplace if an independent contractor or employer is uninsured or underinsured. Consult an expert in insurance to make sure you are completely covered for all aspects of accidental injury and worker's compensation claims.

Safety. A business owner has a specific responsibility to keep the premises safe for customers and employees. I've seen my share of owners who neglected to shovel a driveway or common area. Such disregard for safety can lead to a debilitating liability and ruin a business in the event of a lawsuit.

Corporations.If you establish a corporation or LLC, you may not be completely protected from personal or corporate liability. Take the time and expense to consult an attorney well-versed in business law.

As we enter this new year, don't give up on your dreams. But make sure you're safe, informed and free of liability.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bank Fees You Don't Know You're Paying

By David K. Randall

Banks are cutting overdraft fees, but there are other hidden charges.

In the wake of the uproar over bank fees charged to debit card holders--and the looming threat of congressional action--banking giants Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo have announced drastic changes to their overdraft policies.

What banking customers might be missing is that debit card overdraft fees are the tip of the iceberg. Banks nickel and dime their customers in numerous other ways that can easily cost the average person $100 or more per year. Adding insult, many of the fees are poorly disclosed and levied regardless of any action the customer does--or doesn't--take.

"There is a long list of fees that people pay that doesn't require any type of acknowledgment on the part of the consumer," said Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at Here are five major areas of hidden bank revenues.

Balance Transfer Fees

Banks commonly mail out ads pitching low interest rates for customers willing to transfer credit card balances from another institution. What many don't advertise is that there is often a balance transfer fee of between 3% and 5% hidden in the fine print.

"If you're transferring a balance from a card with a rate of 15% to a card with a rate or 13%, but you're paying a 3% admission fee, you're not saving any money," McBride said. Moving a balance of $5,000 from one credit card to another with a slightly lower interest rate could result in a $150 charge being added to the balance that you owe and pay interest on.

If you're thinking about switching to a card with a lower interest rate, ask the bank what type of transfer fees it charges. These fees are separate from the annual interest rate that you pay.

Cash Advances

Consumers who take cash advances from their credit cards will also be hit with a transaction fee that they might not have been expecting. As with balance transfers, cash advances often come with a fee that ranges between 3% and 5%. That's not all.

"If cash advances weren't costly enough with interest rates in the high teens, there's no grace period, and the interest clock starts ticking right away," McBride said.

Foreign Currency Surcharges

Using a debit or credit card while traveling overseas is wonderfully convenient. Perhaps too convenient. Over the past few years, banks have commonly started charging a 3% fee for any purchases made in foreign currencies. That means if you go to Paris on vacation and buy presents in euros, the charges will show up on your statement in dollars--with the 3% fees built in.

If you plan to use a debit or credit card abroad, consider opening an account with Capital One or Charles Schwab, whose foreign currency exchange fees run as low as 1%. If you are going to be taking money out of an ATM in another country (another place where banks ring up additional charges), Wells Fargo and PNC offer some of the lowest fees.

Balance Requirements

Many banks offer to waive monthly service fees on checking or savings accounts if customers maintain a collective balance above a set minimum. Dip below it, and you could be hit with a charge of $8 or more every time your balance falls below the minimum.

"These requirements are really a lose-lose proposition," McBride says. "If you don't maintain the balance, you get socked with a fee. If you do maintain it, you have the opportunity costs of stranding money in a low-yielding account when you could be earning a more competitive return in an online savings account."

ATM Fees

Bank of America and other banks now charge customers from other banks $3 to withdraw money from its ATMs. But at least you have to agree to pay the fee at the terminal. What some customers may not realize that is that their own bank often levies a $2 fee every time they use a competitor's ATM as well. Adding up all the bank fees, it may cost $5 to take out $20 of your own money. That's a 25% commission, and the bank didn't have to do a thing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Grow Without Growing Pains

From outsourcing to renting conference space as-needed, create a big-biz feel for your small biz.

By Lesley Spencer Pyle: Home Based Business

Many home based entrepreneurs struggle against the perception that their business is small, maybe too small to effectively serve the majority of consumers. They know image matters. They want to retain their small-business atmosphere while projecting an image that says they're a bigger business. All while staying cost-effective and in control.

If you think a big-business image is the answer for your small business, there are plenty of ways to create that image.

Your website is a great start. Use "we" in the site's copy to let people know you're not a solo act. Clearly display a toll-free phone number throughout the site and have a live person available at the other end of line. Be sure to list your business's phone hours--you don't want to disappoint callers who otherwise might expect to be able to reach your business at all hours.

Another option is to provide a cell phone number that will always be staffed or use one of the many companies that provide answering services. Many are available on an as-needed basis and provide services like taking messages and orders.

You can also make yourself look big by showcasing your ability to do business with bigger companies. Ask some of your big-name clients to provide testimonials and display a choice quote prominently on your homepage.

Outsource or hire staff to expand your business's areas of expertise. This will add depth to your company and can increase customer satisfaction. Build a team that includes an attorney, an accountant, a bookkeeper and administrative help, and, hire a web designer to keep your website content current and fresh.

Provide a professional environment for meetings with current and potential customers. Many small, home based business owners find themselves meeting for lunch or coffee at a restaurant--but what if a customer asks to meet at your office? Fortunately, there are quick solutions to this problem:

For an a la carte or monthly fee, business centers provide conference rooms and receptionist services for functions such as remote-access voicemail and internet tech support. This gives you a professional environment that reflects the image you want to project, and provides staff on a per-use basis.

It's important to be wary of the fine line between looking big and being too big for your britches. Don't set the bar too high--it could break your company and add unnecessary stress as you struggle to maintain your image. By putting together a structure and resources, you can look big and build a strong company while meeting your customers' needs.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grow Your Business With Intention

By Lisa Druxman, Mompreneur

You start your business so you can have a career that's supportive of motherhood. You work hard. You do your best to balance working and raising kids. But what happens when your business takes off?

That's what happened to me. Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining or saying I'm not thrilled about the success of my business. But I started Stroller Strides eight years ago so I could spend most of my time with my son. At the birth of the business, that worked. We got to play after classes. I worked when he was napping. Life was good. But as he grew, so did the business. We are now one of the fastest-growing franchises in the nation, and I'm managing a staff of 12. I'm now the mother of two kids and have less time to spend with my family. I squeeze much of the time I do have with my kids in between work, and even then I'm checking e-mail on my phone.

I have slipped down the slope of good intentions. While my original purpose was to be a mom first and foremost, now I'm balancing full-time work with full-time motherhood. With my son starting third grade, I am greatly aware that I'll never get these precious years back.

I coach countless women on how to achieve their dreams as mom entrepreneurs. My first question is always, "Why do you want to start your business?" If it's to be with your kids, then take your steps carefully. Not many businesses will allow you to balance work and motherhood. Your ultimate goal of success for your business may not match your goal of balance at home.

For me, the solution is a hard look at my time and how I spend it. I've dropped many projects I once thought important but now realize can be done by someone else. I surround myself with a team of incredible employees who share a passion and drive for the business. I trust them to grow my business so I can invest in my family. As a mom entrepreneur, you probably have a desire to have total control and to manage every last detail. I get that. But there aren't enough hours in the day, and no one else can be mommy to your kids. So grow your business with intention. Don't rush toward success, as it may be better if it comes later.

Here are my top five tips to keep you on track as you grow your business:

Stay clear on why you wanted to start your business.

Evaluate how you spend your time regularly.

Ask yourself if any part of your day could be done by someone else. That could be work or it could be housekeeping.

Make yourself a Not-To-Do List. For instance, if time is precious, then you need to commit not to do things: Don't go to unnecessary meetings, waste time on social media sites, etc.

Create a Most Important Thing To Do List. Knowing you can't get everything done, make a list of what's most important to your family, to your work and to yourself each day.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Increase Your Startup's Online Visibility

By Scott Gerber, Young Entrepreneur

The web is the great equalizer in business. Resources aside, every day, billion-dollar businesses and startups compete on an even playing field for internet exposure. To the victor go the spoils: top rankings on major search engines that can skyrocket a business’s revenue into the stratosphere.

The key to a successful search engine optimization campaign is to create a unique language that captures the attention of consumers and becomes synonymous with your brand name. Owning a brand language means that every time prospective customers type your keywords and phrases into a search engine, your site--as well as other websites and media that support your website and its offerings--is the first result they see.

Begin by identifying keywords and phrases that are highly relevant to your product or service. Entrepreneur offers a keyword search tool, and there are other sites such as Network Solutions or Google AdWords to assist you in narrowing down your verbiage. In the early stages of your SEO campaign, your brand language should consist of no more than two or three keywords or phrases. Likewise, it is important to make certain your brand language is uniquely yours so you can "own" it. As an example, an environmentally friendly carwash business may never be able to own the words "car wash" due to the sheer number of car washes in the world, but it may be able to own the phrase "eco-friendly car wash."

Once you've selected your main keywords and phrases, incorporate your brand language into your company tagline, a one-sentence company description and one-paragraph company bio. Along with your individual keywords and phrases, this content will serve as the primary media you will utilize for your SEO campaign.

After you have completed your brand language content, it’s time to distribute your keywords and phrases to specific internet channels. This tactic will increase the number of links driving traffic back to your site and increase the amount of real estate that you control on the web--effectively building your site’s visibility on search engines. Here are five ways to use your brand language to dramatically improve the efficacy of your search engine optimization efforts.

Optimize your website
Making your website search engine friendly is vital to improving your online visibility. Search engine optimization entails placing your brand language in specific areas on your site. For starters, you’ll need a website header title no more than 70-80 characters and a site description no more than 200 characters. Both the title and the description need to include all of your brand language. Additionally, be sure each of your keywords and phrases is included in your site’s meta tags and body text, but be careful not to overuse them. Only use each keyword once in your title, description and meta tags; twice in the site’s main body text is sufficient. Overuse may cause some search engines to define your site as spam, resulting in a lowered site or page ranking. You may also want to consider using online services such as or hiring a reputable SEO firm or consultant to help improve SEO efficacy. Should you decide to use a firm or consultant, avoid anyone who "guarantees" he can get your site to the No. 1 position on Google’s organic search. He'll probably also have a bridge to sell you.

Distribute optimized press releases
Distributing and posting press releases online monthly will create a large number of link-backs to your site, which steadily increases your visibility and site ranking. When composing your press releases, include your keywords and phrases once or--at most--twice within the body text of the release. Once you lock your copy, hyperlink each of your keywords and phrases to link back to your site. In some cases, press release distribution services, such as PR Web, will have you create hyperlinks using their proprietary software. For all other cases, click here to see how to write a simple hyperlink html code. To avoid your releases being read as spam by search engines, only hyperlink one keyword or phrase per 100 characters. Once your release is completed, use wire services such as PR Web and Business Wire to distribute your release to hundreds of sites and journalists. There are also a plethora of free posting sites you can use to increase exposure.

Create social media channels
Social media sites offer your brand the chance to control hundreds of pages of prime real estate on the internet; many of which have high site rankings and lend credibility to your site in the eyes of search engines. Populate your social media profiles with your company tagline, bio and website URL. Tag all image, video and media files that you upload to these sites with your keywords and phrases. Include elements of your brand language in status updates and posts, and utilize free services such as to syndicate your content.

Commenting on blogs and forums
Commenting and blogging on relevant industry threads, websites and forums is another way to create valuable link-backs to your site. Make a list of the top blogs and online sites in your industry. In some instances, you may be able to offer your services as a guest blogger, which would allow you to include your company credentials and brand language in guest posts. For all other sites on your list, comment and respond regularly to posts made by site content providers with relevant advice that incorporates your brand language and website URL. Avoid self-promotion or spam messaging. Whenever you register a user account, use one of your keywords or phrases as your username and include your website URL. In many cases, usernames become hyperlinks when your comments go live.

Produce a viral-ready newsletter
Newsletters that offer valuable content have the ability to exponentially increase a site’s exposure in search engines. Every time you create a newsletter, share it on various social-bookmarking sites to increase exposure. Enable users to easily share the content as well by integrating social media tools such as ShareThis and Tweetmeme or social-bookmarking tools such as Digg and Delicious into your newsletter template. Since social-bookmarking sites and other social media sharing tools will pull the title of your newsletter onto their sites, make sure to always include your brand language in the newsletter’s title.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Take Your Business Video Viral

By David Canoy, Entrepreneur Magazine

Potential viewers: Millions. Potential cost: Next to nothing. Online videos are worth a look.

In 2004, New Jersey native Gary Brolsma became an internet legend when he lip-synched the Romanian pop song "Dragostea Din Tei" into a cheap webcam, and the resulting video, "Numa Numa Dance," went viral. Brolsma wasn't promoting anything; he wasn't even trying to make a viral video. So imagine if he had swapped out that nondescript shirt for one with your company logo or website plastered across it. Millions would have seen it. Cost to you: Almost nothing.

Sound enticing? Unfortunately, creating a low-cost video is harder than it looks. Here are tips for producing a video that spreads at supersonic speed:

1. DIY is dicey, so equip yourself well. Using an inexpensive camcorder, you can easily shoot a video. Editing can be a little trickier, though consumer-friendly video-editing packages--like Apple's iMovie--are getting simpler to use and often feature plug-ins so you can upload your video directly to YouTube and other video-sharing sites. True technophobes can shoot with a Flip Video mini camcorder, which has built-in editing software and one-button uploading to YouTube. But most experts discourage guerrilla marketers from going totally DIY.Kevin Nalty, an established YouTuber (known by his username Nalts) who runs the blog, suggests hiring someone who knows not only production basics but also what works in online video. Says Nalty, "I've seen fairly good production lacking the basic tenets of a popular viral video, and I can tell someone spent money to no avail."

2. Know the essentials. While there may not be any guarantees when creating a viral video, there is some method to the madness. Nalty says a viral video needs to be funny, sexy, shocking, engaging or interactive--even all of the above.Also, a video should never go beyond three minutes and preferably stop at about a minute. You must engage your audience within the first 15 seconds, and you need a big finish--that's what triggers viewers to forward your video.

3. Tap a creator with a built-in audience. If you're a YouTube newbie, you may only get a few dozen hits (mostly from your friends). But Nalty, author of a free e-book loaded with tips, says he gets more than 40,000 views on each video. "The most important way to get organic views is to have your video uploaded by someone who has subscribers," says Nalty, who has about 65,000 subscribers. To find these users, click on YouTube's "Channels" tab, then choose the "Most Subscribed" link.

4. Enlist college kids. If you've got a decent budget, you can hire creative talent on sites like and Nalty charges $3,000 to $10,000. But if you're low on money, Nalty suggests hiring an amateur YouTuber whose style appeals to you. "These college kids know how to tag things well so they appear high in search engines, and they'll create something for a few hundred bucks," Nalty says. Ideally, find someone local so you can meet face to face.

5. Seed, seed, seed. Once your video's on YouTube, you need to promote it. The obvious place to start is with bloggers who cover your industry and can help the video travel. When it comes to viral video, traveling is the name of the game--the faster, the better.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How to Get Out of a Cell Phone Contract

If you try to cancel your cell phone contract after the initial 30-day trial period (20 days for T-Mobile, except in California, where it's 30 days), early-termination fees typically apply.
These fees have gotten a little less onerous in recent years, said Jeff Blyskal, a senior editor for Consumer Reports. Three of the four major carriers now discount the fee by about $5 a month, so 12 months into a two-year contract the charges are:

$120 for Verizon (down from the initial $170).

$125 for AT&T (down from $175).

$130 for Sprint (down from $200).

T-Mobile is the exception, charging $200 at the start of your contract and not discounting it until month 19, when it drops to $100.

The prorated fees apply only to the companies' newer contracts, Blyskal warned. You'll have to check your contract to see what you'd be charged.

If you're trying to avoid the fee, here are some alternatives to consider:

Step down. If your service is simply costing too much, your first move should be to talk with your carrier to see if you can step down to a more affordable plan for the remainder of your contract. Carriers no longer require you to extend your contract if you opt for a cheaper plan, Blyskal said.

Find someone to take over your contract. You could see if any of your friends, family or followers on Twitter want to take over contract, or you could turn to or Cellswapper. The fee to list your contract is $20 at each site. If you find a match, contact your carrier to find out how to complete the transfer. Ask for written confirmation that the transfer has been completed and you're no longer obligated for future charges. (You typically can keep your current cell number if you ask your new carrier to "port" your number from your old phone before completing the transfer.)

Document your problems. If your calls keep getting dropped or service is particularly poor where you live or work, you may be able to persuade the carrier to let you out of your contract. Call 611 every time you have a problem and follow up in writing, noting what's happening and the details of your customer-service conversations (whom you talked to, when and what was said). Once you have a fat pile of paperwork, initiate the conversation about getting out of your deal.

Cost your carrier a lot of money. This one strikes me as kind of sleazy, but if you have free roaming, you can make your carrier want to dump you by using it -- a lot. Your carrier has to pay when you use another carrier's network, which is why roaming fees are otherwise so high. Parking yourself in an area where you're using another carrier's network and racking up the minutes could make your carrier eager to let you out of your deal.
Or you could just suck it up.

Sometimes, just paying the early-termination fee is the smartest move. Let's say you've got a bells-and-whistles cell contract that's costing you more than $100 a month. Let's say you need to cut back while still making calls. Switching a pay-as-you-go service could save you at least $50 a month, meaning you'd recoup the fee in four months or less. If you've got more time than that on your contract, paying the early-termination fee makes sense.

Original article by Liz Pulliam Weston, MSN Money

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to Brainstorm Small Business Ideas

The first step in starting a small business is to decide what kind of business you want. You must have a process when brainstorming potential business ideas so you can find something that will fit best with your talents and resources. Consider certain factors like start-up capital, experience and time constraints when deciding on a business.

Step 1
Outline the requirements of your business on paper or computer. This includes things like how much capital you will have available to start the business and whether you will be doing this business full-time or around your current job. Find a business you have experience or expert knowledge in.

Step 2
Create a spreadsheet either on paper on in a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel. Write each business idea you have down on each row. Across the top for the categories, write down “required time," “required startup capital," “type of business structure” and any other categories you want to add to help compare your different business ideas.

Step 3
Read resources to get ideas. Warren Buffet was a genius at picking successful businesses and many books highlight his strategies like “The Warren Buffet Way” by Hagstrom. “Entrepreneur Magazine” has detailed information about the best franchises to buy.

Step 4
Research hot trends of growing industries to see where there is the most growth potential. Many business magazines or Web sites, like “Forbes” magazine and “The Wall Street Journal” are filled with information about growing industries.

Step 5
Run through the different kinds of business structures and write down businesses from each structure as you do your research. Some different kinds of business structures include home-based businesses, traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses, franchises and wholesalers.

Step 6
Continue thinking of more businesses you are interested in and research each one to see what it involves. Fill every category for each business so after you have all your ideas down, you can make a good informed decision.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Testimonials are the Only Proof You've Got

Who is better at selling your product, you or your customer's testimonial?

Not even close. Your customer can outsell you one hundred to one. And even though you intuitively know this, you still thin you have to "sell" and "educate" the prospect. Nothing could be more powerful than the words of one customer who loves you, telling a customer thinking about doing business with you to DO IT! Are you going to believe your next door neighbor who just bought a car like the one you want, or a car salesman? Neighbor of course. Same with your business.

The most powerful person on your sales team is your customer.

Knowing that, why don't you take your customer with you on sales calls? They're better than you at closing the sale. way better. Your customer, your cat AND your kids sell better than you. You are the WORST salesperson on your team.

Testimonial power secret.

Most salespeople are so hell bent to get a testimonial, that they get the wrong kind, AND they fail to capture the most important element of a sale: Buy motives.

Worth remembering:

Asking a customer to tell you their reasons for purchasing from you will get you hundreds more sales of the same type.

Buying motives are 1,000 times more powerful than selling skills. Make that 10,000.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Get Face to Face First

Meeting someone on the phone (cold calling them - even from a referral) is not the best way to start any relationship. It can work, but it's not the best way. When you meet someone face to face you can see them and hear them at the same time. This is 100 times more insightful.

Networking is the best way to create initial face to face meetings. It doesn't just have to be a business after hours type of thing. It can also be a three way lunch, a trade association meeting, even an annual convention.

The reason face to face is so powerful is that your prospect can get to like you faster. The more they like you the more they will buy from you. Networking builds rapport that leads to appointments and sales. Lots of sales.

BETWEEN NOW AND NEXT WEEK: Attend three networking functions and compare the contacts, relationships and sales you make to what you would have made cold calling. The results will be astonishing!

Get Out of Your Rut

Sometimes the greatest enemy to initiative is a rut we've created for ourselves. Ruts can prevent us from changing course, even when we know change is vital to our success. Get stuck in a rut long enough, and you'll begin to lose all incentive to initiate positive change. As the saying goes, a grave is nothing more than a rut with both ends filled in.

So how do you get yourself out of a rut? Take these steps:

1. Accept responsibility for your own life.

2. Know where you want to be.

3. Divide your dream into manageable parts.

4. Get going.

Don't hope for inspiration. Create your own incentive to change. Don't wait - create the initiative you need for your success.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ask the Wrong Questions. Get the Wrong Answers.

The most important aspect of making a sale - is also a major weakness of every salesperson. Asking questions.

It's an enigma to me. Questions are so critical, you'd think it would be the topic of training every week. Yet salespeople are odds on favorites to have never taken one training program in the science of asking a question.

How critical? The first personal (rapport) question sets the tone for the meeting, and the first business question sets the tone for the sale. That's critical. Benefits of asking the right question? Good question.

Here are 10 benefits to make sales by:

(1) Quality the buyer.

(2) Establish rapport.

(3) Create prospect disparity.

(4) Eliminate or differentiate from the competition.

(5) Build credibility.

(6) Know the customer and their business.

(7) Identify needs

(8) Find hot buttons.

(9) Get personlal information.

(10) Close the sale.

Here's the challenge:

Get every prospect and customer to say "No one ever asked me that before."

Here are 8 questioning success strategies:

(1) Ask prospect questions that make him evalutate new information.

(2) Ask question that qualify needs.

(3) Ask questions about improved productivity, profits or savings.

(4) Ask questions aout company or personal goals.

(5) Ask questions that separate you from your competition - no compare you to them.

(6) Ask question that make the customer or prospect think before giving a response.

(7) Ask Power Questions to create a BUYING atmosphere - not a selling one.

(8) CRITIAL SUCCESS STRATEGY: To enhance your listening skills, write down answers. it prove you care, preserves your data for follow-up, keeps the record straight, and makes the customer feel important.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Secrets to Writing Better Ads

The 'sound' of the words you write can make the difference. These five tips will ensure prospects hear your message.

The risk of print ads is that you are subject to the reader's ability to read. Will the reader of your ads hear the words in his mind as you intended them to be heard? Keep in mind that fully half of our population reads at a below-average level.

Am I suggesting that you invest only in TV and radio advertising? No. I'm merely suggesting that you pay special attention to the sound of the words you write, even when they will be "heard" only in the reader's mind.

1. Open your sentences with unexpected verbs. Don't write, "When you come to Don Honkus Ford, you'll...." Write: "Tap-dance those happy feet into Don Honkus Ford..." or "Maneuver your old monster down to Don Honkus Ford..." or "Sail like a Saturday to Don Honkus Ford." Nothing is so boring as the predictable.

2. Be specific. It was time to renew the Yellow Pages ad for a new client, a retail jeweler. I told him, "The Yellow Pages are a service directory for people without a preference. They're fine for service providers like plumbers and electricians and roofers, but a bad investment for retailers. What services do you offer?" After listening to him drone on about ring sizing (yawn) and watch repair (yippee Skippy, let me call the press), I asked, "Do you buy diamonds off the street?" The jeweler said, "Every time I get a chance, but those people usually go to pawn shops." I said, "Buying the diamond ring from a broken engagement is a service to the customer." I created a Yellow Pages ad with a huge headline: "We Pay 22% More Than Pawn Shops for Diamonds." My jewelry client made a fortune as a direct result of that ad. Specifics like "22%" are more believable than generalities.

3. Write emotional scenes that are imaginable. One of my students, Steve McKenzie, wrote the following ad for a courageous client that owns a small coffee shop. The ad worked miracles: "There it is again. The buzz-buzz, agh-agh alarm that crow-bars my eyes, loudly. Is this a dream or real? What day is it? Am I still employed? Where is that button of snooze? To do, to do, so much to—do. It's sweat and Daytimers, soap-on-a-rope, aftershave, moose with no grunts in my hair. Gotta go-go, I'm driving, driven to the machine that I love, muchly. And there you are, all ground up, waiting to waterfall in my cup. It's you and your big red eye. It's me and my 5-gallon travel mug. It's a marriage made in a paper filter. Sip-sip yum-yum I'm zooming, awake with visions of flying pigs, and everything's possible. You did it. The roasting, the grinding; magical. Who, what, how? Louie's Coffee. I'm in love."

4. Listen for the drumbeats. Which is better? "We'll get there when we said we would be there or you don't have to pay us" or "Always on time or you don't pay a dime"? The second phrase is the copyrighted slogan of One Hour Heat and Air Conditioning, one of the fastest-growing franchises in history. The power of the statement isn't in the rhyme, but in the meter; the drumbeat rhythm created by its naturally accented syllables. Meter makes words musical in the mind, even when the words are read silently. "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit. My client could not, would not, did not commit these crimes." "Bounty, the quicker picker-upper." Meter, not rhyming, is the secret of why we remember song lyrics more readily than ads. Do you want your ads to be as easily remembered as the lyrics to a song? Take the time to put your words in meter.

5. Ignore the critics. Everyone has an opinion about advertising. Most will tell you they prefer ads that are smooth, polished and professional. In other words, drab, boring and easy to ignore. But if you write an ad that has the power to move people, it's naive to believe that everyone will be moved the same direction. Don't let what I'm about to say scare you, but if you aren't receiving some negative comments and criticisms about your ads, they're not working as well as they should. Personally, I agree with advertising legend Leo Burnett, who said, "I am one who believes that one of the greatest dangers of advertising is not that of misleading people, but that of boring them to death."

Bottom line: Open with unusual verbs, be specific, write imaginable, harness the power of poetic meter and ignore the whining critics. Response to your ads will soar.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

30 Press Release Ideas

Check this idea list for ways to turn any biz event into newsworthy info that will catch an editor's eye.

It's a well-known fact that a company's visibility will increase with powerful publicity. After all, publicity aims to bring the news of your company to the world. The basic weapons you'll need to do this include a press kit, a company background piece, press releases, story ideas and articles or columns about your business. The most important of all, though, is the press release.

If you're wondering what exactly should be covered in a press release, think along the lines of "newsy" and interesting topics. Examples include: your online presence; important information and tools regarding a change in management or the business components you offer; special information that can be obtained online; any proprietary product or methodology that you offer through your consulting services; the announcement of articles, events and appearances; relevant worksheets, tips and techniques; and so on.

A publicity campaign that uses press releases should begin with a master plan. The more newsworthy you make your company, the more coverage you'll get. And coverage is important because it earns the kind of credibility that advertising just can't buy. When writing a press release, your goals should be uniqueness, timeliness and top-of-the-mind awareness. Once you achieve publicity and visibility, both your company profile and your client and prospect levels will rise. One successful story about your company resulting in free publicity is advertising worth hundreds and thousands of dollars.

There is definitely a knack to writing a "newsworthy" press release, even though the ultimate goals are usually awareness and promotion. Editors don't like promotion, though, so crafting a press release to appeal to an editor is key. If you provide reporters with news that appeals to their readers, you'll gain instant credibility and be on your way to forming a valuable promotional relationship. This can be very powerful from a marketing point of view.

There's no guarantee that any press release will ever be published, but by taking a consistent, professional and newsworthy approach with the reputable editors of respected publications, the probability is good that you'll get some coverage. Press releases are also great vehicles for communicating with clients and prospects. Putting them on your Web site is a very effective means of promoting to your captive markets. It also further substantiates your marketing efforts, as well as your credibility.

If you're not sure about what you should cover in a press release, consider these ideas to see if any apply to your business:

1. Starting a new business
2. Introducing a new product
3. Celebrating an anniversary
4. Announcing a restructuring of the company
5. Offering an article series for publishing
6. Opening up branch or satellite offices
7. Receiving an award
8. Receiving an appointment
9. Participating in a philanthropic event
10. Introducing a unique strategy/approach
11. Announcing a partnership
12. Changing the company or product name
13. Earning recognition of the company, product or executives by a publication
14. Announcing that you're available to speak on particular subjects of interest
15. Issuing a statement of position regarding a local, regional or national issue
16. Announcing a public appearance on television, radio or in person
17. Launching a website
18. Announcing free information available
19. Announcing that you've reached a major milestone
20. Obtaining a new, significant customer
21. Expanding or renovating the business
22. Establishing a unique vendor agreement
23. Meeting some kind of unusual challenge or rising above adversity
24. Restructuring your business or its business model
25. Setting up a customer advisory group
26. Announcing the results of research or surveys you have conducted
27. Announcing that an individual in your business has been named to serve in a leadership position in a community, professional or charitable organization
28. Sponsoring a workshop or seminar
29. Making public statements on future business trends or conditions
30. Forming a new strategic partnership or alliance

Of course, these are just a few ideas to get you started. Just remember this: If a press release is well-written, almost any event can be turned into news.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Secrets to a Great Logo

With a well-designed logo, potential clients can instantly discover how your business can serve them.

Your logo is a visual representation of everything your company stands for. Think of McDonald's golden arches or the Nike swoosh--these two impressive logos embody these companies well. But many companies still skimp on developing this key identity piece.

Ideally, your company logo enhances potential customers and partners' crucial first impression of your business. A good logo can build loyalty between your business and your customers, establish a brand identity, and provide the professional look of an established enterprise.

Consider Allstate's "good hands" logo. It immediately generates a warm feeling for the company, symbolizing care and trust. With a little thought and creativity, your logo can quickly and graphically express many positive attributes of your business, too.

Logo Types
There are basically three kinds of logos. Font-based logos consist primarily of a type treatment. The logos of IBM, Microsoft and Sony, for instance, use type treatments with a twist that makes them distinctive. Then there are logos that literally illustrate what a company does, such as when a house-painting company uses an illustration of a brush in its logo. And finally, there are abstract graphic symbols--such as Nike's swoosh--that become linked to a company's brand.

"Such a symbol is meaningless until your company can communicate to consumers what its underlying associations are," says Americus Reed II, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, who's conducted research on the triggers that lead consumers to identify with and become loyal to a brand. But building that mental bridge takes time and money. The Nike swoosh has no inherent meaning outside of what's been created over the years through savvy marketing efforts that have transformed the logo into an "identity cue" for an athletic lifestyle.

Growing businesses can rarely afford the millions of dollars and years of effort required to create these associations, so a logo that clearly illustrates what your company stands for or does may be a better choice. Even a type treatment of your company's name may be too generic, says Placitas, New Mexico, logo designer Gary Priester, principal of, the Web arm of design firm The Black Point Group. Priester believes customers should be able to tell what you do just by looking at your logo.

Getting Started
Before you begin sketching, first articulate the message you want your logo to convey. Try writing a one-sentence image and mission statement to help focus your efforts. Stay true to this statement while creating your logo.

But that may not be enough to get you started. Here are some additional tactics and considerations that will help you create an appropriate company logo:

· Look at the logos of other businesses in your industry. Do your competitors use solid, conservative images, or flashy graphics and type? Think about how you want to differentiate your logo from those of your competition.

· Focus on your message. Decide what you want to communicate about your company. Does it have a distinct personality--serious or lighthearted? What makes it unique in relation to your competition? What's the nature of your current target audience? These elements should play an important role in the overall design or redesign.

· Make it clean and functional. Your logo should work as well on a business card as on the side of a truck. A good logo should be scalable, easy to reproduce, memorable and distinctive. Icons are better than photographs, which may be indecipherable if enlarged or reduced significantly. And be sure to create a logo that can be reproduced in black and white so that it can be faxed, photocopied or used in a black-and-white ad as effectively as in color.

· Your business name will affect your logo design. If your business name is "D.C. Jewelers," you may wish to use a classy, serif font to accent the letters (especially if your name features initials). For a company called "Lightning Bolt Printing," the logo might feature some creative implementation of--you guessed it--a lightning bolt.

· Use your logo to illustrate your business's key benefit. The best logos make an immediate statement with a picture or illustration, not words. The "Lightning Bolt Printing" logo, for example, may need to convey the business benefit of "ultra-fast, guaranteed printing services." The lightning bolt image could be manipulated to suggest speed and assurance.

· Don't use clip art. However tempting it may be, clip art can be copied too easily. Not only will original art make a more impressive statement about your company, but it'll set your business apart from others.

· Avoid trendy looks. If you're redesigning your old logo, you run the risk of confusing customers--or worse, alienating them. One option is to make gradual logo changes. According to Priester, Quaker Oats modified the Quaker man on its package over a 10-year period to avoid undermining customer confidence. But don't plan to make multiple logo changes. Instead, choose a logo that will stay current for 10 to 20 years, perhaps longer. That's the mark of a good design. In fact, when Priester designs a logo, he expects never to see that client again.

Watch Your Colors
One thing you need to be careful of as you explore color options is cost. Your five-color logo may be gorgeous, but once it comes time to produce it on stationery, the price won't be so attractive. Nor will it work in mediums that only allow one or two colors. Try not to exceed three colors unless you decide it's absolutely necessary.

Your logo can appear on a variety of media: signage, advertising, stationery, delivery vehicles and packaging, to name just a few. Remember that some of those applications have production limitations. Make sure you do a color study. Look at your logo in one-, two- and three-color versions.

Hire a Designer
While brainstorming logo ideas by yourself is a crucial step in creating your business image, trying to create a logo completely on your own is a mistake. It may seem like the best way to avoid the high costs of going to a professional design firm, which will charge anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000 for a logo design. Be aware, however, that there are thousands of independent designers around who charge much less. According to Stan Evenson, founder of Evenson Design Group, entrepreneurs on a tight budget should shop around for a designer. "There are a lot of [freelance] designers who charge rates ranging from $15 to $150 per hour, based on their experience," he says.

But don't hire someone just because of their bargain price. Find a designer who's familiar with your field . . . and with your competition. If the cost still seems exorbitant, Evenson says, "remember that a good logo should last at least 10 years. If you look at the amortization of that cost over a 10-year period, it doesn't seem so bad."

Even if you have a good eye for color and a sense of what you want your logo to look like, you should still consult a professional designer. Why? They know whether or not a logo design will transfer easily into print or onto a sign, while you might come up with a beautiful design that can't be transferred or would cost too much money to be printed. Your logo is the foundation of all your promotional materials, so this is one area where spending a little more now can really pay off later.

Using and Protecting Your Logo
Once you've produced a logo that embodies your company's mission at a glance, make sure you trademark it to protect it from use by other companies. You can apply for a trademark at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Web site.

Then, once it's protected, use it everywhere you can--on business cards, stationery, letterhead, brochures, ads, your Web site and any other place where you mention your company name. This will help build your image, raise your company's visibility and, ideally, lead to more business.

Creating a logo sounds easy, doesn't it? It can be. Just remember to keep your customers and the nature of your business in mind when you put it all together. In time, you'll have succeeded in building equity in your trademark, and it will become a positive and recognizable symbol of your product or service.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Negotiator

Don't be a pushover at the negotiating table. These eight tips will help you get your game face on and stand firm.

Just as strong is the word we often use to describe good coffee, tough is the word we often use to describe good negotiators. There's a definite advantage to being known this way; it immediately reduces your opponent's expectations. Some may soften, others will try harder; but in this competitive world of business, they will all respect you for not being a soft touch.

Toughness is partly about your game face, but it's also about technique. When you're called on, or choose, to take the hard line, here are some ways to strengthen your game:

· Don't talk too much. Be terse. The less you say, the less you reveal about your own position. The less you say, the more you can listen for weaknesses or opportunities.
Use the power of silence--it tends to make the other side uncomfortable. In fact, many would rather tell you where the treasure is buried than tolerate these awkward moments.

· Be stingy with your concessions. It can really grind your opponents down. Make them work for their supper. They may tire or skip dessert, the appetizer or even the main course altogether.
If you must give, give just a little, and get something back in return--even if it's their agreement to take an issue off the table.

· Be firm. No means no. As they say in the movies, "Resistance is futile." If you don't want to give a point, make your opponents feel like they just hit the wall. You will not be perceived as a jerk, so long as you offer a plausible explanation for your position.

· Stake out issues that are non-negotiable. This is classic. By framing an issue this way, you make it twice as hard on the other side. Before you even address their concern, they must first persuade you to entertain it.

· Don't care too much. Desire is the fulcrum at the bargaining table. Persuading your opponents that their deal just ain't that important is the ultimate attitude adjustment.They will not pester you with unending demands if they sense you're 30 seconds away from blowing them off.

· Keep things moving. Don't let your opponents backtrack on you. Once an issue is settled, it's settled. Be supremely efficient and businesslike. Your opponents must feel that your time is precious and that you do not suffer fools at all.

· Play to your advantage. If you've got more experience, make sure your opponents know it. If you can crush them with your card file, drop a few names. If you know your opponents are in a hurry, take your time.

· Stay focused. In detailed negotiations, mental stamina is a tremendous asset. Victory goes to the dogged. It's just like sports. Stay strong through the finish. The last person standing at the bargaining table is the one with the greatest power of concentration.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Brand Your New Business

Q: I'm launching a one-person hairstyling salon, and I'm extremely good at what I do, if I do say so myself. Is it possible for me to "brand" my new business, or is branding only for larger companies?
A: So you'd like to have your own one-man brand, huh? No problem. The key is to be you with all your heart.

Most branding campaigns are costumes worn by advertisers to the Media Masquerade Ball. They were the hot ticket during the pretentious baby boomer years, when blue ribbons went to those wearing best costumes. But take a look around, and you'll see that we're moving into an era of transparency. The only thing offensive these days is phoniness.

To succeed in tomorrow's marketplace, your brand must revolve around who and what you really are. You're going to have to let your customers see the real you. This means communicating in a language other than "adspeak." You know what I'm talking about, right? "Low, low prices." "Satisfaction guaranteed." "Exceeding your expectations." "Fast, fair and friendly service." Blah, blah, blah.

In the past, decisions to purchase revolved primarily around features and benefits. All you had to do was explain—intellectually—why your product was better than your competitor's. But as the overall quality of products got better, we became less concerned about buying a bad one, and a new criterion was added to the list. Now we're seeing decisions to purchase based on sympathetic vibrations, shared values, an alignment of perspectives. Today's customers are no longer just buying what you sell; they're buying who you are.

Near the end of her book The Popcorn Report, a very prescient Faith Popcorn reminisces: "It seemed to me, in the '60s, advertising was the most creative business around. The consumer world was new, wide open; ads were all creativity, no research. I loved the business when I started in it...You could feel that consumer world narrowing in the seventies and eighties. Heavy earnest research weighed down ads with somber and often meaningless promises. The consumer world was quantified...In the '90s, consumers don't believe the promises anymore. If the ad says, 'Ninety-out-of-a-hundred people prefer fill-in-the-blank,' we cynically assume that those 90 are the advertiser's 90 best friends and relatives. We know that numbers can be interpreted to mean almost anything. So, the situation now is that numbers have lost their credibility, and yet creativity isn't strong enough to stand on its own.

"So if data has lost its credibility, and creativity alone is no longer enough, through what channel can you best persuade today's customer? Through the customer's own experience:

Refer to things in your ads that you know your customer has experienced. I call this technique "using a reality hook." You might say in your ads, for example, "Have you ever told a hair stylist how you wanted your hair to look and then he cut it the way he thought it should look? I promise I'm NOT that guy."

When available, include raw, unscripted testimonials. Your customer has a lifetime of experience sifting golden nuggets of truth from a world of hype and empty promises. Put this highly refined ability to work for you. In the example above, I wrote it in the way that most people talk. This is extremely unusual in advertising—and extremely effective. Don't rewrite your customers' comments. Use them verbatim, misspellings and all.

Deliver to your customers exactly the experience you promised them. (For those of you familiar with the Advertising Performance Equation, this is known as the PEF, or Personal Experience Factor.) Mass media is one voice speaking to many ears, and it's easy to purchase—you pay your money and you take your chances. But "interconnectivity" is one to one to one to one to one—word-of-mouth gone exponential. And it can't be purchased with money. The only way to trigger interconnectivity is to create a message worth repeating, so deliver excellence to every customer. It's the best advertising money can buy.

As the final reverberations of the baby boom fade over the horizon, we're beginning to hear the sound of the new branding, and it's the sound of something real. Today's hunger is for reality and truth. I think psychologist Carl Rogers said it best: "What I am is good enough, if only I would be it openly."

And what you are is good enough, too. Be it openly.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

When Good Employees Go Bad

Let's say you've got an employee you think is pretty much close to perfect. This staff member has continually been productive, cooperative and successful, and has always contributed positively to the work effort. They're responsive to direction and input from others, take initiative, complete their work in a timely manner, ask appropriate questions, and willingly participate in work-related events. Their mood is positive and upbeat, and they're a joy to be around.

Recently, however, their productivity has tanked. They're no longer cooperative, productive or self-motivated, and they may be irritable or even depressed. They're not getting their work done and their formerly sunny disposition has a little black rain cloud right over it.

If this is the case, it doesn't take Sigmund Freud to tell you that your employee is experiencing some kind of event that's sucking the energy, enthusiasm and productivity right out of them. You know it, and, most likely, other people know it, too.

So what do you do when an effective employee's work output begins to take a tumble? When your formerly close-to-perfect employee turns into a problem?

First, realize that no change occurs without some form of awareness, either internally (within the individual) or externally (from the boss, colleagues, significant others, etc.). The easiest way to gain insight into the problem or issue is to speak directly with the employee.

But wait. Before you interact with that employee, you'll want to prepare yourself for a frank discussion with that employee by first gathering any necessary data. That might include first discussing your concerns with the employee's direct supervisor or team leader; looking into their productivity levels; reviewing performance factors, including quality and error rates; taking a look at their absentee records; and reviewing any complaints made to your HR manager. Then examine their job description to understand exactly what the employee is supposed to be doing as opposed to what you think they should be doing. What you want to do is gain as complete a picture of the situation as possible before you speak to the employee. But do it quickly! Enough time has passed since this out-of-the-ordinary behavior pattern began--no need to waste more time.

Next, ask the employee to meet you in a neutral space, such as the conference room or some other quiet area. Avoid meeting in the employee's office or workspace, since that can be seen as an invasion of turf. (After your discussion, your employee will have no "safe" haven to return to.)

If no neutral space is available, then meet in your office. Ask the employee in and invite them to sit down. The goal is to create a positive atmosphere where the two of you can talk openly and honestly with each other about the employee's job performance. Remember, you're relating to a valued employee whose work has generally been positive and effective. Something now is wrong, and your goal is to learn what the issue is and to create mutually agreeable methods and steps to reverse that downward slope of productivity.

Try to avoid sitting behind your desk--you don't want to set up a barrier to communication or create an adversarial atmosphere. If possible, sit at a round table so you don't appear to be in a power position or too distant from the employee. If a table's not available, pull your chair out from behind your desk and sit next to the person. Create positive rapport by maintaining eye contact, keeping your arms and legs uncrossed, and having a pleasant look on your face. Even though you're in charge, you need to avoid coming off as "the big boss" who's coming down on an underling for poor job performance.

Begin the conversation with a positive tone of voice and on a positive note. Talk about the employee's past successes and praise past accomplishments. If it's appropriate, mention potential plans for their near future and career path.

Then, while maintaining eye contact, you can take one of two tacks. You can be fairly straightforward and mention that "Things seem to be going wrong (or not well, or not consistent with past performance, or something similar)" as based on several criteria, which you can present at this time, including complaints, performance data, absentee records, unusual behavior and so on.

Or you can be more general and ask them, "How would you evaluate your recent accomplishments (or behavior, or attitude, or mood)?" If you use this latter approach, you have to be prepared for the employee to respond that "Everything seems to be going well...perhaps not perfectly, but certainly passably." If this is the case, then you need to use the data you collected to show that "all is not well."

Be firm about your beliefs that all is not well, but don't be overbearing: Coming on too strong will usually prompt an employee to deny or minimize any problems or difficulties. Your goal is to encourage this person to realize that you're aware of the difficulties they've been having, and to open up and participate in a discussion about what's really going on and how you two can turn it around so the employee can return to their former productive self.

If the employee tries to negate your information and appears resistant to the possibility that something's wrong, don't push the point. Instead, simply refer to the data and talk about their recent performance. It's possible that the individual doesn't want to admit to having any problems such as issues at home, problems with alcohol or drugs, lack of competence, or fears and anxieties). Your goal is not to force them to admit to a problem but rather to look at the hard facts of a decrease in productivity, regardless of the cause.
Often, at this point, the employee will admit to decreased output or performance. Then you can begin to look into ways to turn their behavior around. Perhaps more training or closer supervision is needed; perhaps more appropriate work tools or implements are required. Maybe their work schedule needs to be modified to allow for daycare drop-off and pick-up. Or maybe they just need a few days off to relax and de-stress. You may even want to discuss the benefits of seeking a counselor or social worker who can help them deal with the causes and impact of whatever the underlying issue is. In any case, no matter what they're problem is, your concern is for their well being as well as for a return to their previous positive levels of performance.

No matter what approach you take to working with a performance issue, the key to remember is that you value this individual and the individual's previous work ethic and output. Your task--and the task of the individual involved--is to come up with a plan for turning that former productive employee back into a standout performer.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

15 Ways Stores Trick You into Spending

15 ways stores trick you into spending

Don't succumb to retailers' simple ploys. Here's how they get you to buy -- and 10 ways to fight back.

Ever notice how you can go to a store to pick up just one thing and then, by the time you get to the check stand, you have five or six things in your cart and a bigger bill than you had anticipated?

This happens over and over because department stores use an array of techniques (grocery stores use many of the same tactics) to get you to pick up these items. By itself, each technique isn't very strong -- it's the use of them in combination that is powerful.

Here's a list of 15 of the best tricks. After the list, watch for 10 ways to combat these techniques so you can get in and out of stores with your finances intact.

1. Shopping carts. Most department-store customers enter the store intending to buy only an item or two, but the shopping carts are right there by the entrance and, oh, wouldn't it be convenient to have it so I can lean on it a bit while walking around and to put my stuff in it?
The cart has a huge bin compared with the size of most items for sale in the store, making it psychologically easy to toss in an item you don't need -- after all, there's room for plenty more, right?

2. Desirable departments are far away from the entrance. Most of the items I go to a department store to buy, such as light bulbs and laundry detergent, are located many, many aisles from the entrance. This means I spend my time walking by a lot of consumer goods on my way to find the item I want. Because these consumer goods are effectively marketed to me, there's a good likelihood that I'll spy something that I don't necessarily need and toss it in the cart.

3. The toy section is far, far, far away from the entrance. Naturally, if I take my son to the store, he wants to visit the toy section. He gets excited and starts shouting "Ball! Ball!" to me when we go in because he remembers the enormous plastic balls in the toy section.
I tell him that if he's good, we'll go look at the balls, and at the end of the trip, we usually make our way over there. What do we see? Lots of children in that area, which means that there are parents that follow their children.

4. Impulse-oriented items are near the checkouts. Stores stock the latest DVD releases and "froth" magazines there, along with overpriced beverages and candy.
Why? Because people leaving the store are thirsty, and they're going to be standing in line for a bit, which is the perfect place to hook them with some entertainment options.

5. The most expensive versions of a product are the ones at eye level. Take a look sometime at the arrangement of different choices for a particular product, such as laundry detergent. Almost every time, the most expensive options per unit are placed at eye level, so you see them first when you enter an aisle. The bulk options and better deals are usually on the bottom shelves.

6. Items that aren't on sale are sometimes placed as though they are on sale, without using the word "sale." I noticed this over and over with diapers; the department store would display a rack of them with a huge sign above them displaying the price, but it would be the same price I paid for them a week ago. Unsurprisingly, the diapers displayed like that were always the most expensive kind.

7. Commodity items, such as socks, are surrounded by noncommodity items, such as shirts and jeans. If I'm looking to buy some socks, I have to traverse through a number of racks full of different types of clothing in the clothing section just to reach them.
Why? If my mind is already open to the idea of buying clothes, I would be more likely to look at other clothing items.

8. Slickly packaged items alternate with less slickly packaged items. Look carefully at an aisle of, say, potato chips. The ones with the bright and slick packaging are generally more expensive, which isn't surprising.
But notice that there usually isn't a section of just inexpensive chips -- in most stores, they're sandwiched between more-expensive items. If there is a section of just inexpensive items, they're down by your feet (think about the inexpensive bagged cereals at your local supermarket).

9. Stop, stop, stop. You add items to your cart only if you stop, right? So stores are designed to maximize the number of stops you have to make: aisles in which only two carts can fit, colorful and attractive layouts, escalators and, my favorite of all, sample vendors. Even if it's not conscious to you, every time you stop moving in a store, you increase your chances of putting something into your cart.

10. Staple items are placed in the middle of aisles, nonessential and overpriced items near the end. Why? If you enter an aisle to get a "staple" item (i.e., a high-traffic item), you have to go by the other items twice -- once on the way in and once on the way out. That gives these items two chances to make their pitch at you.

11. Prices are chosen to make comparison math difficult. Instead of selling the 100-ounce detergent for $6 and the 200-ounce detergent for $11 (making it easier to figure out the better deal), they sell the 100-ounce for $5.99 and the 200-ounce for $10.89.
Hey, look, they're basically the same, right, because five is half of 10? Uh, no.

12. Stuff in bins isn't always a bargain. Higher-end stores will sometimes put items in "bins" to emulate the bargains found at cheaper stores, but the prices are still quite high. They just use the visual cue of a "bargain store" to make you think it is a bargain.

13. High-markup items are made to look prestigious. If you see something in a glass case that has lots of space around it, your gut reaction is to believe that it is valuable and prestigious to own, and for many people it can be as attractive as a light to a moth. The truth is that these items typically have tremendous markup -- you're literally just buying an idea, not a product.

14. The most profitable department is usually the first one you run into. Ever noticed that at Younkers, JC Penney, Kohl's and such stores, the cosmetic department is front and center? That's because it's very profitable, and by putting it in a place where people walk by time and time again, customers are more prone to making a purchase on an item with a very big markup.

15. Restrooms and customer services are usually right by the exit or as far from the exit as possible. Why? If you need to use either one in the middle of a shopping journey, you have to walk by a lot of merchandise to reach the needed service, thus increasing your chances for an impulse buy.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pulling Out of a Sales Slump

There isn't a salesperson alive who hasn't experienced a sales slump. It could be because of an economic downturn or because the competition has a new product. It could be due to personal challenges or lack of motivation. It can even happen when things are going well, and you feel you can "coast" for a while. The problem is, you can't coast uphill.
Barring catastrophic events, you don't dive into a slump. It creeps up on you until you start to realize that things haven't been going well. Don't wait to start your ascent; the longer you wait, the more difficult the climb will be.

Here are four steps to follow if you find yourself in a slump:

1. Call on your satisfied customers. These are the people you know best; presumably, they're the ones with whom you have the best personal relationships. Look for additional ways to satisfy their needs or new needs you can meet. Ask about their customers and potential customers, and find ways to help them reach their targets. Learn about their new problems and challenges, and come back to them with fresh solutions.

2. Concentrate on bread-and-butter accounts. Different accounts have different sales cycles. Some may take a week, a month or two years. Sometimes, you get so caught up with landing the big one that you forget about little accounts with shorter sales cycles that can bring in money now. There are times when you have to sacrifice immediate income for something that will pay off over time. In business, you have to look ahead and think long-term. But you also have to take care of day-to-day responsibilities. It's important to keep those factors balanced; don't get so focused on one that you lose sight of the other.

3. Stay on top of business and world news, and always keep in mind how events of the day might affect your customers. When was the last time you broadened your reading habits? Look for sources that will give you new ideas on how to fine-tune your activities and target your customers more efficiently. Read materials that will help you speak to your customers in their business language. Learn more about how other people grew their businesses. You never know what you might learn from their failures and successes.

4. Be selective about the company you keep. If everyone around you is in a slump as well, you'll drag each other down. Surround yourself with people who are excited about what they do. Ride on their momentum until you can build enough of your own.
Be selective about your customers. It may seem like you want to keep every customer when you're in a slump, but there are times when you get so desperate that you spend all your time trying to make a match where one doesn't exist. So if an opportunity doesn't meet your expectations, move on.

In the end, it's the movement that counts. The best way to get out of a slump is to keep moving forward. Remember: See the people, sell the people, serve the people. Make more calls, set up more meetings. Don't let a temporary slump turn into a slippery slope. If you keep your activity levels high, you'll be at the top of your game again before you know it.