Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How to Evaluate Home Based Business Opportunities

With the economy in flux, and whispers of recession turning into frank discussions of how long the downturn is expected to last, it's no wonder that more people than ever before are taking a second look at home based businesses. For some, the ability to make money online is a way to make ends meet as the costs of everything from fuel to food spiral upward. For others, being able to work from home is the best of both worlds: they can earn a decent income while being able to greet the kids when they get home from school. Virtually everyone appreciates a home based business' flexible hours and lack of a commute, as well as the rewarding feeling that comes from creating your own financial security.

As appealing as a home based business is, it's often difficult to evaluate programs. After all, there are hundreds - if not thousands - of opportunities available. Here are five tips to help you separate the best from the rest.

1. Find reputable online reviews. There are websites that specialize in guiding would-be home based business owners toward legitimate opportunities. The best sites offer valuable information so that you can make money at home, as well as essential website marketing tools.

2. Free vs. paid. There are both paid and free home based business opportunities. If you have money to invest in your business, paid opportunities can often reap greater financial rewards. That's not to say, however, that you can't make money at home from a free home based business. You simply need to understand the potential risks and rewards associated with each type.

3. Passive vs. active. When evaluating opportunities, it's important to know how much time you have to devote to your business. Some require actively selling products or services, while others rely on utilizing marketing tools to harness the power of the Internet and create a passive income stream. Many people find that the most lucrative home based businesses fall somewhere in the middle, enabling them to work minimal hours while maximizing income.

4. Diverse revenue streams. Although the ability to make money online has been around for several years now, the path to success is constantly evolving. Those in the know recommend diversifying your home base business revenue streams. In other words, you should launch several different types of online businesses to ensure that if one source of revenue slows, another can make up the difference. Like the old saying, "Don't put your eggs all in one basket," diversification is key.

5. Start small and plan to grow. If you're new to home based businesses, it's going to take a bit of time to learn the ropes. The challenges are by no means insurmountable, but you'll still need to get your systems in place, develop a game plan, and become proficient in your new venture. Most experts recommend that you begin with one opportunity, master that, and then add another. The ramp-up period varies from person to person, but most people are able to launch one home based business per month, and then add about one per month.

Once you find the right opportunities and the right fit, becoming a successful home based business entrepreneur isn't difficult. In fact, it's probably one of the most rewarding efforts you'll ever undertake.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Your Small Business May Be At Risk Unless You Have A Security and Recovery Plan

Don’t think your small business is at risk?  Think again.  Whether you realize it or not, your business has valuable information and assets that probably are not protected right now.   Your business likely has confidential client information, proprietary business knowledge or just internal knowledge that you wouldn't want to be exposed to criminals or competitors.  The loss of this information could have a devastating impact to your business.  While business insurance is an important part of your protection, it cannot protect clients from identity theft or your business from unscrupulous employees or competitors.

No matter how big or small, your business needs to have a security and recovery plan in place that determines what risks you have, helps protect against those risks and sets plans in place to handle the most likely types of losses you may experience.   Your plan should also look at the both the ‘physical’ and the ‘virtual’ aspects of your business.

Start by considering the types of risks to which your business may be vulnerable.   What if your business information was lost or stolen?  Do you have customer files or records, tax receipts, bank statements, business plans, customer work products?

Next, consider the physical aspects of your business that may be vulnerable.  Do you have unique office equipment, inventory, computers or trade specific tools?

Finally, look at how you do business.  Do you rely on technology, the internet or employees with unique skills?  Does your business model depend on repeatable processes that are unique to your business?

Now, consider what would happen to your business if these parts of your business were lost, destroyed or stolen.  Could you continue operating if you lost your client files?  Could you be sued by customers if their personal information was exposed? Could you be the target of negative publicity?  Could your competitors benefit if they gained access to the information?  What if you lost email access for a day?  What if that key employee suddenly left for another job?  What if your office space caught fire or was flooded?

Your security and recovery plan should put in place the safeguards and policies and procedures to prevent some of these risks and the potential to negatively impact your business.  Physical access to buildings is relatively easy to control although most small business have little more than a lock on the front door.    Should you consider locking file drawers? Is inventory controlled?  Does every employee have access, even to things that are not part of his or her job?  Could a disgruntled or fired employee return to the work space after hours with an extra key copy?

Your plan should consider how to protect the ‘virtual’ parts of your business also.  Do you have backups of any important files?  Do you have passwords, account numbers and other ‘keys’ securely guarded?  Do your computers have virus and firewall protection and is it up-to-date?  Do you have internet and email usage policies in place to protect your employees form harassment charges?

What about remote employees or workers who ‘take work home?’  In today’s highly mobile environment vital business information can now be easily accessed outside of your physical controls?  Do your employees know how to safeguard laptops, cell phones, flash drives or even print outs of business information once they leave your work space?  What if a laptop is stolen from a worker’s car or home or hotel room?  Do you have a backup of the data that was on the laptop? What if your employees are accessing your information from a coffee shop Wi-Fi?  How do you know if your clients and business are protected?

Lastly, your security and recovery plan should consider how you would handle the most likely losses. For instance, if the computer that holds all your sales information crashes, you should probably have a plan to immediately restore that information from a backup.  Where is the backup tape or disk kept Who has access to it and most importantly, who knows how to restore a backup?  If you office is flooded, how quickly can you relocate?  Can some employees work from home or other remote locations temporarily?  If client information is stolen, do you have a way to contact them?

Most small business owners likely have taken first steps like purchasing insurance and putting locks on the front door.  Unfortunately, few have taken the time to really understand the potential risks to their business.

Taking the time now to at least put together an informal plan will go a long way in the event of a real disaster or other loss.  Even the best planning obviously won’t protect against all disasters but it can certainly lessen the impact to your business once one occurs.

Aubrey Jones is President and founder of Riverbank Consulting, Inc.  Since 1996 he has worked to protect internet banking clients for one of the top US financial institutions including serving as a Risk Manager.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sales Training Tip - Keeping Customer for Life

Marketing and sales will, of course, be of the utmost importance to the success of your small business.  However, do you even know the difference between the two?  Marketing is everything your company does to reach out to the consumer and find potential clients.  Marketing is preparation for sales.  Sales is everything your company does to actually sell your particular product or service to the consumer and usually involves meetings with clients, calls on prospective clients, networking, and utilizing internet resources.
Marketing your company involves identifying and finding your target consumers.  You must find creative ways to get their attention and prepare them to make a purchase.  Marketing itself is made up of the 5 P’s:  product, positioning (how the customer perceives you in comparison with your competitors), place, price, and promotion.

When developing a marketing message, you are priming your customers to make a purchase.  In order to do this effectively, your marketing message must have substance.  Yes, the graphics and logos are important, but consumers want you to make you point as clear as possible as quickly as possible.  In order to do this, address these six issues in your marketing campaign:

1) Capture your audience’s attention with a message that clearly defines who you are addressing.
2) State the problems or desires of your audience.
3) Briefly describe your product.
4) Describe the benefit your customer will derive from your product.
5) Use testimonials or the like to give you message credibility.
6) Let the consumer know exactly what action they need to take next.

Customer Service

One of the most important aspects of small business management is customer relations – the interactions between customers and employees.  As a small business you have to provide the customer with better, more personal service in order to compete with the larger, more established providers in the marketplace.  You also have to look to the future and develop ways to keep your customers coming back year after year.  When a problem does occur, take advantage of the opportunity to build not only customer satisfaction, but customer loyalty.

Tips for Teaching Top-Notch Customer Service:

  • Determine what you really mean by excellent customer service.  You have to have a thorough understanding of what you want to provide so that you can provide it consistently.
  • If you really don’t know what your customers want and expect from you, do some research.  Talk to focus groups and ask your complaint department what the most common complaints are relating to customer service. 
  • Give your employees the freedom to go above and beyond the call of duty without punishment.  Let them know they have a wide array of responses to choose from and that you trust their judgment.
  • Train your employees to share pertinent customer information among themselves – likes, dislikes, quirks, needs, interests, etc. – can all be useful knowledge.
  • Give employees an example to model by committing yourself to excellent customer service as well.  Show them what you expect through your own interactions with customers.  In addition, always reward those who go beyond the call of duty.
  • Provide training for all employees – not just those on the front line.
  • Don’t expect change immediately.  It will take time for a new standard to be set in your organization.
  • Expect mistakes and acknowledge them.  Use these incidents as an opportunity to recommit yourself and your organization to superior service.  Apologize for any slip-ups and really listen to the customers complaints.  

Keeping Customers for Life

As a small business, you must cultivate relationships with your clients in order to ensure their continued patronage.  Studies have shown that it is much easier to continue a customer relationship than to cultivate a new one.  The first step to retaining customers is to keep your word.  Do what you say you are going to do in order to make your business worthy of a customer’s repeat business.  Expect that clients will return.  Many businesses look to the customer to prove that they are worthy of their attention by returning on a regular basis instead of cultivating a relationship from the very beginning.  Once you establish a good relationship, make it a policy to go above and beyond.

The customer should remain your focus – not your bottom line.  Your bottom line will only come into play if you can establish a business based on long-term customers.  Make sure that you are treating your employees as well as you are treating your customers.  You want lifelong employees in order to provide a stable, consistent environment for your lifelong customers.
Offer incentives to repeat customers.  Consider promotions such as “Buy 10 – Get the Next One Free” or “25% off on your next visit” to lure customers back into your establishment.  Finally, be choosy about the relationships you cultivate.  There are customers who are not worth keeping around for the long-run.  If a customer is a troublemaker, don’t worry about letting him move on to a competitor.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Brand Development - You Should Improve Your Branding

It might be almost blasphemous to talk about letting go of old brand equity and laying an old brand to rest, but there are times when change is needed. Reformulating and re-designing, or even overhauling an old brand can be a wise decision. If sales are flat and show no sign of growth, you’d better stop kidding yourself and hire a branding consultant.

Brands are an extremely vital element in your product and corporate value proposition. With communications so pervasive today, corporate branding and product branding are becoming fused as one. Corporate brands are increasingly powering product brands and product sales and that pose some substantial risk, as those sub brands can’t be as easily re-positioned when they falter.

Brand Culture

As time passes, culture changes, new technologies and new competing brands appear and they change the perception of value that is available in a marketplace. Old sales propositions won’t fly in the face of 20 or more other competitors offering the same benefits and features. With cultural, economic, technology changes, and corporate changes, your aging brand image and brand equity may end up doing more harm than good. Your former branding successes could leave your brand and company stuck in the past.

A good example of age related branding problem is in the realm of computer products. I recently bought a new laptop computer because my old one just couldn’t keep up with my multitasking and other work needs. At the retail store, there were computers with Intel or AMD microprocessors to choose from. The key matter wasn’t really microprocessor speed or capability. In the past, the Intel logo would have compelled me to buy only computers with their processors regardless of what other features were available in the computer. The Intel brand was clearly in a class by itself. Not this time. This AMD powered computer was low priced and had the memory I required along with other features such as a 100 Gb hard drive, high-resolution screen, numerous ports and adapters and a long lasting battery. It only weighs a couple of pounds and the AMD logo seemed to look better too.  It says: AMD Turion 64 Mobile Technology. 64 bits and mobile compatibility. Why doesn’t Intel mention that on the computer they have their products in?

Laptops are hot and prices are falling. My 15-year-old nephew just bought his first laptop on eBay, since they are cheaper and more accessible. So the whole “culture” of shopping and purchasing computers has changed.

Everyone is buying high-resolution screens and I was eager to ease my eyestrain from long hours of viewing everyday. The huge hard drive was great and the laptop looks good too. The old Intel brand just didn’t have the effect it once did, and their competitor, AMD, just sold one of their processors. The laptop is working great and now Intel processors don’t dictate which computer I’ll buy.

To me, the Intel logo and brand brings back memories of old Pentium computers. This is worsened by the fact that today’s processors have changed and they are running at lower speeds. This confuses the speed benefit that Intel had its brand positioned around. The technology change in viewing screens, memory, and processor use in the computer has moved the market away from where Intel was positioned. The Intel corporate brand powers sales of their new processors, but they can call those new products anything they want and it won’t effective my decision.

What Intel needs to do now, is to associate its processors with the features and benefits that consumers and B2B buyers make decisions upon. Computer branding is not all about the processors anymore and the old Intel brand image is deeply tied to old technology. Even the brand name Pentium is associated with the computer culture of the 90’s.

Here’s the issue: the old Intel brand was so successful in 90’s that it’s trapped Intel in a time warp. Intel needs new branding that ties it to the future, not the past. To get there, they are probably going to have to jettison the past.

Google is a good example of modern branding and a brand that is not tied solely to web search engines. The brand is now diversified strategically to associate it with everything people are doing on the web. Google is omnipresent, and its brand image is solely in its relevance to the current Internet culture.  Google won’t let its common search engine role diminish its branding power.

Hanging onto to Old Branding Concepts

There’s a lot of reason why brand managers, CEO's, and marketing managers resist rethinking their branding and redeveloping their brands. Most often, they don’t want to leave their comfort zone and risk a short-term blip in profit. Some don’t want to make an investment in hiring a branding consultant to look at the options. Branding experts examine a brand to discover its current problems, the culture of the marketplace, and to determine if a new brand identity or brand positioning would be fruitful. Some old brands are doomed, but most are just stale and not in tune with the target market. A branding consultant can provide crucial insight into market perception, brand value building, brand loyalty development, and to discover the brand value proposition that could breathe new life into your brands.