Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Whole New World

If, like me, your career in life has not involved any form of marketing or selling, then to get involved in internet marketing is one hell of a giant leap.

I was first introduced into internet marketing through an email that I received twice weekly. I kept seeing an advert for something called GoogleAds. Now ,at this point, all I used the internet for was either playing games or just browsing in general for any information that I needed on any subject matter under the sun.

The advert said that all I needed to do to make any money was place adverts onto Google’s search engine and people would buy products and I would receive a generous commission. Simple ,I thought ,that is until you try it as an uneducated marketer.

I lost more money than I made, but this can be quite normal for the beginner. I accepted the fact that I had lost money but vowed to continue looking for something that I could do.

So, being curious about money making on the internet I decided to investigate further.

I came across many money making opportunities that promise this that and the other, which I am sure a lot of you have seen yourselves.Anyway, after a while I found an offer that I thought I could try out and see what happens without losing an absolute fortune.

After starting a venture into internet marketing for the first time you will find yourself seemingly lost in a world of information. There is so much to learn and so many ways to learn it.

It takes time to learn what you need to know about internet marketing And I don’t think that there are any real secrets, just techniques.

On the internet there are thousands of people trying to make money and they are all either making new products or looking for products to help themselves financially. There are endless programs and E-Books and ideas available that try to help you succeed in whatever money making business you are involved in.

I am not trying to promote anything here, I am just trying to say that when you go into internet marketing, take your time, learn, read, re-read, and learn again.

Nothing is right if it is not right for you.

If you don’t fully understand something, keep asking questions until you do understand it or don’t do it.

There is no easy answer for the beginner, it is just a matter of that person finding out what is right for them. I just hope that anybody who tries internet marketing for the first time takes my advice on board and succeeds.

Best Small Business Idea -- It's All About You

Getting More Focused -- It’s All About You

Jeanna Pool from Catalyst Creative writes a great ezine on marketing each month. In January she shared 5 Great Marketing Tips for 2006. Number 1 was “Stop Focusing on You”. She declares 2006 the year of the client and exhorts you to focus totally on your clients and their needs. I think she’s right on. And I think she’s completely wrong. Why right and wrong?

Because if you’ve been in business for awhile and have great products and great services and aren’t getting the results you want, you may be too focused on your clients and not focused enough on yourself. Last week, I encouraged your to revisit your vision of your business and ask yourself why you started your business in the first place. Now I want you to focus even more on what you want. What exactly do you want out of your business? Do you want more money? If so, how much? Write down a number. Do you want more flexible hours? If so, write out exactly the schedule you’d like. Do you want to change the world? If so, write out specifically how that would look.

Why all this focus on you? Because if you aren’t absolutely clear on what you want, how are you going to know if you are successful? How are you going help your clients if you aren’t taking care of yourself as well. Maybe you need to be making $150,000 a year to provide your family with the life that you wanted. You want to send your kids to college. You want to retire while you are still in active and in good health. Or maybe you want to just make an extra $20,000 a year working part-time while you take care of your children until they are in school. Or perhaps your goal is to make a million dollars a year and live a really incredible life. Defining this is very important. Why?

Because what you want will shape your business. It will determine who your customers are and how you will help them. If you want $5,000,000 in sales, your products and methods are going to be a whole lot different than if you want $50,000 in sales. If you want to work only afternoons, that is going to shape your business as well. If you want to sell your business and retire in five years, that’s going to affect your decisions as well. So right now, get out a paper and pen and get ready to write.

Did you get your pen and paper out? Answer the question, “What do I want out of my business?” Write in as much detail exactly what you want your business to give you. Be as specific as possible. Write as much as you can. Think income, lifestyle, schedule, partners, travel, location, employees. What exactly do you want? Throughout the week, add to this and revise it. Compare where you are right now to what you really want. How large is the gap? Next week, I’ll help you create a plan to narrow the gap with: Why Business Plans Don’t Work -- How to Create an Effective Action Plan

Awareness And Mastery – Two Essential Keys To A Successful Small Business

At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path."
~ George Leonard
US pioneer in human potential

We often hear managers complaining that their employees aren’t productive, don’t listen and just can’t consistently get the job done. As a youth sports coach, I hear coaches with similar complaints—the kids don’t listen, don’t know where to go and don’t try very hard. I can’t relate. The boys on my team are usually focused, do what I ask of them, and work hard. As a business owner, my employees are focused, do what I ask of them and work hard. What am I doing that is different from the rest? And what can this teach you about running a successful small business?

As a coach, I make my boys’ jobs very simple. I ask only two things of them. I ask them to master one shot and I ask them to be aware of what is going on around them. Of course we work on defensive and offensive strategy, but both of those revolve around the two keys that I gave them for success—awareness and mastery.

I teach awareness by constantly asking them to be aware of where the ball is and at the same time to be aware of their teammates are and where their opponents are. I teach them how to see the ball and their opponent when he doesn’t have the ball. Sounds simple, but for ten year olds this is work.

I teach mastery by assigning homework to each boy. The second week of practice, they have to show me a spot on the court from which they can make a shot every time. I don’t care if it is from just two feet under the basket. I want them to know they can make it every single time. As the season progresses, they may gradually move their spot further and further out, but I still ask that they be able to make their shot every time unguarded in practice.

These two simple concepts have a tremendous effect on the boys during their games. They have incredible confidence in their ability to make shots because they “know” that they will always make it. I don’t need to yell at them like other coaches about where they should be on the court because they have developed awareness of what they are doing and seeing. Now let’s see how you can use this in your successful small business.

As a business owner, I put these two key principles to work in training my employees. From the first day on the job, I work with them to be aware of what tasks are needed, what I expect of them, how I want customers treated, etc. And I ask them to master tasks and customer scripts. Once they are mastered, I open it up for them to adlib just like with my players. When correction is needed, it is usually in one of these two areas. They are either unaware of what is needed or they haven’t mastered the task at hand.

Not only does following these two concepts make it easy for me to get results with my players and employees, it also brings incredible results. My first team lost only one game all season and my employees rarely lose a sale. My businesses and products win awards earned by my employees. And, as a bonus, everyone enjoys themselves with this simple structure. I knew I was doing it right when the father of one of my boys told me that his boy enjoyed practice so much that he chose to come to practice instead of going to see our professional basketball team play one night. And I know it works with my employees because they show up on time happy, focused and ready to work. Remember, awareness and mastery are two essential keys to a successful small business.

An Easy Way To Make Your Small Business More Visible-For Free

No two small businesses are alike, but most want to be like their larger counterparts in some key respects. For example, even if you own a company with only a few really great customers, you want to be visible enough to attract new customers, boost your odds of securing repeat business and do all you can to improve customer satisfaction.

The key, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), is having a business Web site. The SBA's own Web site notes that the Web "levels the playing field between small business and big business" because it is such a dynamic, inexpensive medium for advertising and customer service. "The Internet is making it possible for small- to medium-sized businesses to compete with the big guys," the SBA said.

Conventional wisdom says that any business without a Web presence these days is at a distinct disadvantage, but the latest International Data Corporation (IDC) small-business research exposes a surprising gap. The IDC research found that of the 6.8 million businesses in the United States with fewer than 10 employees, only 3.8 million have a Web site. "That means 3 million U.S. small businesses-or 44 percent of the total-aren't using the Internet to promote themselves online or engage customers and prospects," said Ray Boggs, vice president of Small/ Medium Business and Home Office Research at IDC. "In today's connected world, companies that take that step generally find that having their own Web site can deliver a significant opportunity to grow their business, especially if the site is updated regularly."

Clearly, small businesses (and many of their customers) are online, yet more than half aren't exploiting the full power of what the Internet can do to help build their business. That power includes creating a dynamic Web site to attract and retain customers, taking advantage of search engines to heighten awareness of a company in today's global marketplace, and communicating with customers around the clock or at their convenience.

What stops small businesses from stepping up to this level? For many, the barriers are cost, complexity and inconvenience. By its nature, a small business typically has a small budget and an equally small staff. Unlike the larger companies it competes with, a small business generally can't afford to spend thousands of dollars to buy a server, create a complicated infrastructure and hire an IT technician to keep it all running smoothly.

The good news is that some new offerings are cropping up that allow you to establish a Web presence without heavy-duty in-house technical resources and a big cash outlay. For example, Microsoft Corp. has a new Internet-based service called Microsoft Office Live, which at the most basic level provides a small business with a domain name, e-mail accounts and a Web site for free.* It's one of the quickest and easiest ways today to get your business on the Internet. And, because it's supported by advertising revenue, and the advertising is designed to be unobtrusive and not appear in the customer's public-facing Web sites, the basic offering is free. Yes, it's free, and you can sign up to test-drive the service at http://www.officelive.com.

"I need an attractive, easy-to-navigate Web site that I can update frequently and efficiently. With Office Live, I can create a slide show of a sailboat race and have it online before the boats even get back to the dock," said Elizabeth T. Becker, a freelance writer and photographer and owner of Seaport Photography. "That means I get to spend less time in front of my computer and more time behind my camera. It's smooth sailing." Becker's Web site can be seen at http://www.seaport photo.com.

With such an all-in-one solution, a small-business Web site really is a no-brainer. Look at it this way: In a day and age when the majority of Americans use the Internet regularly, it's highly likely that a large percentage of your customers do, too.

8 BIG Small Business Mistakes

Here’s an interesting notion: Do you realize that there are mistakes you can make at various stages of your business’ growth that can be slowly killing it for months or even years if you don’t watch for them?

Well, these mistakes do exist and they are not just reserved for the rookie companies. Many working businesses, including those you might think are “successful” because they’ve been around for 10+ years, are often still making them… and are possibly losing a lot of money and/or wasting a lot of time in the process.

Although some of these big and sneaky mistakes seem aimed more at service type companies, they really do fit the bill for almost any type of industry. I’ve done my best with the listings below to give examples to prove it.

Underestimating Project/Service Time- This is a big one and it pertains to service companies as well as companies that sell a product. This is a service company’s bread and butter. If you don’t estimate your time to perform each and every service in your repertoire, you will get burned and there is little you can do about it but bite the bullet and learn from it. The best way to estimate time is to do it once yourself or watch your best employee do the task and then throw in a little fudge factor on top of it. For product companies, time becomes an issue with logistics so be aware!

Not Knowing YOUR Company Numbers/Incorrectly Setting Prices- Notice I emphasized the word “your”. It’s a common mistake to use a competitor’s as your pricing gauge without actually knowing why they use those numbers. Think about the nightmare you will get yourself into if you take a competitor’s price, cut it by 10% and then start selling. What if the competition has a bad pricing structure and is barely making money or even losing money?!?! What if your costs are more than theirs?!?! You can use competitor as a starting point but you can’t base your whole strategy on it.

Different industries have their own variables as far as costs go and you need to be aware of them for your project or product pricing. What you pay for a product you are going to sell is not the only cost to have in your head when you are pricing products. How much your labor and materials cost for a service is only a piece of an hourly rate. Employees cost more than just salary and not every employee is part of your labor cost. Every company has insurance to pay for. There are tons of overhead expenditures that need to be part of your price. Oh, by the way, the big one that many people forget about in their price is the quality factor. What you include as “standard services” or “standard product features” as well as job site etiquette or in store service or warranties all need to go into your pricing. I’ll get to more on why in the next segment.

Not Charging for All of Your Time & Costs- This seems like a stupid statement to some but I bet most business owners will admit that they have given away a little too much of the farm at times. Hey, there is nothing wrong with giving a little extra here and there to show you care. But either way, that’s not what I’m talking about here. What concerns me are those that put a lot of quality into their work or products or stores and do not cover the cost for it. As an example, say you run a service company and your competitors don’t do a certain standard service that you do. You can’t just undercut their price to steal a job; you need to have that cost covered in your rate and advertise the fact that it comes with the price upfront. Stores undermine themselves, for example, when they put more people on the floor for customer service but don’t charge for it. These things cost you money and when your competitors don’t do them it costs them less money. Put out better service and then under price them, and your competition just has to wait a little bit for you to fall on your face so they can swoop back in.

As a business owner you need to believe that you are providing your clients worthwhile wares that deserve to be paid for. If you get the chance to explain why your prices are higher, then take that opportunity and do it. If they don’t like the fact that you include things that others charge extra for later or that you treat them better, then they are most likely completely price shoppers. You don’t want them as regular customers anyway. Trust me.

Not Getting Paid Fast Enough- That’s right, the old cash flow issue. As long as you are actually making enough money to pay the bills, this problem can be solved, prevented or at least made to be not as bad as it could be. Here’s the deal:

First off all, bill customers very promptly. It is very common for a small business to not have the procedures or systems in place to get invoices generated and out the door in a timely fashion (see the next segment for more). Again, this would seem unlikely since that’s the reason why we are doing the work- to get paid. But it is very easy for the people responsible for getting this info to the billing people to be too busy to get it there or not have enough organization to give it to them the right way.

The second part to slowing down or stopping a regular cash flow crunch is to make the quickest payment deals possible with customers and the slowest possible with vendors and employees. If there is any way not to pay employees any more than twice a month, you better do it. Contractors always have an issue with this. If you must pay weekly, then tell them before they are hired that they will be getting the first week held back, essentially buying you a week. It will help, I promise.

Part three involves credit. If your company can get a credit card, then get it. This allows for certain important things to be bought (that you can afford) that might come up during a cash flow crunch. Better yet, especially if you have no choice but to deal with 45+ day customer payments, do your best to get a company line of credit. This is a must if you plan on selling to the government or doing commercial service work. These clients often have 60 to 90 day wait periods.

Failure to Have Solid Systems and Procedures in Place- Too many procedures (known as “red tape”) is the reason why many people start their own business in the first place. Unfortunately, having no procedures and systems in place at all is not an alternative. Depending on the type of industry, business owners must come to a happy medium or chaos and the unknown will ensue. Some basic examples where procedures or systems are needed include billing, collections, payroll, hr (interviewing, hiring, vacations, benefits, job responsibilities, etc.), manufacturing, operating equipment, maintaining equipment, inventory, sales calls/visits and logistics to name a few.

Even a one person show needs to have some admin procedures in place. This will make it easier to hire temps and subcontractors and control what they are doing for you. Without at least a watered down version of a system or procedure to do everyday work, you will be to blame for causing many major headaches as your company grows. I can’t emphasize how important this is for when you bring on new employees. I’m sure you heard this before, but I am also a big proponent of having an employee handbook even for one employee. It’s amazing the trouble people can cause business owners just because they allow you to pay them.

Spending Advertising Money Just to Say You Advertise- I would almost rather see my clients not advertise then to spend without regard to tracking the results. There is no point in a marketing campaign if you do not put things in place that allow you to measure how well the plan is working. The other wasteful part of marketing that many people make the mistake of doing, is not tracking their previously successful campaigns. Why some people think that just because a $400 dollar a month ad worked once very well for one busy season, that it will automatically work every year after that is beyond me.

Spreading Yourself Too Thin- This is a classic mistake made by every entrepreneur. The key is to figure out when you are at that “wearing too many hats” point and start getting some help. The solution here is to know your strengths and to be able see when you are not performing the duties that demand these skills. If you are the best sales person on the company, you can’t get caught up in day-to-day operations. If you do, sales will slip and eventually you won’t have any operations to worry about. Think about this to help you figure out if you are spread too thin: Did you really go into business for yourself to work 80+ hours a week?

Not Getting Help Soon Enough- Set goals to know when to hire people to take over where you are light on knowledge. Not getting help or waiting too long can kill a company. Most people who start a business do it because they are good at the technical end or the sales end. If you know the best way to make a widget, then your strength is in production and that is where your time should be spent. Hire an outside company or consultant to take care of the sales and marketing and then hire inside when you can afford someone full time. Don’t be something to your company that you are not. It will only hold you back.

The three big issues people like to tackle themselves but usually are least knowledgeable about are legal issues, accounting/bookkeeping issues and daily operations issues. The odds are that these three things are your weakest link so if you don’t have a partner that has the background for these subjects, then be prepared to get help as soon as possible. It’s preferable that you do this before you start a business.

Although looking for these problems at any time is a good idea, the end of a year or season is an excellent business interval to make sure you are not making these errors. Take the time, or make the time, to fix these problems. If you don’t know how to reverse the problems, then get some help. If you really don’t have enough time to either figure out if you have these issues or know they are there and can’t break away long enough to do it right, then get some help.

Small Home-Based Businesses -- Five Simple Steps to Success

Did you know that, in Australia, 60% of small businesses fail in the first twelve months? For those of us who would like to start a small business -- maybe even work from home -- that’s a very discouraging statistic.

Does that mean that your business idea is doomed to failure? Far from it! There are steps you can take that greatly increase your chances of success. With a little time and some serious research you can hit the ground running. Let’s start from the beginning…

The bright idea

First, of course, you need to come up with an idea. Typically, business opportunities can be divided into four groups:

1. Offering an existing product/service in an existing market.
2. Introducing an existing product/service to a new market.
3. Offering a new product/service in an existing market
4. Introducing a new product/service to a new market.

At this stage of the game the only limit is your imagination. Inspiration can come from anywhere -- maybe you have a hobby that you’d like to turn into a full-time job; you may be on the receiving end of bad service one day and decide to try doing it better yourself; or you may have a talent that you’d like to capitalise on.

Once you’ve come across something that you’d like to do, it’s time to take a look at the market and see what’s on offer.

Passing the test

So you’ve had a great idea and you’re keen to roll with it; now it’s time to put it through its paces. For the purpose of the exercise, let’s say that you have a passion for healthy living, and that you want to distribute a range of lifestyle accessories that promote healthy living with a do-it-yourself approach.

Ask around: Is there a market for products that promote healthy living? What sorts of products are available? Who would you be competing with and what do your competitors offer? Do you have the necessary skills to run such a business and -- more to the point -- what would those skills be? Where would your business be located?

Once you’ve answered those questions you should have a fairly clear picture of what your business will look like.

You source some products and decide to do some further research into the range of lifestyle products offered by a company called Vitality 4 Life. Your own life experience plus some work you’ve done as a dietician has given you the necessary skill sets, and you think that you’ll be able to work from home, giving you more time for family. There is an existing market, but there’s room for expansion. Now it’s time to take a closer look.

To be or not to be?

It’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts. You don’t want to jump into something feet first and find out the hard way that the budget just doesn’t work.

To get started, sit down and work out if you need to hire staff, which means paying wages.

If you lease a premises you’ll need to be able to pay the rent, and your location will have to be suitable for your business and target market (which also means that you’ll have to think carefully about just what that target market is). You’ll also need to work out the likely demand for your product/service.

Ok… you’ve worked out that there is enough demand for good quality juicers, sprouters, water filters and other high end accessories to take a shot at a distributorship as a home-based business opportunity. Now you need to make some marketing decisions.

Look at me! Look at me!

Advertising can be costly so you’ll want to be sure that your advertising budget is spent wisely. That means more market research, this time one-on-one. Profile your customer groups so you can aim your marketing at the right group/s of people.

Draw up a questionnaire (a short questionnaire -- people run out patience if you ramble for too long) and hang around outside a few of the local gyms (for our particular example). Come up with a mixture of open questions (What do you think of……..?) and closed questions (Do you have a gym membership? Yes/No.); sliding scales can be useful too.

For our health accessories business, a good question might be ‘How did you hear about this gym? Radio, tv, newspaper, word of mouth etc…’ Such a question would then give you an indication of the types of media that your target group responds best to.

Choose a business name, print up some business cards, buy some stock and get ready to trade!

Measure it, manage it!

A teacher of mine made the point that, in business, if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.

You need to be able to plan ahead, and to do that you need to know -- or to be able to accurately predict -- your total sales. The equation is simple: number of customers x average sale x frequency of visits per customer per year = total sales. Remember it, revise it often, measure your business and you’ll be able to manage it!

Keep an eye on your bottom line and, most importantly, always be aware of your cash flow -- the cold, hard cash that you have in the bank. Allow for invoice periods (14 days, 30 days etc) when you’re planning your budget.

The market place has a life of its own, and no one can prepare for every contingency. Put some thought into your idea; make sure that there’s a market for what you’re offering; research, research, research; promote your business effectively; always know what’s going on in your bank account and don’t forget about cash flow!

It’s not perfect but, if you follow these few simple steps, you’ll be miles ahead of many new small business ventures. If you’ve heard of a great home-based business opportunity, or have a product or service of your own to market, you’re off to a great start!