If You Build It, Will “They” Come?

baseball diamond Coors Field

Building a Website for Your Small Business

Iowa cornfield. Baseball diamond. Field of Dreams movie reference.

What does it have to do with building a website?

It’s the analogy I’ve used for the past 5 years or so when small business owners talk about the importance of getting a website up and running.

The dream of an official website is half the fun. The costs associated with building and then maintaining a website are often forgotten in the start-up budget. The learning curve is steep.

It’s true that your website is the new address that goes on your business card. No longer do people really care about your physical address; they really want to know if you have a presence on the web.

But first, you need to make some decisions about your website.

You need a domain name.
Your domain name is your web address that you own for as long as you pay the annual fees.
That’s an annual cost that should be under $20.

You need a web host.
Your web host is where all your web files, pictures, content, etc., are stored.
That’s an annual (under $100) or monthly cost (under $10).

You need software to build your site.
The choices are endless.
As are the costs.

This is where the help of a professional comes into play. This is also where you can save a ton of time by spending a reasonable amount of money so you don’t have to learn something new.

Or you can dive in and build it yourself.

The most important things we want you to consider are these:

  • Your budget
  • Your time

Is getting a website built right now, the best use of your time and money for your business?

Or would you be better off spending time out in the public and on the phone marketing your business?

Your website will be beneficial in the long run. It is a tool that can:

  • Add credibility.
  • Showcase your portfolio.
  • Highlight your services.

Take an honest look at where you are in business and make a good business decision.

The website will not jumpstart your business. You have to do that. It will enhance your business as you grow.

We use Bluehost and WordPress.

If you are still undecided, we offer a free 30 minute phone consultation and we’ll give you our honest feedback about whether you really need a website right now.

Already have a website and want to make it better?

Here is a great article from Clickin Moms about understanding and using google analytics with your website:
Is your website effective?

Bluehost is an affiliate link.
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Tips for the Telephone

pastel telephonesTalking on the phone seems to be a dying form of communication these days. And yet the phone is one of your most valuable business tools.

While on the phone you can ask and answer questions and give feedback. The person you are talking with can hear the warmth in your voice. Together you can share a laugh or a concern. In a phone conversation you can guide your client to quicker decisions.

Here are 6 tips for using the phone professionally and effectively:

1. Schedule time to make phone calls.

Choose a quiet place. No driving, noisy children or sounds of a busy restaurant or coffee shop in the background.

2. Begin the conversation by asking if they have a minute to talk.

Offer to call back if it’s clear your client is distracted or in a hurry.

3. Respect your clients’ time.

Make your offer quickly and briefly.

4. Stay away from written scripts.

You can use notes or bullets to remind you what to say. Reading a script makes you sound like a telemarketer rather than a trusted service provider.

5. Expect to hear “no,” or “not now” sometimes.

If the answer is not now, let them know you will call back in a few weeks.

6. Never end the conversation without thanking the person you are talking with.

Let them know how much your appreciate their time and their consideration.

Next time, we’ll talk about leaving messages…

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How to Set Up a Communication System for Your Business

DV-00147797-001I’m all about using systems in business. They allow us to streamline everyday processes and to focus on the important stuff. Like serving our clients.

An effective communication system helps you stay in touch with potential and current clients — without feeling like you are bugging them or being pushy.

My next 4 posts are all about communicating with your clients in simple ways, complete with tips to do it professionally.

Let’s start with the most important form of communication — in person conversations. Most business relationships start with a face to face meeting. It might be at a networking event, a presentation, a gathering among friends and acquaintances, or just while out and about. These first meetings go a long way towards building a long term relationship. Here are 3 easy tips for effective face to face conversations:

1. Remember to keep the conversation about the person you are talking with.

Maya Angelou is right when she says:

“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

2. Learn about the other person by asking questions or using conversation starters like these:

  • Tell me about your business.
  • Who do you serve?
  • What made you start doing what you do?
  • What do you love about your business.
  • What are your plans for the future?
  • What does your work day look like?

These conversations are short and to the point.

3. Make a conscious decision to always end with a final statement and a simple question:

“I’d love to contact you to see how I might be of help. Can we exchange information?”

Nothing can replace in person conversations. In fact, experts tell us that over 50% of what we intend to say is conveyed via body language and facial expressions, not by the words we are actually saying.  Smile, nod your head, shake their hand. Show them that you are interested in them and what they are saying.

In the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at 3 more kinds of business communication: the telephone, email, and written communication. In the meantime, make it a goal to meet some new business contacts this week and get to know them!

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Does Your Passion Get In The Way of Your Profit?

money heart pillowThere is no denying that small business owners are passionate.

Whatever their product or service is, eyes light up and their voices fill with excitement when given the opportunity to talk about their business.

Often times what comes with that passion is a business owner who wants to give away their time or deeply discount their rates in the name of “love”. They love their customer and want to help them. They love their business and they want new clients. All normal.

But sometimes the love turns desperate. Not normal.

Desperate for clients and hungry to grow their new business, we’ve seen people let their business passion cut into their profit when they aren’t willing to stand firm on pricing. Don’t let those feelings of desperation overtake making smart business decisions.

Get Paid What You Are Worth

Make the rest of your February goals align with your passion. Love your business enough to set a solid pricing structure that matches your professional services. Reach out to prospective and existing clients and share your passion for your products and services while giving them fair prices. Be confident in charging what you are worth.

Side note:
You may think this doesn’t match our pricing philosophy from last year’s guinea pig blog post series. Please recognize that the guinea pig approach is for a brand new business to get some experience with a very small group of clients; usually just three. For existing businesses, it is a great approach if you need a marketing tune-up or want to experiment with adding new services. It is not a long-term marketing strategy.

Still having a hard time estimating jobs in your business?

Here is a great article that addresses that topic:

Why Estimating Copywriting Projects Is Like Learning to Play Tennis…

Even though the article is targeted for copywriters, it has some great tips for any service business. Be sure to read some of the great comments that follow the article too.

Remember passion and profit can work beautifully together – especially if you lose the “I’m desperate” sign!

We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and share your best tip on estimating projects and pricing.

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Start with One

one dollar bill

January is the month that is notorious for setting high expectations usually in the form of New Year’s resolutions.

Followed by February when many people to resolve not to make anymore New Year’s resolutions.

If you are one of those people who make resolutions each year, stick to them and succeed – virtual high five to you.

But for many, resolutions or goals set in January create more stress and are easily forgotten after a few weeks.

New Clients in 2013

Maybe you want 10 new clients. maybe you want 50. It doesn’t matter what your number is.

Or maybe your goal is a financial number – to earn $xxxxx dollars this year.

Long term goals are great. We should all have them. But many times those long term goals must be broken down into smaller, bite-sized goals. Daily goals help you get to those quarterly and annual goals.

Here’s my suggestion and it applies to whatever business goal you have set:

Start with One…

One really can be a magical number.

One day at a time.

One phone call at a time.

One email at a time.

One appointment at a time.

One new client at a time.

If you make it your job to connect with people, you will get those appointments that will bring you one step closer to a new client which will, in turn, bring you one step closer to your financial goal.

With this simple strategy, you will see your business grow in 2013!

Laura will share some great calendar and scheduling tips next week.

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6 Steps to Creating a Strategy for 2013

moleskin and favorite pen

January is a time of new beginnings. A time to refocus and set goals.

For small business owners, the new year means creating or resetting strategic goals designed for success.

Here are some quick tips to create your strategic plan for 2013:

1. Start with a brand new calendar.

Whether it’s electronic or paper, I find that a clean calendar helps me think big!

2. Set aside time to think about what you would like your business to look like this time next year.

Think broadly, and not only in terms of profit.

  • Picture those you will meet and serve.
  • The work you love to do.
  • How you will invest each day.

Your plan should be based on practical financial goals as well as your passion and love for what you do.

3. Based on your answers, determine a realistic financial goal for the calendar year.

Write down that number.

4. Divide your number.

First into quarterly goals. Then monthly. And next weekly. Write these goals on your calendar so you see them as you begin to schedule your time.

5.  Schedule events in your calendar.

What events will help you reach your goal? Appointments with clients, continuing education programs, trade shows, conventions, etc.  Write down the events you already have scheduled.

What events would you like to schedule?  Pencil them in as tentative.

6. Narrow your focus to weekly activities.

Perhaps most important are the daily tasks you choose to complete in order to build your business. What activities do you need to do to meet your financial goals? If you are new to business, or getting restarted, most likely these activities will include networking, making phone calls, and meeting with potential clients. Start scheduling your days so these business building activities are central.

The concept of strategic planning is a simple one, but not always simple to put into practice.

If you need some help, or just someone to give feedback while you bounce around some ideas give us a shout…we’d be glad to help!

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5 Steps to Building Relationships in Your Community

Building relationships in your town or city is one of the best ways to find new clients. In fact, there are many benefits to getting to know other business owners.

My friend, Karen Grosz, says that the key to networking is to make it your main goal to help other people instead of focusing on how others can help you.

Here are 5 steps you to help you become more comfortable meeting and learning about others in your community:

1. Practice introducing yourself.

Many new business owners find it difficult to make an initial contact. So rehearse! Stick out your hand to your imaginary acquaintance, tell them your name and ask for theirs.

2. Remind yourself that this is about them, not you.

The person you are meeting might just end up being a new friend, great referral source, a mentor, someone who has an incredibly interesting story to share.

3. Begin the conversation by asking questions.

Find out about their business, what products or services they offer, who they serve, how they got started in business and what they love about what they do.

4. Offer to help!

It may be as simple as promising to think about who you know that could use their services. Take a few of their business cards and then pass them on to your friends.

5. Let them know you will be back.

Don’t feel compelled to buy something right now, instead remember to stop back by when you next need this business’s product or service…or just stop back by to say hello and find out how things are going.

Next time, we’ll talk more about how to network and promote your business during these meetings.  For now, get out there and meet the business people in your community!

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Self Service or Full Service?

Self service is alive and well.

Remember the days when there was a cashier at the store, a clerk at the post office, a banker who greeted you…

Today we have become our own cashier, banker and candlestick maker.

With ATMs and self-checkouts and machines that dispense whatever we need, the human element has been removed from our customer service experience.

No wonder we are busier than ever. In addition to our jobs, parenthood and our daily responsibilities we have to check ourselves out at the grocery, be our own bank teller and pump our own gas.

Okay, so there are probably only a few of you who remember full service gas stations. I’m dating myself.

Unless you live in Oregon or New Jersey and aren’t allowed to pump your own gas.

My point is this…

Small business owners have the ability to bring back that “full service” experience.

It wasn’t just about pumping gas. The full service stations checked your oil, washed your windshield and put air in your tires.

These little extras may have cost a little extra but they were worth it.

Figure out what your clients want and then provide extraordinary customer service so they become your best source of advertising.

Some customers actually want you to teach them how to do things. Some customers want you to do it for them.

Know the difference and know their needs and then help them.

Embrace technology that can make life easier but remember why they call it “the good old days”.

Find ways to blend the new with good old-fashioned customer service and you have a winning combination.

Create customer experiences that are worth talking about.

In a good way.

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Tips on Buying a Used Mac Computer

Have you ever considered buying a used computer?

As a small business owner, it can be a good way to save money. Maybe your budget is tight and you can’t invest in a new computer right now.

Buying a used computer is very similar to buying a used car. It’s all about doing your research, choosing your model and getting the best deal.

A used computer rarely comes with a warranty which can be risky. But it can be a very sweet deal if you find the right seller. I look for a one-owner model that has been kept in the garage case and has been handled with tender, loving care.

When new models are coming out, you will find plenty of people selling their old models because they want the latest, greatest model. I have found that late summer/early fall can be a good time to find a great deal. Often times, kids get new computers at the beginning of school and sell their old model. January is also a good time to look after people get a new model as a holiday present.

We may have a few Apple® products in our house…

Disclaimer: These tips are all about Mac® computers because it’s all we own. I’m sure you can apply many of the tips if buying a Windows® computer.

I’ve been a Mac owner since 1985 when I bought a Macintosh 512k with an Apple LaserWriter® and started a desktop publishing business with Adobe® Pagemaker. I’ve loved my Mac computers way before Mac was ever cool. 😉

We have since owned almost every generation of the Mac computer that has been sold. I’ve bought computers directly from Apple and in the last 10 years, we have bought used computers (desktop and laptop) on ebay with virtually no problems. I don’t mind owning a generation or two behind the current model because it seems as soon as you buy the most current model, a brand new bell or whistle comes out. It’s impossible to keep up, so we stopped trying. Plus, history shows us that there are almost always glitches in the newest models with the newest operating systems so we prefer to wait until they work the bugs out.

Shopping on ebay has saved us hundreds of dollars on each computer and we do enjoying searching for a bargain.

Our three college kids have all purchased brand new Macbooks last year (2 from Microcenter and one from Apple). They all previously owned Macs we helped them find on ebay for under $700 each.

This takes time and effort but the savings has been worth it for us.

If you don’t have the patience or time to watch ebay auctions, then you may want to look for a refurb or used model on another site. Scroll down for a list of sites at the end of this article.

Three Best Tips When Buying a Used Computer

Do your research on what is current now so you will know what you are willing to give up if you purchase an older model. Set your budget with these things in mind:

  1. Buy the most current operating system you can afford
  2. Buy the most memory you can afford
  3. Buy the most hard drive space you can afford
ebay: What We Look For and How We Use It
  • Individual sellers (not resellers) with no less than 99% positive feedback
  • Clear pictures with thorough description including any flaws
  • Individual owner can include excellent software which increases the value of purchase
  • Storage cases and extra accessories can also increase value of the purchase
  • Mark and watch several auctions to see ending sale price so you know what particular models are going for and you don’t get in bidding war thinking you found “the one”
  • Bid in the last 5 minutes or less. I actually have 2 tabs open on my browser so I can see time ticking down and other tab open to bidding window where I type in bid and get ready to click and try to “snipe” in the last bid with under 1 minute with the maximum I’m willing to pay.

You can also filter your search on ebay to only include “Buy it Now” auctions with a fixed price. This is a huge timesaver and you can sometimes find great deals this way.

There are plenty to choose from and listings are added weekly if not daily – patience pays off

Don’t forget to check apple.com for their refurbished, discontinued and student discounts.

Resources for used, refurbished or new Macs:

LowEndMac.com (find history of mac and links for deals here)
Microcenter.com (their in-store specials are excellent if there is a store near you)

Happy shopping!

Back to School Basics

Some of the most basic skills we need as small business owners are the very skills we learned as young children.

When I wrote about getting back to work two weeks ago because we start back to school so early here in Georgia, I knew there would be a part two and maybe even a part three.

Consider this part two.

Depending on where you live, this upcoming Labor Day weekend may be the time you squeeze in your last bit of summer fun before school starts. For us, we are in week three of school and we’re in a pretty good rhythm with our new schedule.

#3 Create a Schedule deserves a little more time and attention.

Here’s what I said:

3. Create a Schedule

Plan your week. Know what your office hours are. Set appointments with potential clients. Having a framework in place for your week can really boost your productivity.

I also noted that I did not get specific about what your daily schedule should look like.

I’m still not going to tell you what your schedule should look like. I’d rather offer some suggestions and give you an example or too.

Unlike our days in kindergarten where our schedules all looked the same and we didn’t have many choices about them, one of the best benefits of being a small business owner is that we can create our own schedule.

Of course, as you create your schedule, other people’s schedules have to be taken into consideration. Stating the obvious, I know. But sometimes we need to be reminded about the obvious. Or at least I do.

As a self-employed small business owner for over 20 years, I know that I have to schedule certain activities or they will never get done. For me, that means I now color code my google calendar on my laptop. In years past, I used highlighters and colored paper in my planner. Others used stickers and different colored ink pens.

The point is, that while my tools have changed and I do more things electronically because I like technology, the basics of creating my schedule and managing my time have not changed.

I am visual and I like to see how many business activities I have scheduled, how many family activities and even {gasp} how many “all about me” activities are on my schedule. Business is blue, family is green and self/me is purple.

Pick your own colors. Use ink, colored pencils, highlighters or the computer.

Just create a schedule with blocks of time scheduled for WORK.

It’s an important to take your job seriously. Give yourself whatever title you like best. Owner, founder, principal, president. The most important title that you should honor is BOSS. You are the boss and you have to hold yourself accountable.

I’ve often asked people this question:

“If you were hiring right now, would you hire yourself?”

Are you hired? Or fired?

The great thing is that as the boss you can re-hire yourself. Bring your best to your business and your business will grow.

Would love to hear your best work schedule tips – leave a comment below and we can all learn from each other!

Next up in this series, we’ll talk about exactly what you do during your scheduled time to work and what is the most common thing we avoid.

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