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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Virtual Tools for Your Home Office

logitech headset

One of the perks of being your own boss as a small business owner is working from home. The flexibility that comes with creating your own schedule and working during your most productive hours is a great benefit.

Another benefit is that you can work remotely with clients who may not be located near you. Learning to conduct professional appointments and meetings virtually will help you standout with your services.

There are many free and low cost options to connect with clients. Here are some favorite tools you can use when you need to have a virtual meeting:

For face-to-face virtual calls there is skype, facetime or google voice and video chat.

For phone calls with more than 3 people, try freeconference.com or freeconferencecall.com.

We use join.me for easy screen sharing instantly so you can share your computer screen while are talking.

There are many choices for web conferencing for groups. These services offer many different services and pricing packages:

Document sharing through dropbox or google drive are both easy solutions when you need to collaborate.

One more quick tip…
Along with your computer, smartphone and/or tablet, a good headset frees up your hands so you can take notes or use screencast or webinar software easily.

Save this blog post in your Evernote for reference. You are using Evernote, right?

How do you conduct virtual meetings?

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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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Making a List, Checking It Twice

Holiday time is the traditional season of list making — who’s coming to dinner, what’s being served, what’s yet to be done, and of course, the ubiquitous gift list.

While most of us rely on lists this time of year, I believe they are a great tool all year round.

Keeping a daily “to do” list helps you do these three things:

  • know at a glance what needs to get done

  • focus on the priorities of the day

  • feel a sense of accomplishment

A list is simply an organizational tool to stay focused and on task, and it’s an easy habit to begin.

First decide if you will do better with an online list, or a pad and pen.

I’m a notepad person.  I keep a 5×7 lined pad of paper on my desk at all times.  When I think of a task that needs to be completed in my business or personal life, I add it to the list.  Each morning I glance over the list and prioritize the top three things that need to be accomplished.  I love the feeling of checking off items one by one.

Even better is when the page has so many tasks completed I have to start a new one. I often just carry over the few things left on the old list, add them to the new list, and I’m good to go. I keep a shopping and errand list on the pad as well. It’s easy to slip into my bag when I run out the door.

Sherra is the techie in our business, but even she uses paper lists on occasion.  If you’re a techie too, Sherra suggests you try Evernote or TeuxDeux for your electronic list making.

So make your list, check it twice, and count on greater results in your business!

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3 Scary Secrets about Small Business

Running a small business can be scary.

Truth is, the bottom line principles for building a successful business are scary simple:

  1. Be passionate about what you do
  2. Market yourself relentlessly
  3. Provide above and beyond customer service

Are you applying these three principles to your small business?

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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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3 Favorite Gmail Add-on Apps

There is a lot to love about Gmail.

Oh wait, I should not assume you are using Gmail.

Maybe you are still using aol or hotmail. According to my college son, it’s important to make the switch. Thankfully I already had – about 4 years ago. He sometimes forgets that I showed him how to use a computer.

Side note:
Last year he shared this amusing article about what your current email address says about you. I know there are different versions of this still floating around on the internet.

If you have made the switch and like Gmail as much as I do, you also know that we tend to get a little greedy wishing for more things we want it to do.

It is good to know if you have wished for a certain feature, someone else has probably wished for it too. It’s even better to now that someone has probably already developed an add-on app (or a “Lab” under “Settings”) that you can install to work within your Gmail account.

Here are 3 of my favorites…

Rapportive – gives you great contact details
WiseStamp – customize your email signature
Streak* – solid Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) that works within your gmail. Love!

*still in beta testing and only works in Chrome browser

Take a little time to explore these apps and other gmail features you may not be using. You might just find some new ways to become more efficient with your email!

Have a favorite feature or app? Share it in the comments…

Cloud Storage and Computer Backup

People keep talking about “The Cloud.” How you should backup your computer to “The Cloud.” And sync your photos to “The Cloud.” But I’m still encountering many people who ask:

Where is this dang cloud?
How do I get my data on the cloud?

“The Cloud” is a tech buzz word that many people still don’t understand.

The good news is that you are most likely already using “The Cloud” and might not even know it. Your email typically resides on a cloud. Your facebook photos are on a cloud.

There are actually many, many clouds – not just one. Cloud storage refers to computer servers hosted by a third party that store and backup your documents, photos, videos and music online.

Once this is understood, the next inevitable question is…

Which cloud storage should I use?

So many choices. So little time.

As I write this, if you use google to search for “cloud storage” options, 648,000,000 results come up. You can whittle the search down significantly if you type in “online photo storage.” That search offers a mere 399,000,000 results.

I refine my search to “backup computer online” which brings me to 150,000,000 results.

Now I’m making progress.

Or not.

Choosing your online cloud storage backup service should be based on your personal preferences and specific features you need.

I looked seriously at Carbonite and SugarSync. I have used Dropbox and Box. Like most people, I like word-of-mouth recommendations so when I read that Mary Moseley, co-owner of The Memory Boutique, uses Backblaze, I added it to my list of backup services to research.

My criteria included:

  • Simple
  • Secure and reliable
  • Maximum storage space
  • Cross platform (Windows or Mac)
  • Affordable

Backblaze matched everything on my list and it’s the backup service I chose.

Click here to download a free trial of Backblaze

Create a Backup System

The best time to create a backup system is BEFORE you lose something important or your computer fails. If it hasn’t happened to you yet – yea! But we all know someone who has been devastated from losing years of photos or important documents.

If you still haven’t decided on a system and you are overwhelmed with your choices, today is the day to make a decision.

We recommend backing up your computers and other electronic devices (cell phone, tablets, camera cards, memory sticks, etc.) THREE ways:

  1. External hard drive – buy the most storage space you can afford; keep off-site in case of fire, flood, stolen computer, etc.
  2. Cloud backup storage – choose a reputable company within your budget
  3. Cloud backup storage – a backup of your backups on the off chance #2 goes out of business

Set a daily, weekly or monthly schedule and create a system that becomes a simple routine for you. Having multiple backups of your data is important!

For me, #3 is an online photo storage backup service. I’ll be glad to write about those options if you’re interested. Weigh in and give your opinion in the comments – be sure and share your choice of backup services so we can all learn from each other!

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Disclosure: Backblaze is an affiliate link. We choose our affiliate links carefully and only if we feel comfortable endorsing their products. I use Backblaze as my own backup service because of ease of use and unlimited storage. All opinions are my own. You should do your own research before purchasing any product or service.

Melissa Draut: Grant Writing That Matters

Like many of us, Melissa Draut left the corporate world and found her dream job doing work that makes a difference in the lives of others. As a Grant Writer, Melissa has built a business based on her past experience and the desire to do meaningful work as an entrepreneur.

You are in the grant writing business; tell us a little bit about what you do and what a typical day might look like.

I help non-profit organizations raise funds for their programs by writing and researching grants. A big part of what I do is to help identify what foundations are the right funding prospects for the organization’s program. That part of the job involves using databases, research and talking to people at foundations to see where we might have a fit for possible funding.

A typical morning may be writing a grant, researching leads and calling foundation contacts.  Since the job is so “head” oriented, I work out at lunch and actually get some of my best ideas when I am lap swimming. The afternoon could be spent meeting with a client, heading to the post office to mail a grant package or interviewing a program manager to get details for an upcoming grant.

How did you come up with the idea to go into business on your own?

I was very resistant to running my own business after leaving the corporate world. I figured I would freelance for a while, and then return to the next job somewhere. Well, one thing led to another, and I ended up with five clients and enough revenue to sustain myself. After going through rounds of corporate layoffs, I think this is more secure financially since my livelihood is not dependent on one source.

What do you love about grant writing and working for yourself?

I love being a grant writer for my clients because I am truly passionate about the mission of these organizations. From promoting financial self-sufficiency for domestic violence survivors to ensuring talented students have visual art education, I am working in the middle of some exciting solutions that address community needs.

I like working for myself because I have a healthy workplace and a good boss. I’m also lucky that my IT expert husband has supported me every step of the way with technology recommendations and set up so I can work effectively and efficiently.

What do you wish you had known before starting your own business?

That it really isn’t as hard as you think it might be. I thought running my business would be such a hassle, and it really isn’t once you get systems in place. Sure, it took me awhile to figure what to do with taxes, bank accounts and office equipment, but I learned to ask and hire experts for help instead of trying to figure everything out myself.

I bet others say this – I would have jumped into this sooner had I known how much I would thrive doing this work.

What advice do you have for women who are seeking to leave the corporate world and work from home?

My advice to women and men who are considering a change from the corporate scene to their own world: have confidence that you can learn something new. Review your track record – if you’ve been successful in doing new projects and reaching goals for someone else, you can do it for yourself and your new clients.

Find Melissa at MelissaDraut.com