Guest Post: Shouldn’t Business & Life Skills Complement Each Other? by Julie Morris

post-it notes on a planning calendar

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Americans spend one-third of their lives working – often more for entrepreneurs – and the distinction between our work and personal lives becomes more difficult to separate.

You may not realize what you learn as a business owner may also apply to other aspects of your life, whether it’s your relationship with your partner, or negotiating with a home contractor. And applying interpersonal skills to your business is also appropriate.

Getting things done

If you have fallen victim to the never-ending “to-do list” at home, consider how you tackle your essential tasks and projects as a business owner. You might track a project’s progress using project management software. You give yourself deadlines for reaching certain steps or milestones.

While investing in professional time management software may not be realistic, there is no shortage of time management apps that can replace the seemingly endless sticky notes or the list stuck to your refrigerator door (probably with a promotional magnet that is supposed to remind you to get your teeth cleaned). However, you can go old school and use the A-B-C method to set priorities and decide which tasks to do first and in which order.

Another thing business owners do is have a sense for when they need to call in reinforcements, whether from employees, associates, contractors, or even technology. For example, as a business owner, you can ask your assistant to draft a standard “thank you” email that you can easily personalize as necessary and send out as needed. You can recreate this at home by ordering personalized, pre-printed cards that can easily be adapted into customized thank-you notes, birthday greetings, or expressions of sympathy.

In all cases, remember that just because you know how to do something yourself, doesn’t mean you have to, or even that you should. As a business owner, if you decide to structure your business as a limited liability company or LLC, you could do all of the work yourself by researching the steps of filing in Illinois online and taking time from your already-stacked day to fill out the required forms and file the paperwork.

You could also spend money and hire an attorney to do it. Better yet, take advantage of an online formation service for starting a business in Illinois, easily saving your company’s precious resources as well as your irreplaceable time. In the space of a couple of hours you’ll be ready to hang up your shingle and accept your first customer!

Getting things done, only better

Successful business owners have a vision for their company but still embark on tried-and-true paths in their business operations. For example, business plans have been used for years, giving business owners a roadmap and helping them validate their ideas to potential investors. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs help them manage their sales funnels and manage customer satisfaction and retention. Not reinventing the wheel saves time, money, and reduces stress and anxiety.

BUT … business owners also aren’t afraid to innovate and problem-solve when necessary. It may involve taking risks, but risks are a necessary part of business and in fact, many would consider risk as being synonymous with entrepreneurship.

However, developing a healthy sense of risk tolerance along with the need to develop discipline and standards as the business evolves is what makes some business owners “business builders” rather than serial entrepreneurs, as noted by Chris McGoff.

How does this apply to other parts of your life? Well, sometimes it pays to take the path of least resistance, but that shouldn’t erase the desire to make positive changes, to dare to dream, and to try new things – or simply improve on existing ones.

Take communication, for example. Everyone does it, whether we want to or not. But for some people, it comes easier than others, and they may not see a reason for putting additional effort into their communication capabilities, or “soft skills.”

Technical and practical expertise is often emphasized and lauded, while “soft skills” are considered “nice to have.” Well, honing your soft skills can help you land jobs, contracts, get a better price, and even save relationships. That sounds less like a “nice to have” and more like a “must-have.”

Establishing your brand

Who are you? As a business . . . as a person. What is your brand? Creating a brand that matches with your values and your company’s values is easier than to pretend to be something you are not. Spending some time considering your brand and your values is important.

Have some fun with this. Use a visual logo design maker to create and stimulate your thoughts. What do you want your logo to say about you? What can you visually bring into the world to emphasize your emerging brand and values?

Also, your website and your marketing need to let the customer know how you can help them and what problems you can solve. Hiring What A Great Website to ask you the right questions, help you define your brand, and create a website and all marketing materials that properly align your brand with your values and business model can be immensely productive and necessary to your continued growth.

Explore the portfolio of What a Great Website’s clients and see how hiring someone to create or update your website can establish your brand and better serve your customers.

It’s all a blur of humanity

Improving yourself crosses both personal and business lines, which is the point. What you do in one affects the other. Your business is filled with emotions because it’s filled with humans. Once you understand that, you’ll realize the importance of adding tools to your toolbox to help you deal with that humanity.

Julie Morris is a life and career coach.  Find her at http://juliemorris.org.

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Should you offer new products or services?

graphic image of a rocket that crashed

Recently, we’ve been privy to a lot of conversation from small business owners who are trying to come up with new products or services…. some even considering startups.

No surprise.  The ongoing disruption small businesses are experiencing (Thanks, Covid) has left owners looking for new income streams to replace those that haven’t come back.

An obvious example is restaurants and bars. But any business catering to a downtown corporate market…. or convention trade…. or travel and hospitality industries…. is also scrambling to replace lost income as many workers continue to work remotely.

Over the years, we’ve seen more than a few startups crash and burn before they even got started. Since offering new products or services is not all that different than starting a new business, we want to share what we’ve learned.

Why do businesses fail?

Usually, there’s a simple reason behind a business failure and it’s generally one or more of these 3 things:

You haven’t identified your target market.

I always cringe when someone tells me “everyone” is their target market. Rarely is that the case.

OK, maybe for something like toilet paper…..or water. Necessities that all humans need. And even then, the target market for pricey high-end bottled water like FIJI is not the same as that of generic brands in the flimsy plastic that you pick up in the grocery store. FIJI customers are willing to lay out far more money than someone who shops by price.

For most ventures, there’s a specific audience. Luxury products are geared to different audiences than mass market offerings. Think Versace vs Walmart or Tesla vs Ford. Whole Foods vs Aldi.

The marketing you develop to sell your products —  the language, design and messaging — will change based on who you’re marketing to. That’s why FIJI’s water is “artisan” and comes in a sleek, beautifully designed square bottle. It’s aimed at customers who are willing to pay up for a premium product, not someone looking to save money.

You haven’t verified the need for your product or service.

This reason always makes me sad because I see it far too often and it’s so easy to avoid. You come up with a “great” small business idea — an idea, not a concept because a concept usually involves significant reasoning — and an idea…..not so much.

A doomed-from-the-start startup, on the other hand, usually is the result of someone falling in love with their idea. They’re so sure that everyone will love their product that they neglect to do market research.

The most egregious example I’ve seen was someone who quit a well -paying job (with benefits) to launch a business selling something that not only did not fill a need but few people would buy.

I was astonished.

Had I been able to say something……which I couldn’t because it was a personal relationship and my feedback was not requested….. I would have opened my (rather big) mouth because it pains me to see an eager entrepreneur fail.

But I had to keep quiet while the startup launched, burned and crashed….taking thousands of dollars with it. A pricey lesson that didn’t have to happen.

You haven’t set aside a marketing budget.

We’re website design and developers. We love creating custom sites, and nothing makes us happier than happy clients. But every once in a while, we turn down a project because while the potential client might be able to pay for a custom website, they hadn’t set aside any money for marketing.

Long ago when the internet was in its infancy, you could launch a new business on a website and get away with word-of-mouth marketing or a small public relations campaign to promote your company.

But today there’s no way in hell that can happen. There’s far too much noise….. online and off. We’re bombarded with advertising from a multitude of channels.

That’s why there are influencers on TikTok and Instagram and social media experts to manage your campaigns. Add in email marketing, blogs, podcasts, newsletters, trade shows (yes, they’re coming back!) and other content development and you’re looking at a marketing campaign. And campaigns cost money!

If you stand still and stop promoting, you can be sure your competitors will be waiting in the wings to overtake you. So putting all your money into a website is a really awful idea.

Recently. we turned down a lucrative prospect for reasons 1 and 2. So even though there was a marketing budget, we just couldn’t stomach the idea of participating in a project that was doomed to fail.

Instead, we suggested that they hire us for a few hours of consulting to review their idea and see if we could help create a more feasible option. Because as much as we like making money, we also want to help our clients succeed. 

Next time a colleague or friend tells you about an idea for a new product or service and you’re feeling iffy about it, do them a favor. Share this blog post with them. They might be very grateful.

Resources

Some interesting post-Covid business opportunities.  13 Post-Pandemic Businesses You Can Start Now

Here’s a book to read for more prep work. So when you come to us to build a new website, you’ve already qualified your business concept. 5 Books to Read Before Starting Your Business by Ken Dunn.

5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Help Your Clients.

Read this if  you’re already in failing mode. 5 Tough Steps to Save Your Failing Business by Doug and Polly White.

And if you’ve had to close up shop. Before you beat yourself up, see  what good company you’re in.

One failure does not make you a failure.  It makes you a little bit wiser for the next opportunity. Just ask Mark Cuban.  13 Business Leaders Who Failed Before They Succeeded by Lynn Truong.

If you’ve been mulling over starting a new business or launching a new product and having second thoughts, call us. We’re happy to brainstorm with you. Maybe we can save you some money. And grief.

 

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Smart small businesses come up with solutions.

graphic image of the word create

Many thanks to Lum3n for use of this Pexels image.

A recent headline in the Wall Street Journal jumped out: Target Posts Record Quarter.

Really? Month 6 of a pandemic. Life is anything but normal. Shops still closed. Restaurants going out of business. And Target can’t get out of their own way.

What’s Target doing that others aren’t?  It’s simple, really. They’ve listened to their target market. And provided solutions.

Their customers want to be safe. They want to shop from home and pick up purchases without getting out of their cars. Or get deliveries. They also want convenience and to save time.

Smart small businesses come up with solutions.

Target ramped up their online presence and made it easy to shop their website. Don’t want to go into stores to browse back-to-school items? Their robust website has everything your kids need online. So you can easily shop from home, then pick up at a dedicated pickup location or get your items delivered.

No, it’s not the same back-to-school experience we knew. No browsing the aisles so your kiddos can find the right color glittery folders. No picking that perfect pencil case and backpack. No trying on new clothes.

But this is a new school year unlike any we’ve seen before. And these are the realities. The retailers who GET it……like Target….are seeing sales soar. And they’re not alone.

What can you, a small business owner or an entrepreneur, take away from Target’s example?

Here are five things you can do right now:

  1. Pay attention to what keeps your customers up at night. Then find a solution that you can offer them.
  2. Let them know. Share those solutions/new services on your website, in emails and newsletters and on social media. And ask people to retweet, reshare and tell their friends.
  3. Reach out. As soon as you’re aware that your clients are having trouble, let them know you’re there to help.
  4. Make it easy for them to contact you. Everyone has different ways they like to connect. Give them options — phone, email, text, Facebook Messenger.
  5. Research new products or services you might provide. Can you offer free delivery? Extended payment terms? (Be careful about that one). You might discover some new income streams, and that would be a win-win for you and your customers.

These are challenging times but that doesn’t mean your business can’t survive…..or even thrive. These are conditions that smart entrepreneurs look for.

What opportunities for growth do you see?

Now is the time to figure out exactly what you can do to move forward. Need more inspiration?

Read about some companies that are household names that successfully launched during wretched economic times:  13 Massive Companies That Started During a Recession by Kelly Bertog. You might be surprised. You’ll probably be inspired.

And if you end up coming up with some ideas, let us know. We love small business success stories!

Read some of our other articles to help you market smarter:

Small Business Marketing in the Throes of a Pandemic

Why Marketing Matters More Than Ever

Marketing Morsels: How Clear is Your Brand Voice?

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Small Business Shoutouts #2

Super Small Business Service Providers

Last month, we shouted about some fun things to do during this odd Chicago summer.

This month, we’re focusing on three small businesses offering services that can help you grow your business.

Video Production
Robb Emmett is the owner of WinWin Productions, Inc. and an excellent small business pivot story. When Covid-19 hit and he couldn’t shoot videos on location anymore, he put his videography skills to use virtually. Today, he patiently guides clients through the production process to create professional quality video for small business budgets. We’ve worked with him on four and couldn’t be happier with his attention to detail and easy manner.

Business Development
Big companies have in-house sales teams. Small businesses need a Reid & Co. Owner Nancy Reid has 30 years of experience in business development and sales training for clients in a variety of industries. She does the things you don’t have time for (or can’t do) — identifying new markets, finding potential clients, reaching decision makers and closing deals. She’s tenacious, smart and well-connected. I’ve seen her work. You want her on your team! Find Nancy on LinkedIn.

Public Relations
You might be the best in your field but if no one knows about you, it won’t help pay the mortgage. Flanagan Communications to the rescue! Dyana Flanagan is a Chicago-based public relations expert with solid media contacts in a variety of industries and super pitching skills. She’ll help get your message out where it needs to be seen and heard. And she’s a delight to work with — which is why some of her clients have been with her for years.

Strong business relationships are one of the best ways to build your businesses. We’ve culled many through networking including Robb, Nancy and Dyana, all of whom we trust to do what you need them to do.

Please help us spread the word about these excellent Chicago-area small businesses. And if you know of any exceptional providers, let us know. You can’t have too many outstanding contacts.

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Supporting Our Small Business Colleagues & Friends

Every once in a while, I like to look back to what we were doing a year ago.

In July 2019, life was radically different. We were busily blogging about branding. We also  roamed freely in our cities and networked face-to-face. Summer was filled with beach time,  boat rides, biking and concerts and festivals. A typical wonderful Chicago summer.

A lot has happened in this year. A lot of really difficult days as small business owners struggle  to survive…..or just to not have to shut down.

More than ever, we need to support one another. Our business community is stronger when  it’s healthy. So we’ve come up with something called Small Business Shoutouts. We want to  help our small business colleagues, clients and friends who are facing huge challenges. We  want to celebrate the grit, hard work and determination it takes to start a business and stick  with it through difficult times. Like now.

The goal of Small Business Shoutouts is to spread the word. Maybe you don’t know these  businesses or organizations. Maybe they offer something you’d love or a friend or colleague  would love. We’d love if you could share them with friends. Because we think that’s what a  healthy small business community does.

Here’s who we’re shouting out this month:

Shoutout #1 goes to Free Spirit Yacht Cruises, a family-owned private luxury yacht charter  Owners Angela and Joe Donofrio operate two of the most inviting private yachts on Lake  Michigan. Many of their corporate and private clients come back year after year to entertain  and celebrate happy occasions. But this year has been rough with almost three months lost  due to COVID-19. When your season is only six months long, it’s devastating to lose half of it.

free spirit private yachtA private yacht offers excellent entertaining opportunities despite the virus. And it definitely is  a spirit booster. You’re outside in fresh air and the yachts are large enough for easy social  distancing. You can still enjoy great food and drinks. The yachts are spotless and every  precaution is taken to keep you and your guests safe. So if you’re looking for a way to  celebrate summer, a private yacht charter might be just what you need. The season doesn’t  end till early October. Just sayin……

Full disclosure: I worked with Free Spirit on their marketing and PR from the time they first  bought the company ten years ago until 2018. We also designed several website iterations  (although not the current one).

Shoutout #2  is for 360 Chicago, the observation deck at the top of 875 N. Michigan Ave  (formerly called the John Hancock Building).
360 CHICAGO
Another near casualty of the virus, it just  reopened on July 1st and offers one of our town’s most amazing views. Whether you’re up for Tilt, billed as Chicago’s highest thrill ride, or just want to experience the oohs and ahs of our  city 94 floors below, it’s a treat for the whole family. They’ve taken all sorts of COVID-related  safety precautions? so you can feel perfectly comfortable visiting.  Full disclosure: Iris does their  graphic design branding work.

Shoutout #3 is not a small business but an organization that advocates for small businesses  in Illinois. The SBAC (Small Business Advocacy Council) is a non-partisan, member-driven  organization that promotes the success of small business through political advocacy, support  services and educational programs.

the sbac website home pageIf your small business has benefited from Illinois’s reduced LLC filing fees or from bills that make it  easier for small businesses to compete with large companies in the same arena, you can thank the  SBAC. Aside from advocacy, it offers a wealth of resources including educational programs and  networking opportunities to all its members. We are active members.

We are also active in the SBAC Women In Business Group. And Iris is on the board of SBAC  Empower, an SBAC affiliate which promotes entrepreneurship and small business development in  economically-challenged communities with education and mentorship. Full disclosure: we did the  SBAC Empower website.

If you know of a Chicago area small business that could use a Shoutout, leave a comment and tell  us why. In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy the summer we’ve been dealt. It beats Chicago winter,  right?

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Small Business Marketing in the Throes of a Pandemic

When the world does a 360, everything you thought you knew becomes questionable.

In the grips of a frightening pandemic, advertising might be the last thing you’re thinking about. But businesses still need to be on their toes.

You simply can’t ignore campaigns you’ve been running because, odds are, the messaging needs adjusting. And if you don’t acknowledge the new normal, you’re going to look bad. Really bad.

See our latest video about companies that are thriving despite Covid-19.

The Good, The Bad & The Clueless

I’ve been watching way too much television since the pandemic.started.. But part of it is marketing research. I’m curious as to how businesses are handling messaging during the pandemic. Some are ignoring it and doing advertising as usual. Others are either creating new ads or tweaking existing ad campaigns to reflect what’s going on in the world at the moment.

Ad Age took a look at 7 brands whose ads coincided with Covid-19.

Norwegian Cruise Lines stands out for horrendous timing. There’s not much else to say about it ……other than I’ll never take another cruise. Will you?

Here are a few companies doing a great job of adapting their messaging to fit the current climate:

Ford
Their commercials are reassuring, offering payment relief for Ford Credit customers. The director of U.S. marketing for Ford Motor Co. said: “It’s important to be reassuring right now and not trying to say to people ‘Rush into your car dealership for a sales event.’ ”

Nike
Nike’s new campaign focuses on social distancing and staying inside. Play inside, play for the world.” Perfect.

Hyundai
Hyundai  replaced their previously scheduled campaign with new spots touting the Hyundai Assurance Job Loss Protection program which defers payments for people who recently bought or leased a car and lost their job during a certain timeframe.

Toyota
Toyota’s new campaign reassures viewers that they’re “here for you now and in all the better days ahead .”

The examples above show how smart marketing teams pivot and respond during a crisis. They’re proactive and they speak to the fears and needs of viewers.

In return, we feel like these brands really give a damn. And when life returns to normal, these brands will be top of mind.

Look to the Businesses that are Marketing Smart

So what can small businesses learn from how big firms are handling their advertising campaigns during a crisis? Here are 4 key takeaways:

  1. Be compassionate. Don’t try to do business as usual when nothing is as usual. Empathize with your audience. Let them know you understand (and share) their fears.
  2. Be authentic. If you want customer loyalty, give them a reason to be loyal. People can usually see through phoniness. If your company has run some ads that ignored the tragic state of the world, acknowledge the error. Apologize and move on. We’re a very forgiving people. You’ll have another chance.
  3. Be trustworthy. Can customers depend on your company’s products or services? Make sure you give them a reason to trust you. This does more for brand loyalty than almost anything else. ‘
  4. Be creative. What can you do to help customers and potential customers notice you, and hopefully, want to give you business down the road? Start by letting them know you’re here to help. Whatever it is they’re going through, be a resource.

Sadly, many small businesses will not survive the coronavirus. So while we’re all stuck inside, now is the perfect time to do what you can to make sure yours is one that does.

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How to Market During Troubling Times

man sitting at computer with his head in his hands

Building a business is challenging enough when the economy is strong. But we’re currently in the throes of a pandemic and on the brink of a recession and this is something none of us have ever seen before.

Small business owners don’t know if they’ll be able to survive the next few months. So what can you do when you can’t open your retail business or restaurant or office where you meet with customers face-to-face?

This is a time to be super proactive. Sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to turn around is not an option. Rather, use this forced quarantine as a time to get creative with your marketing.

Here are eight easy-to-implement tips designed to stay in touch with customers so you don’t lose them.

  1.  Market consistently. You want to maintain visibility. It’s important to keep your name out in the marketplace – even if it’s only virtual. Never give your customers a chance to forget about you.
  2.  Focus on your customers’ needs. Some of them are obvious now – food, shelter, business support, and the personal services we can no longer get (anyone need a haircut?). But never assume. Ask your customers what they need and how you can help. Let them know you’re still there for them.
  3. Make customer care a priority. A positive customer experience may be the difference between keeping a customer or losing her to a competitor. Vow to make every customer experience a positive one.
  4. Keep your marketing message consistent. Don’t keep changing who you are. Not only does that muddy your brand, but it confuses your customers.
  5. Don’t ignore what’s going on and pretend it’s business as usual. Nothing is as usual right now. Acknowledge that. If you’re a brick & mortar shop and can offer e-commerce, do it. Some sales are better than no sales. If you can’t sell online, what CAN you do? Could you offer online seminars or webinars? What about coaching? Get creative about alternative ways to bring in money.
  6. Find a WOW” about your business. If you can’t find one, create one. It’s the reason customers talk about your shop or your services. One-of-a-kind products. Custom designs. Styles that are always a few steps ahead of the current trends. Consistently outstanding customer service. What makes your company special?
  7. Read Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill. It’s a great book that explains what triggers peoples’ “need that” button.
  8. Don’t get discouraged. Well, try not to. Our economy is cyclical. The stock market always comes back. Yes, even from devastating losses like we’re seeing now.

Hopefully, your business will come back as well. But in the current economy, you need to hustle to make that happen.

If we can help, let us know. In the meantime, stay safe.

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Our small business community can beat this!

The coronavirus has impacted how we live and work.

Schools are closed. Restaurants and bars, too, except for delivery or pickup (at least in Illinois). Appointments that aren’t critical are being postponed. Our world is getting much smaller.

It seems the entire country is working from home for the next few weeks. Savvy companies like Google and Zoho are making that easier to do with free productivity tools. Remotely from Zoho was developed in just one week. Google is offering access to their advanced Hangouts Meet feature to all Education and G Suite customers until July 1st. 

Since it’s  not going to be business as usual for a while, we’ve been thinking about how companies can put this quarantine to good use. Cause we’re going to beat this!

 If you’re a small business owner or a solopreneur, this might be the perfect time to catch up on your marketing. Updating email lists. Creating an inventory of blog posts. Checking in with customers to see how they’re managing. And updating your website, which seems to be a stumbling block for many overwhelmed small business owners who never seem to be able to catch up. Here’s your chance. 

A Robust Marketing Tool
Your website should be your most robust marketing tool. According to Blue Corona, here are two reason why:   

  1.  97% of consumers go online to find a local business or local services.
  2.  Studies show that between 70-80% of people research a company online BEFORE visiting the small business or making a purchase with them.

Think about it. If your website hasn’t been updated with fresh content, new products and security fixes, you’re probably giving away business at a time when more and more people are online working remotely. Especially when we’re quarantined and looking for things to buy.

Amazon just announced that they’re hiring 100,000 workers to keep up with online deliveries. Give you any ideas?

What can you do?

Keeping a website fresh is actually not very difficult if you know what to do. It’s time consuming, however. So why not use this forced stay-at-home time to work on it.

Here’s a checklist of four things you need to do keep your website working for you:

  1.  Add new content regularly.
    Blogging is a great way to keep content fresh. A regular blogging schedule lets Google know to crawl your site on an ongoing basis.
  2.  Keep your site secure.
    Think only large companies fall prey to cyberattacks? Think again.According to Accenture, 43% of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses. And of that number, only 14% are prepared to defend themselves.Cyberattacks now cost companies $200,000 on average, putting many out of business. Make sure you install ongoing security updates. It’s not enough to just do it when your site is new. Hackers are constantly finding new ways to break in. So it’s critical that your site is protected with the latest technology.
  3. Keep your site optimized.
    Much like the security issues, algorithm changes affect search functionality.  So your keywords and phrases should be refreshed regularly. Don’t let your competition push you to the bottom of a search page.
  4. Never assume.
    As a business owner, you can’t afford to take things for granted. Periodically check your website to see how it appears on different size screens. A site that looks great on a desktop may look wonky on a cell phone.If there’s a problem with responsiveness, you want to be the first one to find it. You don’t want to hear it from  a client.

If you’re reading this and feeling that bringing your website up-to-speed is still not something you have time (or the interest) to do, contact us. We can handle your website management so you can spend your time doing something else to drive business. 

Because as scary as the current business outlook appears at the moment, eventually the coronavirus will be knocked out and life will resume. 

Hopefully, we will all come out of this experience safe and sound…… and wiser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 20 Ways to Jumpstart 2020

A new decade dawning. Does it feel newer than a regular old middle-of-the-decade new year? Probably not. But why not use it for what it is – a beginning — the start of a calendar year. And as good a time as any to think about how you can jumpstart your business.

Based on our combined 50+ years in business, we offer the following 20 ideas for making 2020 your best year yet:

  1. Focus on focusing. Don’t try and accomplish more than you can reasonably accomplish. Better to do a few things really well than a bunch of things half-assed.
  2. If you make a mistake, move on. If you’re lucky enough to be in business long enough, you’ll make lots. That’s how we learn!
  3. Surround yourself with smart people.
  4. LEARN from the smart people around you.
  5. Hire people with the skills you don’t have. So you can focus on what you do best.
  6. Learn to network. If you already know how, finesse your skills.
  7. Master a new skill. Or a few. Podcasting. Speaking gigs. Seminars. Blogging. All meant to increase your visibility and put you in front of new audiences (and potential clients).
  8. Ask for help. No one knows everything there is to know about an industry. Learn from people who know what you don’t.
  9. Think about mentoring someone. You will get back at least as much as you give.
  10. Take vacations. You need a business break now and then. Working a 7-day week will not make your business better. It WILL make you burn out faster.
  11. Volunteer. Get out of your own head and share your time to help others — local community organizations, homeless shelters, rescue organizations, foodbanks….the list is endless.
  12. Read. A lot. Not just business books but all kinds of books. The more you read, the better you write. And the easier it is to solve problems.
  13. Exercise. A little every day if you can. Not necessarily lifting weights or running. Walking works too. Anything that gets you up and moving and not thinking about work problems.
  14. Get more sleep. We’re not going to quote all the studies but you KNOW that you operate better on a decent night’s sleep.
  15. Take some risks. If you want to grow, you need to step out of that safe circle. There’d be no inventions if the inventors hadn’t decided to find a better way.
  16. Be pro-active. The last decade has seen far too many businesses suffer because new technology made their products or services obsolete (thanks, Amazon). Don’t ever get too comfortable.
  17. Treat your employees like the critical business assets they are. And if they’re not, let them go.
  18. If you don’t have a solid email program, stop wasting your database and make this the year you nurture your soft connections.
  19. If you’ve avoided social media (yep, we’ve seen companies that are still waiting to see if it works!), time to jump in. Be smart. Learn one platform well and then add others. Or hire someone who knows how to do it.
  20.  If your budget allows, bring in experts to do the things you can’t do, don’t want to do or need help with.

If you only implement a few of these 20 ideas, you’re bound to see some success.

And if you need help with anything web, digital or marketing-related, give us a call. We’re looking to grow your business too.

 

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How to stay relevant in a quickly changing market.

Keeping up in the business world is becoming more and more challenging. Because the very nature of the internet nurtures change. There’s always something newer, faster, cooler, brighter.

On the flip side, if you don’t like the way your product or service looks next to the competition, you can revamp your digital marketing quickly. Often in a day.

Falling behind in market share?

Change your marketing message in a snap. No need to wait months to get feedback. Results start showing up immediately.

Not convinced? See what some savvy retailers have done to refresh their marketing and revamp their messaging.

A Cappella Books
The Wall Street Journal recently profiled this small independent Atlanta bookstore that watched sales drop for ten years. Faced with huge competition from Amazon, the owner figured he’d have to close.

But then he came up with an idea. Focus less on selling  books — where he couldn’t compete with Amazon’s prices — and more on appealing to customers who loved independent bookstores and would support a local business.

He started hosting author events — book signings and readings, then added events at other venues. What do you know? Business started to turn around. Because his customers were more interested in the bookstore experience and supporting a local business than saving a few dollars.

Think this is an isolated example? Hardly. According to a CBS segment titled “Independent bookstores thrive” that aired on April 23, 2018, “Between 2009 and 2015, more than 570 independent bookstores opened in the U.S., bringing the total to more than 2,200; that’s about a 35 percent jump after more than a decade of decline.”

What’s driving this small market segment’s success? Shop Local campaigns, selections curated for the community and lots of events. It’s about book-related experiences rather than buying as cheaply as possible. And it’s really a small business success story.

Booksellers aren’t the only retailers thriving despite the growth of e-commerce.

Ever hear of Warby Parker?

Established as a hip online-only retailer selling stylish glasses at affordable prices, Warby Parker’s marketing message focused on their mission to give back — “Buy a pair, give a pair” was what they thought would appeal to their customers. But in reality, their customers didn’t pay much attention to the mission statement. Instead, they were drawn in by the cool styles and the ease of buying glasses online.

So Warby focused less on its mission and more on the Warby Parker cool factor and the ease of purchasing. Next, they opened a few brick & mortar locations where they honed the shopping experience even more. Tiny shops that looked like cozy little libraries. Each eyeglass frame shown in three different sizes to fit various face shapes. Super friendly and helpful personal service. And fresh designs rotating in on a regular basis so there’s always something new to see. And buy.

Today, Warby Parker has retail shops around the country (including 5 in Illinois) as well as in Canada and British Columbia. And the shops (at least the ones I’ve seen in Chicago) are always busy.

How do you say pivot?

Would you be surprised to learn that some of today’s biggest brands started out selling products or services that evolved into something different –which is where they are today?

If you said YouTube, Slack, Yelp, Shopify and Groupon, you’d be right.  Jayson DeMers writes about these companies and their reinventions in his Entrepreneur article titled “5 Big Brands That Had Massively Successful Pivots.”  If you’re fascinated by success stories (like I am), you’ll enjoy this article.

Smart business owners know that being nimble is critical in a competitive marketplace. And fortunately, it’s far easier for a small business to pivot than a large company with multiple layers of approval.

So if something’s not working, do your research to see where the problem lies. If it’s a product that’s no longer relevant to your key market, don’t scrap the product. Find a different market. If there’s still a market for your product or service, do whatever it takes to become relevant again.

And if you’ve had to pivot for your small business to stay relevant, we’d love to hear about it.

 

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