Make a Referral – Jumpstart the Economy

As you all know, our economy needs all the help it can get right now. In my opinion and that of many thought leaders that I read, small business is the answer to solving the problem. Therefore I was very intrigued when I read about a program currently being promoted throughout the web, Make a Referral Week:  A Small Business Stimulus Program sponsored by John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing.

‘Make a Referral Week’ is an entrepreneurial approach to stimulating the small business economy one referred business at a time. The goal for the week is to generate 1000 referred leads to 1000 deserving small businesses in an effort to highlight the impact of a simple action that could blossom into millions of dollars in new business. Small business is the lifeblood and job-creating engine of the economy and merits the positive attention so often saved for corporate bailout stories.


During the week of March 9-13, we will do everything in our power to get everyone referring leads to small businesses.  A whole bunch of small business experts will share ideas, tools, information and resources to get you started.  Look at the educational events happening during the week here.

You may think that this effort won’t have much impact, particularly if it doesn’t benefit you specifically, but I would ask you to remember that every effort to benefit small business in general will benefit every individual small business in some way. Your referral might hit someone’s business right when they are considering shutting their doors, or they may be behind on their mortgage and staying up nights worrying about paying the bills.  This economy impacts personal health, families, relationships and communities.  It’s something that can be fixed, one small business at a time; or in this case – one referral at a time.

For my part, I’m pledging to make a referral to a business I want to help as part of the national campaign to make 1000 referrals March 9-13. What a great small business stimulus plan – won’t you join this effort?

Here are other ways to participate:

  • Sign up at the Make a Referral Pledge Page
  • Spend the week referring the heck out of trusted friends/partners/colleagues
  • Promote ‘Make a Referral Week’ in your blogs and your social networks

Do your part to stimulate the economy by telling your network about making referrals and ‘Make a Referral Week’ – you’ll be in good company AND you’ll be doing your part to help the economy.

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The author, Linda Daichendt, is Founder, CEO and Managing Consultant at Strategic Growth Concepts, a consulting firm specializing in start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. She is a recognized expert with 20+ years experience in providing Marketing, Operations, HR, and Strategic planning services to start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. Linda can be contacted at linda@strategicgrowthconcepts.com and the company website can be viewed at www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com.

 

What Social Media Marketers Can Learn from Email Marketing and In-person Networking

Are you still trying to figure out the “do’s” and “don’ts” of social media marketing? Be assured, you’re not alone. As the social networking community continues to grow at an ever-increasing pace, marketers and small business owners are challenged with learning how to apply standard marketing principles to this new medium.

One of the challenges of social media is that it doesn’t respond well to “advertising”. Social media marketing needs to be more subtle. It’s about networking to build a reputation as an expert, and then having your expertise sought out. To give you a relevant example, many of you attend networking meetings for your Chamber of Commerce or various trade associations. When you attend those functions do you walk in wearing a sign that says “buy from me”? Or, do you take a more subtle approach by trying to meet new people, learn about what they do, offer a free bit of advice here and there, and build relationships that down the road will result in new business? If you’re like most people, you follow the second option and with that being the case, why would you not apply that same strategy to social networking? You would – and you should!

Additionally, since email marketers have already traversed a path similar to that now being explored by social media marketers, there are a great many lessons that can be learned by reviewing email marketing strategies and the results which were achieved. A recent article by Stephanie Miller, published in MediaPost online publications, explores the email media / social media comparison and provides some interesting lessons to help you improve the results from your social media marketing strategies. This article can be found on our website.

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The author, Linda Daichendt, is Founder, CEO and Managing Consultant at Strategic Growth Concepts, a consulting firm specializing in start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. She is a recognized expert with 20+ years experience in providing Marketing, Operations, HR, and Strategic planning services to start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. Linda can be contacted at linda@strategicgrowthconcepts.com and the company website can be viewed at www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com.

Grow Your Business by Building Your Credibility as an Expert

In today’s world of 5-person or less small businesses, oftentimes building demand for your business requires building demand for your expertise as the owner and a subject-matter expert in your field. With the many resources available today, online and elsewhere, the opportunities to showcase your expertise and build your personal “brand”, as well as that of your company, are almost limitless. On our website find an article that will provide you with tips to utilize some of these opportunities to your best advantage for growing your business. Learn how to maximize the opportunities presented by blogging, social media, public speaking, teaching, portfolio presentation, and publishing in your efforts to grow your business.

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The author, Linda Daichendt, is Founder, CEO and Managing Consultant at Strategic Growth Concepts, a consulting firm specializing in start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. She is a recognized expert with 20+ years experience in providing Marketing, Operations, HR, and Strategic planning services to start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. Linda can be contacted at linda@strategicgrowthconcepts.com and the company website can be viewed at www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com.

IRS May Give Some a Break

Review a recent interview with IRS Commissioner, Douglas Shulman, discussing his plan to authorize front-line staff to be easier on those currently in financial hardship. The article also discussions his plans for increased enforcement efforts on high net worth individuals, U.S. businesses with international operations, and large corporations.

But Shulman quickly added that they won’t get a “free ride,” just a break, and that such grace is directed toward people who have been tax-compliant in the past. “We want to help people who have always been upstanding,” he said. There’s not just an altruistic goal here. This is still the IRS. Shulman said his goal is to keep “compliant taxpayers in the system.”

Could this benefit small business? Time will tell, but I would venture to say that we’ll all be watching!  Read the complete article via our website.

Get FREE Weekly Business Growth Tips

Can your business use a “shot in the arm”? Do you need some “outsider perspective”? If so, register on our website to receive our weekly Business Growth Tips via email.

These weekly quick-tips are designed to offer quick, easy-to-implement ideas that can have positive impact on the growth of your business.  Sign up today!

How Small Business Benefits from Stimulus

Finally found an article that details how small business will benefit from the stimulus package. You can find it on our website. Would be interested in hearing opinions: do you agree, will it benefit small business? Did it go far enough? What else would you have added?

Customer Relationship Management for Small Businesses

As we have become more and more technology-oriented in recent years, one of the trends I’ve noticed is that small business owners seem to assume that any task needing to be done to run their business requires a software package to facilitate it. Customer Relationship Management is no different. The multitude of CRM software packages available today, such as ACT, Outlook Contact Manager, Salesforce.com, SugarCRM, FreeCRM, SalesBoom.com and many others, have encouraged this trend. Unfortunately, what frequently occurs is that the programs are so complicated, or so work-intensive, that the already over-worked small business owners eventually stop using them; and then assume that they can’t proceed with a CRM program since they don’t have time to manage it with the software program.

I would like to propose that small business owners go back to the basics as listed below:

  • A database of your customers, in Excel, that can be sorted and updated and includes a comments section.
  • Follow-up steps, including “Thanks for your time/business” letters or e-mails.
  • An inexpensive e-mail vendor such as ConstantContact, SwiftPages or any other similar online service that can cost as little as $15 per month to manage up to 500 contacts.
  • A solid communication schedule, with a customer feedback loop that captures and logs in the customer contact history.
  • Buy-in from every employee in your company to execute the strategy.

The list of basic tasks above comes from an article that recently ran in Forbes.com that discussed CRM from a similar standpoint (the complete article can be found on our website), the premise being that CRM programs don’t need to be complicated to implement to be effective. Nor do they need to be costly or time-consuming. Make a plan, have a basic database to track your efforts, some simple tools, and you’re on your way to increasing business from the most cost-effective and profitable customers you can have – the ones who already know you and have done business with you. Try it and see if it doesn’t have positive impact on your business!

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The author, Linda Daichendt, is Founder and Managing Consultant at Strategic Growth Concepts with over twenty years’ experience in working with small businesses. Linda can be contacted by email at strategicgrowthconcepts@earthlink.net. The company website can be viewed at www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com

Use History as a Guide to Grow Your Business

One question that seems to be most prominent when talking to small businesses, or reading the social networks, today is ‘what should I be doing to market my business effectively in the down economy?’. There are a multitude of answers to this question, but the one I like the best is to keep functioning in business-as-usual mode with an added dose of aggressiveness when it comes to advertising/promoting your business. In today’s Web 2.0 environment, that doesn’t necessarily translate into spending more money, but it does mean you have to get more creative and aggressive with your promotional strategies.

However, as I’ve had discussions with a variety of small business owners on this topic, I find that they are not convinced. They are less than confident that increased marketing in today’s economic environment is the right choice. In my state of frustration at not being able to convince them of the soundness of this strategy, I elected to find evidence to back me up. In the course of that evidence search I came across the article below which was published in iMedia Connection. If this well-written article doesn’t convince a small business owner of the viability of self-promotion in today’s economy, then, I’m certain I don’t know what will. Please read the summary below and follow the link to the complete article, then let me know if you agree with me.
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Published in iMedia Connection: October 17, 2008
How brands thrived during the Great Depression

By Dave Chase

Companies can and do prosper during times of economic turmoil. Take a lesson from brands whose Depression-era advertising strategies were key to their survival.

To begin, not all was doom and gloom during the Great Depression. It was a time when those who knew what they were doing made great economic strides, and the very nature of the Depression was an economic boon for them. It was a time when several companies benefited from aggressive marketing while their rivals cut back. A good example of that would be Kellogg besting C.W. Post during that time. Consumers didn’t stop spending during the Depression; most just looked for better deals, and the companies providing those better deals came out stronger after the Depression ended. When spending picked up, consumer loyalty to those companies remained.

Generally speaking, those companies that not only survived but also thrived during the Great Depression were those that continued to act as though there were nothing wrong and that the public had money to spend. In other words, they advertised. These are industries that didn’t wait for public demand for their products to rise. They created that demand even during the most difficult of times.

The complete article can be found HERE.

No Time Marketing Truths: 10 Things to Remember That Will Improve Your Marketing Results

Adapted from “No Time Marketing: small business-sized steps in 30 minutes or less”, By Alyssa Dver, http://www.NoTimeMarketing.com

1.     Marketing is as much an art as it is a science. Plan, test, execute, and measure, but never be surprised by uncertainty and change.

In our eagerness to measure and declare return on investment for all marketing spends, we often forget that humans are unpredictable. As such, we can’t always predict a market reaction or group think. Testing helps minimize the chances of this but historically it is like the weather. We can predict some things but often not with precise timing or impact. While we must embark on programs we feel have a high likelihood to generate results, don’t be stuck doing what everyone else does. Can you be the Apple of your industry?

2.     You usually need to bang on the same prospect door four or more times before someone answers. Make sure that you have the right address.

Be sure you have a target list and target profile that you are confident represents qualified leads BEFORE you spend money on any program. Just because you gave out 1000 pens at the tradeshow doesn’t mean you have any real leads. Know who and why people will buy your products or service and not someone else’s. 


 3.     You are not your customer. Never assume you know them that well.

Just because you buy products or even buy your own product, never assume that you are a typical customer. Don’t even assume there is such a thing as a “typical customer”. There may be types of customers at best. Learn your customer demographics and psychographics. Once you “get” them, marketing “gets” much easier.

4.     Restricted resources represent an opportunity to embrace creativity and revisit comfort.

Economic downturns force us to look within and find ways to improve productivity and reduce waste. It’s hard to readjust the way we work but it’s a great time update business processes and marketing assumptions. Use the opportunity to revitalize your perspective and take the lead away from dormant competitors.
5.     Don’t confuse prospect enthusiasm for purchase authority.

I love your product” doesn’t mean “I will buy your product” in any language. People will say nice things out of courtesy, lack of confidence, politics and for many other reasons that don’t require them to take out their wallet. Asking prospects directly who and how purchase decisions are made could save you enormous efforts. If you just want perpetual positive feedback, get a dog.

6.     Motivate don’t manipulate.

Find reasons why people want to work at your company or buy your products such that it improves THEIR lives, not their company’s. People don’t do things usually unless they get something of clear personal value in return. Figure out what that is and then use that as your currency. How will your product or service make them look better at work or home? Will it increase their revenues or reduce their expense? Nothing else matters. Just ask Maslow.

7.     Quality precedes quantity.

More leads and more sales may sound great but only if you can support and follow up with them. Damage to your reputation and costly repairs will be the result when customers or prospects are left hanging. When identifying leads, save your sales team the pain of sifting through hoards of simply breathing prospects and provide them a list of really qualified leads. This saves everyone – your sales people, the prospects and your marketing team – a ton of time, money and aggravation.

8.     The best teachers are students.

Your best weapons are your ears. By listening more so you can understand other people’s needs and desires. A defensive posture is never welcoming and it is incredibly attractive to your prospects when you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. Build your own bandwagon by inviting other opinions and input to gain buy-in and team membership. Exercise your intellect and creativity by asking questions, trying new technologies and reading a broad variety of information. An open mind closes more deals.

9.     Confidence sells. BS smells. 

Say to yourself: “What would Barack do?”

10. Spend only if you would be willing to pick up the tab.

It’s easy to spend company money so next time you approve a marketing expense, think about it coming out of your own potential bonus or salary increase. While you do need to spend money to do marketing, make sure you are being responsible with assets that really are yours even though you don’t balance that specific check book. Be responsible with your marketing spend as well as your impact on the earth and society. We all can make a difference.

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About the Author

Formerly a CMO for a public company, Dver now consults for companies ranging from large multinationals to small startups. In 2007, BusinessWeek recognized Dver as one of 8 female entrepreneurs to watch.  She authored the well-endorsed books, “No Time Marketing” and previously, “Software Product Management Essentials”. A featured columnist for Software Magazine, she has also been published in Forbes, BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, Promo Magazine, and dozens of others. Ms. Dver regularly presents at venues including The World Diversity Leadership Summit at the UN, The Women’s Congress, The American Marketing and American Banking Associations, and Strategic Management Institute. A graduate of Wharton Business School, she is currently working towards her PhD at the University of East London.

The Stimulus Bill, the Economy, and the Effect on Small Business

Many of you have responded to my recent posting about the Obama Stimulus plan, and there have been a wide diversity of opinions on its potential effectiveness. However, one comment that was prevalent in a large percentage of the responses was a question with regard to the actual content in the latest version of the plan. Most of you are interested to find out whether or not the bill currently being debated in Congress resembles the plan that was originally presented. Therefore, I am providing you with a link to an article that appeared in a recent issue of the New York Times entitled, ‘Small Business Critical of Stimulus’. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/07/business/smallbusiness/07sbiz.html?_r=1&ref=smallbusiness This article gives a good overview of the content of the bill as it currently stands and its potential affect on small business.

Additionally, I am also providing a link to a report recently issued by the SBA entitled, ‘Fourth Quarter 2008: The Economy and Small Business’ http://www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com/cm/dpl/downloads/content/13/Q4%202008%20-%20The%20Economy%20and%20Small%20Business%20Quarterly%20Indicators.pdf . This report summarizes the current economic trends and discusses their specific effect on small business, as well as providing a grid of economic indicators for the last 5 years and the last 5 quarters which you may find of interest.

Those of you who had additional questions on the bill and the state of small business will likely find the answers you are seeking in these documents.

SBA Kicks Off Emerging 200 Initiative in Detroit

The Michigan District Office of the Small Business Administration (SBA) formally kicked off the Emerging 200 Initiative in Detroit on January 14. The goal of e200 is to identify inner-city businesses that show a high potential for growth and to provide them with the network, resources, and motivation required to build a sustainable business within a designated inner-city geographic location. The recent selection of Detroit as an e200 city is a prestigious one as it is one of only 15 cities nationally that have been chosen. Those joining the SBA District Office to bring e200 to Detroit are: Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, Detroit Regional Chamber, Mayor’s Office of Targeted Business Development, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Minority Business Development Council, Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center, and TechTown.

The cornerstone of e200 will be an in-depth educational program for senior executives running approximately 60-80 hours (likely two half-days per month) for six months. It will focus on such topics as organization management, growth strategies and management, market development, and strategic planning. “We’re pleased, along with our partners, to bring Emerging200 and its MBA-style environment and program to Detroit,” said Richard Temkin, SBA Michigan District Director. “We hope eligible small businesses will take full advantage of this tremendous opportunity.” Participation in e200 is free to qualifying businesses. Criteria for participation include having been in business for a minimum of three years, approximately $400,000 or more in gross annual revenues, and a business location within the inner-city geographic boundaries defined by the SBA. Participation will be limited to only 20 businesses.

For more information, e-mail: Constance Payne Logan at constance.logan@sba.gov

This information provided courtesy of SBA, Michigan District Office, ‘Small Business Beat’ publication, Winter 2009 Edition

Innovation Lessons from Small Business

As I’ve attended networking events and various meetings in the last 6 months, one theme has been consistent among most of the small business owners I’ve met, the majority are frustrated by the downturn in today’s economy and the effect it’s having on their businesses. However, the reasons for this frustration appear to be many and varied. Some blame the economy for a lack of customers/sales, others blame the economy for a lack of credit which is affecting their ability to maintain short-term operating capital, and others insist that this Summer’s exorbitant gasoline prices put them so far behind in other expenses that they can barely stay afloat. None of this frustration, nor these comments, have been unexpected.

What have been unexpected are those businesses I’ve met that have seen this economy as an opportunity. These businesses have chosen to look at this situation as a “glass half full” and seek new ways to take advantage of the situation to grow their business. For example: the small independent technical college who decided to expand their training offerings when the layoffs started to happen – and guess what, the supply of extra funds from the government for training programs for laid-off workers has continued to expand, resulting in increased enrollment – and the need for even more training classes. Another example is the small technology company that has re-prioritized its’ research and development schedule (and budget) to meet the increased demand for green technology.

These companies did not have large amounts of capital to make these changes; in fact, they barely operated on a shoestring. What they did have was a small company that was able to review their circumstances and their marketplace, and in a short period make a decision to re-align their resources in a way that would provide better opportunities for their firms. This is called Innovation, and if utilized often enough by small business within the next few months, it could be the one thing that saves America from experiencing another Depression.

In keeping with this theme, below please find an article recently run by Forbes.com that gives a broader perspective on Innovation and the ways it can provide small businesses with an advantage – even in this economy. Once you’ve read the article, I challenge you to meet with your team to find ways that your company can take advantage of today’s economy with a “glass half full” mentality, thereby positioning yourself to be in a very positive situation when the economy stabilizes.

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Many small-business owners are highly innovative but don’t realize it. The reason: They need to better understand their customers.

Many people have come to think wrongly of innovation as a separate activity, walled off from their regular course of business, something they have to pursue intentionally. We saw this firsthand recently while participating in a workshop on small-business innovation. One small-business owner disavowed the notion that anything his business did could be classified as innovative, saying, “We’re not creating the iPod.”

Our recent experience showed that many small-business owners are highly innovative but not aware of it. The notion that you have to be creating an iPod to be innovative reveals that people are very confused about what innovation is.

In fact, iPod wasn’t Apple’s sole reason for success in the digital music space. This innovation went well beyond the technology. Apple understood that some customers wanted to buy MP3s, not steal them. Thus the combination of iTunes with the slick iPod device proved a winning business model that upended digital music.

Understanding your customers is required for successful innovation. Small-business owners, with their intimate knowledge of their customers, actually are incredibly well-positioned to innovate. One example is a story told at the workshop by a man we’ll call “John” who owns a pool-service business.

John started out in the traditional way, servicing equipment and maintaining pools for residential, commercial and government customers. The pools that were controlled by the municipalities and some of the very large commercial installations were required to maintain strict water quality standards. These customers invested heavily in monitoring technology that ensured the water quality was up to local standards. The rest of John’s pool customers were certainly interested in maintaining pool quality but viewed monitoring technology as far too expensive for them to reasonably deploy.

At a local trade show some time later, John was taken by new technology that would provide remote monitoring services at a much lower cost than the systems deployed in the large pool installations. Recognizing this enabling technology, John developed an entirely new business model for his customers. He purchased a limited number of the devices and then offered monitoring to a group of small to mid-sized pool owners as a service. Overnight, this entrepreneur evolved his business model from a fee-for-service model to a leasing business.

However, John did not consider this change to his business model to be highly innovative for his field. When asked about the innovation, John explained he felt the decision to expand into leasing equipment was an easy one. He didn’t need a business plan to evaluate this innovation. He pointed out that, in fact, he hasn’t had a plan for a number of years. He started out with a business plan but stopped updating it years ago. He said, “I know in my mind by how much I want to grow and what I need to accomplish each month at achieve my target.”

What John didn’t realize is that he does in fact have all the elements of a business plan. Instead of the annual, stagnant planning process that characterizes many large businesses, John and other small-business owners have clear metrics, a clear direction and the ability to change course immediately if they need to.

There are lessons here for small-business owners. Small companies should realize that their close customer connection provides a great springboard for innovation. The small businesses we talked to were incredibly market-connected. To them, a customer problem is an opportunity to sell that customer another solution. They are responsive, iterative and flexible.

Further, small-business owners might think they don’t have the resources to innovate. In fact, constraints are a friend to innovation, not a foe. More promising innovations have been killed by too much time and money, and too many people, than have been killed by lack of any of these.

Big companies can also learn from the way small companies approach innovation:

* Connect with your customers in order to truly understand them; pay particular attention to framing the conversation around the problems the customer has rather than the problems you think your current product or services could solve for that customer.

* Be iterative in regards to strategy and planning, in order to maintain flexibility and be most responsive to outside change.

* Be open to experimentation with new business models.

* Be wary of the curse of too much capital and resist the temptation to throw resources at innovation efforts.

Above all, businesses of all sizes need to remember that innovation is not limited to products, services, technology or creative thinking. Creating a new iPod isn’t always the goal–rather, focus on understanding why the customer can’t adequately solve important problems and develop an innovative business model that does the job in a new, novel fashion.

The last six months have certainly taught us that all businesses need to be open to change. If there was ever a time to start thinking like a small, nimble business, 2009 is it.

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Written by Andrew Waldeck, a partner with Innosight and Renee Hopkins Callahan, editor of Strategy & Innovation. This article was excerpted from a recent online issue of Strategy & Innovation by Innosight, a consulting firm co-founded by Clayton Christensen and Mark Johnson specializing in innovation and disruptive strategy.

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The author, Linda Daichendt, is Founder and Managing Consultant at Strategic Growth Concepts with over twenty years’ experience in working with small businesses. Linda can be contacted by email at strategicgrowthconcepts@earthlink.net. The company website can be viewed at www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com

The Ultimate Business Tune-up for Times Like These

In our continuing quest to bring resources and information to small businesses, we’ve located an article from Inc. Online offering advice for businesses from some very successful entrepreneurs on ways to keep your business moving forward during these difficult economic times. These 23 entrepreneurs offer a wide range of advice designed to help you motivate your employees and satisfy your customers without a substantial financial investment. See how many you can put to use in your business.   The story is available at the following link.  http://www.inc.com/magazine/20090101/the-ultimate-business-tune-up-for-times-like-these.html

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