Saturday, December 6, 2008

What Small Business Can Expect From Obama

Small business owners are most concerned about taxes, health insurance costs, and getting banks to lend again.

After an historic election, entrepreneurs, along with the rest of the country, await the inauguration of a new President with an ambitious agenda. Given the nearly unprecedented financial situation and two ongoing wars, entrepreneurs are understandably anxious that their concerns will get short shrift. In conversations with SmallBiz, business owners spoke of the need to restore confidence in a badly wounded economy. And they repeatedly raised the same three issues: soaring health-care costs, reduced access to credit, and fear of higher taxes. "There is a lot of anxiety out there among my clients," says Angie Strunk, managing director and founder of Triserve, a 22-person Cinncinati-based payroll and accounting company with $2 million in annual sales. She says her small business clients "are worried about the next Administration raising taxes, they are worried about the economy, and about these bailouts, which are scary." Here's what business owners can realistically expect from the new President, and when it might happen.

Andy Vabulas is chief executive of I.B.I.S. in Norcross, Ga., a $15 million, 58-person company that helps businesses install and use Microsoft applications. He says job one for the Obama Administration must be restoring confidence in the economy. Vabulas says business from his small and midsize clients is down 25% this year—and that the first two weeks of November saw an even more dramatic pullback. "They are not spending money right now," he says.

Restoring confidence in the economy is a tall order, but two important elements will undoubtedly be job and economic growth. President-elect Barack Obama and the new Congress are likely to view an economic stimulus package as a critical tool for addressing both.

The betting is that the stimulus package will pass, and is likely to hit $300 billion, whether or not a piece of it is passed before President George W. Bush leaves office. Expect to see aid to states and cities facing budget shortfalls, extended unemployment benefits and food stamps, and big infrastructure spending. According to Gus Faucher, director of macroeconomics at Moody's, every dollar spent on infrastructure projects or extended unemployment benefits will add $1.59 and $1.64, respectively, to gross domestic product. And Ross Eisenbrey, a vice-president at the Economic Policy Institute, points out that small businesses, especially construction-related companies, would be helped greatly by a boost in infrastructure spending.

But vanquishing the pessimism that currently pervades the markets and economic decision-making will also require some symbolic moves. Faucher says people want to see that "the President understands what is going on in the economy and is acting not reactively, but proactively." Thus, the right economic team is critical. National Federation of Independent Business Executive Vice-President Dan Danner is encouraged that so far, the President-elect seems to be surrounding himself with experienced advisers, including likely Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Many are from the Clinton Administration, "seasoned pros who have been there and who understand the importance of business."

While calming the economic waters clearly comes first, entrepreneurs are hoping for relief on a longer-term threat: soaring health-care costs. Wendy S. White, founder and president of $2.5 million online marketing firm Siren Interactive in Oak Park, Ill., expanded coverage for her 20 employees this year. She says she had to do it to stay competitive, but her premiums went up almost 50%. "It's killing me," she says. White wants to see health care addressed quickly, but she isn't expecting a freebie. "I think I'm going to end up paying higher taxes," she says. "But if [Obama] can help with health care, I'm O.K. with that."

Obama's proposed fix for health care is still short on specifics—one of the most important being which companies qualify as "small."

Still, this much is clear: Large companies would have to provide coverage for employees or help pay for a new insurance exchange where individuals could buy their own insurance, mostly from private insurers. The government would protect insurers against catastrophic losses in return for lower premiums. Those who still couldn't afford insurance would likely get some sort of subsidy. Small businesses would get a 50% tax credit on their health insurance costs.

Chances are you'll be hearing serious discussions about this sooner than you might expect, although budget troubles could result in a less dramatic overhaul or a slower phase-in. The President-elect has announced health-care reform as one of his priorities and his solution is largely a private-sector one, which could be relatively palatable to business. Obama has a strong position with Congress right now, which creates urgency. Already, Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has put out a blueprint for reform that is similar in many ways to Obama's. All in all, John Arensmeyer, founder and chief executive of the trade group Small Business Majority, puts the odds of comprehensive health insurance reform getting done in 2009 at "better than 50%."

While the government's $700 billion may stabilize some big Wall Street firms, the banks have yet to open the credit coffers. According to the Federal Reserve Board's October Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices, 75% of large banks operating in the U.S. had tightened standards on loans to small business, up from 65% in July. "Banks need to open up their doors and start giving small businesses access to capital," says Mark Deion, an independent consultant in Warwick, R.I.

The central question is how to free up credit without encouraging banks to make loans that will become problems down the road. One way to do this would be to revitalize SBA lending, perhaps by reducing or eliminating fees and allowing the agency to make emergency loans to small businesses. Next year's stimulus package is expected to include some combination of these elements.

Using the government bailout, or TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), to get banks lending may be more problematic. There's no requirement that banks increase lending after receiving TARP funds, but Congress reserves the right to make that demand retroactively. For now, federal officials are wary of trying to micromanage the lending process, for fear of ending up with more bad loans. The remaining $92 billion in capital infusions expected to come from TARP are likely to go in part to small banks, which are major lenders to small business.

Business owners' greatest concern about the next Administration can be summed up in one word: taxes. "Small businesses are very fearful of being overtaxed and overburdened. What incentive is there to work very hard if you hardly get any gains for it?" asks Ann Blackburn, a leadership consultant in Lafayette, Calif. The first tax break for small businesses will probably come in the stimulus bill, which is expected to include an extension of the $250,000 limit on the first-year depreciation of equipment (otherwise, the deduction will fall to about $125,000 in 2009) and possibly Obama's promised cut in the capital gains tax to zero for investments in small businesses and startups.

Daniel Clifton, head of policy research at Washington's Strategas Research Partners, suspects income taxes will go up even for some making less than $200,000. Obama, he says, "just doesn't get the revenue he needs by raising taxes only on those making over $200,000." But most experts say those tax hikes will have to wait at least until the end of 2009, given the weak economy. "You don't want to raise taxes in the middle of a recession," says's Faucher. The end of 2009 will probably also see Obama attempt to hike the rate on other capital gains to about 20% from 15%.

As for hikes in FICA taxes—a worrisome issue during the campaign—proceeds from FICA taxes could only go toward funding Social Security or Medicare. So FICA tax rates are unlikely to change until Congress or the Administration attempts to reform those two programs, says Anne N. Mathias, research director at investment firm Stanford Group. With all the Obama team has on its plate, that may not be for quite some time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Coping with the stress of a business downturn

Bad business news is stressful for small-business owners and employees alike.

You know it's a bad sign when spa owners are stressing out.

Planet Beach Franchising, which oversees some 390 spas worldwide from its Marrero, La., headquarters, has seen sales dropping off this year as consumers tighten their belts to cope with the slumping economy.

A positive outlook can help defeat downturn depression.

"Looking at things long term, you worry about how you're going to come up with your numbers at the end of the month," says Angelina Vicknair, a company spokesperson. "It's a stressful time."

Planet Beach is not alone.

While New York area cardiologists have reported a rise in hospital visits by Wall Street executives complaining of chest pains, Main Street business owners aren't doing much better.

"I'm stressed out and it's freaking me out," says Joy Gendusa, the owner of PostcardMania, a Clearwater, Fla.-based marketing firm with more than 150 employees. "Before any of this happened we embarked on building a new corporate headquarters. We're going ahead with that now, but had I known what was coming, I might've used that money to drum up more business instead. It's very stressful."

Like many small employers, Gendusa says she's keeping a close eye on staff these days. According to the American Psychological Association, eight out of 10 Americans are feeling anxious about the economy, with many getting increasingly angry, irritable and fatigued. In the trade group's annual survey conducted between April and September -- about the time the feds seized control of Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and Washington Mutual (which was later sold to JPMorgan Chase), and gave AIG $85 billion for 80 percent of its stock -- more than half of 7,000 respondents said they're worried about job security and their ability to provide basic needs for their family. Fifty-three percent reported losing sleep.

All that built-up anxiety is taking a toll on workplace productivity. According to Workplace Options, a work-life services firm based in Raleigh, N.C., roughly half of 711 adults surveyed said recent financial stress was making it hard for them to perform well on the job, citing rising anxieties over everything from personal day-to-day expenses to retirement savings.

"Financial problems affect emotional and physical health, and ultimately trickle down to the workplace, where employees must juggle these worries with hectic schedules," says Workplace Options CEO Dean Debnam.

It doesn't help that a slew of recent small-business surveys show employers are just as jittery as their workers. According to Discover, 74 percent of 1,000 owners polled nationwide in October felt the economy was getting worse. Seventy-nine percent of 250 owners surveyed by the National Small Business Association said they're bracing for a protracted recession. And based on a survey of 700 owners, the National Federation of Independent Business's small-business optimism index for September was flat, marking the longest stretch of recession-level readings since the monthly index was launched in 1973.

"Small-business owners are feeling less confident in nearly every way, particularly with banks' ability to keep their money safe," says Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association, citing declining home values, tighter credit, and failing financial institutions as major concerns.

Yet, with so many forces at play, what's an employer to do? According to Kathleen Hall, the founder of the Atlanta-based Stress Institute and a former Wall Street broker, everyone needs to step back and take a breather, for starters.

"Stress is like battery acid on the brain," says Hall, "But there are some amazingly simple low-cost things employers can do to relief stress at the office," she says.

Among other approaches, Hall recommends taking the time to listen to quiet music, which studies have shown directly affects brain waves and gives your immune system an immediate boost. Just memorizing and repeating a positive affirmation can also lower cortisol levels that cause stress. She also prescribes healthy eating and regular activity, like walking around your office building or climbing a fleet of stairs, rather than taking the elevator. Texting or emailing friends, or just sharing lunch with a co-worker, can raise oxytocin and endorphins levels, Hall says.

"Responsible CEOs and business owners need to accept that these pressures are going to affect their bottom line. They've got to be aware of how their staff is coping and what they can do to help," she says.

For managers at Planet Beach, that's a cinch.

"We have our own spa room," Vicknair says. "We have all the equipment here. It's a nice bonus." She says employees are encouraged to take 20 minutes or so to unwind with everything from a relaxation massage to oxygen therapy.

Joy Gendusa of PostcardMania says getting away from work helps her dispel thoughts that everything is spiraling out of control. In late October, Gendusa and her husband took a weeklong trip to New York to check out new restaurants and leave her business behind.

"Sometimes you just need to sneak away and get a panoramic view of things," she says. "Even just seeing a busy restaurant let's you know that people are still spending out there, and that's reassuring."

By Angus Loten

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Small Business Owners Risk Losing It All

Many small business owners are at risk of losing their home and everything they own if their company fails, new research has revealed.

A survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) of more than 8,500 members found that 49% are keeping their companies going by putting their possessions at risk. Many small businesses are run from the owner’s home, which means that their dwelling is part of the assets of the business.

The FSB was concerned enough by the findings of the survey to appoint a professor of small business who will be able to assist companies in this period of economic turmoil. The new man is Professor Anderson. He says the survey’s findings are a concern and showed how small firms were putting themselves ‘in the firing line’.

His initial general suggestions are for companies to keep a close eye on their cash flow, to build up a relationship with their bank manager, and to add value for their customers in ways that only small businesses are able to do.

Separate research has revealed that 470,000 small businesses have gone to the wall since the credit crunch began 15 months ago.

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

How Entrepreneurs Can Profit with Obama

Regardless of your feelings about Obama—and I say this as a right-leaning small business owner—it's time to take notice of our smart counterparts out there who know his Presidency can translate into lots of profits. Remember, these savvy entrepreneurs know all about surviving and profiting from one political wind to the other. While the rest are watching football or Family Guy this Sunday, you can bet these folks will be plotting their strategy for later in 2009 when the Administration changes and the new Congress takes over. Here are a few shrewd moves and predictions we should all consider.

Think energy.

Sure, gas prices have dropped recently. But we're legitimately spooked. Spooked enough to motivate the next President to commit to doing something about our reliance on foreign oil. Obama plans to invest $150 billion in clean energy technology over the next 10 years. He also plans to create a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard that will require 25% of American electricity be derived from renewable sources by 2025.

Smart business owners will be following this money trail. And they won't even need to be in the energy sector to benefit. They'll just need to be selling and servicing those companies that are in the sector. They'll be changing their marketing, buying new lists, advertising in new places, and attending different conferences than before.

Don't forget about other markets.

It's not just the energy-related industries that will benefit from the next Administration. Obama plans to invest in child care by doubling support for after-school programs and expanding the Child & Dependent Care Tax Credit. He plans to invest $10 billion a year over the next five years to upgrade information technology systems used in the health-care industry. He plans to invest a bunch more money in improving the information and communications technology used to support public safety systems. He will be supporting investments in biomedical research, medical education, and training in health-related fields. He will be a proponent of stem-cell research and will allow more government funding in this area.

Smart business owners will be fathering more children from test tubes and getting them Microsoft (MSFT)-certified while they're still in diapers. Just kidding. Actually, they'll be asking themselves why they're wasting time selling into struggling industries when the next President is saying: Where the money's going to flow.

Let's play some games with our income.

I know that my taxes are going to go up next year. I've seen Obama's proposals. And the strong Democratic majority in Congress. People making more than $250,000 per year will face higher rates. Capital gains rates will go up, too. So will Social Security taxes. And business tax rates.
Smart business owners will recognize as much income as possible this year before potential new tax laws take effect. That means, depending whether you're on cash or accrual basis, getting as many invoices legally out the door and/or as much cash in the door as you can. These savvy business owners will also be finding ways to distribute income over the next few years. Think paying family members at lower rates, bartering, deferring income, and shifting profits overseas. Smart business owners will be lined up outside their accountant's door already, planning these strategies for 2009 and beyond.

Drive up expenses while investing for the future.

Our President-elect has already stated the need for investment in technologies. He's probably going to continue to support the IRS Section 179 Rule which allows qualifying small businesses to deduct certain equipment purchases. He also plans to eliminate all capital gains taxes on startup and small businesses to encourage innovation and job creation. And he plans to make the research and development tax credit permanent.

Smart business owners know that taxes will come down one day. But in the meantime, at least in the next few years, we know it's time to spend to invest, keep taxes low, and prepare our businesses for the next decade. I think we've all learned that investing in the stock market isn't the greatest idea any more. Maybe the guy's right, and we should plow our money back into something we can control.

Take a careful look at employees.

Obama's a big supporter of unions and a worker's freedom to unionize. He's going to change some of Bush's classification rules which will enable more people, formerly classified as supervisors, to become protected by federal labor laws. He's going to be on the side of striking workers. He's going to step up protection of employees who faceworkplace discrimination and encourage flexible work schedules. He's going to raise the minimum wage. And the Family & Medical Leave Act? He's going to expand that, too, to effect businesses from those now employ 50 or more to those that employ 25 or more. Oh…and something's going to happen with health care. I don't know what. But guess who's going to wind up paying? It's going to be good times for workers. Not such great times for employers.

Smart business owners will always need good people. Valuable, hard-working employees working at good small businesses will have job security. But if the costs of employment are going to increase, then we're going to do everything we can to minimize the number of people we employ. Look for a big push for outsourcing. Look for a new rise in subcontractors. Watch us use the remote technology available today and hire people around the country to do those tasks that we formerly had employees do. Watch us be very, very careful about hiring people over the next few years. The incentives for employing people have shrunk. Our motivation to find ways around these rules will be strong.

Have a few drinks with our estate attorney.

Estate taxes will be higher than ever. Where there was once a hope of lowering, or even eliminating estate taxes, an Obama Presidency means death for that idea (sorry, couldn't resist). Obama's estate tax will be 45% of assets over $3.5 million.

Smart business owners will immediately be seeking out their attorneys and learning the nuances of estate and trust laws. Christmas will start early. Gifts will need to be made, and fast. The transfer of assets to children, grandchildren, and significant others is going to be accelerated. The rest of us will just make sure not to die in the next few years.

So, let's face reality. Smart business owners, with a little forward thinking, will prosper during the Obama )residency. So bring it, baby…bring on the change!

Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsize businesses. Marks is the author of four best-selling small business books and writes the popular "Penny Pincher's Almanac" syndicated column. He frequently speaks to business groups on penny-pinching topics. More penny-pinching advice from Marks can be found at
Gene Marks

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Small Business Centers Offer Help to New and Established Firms

Small Business Development Centers are spread throughout the United States to help both new entrepreneurs start businesses and established businesses to flourish. The centers, which offer free consulting and training for nominal fees, are hosted by universities, colleges and state economic development agencies. The program was founded in 1979 and is funded in part by the Small Business Administration. The network of centers has seen its funding yo-yo over the years, but lawmakers and others recently have fortified the network with more money and confidence.

The Association of Small Business Development Centers releases a yearly annual peer-reviewed study (pdf) assessing the overall effectiveness and impact of the centers. This year's study, which is heavier with the statistics than the prose, assessed the economic impact of counseling provided by 62 of the centers to small businesses in 2006.

I spoke with ASBDC President and CEO Don Wilson, based in Burke, Va., about the study and what he sees on the small business horizon. Here are highlights from our interview:
Small Business Blog: About 58 percent of the participants seeking more than five hours of counseling were established businesses versus just over 42 percent for pre-ventures. Does that trend surprise you and what kind of information are the established firms seeking vs. the newcomers?

Don Wilson: It varies, although you'd think that newcomers are always looking for money, SBA loans are generally for established businesses as banks don't want to loan to non-established businesses. But many people are coming to us to come up with a good solid business plan. They want to know 'How do I get this started?' and 'What am I going to need?' We help them with everything from licenses to marketing plans to understanding how to comply with tax rules and [environmental and health and safety] regulations.

An interesting change that's occurred is that we now get more established businesses seeking counseling than startups...We get a lot of repeat customers and many startups that came to us years ago are coming back.

Some people come to us looking for grants, but that's not something that we do. In these economic times, many people are coming [to us] to help them get their finances in order and to get help repairing their credit. For the established businesses, they might be seeking a new marketing plan to go national or international.

One of the biggest trends we've seen is that with credit so tight, people are coming to us to help them fill out their loan forms...People used to be able to do it themselves when credit was flowing, but now we help them a lot with loan packaging and using the right language.

SBB: SBDC long-term clients generated approximately $7.2 billion in sales and more than 73,000 full-time jobs as a result of the assistance they received, according to the report.

Wilson: Our clients do much better than the average business. Part of it may be that we're dealing with people who are wise enough to know what they don't know -- so they go get help. An SBDC counselor may invest 60 to 100 hours in any specific business.

Our services also tend to be counter cyclical. When the economy is down, we see increases in the number of people we counsel. Counselors I've been talking to recently have seen an uptick in the number of clients.

A common issue for many of these people is that there have been a lot of small business owners who took equity out of their homes to launch a product line, but then they've seen a drop in home values. The whole issue of credit has become a bigger challenge.

SBB: When did the credit tightening and other problems begin? Do you see a trickle down from Wall Street?

Wilson: I think the base of the problems started two years ago or so. The [Federal Reserve] did a study last July that showed banks were tightening their lending to small firms. Over the last two to three months, an awful lot of small businesses have been seeing their credit lines being called. A lot of small businesses use their credit lines to purchase inventory and pay it back as they make the sales. Now many can't do that. Also, consumer spending is down and that affects all businesses whether in service or manufacturing. There is no question that Wall Street is hitting Main Street.

SBB: About 21 percent of all pre-venture clients received SBDC assistance for help in obtaining financing. Your clients raised an average of about $104,000 in SBA loans and about $82,000 from other sources of debt financing and $25,000 in equity financing.

Wilson: SBA had a real drop off in the number of loans it's affiliated with, but the size of the loans has climbed. We're a resource partner with the SBA. We're managed and overseen by the SBA. I think the relationship is better than ever because there's a lot of interaction. For example, we now bring the head of office at an SBDC to SBA board meetings.

SBB: How is your relationship with the SBA now?

Wilson: Even though this administration did not push the funding level that we thought was appropriate for SBDCs, we have an excellent relationship....But don't get me wrong, we disagree on things but we don't disagree in a disagreeable way....Our budget was flatlined for about eight years.

SBB: How did you manage to get more funding?

Wilson: We just kept bringing in all kinds of data that showed how effective SBDCs are. Congresswomen [Nydia] Velazquez (the New York Democrat who chairs the House Small Business Committee)...and we got tremendous support from [Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Chairman] John Kerry (D-Mass.) and ranking Republican Olympia Snowe from Maine. We got $110 million for the program for 2007 and that should bring us up to the level where we used to be. Lawmakers began to see that we're doing a great job but were withering on the vine for lack of resources.

In the economy today with folks leaving their jobs and the national job loss - many of these people are going to look to self-employment and getting more money for us at this time is very timely.

SBB: What do many people not know about SBDCs?

Wilson: We spend very little on marketing, so a lot of people may not know about us. Our money is all invested in the counseling. But what most people don't know is how much we can help in a disaster situation. In 1999 there was a tremendous hurricane in North Carolina. We moved counselors and they lived there for six months. Eventually the state's governor turned disaster relief efforts over to the N.C. SBDC.

In 2001, after 9/11, many people were not going to work in midtown Manhattan...The hundreds of Chinese carryouts and other businesses were hurt. We did a tremendous job there and have definitive data that the loan approval rate for people who came to SBDCs for help in reconstructing their finances was far higher than the average applicant.

In all the years of disaster supplementals, the SBA has never asked for money for SBDCs, but when disaster hits they always come in and ask us to help. Our counselors volunteered, did it on their vacation and took non-paid leave. This year, in the big overall bill that Congress passed, there's actually $10 million for SBDCs to help with disaster relief.
By Sharon McLoone

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Many Launching Their Own Small Business

A lot of people see the economic downturn as an opportunity to start their own small businesses.

It's not easy. Statistically speaking more than 50 percent of all new businesses will fail within the first few years, but that means some 50 percent will make it. So why not you?
Elizabeth Becker's hobby photography is now her job, but turning her passion into her own small business, Seaport Photography, was a little harder than she expected.

"The biggest advice I would give to someone is to sit down and write out your budget," said Becker.

Because to make money, you have to spend money, from business cards to establishing your own Web site. According to small business analysts, a web site is critical to success, with more than 70 percent of the population linked to the Internet. A huge help for Becker was a computer program, Microsoft's Office Live Small Business, which set up her Web site for free.

"Someone can go in and actually at no cost with the basic office live get a domain name, get a Web site up and running have e-mail and have a presence in the marketplace," said Becker.
But before the Web site, the cards, and the equipment, first and foremost create a business plan. For Becker, it's not as much fun as taking pictures but critical for any business to succeed.
"It's a challenge not only to have the technical skills to be a photographer the artistic skills but then the skills to run a business, and that's a challenge because you wear an awful lot of hats," said Becker.

A recent survey found that more than 70 percent of Americans would like to start their own business. And believe it or not this economic turmoil could be the perfect time to launch, as long as you do your homework before you get started.


Monday, November 3, 2008

10 Great Tips To Boost Your Business

After the rush of a small-business launch and the initial influx of curious customers, many small businesses reach a plateau. The proprietors are busy working hard to sustain the business doing what they've always done because it's worked so far, but this approach often means the business acquires and retains a certain customer base and sales volume and then "hits a wall".

Any business, but particularly a small business, must constantly adapt to changing market conditions, new business tools, and new sales opportunities to continue to grow and prosper. The small business owner must have one eye on routine operational tasks and one eye scanning the horizon for new opportunities. In this article we will discuss 10 breakout ideas for small businesses looking for growth opportunities.

Are you an entreprenuer?
Start your own small business
Add complementary products and services
A great way to increase sales and bring new customers to your sales base is adding new complementary products and services. But how do you decide what to add without turning your business into a third-rate Wal-Mart? A great place to start is by reviewing the definition of your business.

For example, if you sell house siding, ask yourself, are you in the siding business or the exterior building materials business? The result may be that you redefine your business and add gutters and downspouts, roofing and other coverings to your product line.

6 steps to a better business budget
Can you handle a home-based business?
Another surprisingly simple way to build a list of new products or services is to ask your customers what else they might buy from you if your business sold it. A few friendly conversations with customers and staff will likely get you more information than thousands of dollars spent on professional customer surveys.

Be sure to ask how much they would want to buy and how often to get a sense of whether the demand would be great enough to warrant the additional costs of building up this area of your business.

Explore new market niches
One way to find a new market niche is to seek alternative applications for your existing products and services, and we have a Cheez-y example of how this works. Kraft started out with a spreadable cheese product in a jar that could be spread on crackers for snacks - it was called Cheez Whiz.

Is buying a franchise wise?
This was fine, but selling a cracker topping will only take you so far in this world. That's why Kraft expanded the scope of Cheez Whiz and started promoting it as a base for a variety of dips and food toppings. Soon Cheez Whiz was an ingredient in all sorts of recipes. Kraft wasn't satisfied with only human consumption though. One of the latest unique uses of Cheez Whiz comes from a California fishing lure and bait company that sells Cheez Whiz in a prepackaged bait application, and it buys Cheez Whiz in 55 gallon drums.

If Kraft had stuck with the spreadable-cheese concept, sure, it would have covered a lot of crackers. But by thinking outside of its original intent, Kraft expanded the market and attracted customers it never would have targeted initially.

Find an unmet need in your industry and fill it
When you talk to your customers and clients, listen closely for this phrase: "If only they made/sold X". Your job as a business is to find out what X is and provide it. It sounds obvious, but customers will tell you what they want if you will only take the time to listen. And the good news is that if you can find a way to fill that need, breakout sales are virtually guaranteed.

Take, for example, the local lumber yard that feels the heat as big box retailers muscle their way into the lumber business. There's no way the smaller outfit can compete with the large volume and low prices of the big boxes. Instead the owner listens to his customers who tell him that the big chain stores lack custom or hard-to-find millwork and hardware.

This is an unmet need just waiting to be filled, and it could bring a new client base of suburban do-it-yourselfers who want to buy their unique weekend needs all in one place.

Use Internet and catalog sales tools
If you are reading this article, you're no doubt aware that that the Internet has more to offer than photos of pets dressed up like humans ... or humans dressed up like pets.

Many small businesses limit their sales reach and distribution to on-site, over-the-counter sales, but ecommerce can enhance your market reach, customer base and sales volume. Rather than the standard brick-and-mortar sales front, consider selling from a website, from an online storefront, a blog or from a printed catalog.

Let others sell your private-label products
By allowing distributors, wholesalers, big box stores and competitors to sell your products under their own label (also known as a white label product), you may be able to realise the benefits of increased production volume, including reduced unit cost, increased fixed-cost amortization possibilities, and increased sales revenue, all of which can bring significant bottom line growth to a small business.

This technique also allows the possibility of market segmentation under your own or other labels.

Build a better mousetrap - or at least buy one
We're all aware of the "build a better mousetrap" strategy as a breakout technique, but many small business owners don't know how to find technological innovations, patented products and processes in their industry, or how to license needed new technologies. There are a number of proprietary property licensing firms servicing companies of all sizes. These are easily found online if you search for "Technology Licensing".

There are two types of licensing (in-licensing and out-licensing) and not all firms handle both types. In-licensing involves searching for a particular tech innovation to make a better or different product, or a technique to make it at a lower cost.

In this instance you would ask a proprietary licensing firm to search and acquire a license for your business to acquire the needed, and usually protected, technology. Conversely, if your firm has developed and patented proprietary technology that you want to license to others, an out-license firm will search for businesses interested in buying a license for the technology or innovation from your firm for their own use.

Improve productivity and efficiency through enterprise management software
Enterprise management software integrates your company's existing and separate business functions and project tracking into one system. This streamlines operations, and can provide a parallel off-site system for backup and access from anywhere in the world. Software like this was once reserved for large firms with large budgets and the only suppliers were industry icons like SaaS, Microsoft and SAP.

These approaches can significantly reduce administrative staff load and costs, enhance productivity, efficiency and project tracking accuracy. This functional improvement can bring your business to a whole new level. The good news is that this software can now be had at reasonable rates from a variety of smaller software companies.

Align your products and services with popular values and trends
You may be able to align your company brand, products and services with local festivals, sports teams, known tourism sites, etc., to piggyback on their advertising, promotions and branding. In some cities local merchants combine their advertising with weekend festivals, the regional NFL and AHL team promotions, and profit from package bus tours to local historical sites.

Your business may also benefit from an association with popular commonly held themes such as an environmentally oriented program. This type of branding can enhance the reputation and credibility of your firm in your region and hype your sales.

A small business can often benefit from identifying with "hot" issues. Rather than offering direct dollar discounts, many auto dealerships and auto companies began offering free gasoline points as fuel prices skyrocketed in 2007-2008. The move spiked their sales and spread their promotional costs over an extended period.

In a similar vein, many small-scale fruit and produce farmers were feeling a price squeeze from the supermarket chains until they banded together to fund "buy locally grown food" campaigns.

Make use of clubs, associations and your competitors
Present your products and services to organizations with members who could be customers. Take advantage of your podium access at local service clubs like Rotary, Lions Club, Elks, VFW and the American Legion.

If you are a chamber of commerce or trade association member, volunteer to be a presenter at some of their seminars. If you can speak directly about your business, that's always best, but your presence and individual contacts at these meetings are excellent breakout opportunities.

As a presenter at one of the service clubs you are viewed as an expert and an authority on the subject. Your bio will include your company name, and people like to work with an expert.

It may sound crazy, but it also pays to work with your competitors to grow the market in your industry. Rival hotels and golf courses in resort locations often work together closely to bring more customers to their location. They then compete for the business once the location visit is confirmed. It's called "destination marketing".

Co-competition and "clustering" with competitors can be a breakout technique that works to increase your business.

Export your products and services
Exporting your products and services takes some preparation in documentation, setting up dealers or distributors in foreign countries, learning the importation rules and tariff schedules for the destination countries and learning something about payment conditions and letters of credit.

Determining your transportation mode, understanding transfer of ownership laws, and being knowledgeable about any cultural issues involved is also important.

Exporting makes the world your marketplace and exposes you to customer populations with huge sales potentials, especially in emerging markets with a growing middle class.

There are many ways to adapt, invigorate and position a small business for a breakout to the next level of sales growth and profitability. It takes owner vigilance, awareness and creativity. It also tends to be the fun part of the business as well as its best chance for continued growth and success. In the business world, the only constant is change.

Adapt, break out and prosper.

Dan Barufaldi, Investopedia

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Small Business Survival Guide: Surviving The Downturn

Entrepreneurship Director Gives 10 Tips for Business Owners

With Wall Street hitting record lows and one of the bleakest economic outlooks in decades, small business owners are preparing to weather hits from the trickle-down effect of a recession.
What will make the difference between the businesses that survive and those that don't? Is there a way to remain resilient in the midst of so much uncertainty?
Dan Steppe, director of the nation's top-ranked entrepreneur program at the University of Houston's C. T. Bauer College of Business, and Ron Wuensch, an instructor at the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at Bauer, have decades of experience in guiding businesses through good times and bad. The two have been busy advising current students about how to weather the current financial upheaval, and recently sat down to compile 10 things small business owners can do to emerge from this down cycle unscathed: 1. Face facts -- but don't get drawn into what Steppe calls "the media melodrama." The political maneuvering that prefaced the eventual signing of a $700 billion financial rescue bill threatens to
detract from a more important reality, he says. "We got into this problem because we have too much debt and not enough collateral. These problems have not been solved. We are going to be or are already in a recession."
2. Look for places to reduce debt and only invest in necessities. "Cut
back on everything," Steppe says. "Be cruel and heartless about
what you need to be in business. Get rid of everything you don't
need. Know exactly why you borrow what you do." Wuensch adds:
"With a change in economics you have an opportunity to really look
at your business, and adjust it to the next economic reality."
3. Remember the basics of sound business. Never borrow money on a short-term
loan if you aren't really able to repay it until long-term.
"Forget that you're a financial genius," Steppe says.
"If you're borrowing money, it needs to be paid back over the
life of the asset you're buying. Don't take out a 12-month loan
assuming you'll be able to borrow at 5 percent or borrow at all when
it comes due."
4. Really get to know your customer. Rip out your answering machine, step up
your service and ask what they need. Understand how your target customer
has evolved. In general, "It's best to target high-end or
budget buyers, the middle is gone," Steppe says. "Do something
fast or you're about to go out of business. People will be buying
what they need and cutting back on their wishes and wants."
5. Embrace the current economic reality, Part I. "The bottom of the
cycle is a really good place to start a business," says Wuensch,
"because when you start off on an up cycle, your assumption is that
this (level of profitability) is going to go on forever." Those who
have studied the history of business will be comforted by the knowledge
that downturns always eventually go up.
6. Embrace the current economic reality, Part II. Competitors' failed
businesses present an opportunity. "If the fundamental need of their
business didn't go away, people who understand this can exploit it
(often by buying the failed company or hiring top employees left without
a job)," Steppe says.
7. Postpone a new business launch, and consider the intervening months or
years a gift. "Those who have experience are better off. Go work for
someone else for a few years, fill in the holes of your education and
keep working on your business plan," Steppe says.
8. Network and join together with other business owners. Vote, and act as a
group to wield influence on local and national levels in order to create
a better business environment.
9. Narrow your focus. Energy and technology-based businesses, for instance,
are two fields that will continue to have needs even as the economy
10. Remember that the most successful business people are highly adaptable.
"That's the heart and soul of being an entrepreneur,"
Wuensch says. "Reading the environment and reacting to it is what
an entrepreneur does." He adds: "Figure out your position of
strength, make good solid decisions based on your position of strength
and the odds really are in your favor.

HOUSTON, Oct 28, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ -- UH Bauer Entrepreneurship Director Gives 10 Tips for Business Owners

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Small Business Owners Reap Benefits of Social Media

October 27th, 2008
Posted by Jennifer Leggio

A recent survey shows that 55 percent of 120 surveyed small business owners believe that online social networking — such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook — can be beneficial to their businesses.

The survey, conducted by online payroll service SurePayroll, indicates that one out of every five of the small business owners polled have obtained at least one new customer as a direct result of using social media.

According to the company’s report:
With more than 50 million non-college attendees using Facebook today, the prominence of social media is growing. Professional social networking site LinkedIn grew 187% over the past year. Based on a research project developed by Universal McCann, 36% of online users think more positively about companies that have blogs. In the SurePayroll survey, 85% of business owners participating in social media for business are doing so by way of blogging online.

“(Social media) is no longer just an outlet for personal use — it’s rapidly becoming a must for business success,” said David Rohrer, SurePayroll’s online marketing manager, in a statement. “Big business is tapping into the blogosphere and posting their company profile pages in online communities. Small business owners need to do the same. What’s so great about the online world is you don’t need a million-dollar marketing budget. In fact, the most effective online connections are free personal communications from a business owner to their community.”

Posted by Jennifer Leggio

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Telecommuting - Part 3 The Lifestyle

By Toni Grundstrom

You are now approved to work from your home either part or full-time. You feel the freedom, already, but you need to know some basic telecommuting skills to made your work-at-home option successful. You also have to set up your office so you remain a professional working at home.

Establish your workspace in a part of the house that is well lit and has good air circulation, is not in the busy area of your home, and can be dedicated as 'your work area only'. Check with your tax preparer to see what guidelines need to be met for tax write-offs. You have the freedom to arrange your hardware, supplies, and desk any way you wish but easy access to everything allows you to function smoothly. Turn your chair away from the door to avoid distractions and hide supplies that aren't used often to keep your office un-cluttered. Realize that you are now responsible for security of the equipment, backup of your online files, your personal ergonomics, and managing stress.

There are two types of stress at your home office - stress from the job and stress in maintaining a work/life balance. Creating this balance requires your dedication to making the telecommuting opportunity successful and your entire family's support in the lifestyle change. You have set performance standards with your boss. A telecommuter may feel the need to perform miracles to exceed those or you will be returned to the office. That is self imposed stress. You will automatically increase your output because of less interruptions and non-commuting. Learn to determine what is or is not urgent, have a set beginning and ending time for your day, turn the ringer on your phone/fax off when you are not working, and avoid using the extra time gained by not commuting to complete more work. Keep your performance standards in mind so you don't feel the need to take on extra work to prove yourself and justify what some of your co-workers may see as a special perk.

Your home life may have played a large role in asking for the telecommuting option. This said your home life will change when you move your work home, which could cause stress. Talk with your family members to let them know what your work goals are and how each of them can contribute to your success. Let your friends know what your work hours are and encourage them not to call during those hours. Distractions such as personal phone calls, reading, lounging, cleaning, laundry, and errands need to be managed and worked in to your work/home life schedule. Snacking is now easier. Keep your eating under control by staying with the same schedule you had at work. What you choose to wear during your work hours is a personal choice yet keep this in mind. Casual clothes are fine but doing a professional job in your pajamas or a torn sweatshirt with sweatpants may not put you in the correct frame of mind to do quality work.

Staying Visable

Are you concerned about out-of-mind meaning no promotion or being overlooked for that one assignment you've been waiting for? To overcome this make sure you attend weekly and/or monthly meetings, organize a lunch with co-workers or your boss, and stay in touch daily with the office.

There are psychological issues of working alone. Isolation is the most prominent. This new working arrangement means that you left behind the network of friends and coworkers who provided a very important social and interactive part of your day. This is where the lines of communication, you arranged while negotiating the telecommuting option, play a very important role. Make sure that you contact your coworkers so you stay in touch with each other. They need to know that you are still part of the team and you do, too. Isolation, after a period of time, may also affect your creativity and professionalism. Join an online group of other individuals who are working from home. This opportunity creates a different type of social activity and you will learn from others who know exactly what you are going through or trying to avoid. Joining a telecommuter association opens the door to receiving information about the pros and cons of telecommuting or what to pursue or avoid. Working from home gives you the freedom of managing your own time. Understand the life/work style changes and use them to make you an effective telecommuter.

Maintaining visibility is a very important aspect of telecommuting and arresting the resentment some coworkers may feel towards you for working from home. Encourage people to contact you at home, post a note on your office desk reminding people of the days and hours you are working at home, stay on the routing lists for magazines and journals, and develop a buddy system. This buddy can keep you posted on what is happening at work and send you your mail or critical information in a timely manner. Attend meetings and other work related gatherings (such as an in-office retirement party) and always attend social functions. You don't want to be 'out-of-sight out-of-mind'.

There are unique skills needed to succeed in your 'virtual office'. Some of these will be learned over time yet you can be aware of others and prepare for them. Telecommuting is appealing because your professional goals do not have to be sacrificed for personal goals, or visa versa. Working just like you would in the office with set hours, using effective communication, and continued professionalism will help this new lifestyle create less stress, more flexibility, and more time for you.

Telecommuting - Part 2 The Journey

By Toni Grundstrom

Telecommuting has become a cost effective way for both large and small companies. The employee enjoys the reprieve from the daily commute and they become a more productive employee. That said, is this work option right for you and your company?

Understanding your 'virtual office' skills and how telecommuting will work for your company will prepare you for presenting a detailed proposal to your boss. Any person may be able to perform their job duties at home but is this right for you? According to The Virtual Office Survival Handbook by Alice Bredin, you need to understand your working habits. You should consider your ability to: resist distractions, manage your time, set limits on work, and deal with challenges. You also need to determine if you are internally or externally motivated and if you are an over- or underachiever. Know what your virtual office skills are before you try to sell the concept to your employer. To survey your employee habits and how they can be transferred into a telecommuting employee visit

Did You Know?
The number of telecommuters is increasing worldwide. Canadian telecommuters, for example, can recoup up to six full work weeks yearly -- an average hour a day -- by eliminating their daily commute, according to Bernard Brodie, an InnoVisions Canada consultant.

While it may seem that telecommuters trade off career progress for the opportunity to telecommute, the experienced telecommuters and their managers show just the opposite to be true. Telecommuters in well-managed programs have a chance to act independently, make more decisions, solve more problems, do better planning - and otherwise demonstrate the kinds of skills and traits sought when looking for promotable employees. If you are this type of an employee consider this information and use it to strengthen your proposal.

-Telecommuting is not appropriate for every job. Analyze your job activity, not the job title, to determine suitability to telecommuting. Is there a portion of your job that can be done, as well or better, away from the office?

-Details that need to be discussed and agreed upon include ownership of remote equipment, compensation and insurance for work-provided equipment including all office supplies, compensation for worker expenses (additional telephone, lines, long-distance charges, etc.) criteria or performance standards for workers' evaluations, frequency and travel reimbursement of an occasional required office attendance, etc. A telecommuter may perform all or almost all of his/her work remotely, or may work remotely only a certain number of days per week or per month, attending his/her employer's office on the other days for meetings, customer/client contacts, or just to "keep in touch".

-Staying in touch with co-workers is essential to continuing the 'team' affect needed to keep a well-oiled department running. Suggest creating a chat area or listserve where workers can start up discussion or pose questions of a professional or personal nature. Start an on-line 'Wall of Fame" to display awards, trophies, certificates, or other professional or personal successes or to show off individual or team achievement. Peer pats allow co-workers to recognize another co-worker for successes, a job well done, or an award her/she won. Post personal messages on a certain day every week. This encourages team members to communicate with each other on a personal basis including favorite restaurants, hobbies, travel arrangements, a child's accomplishment, etc. This type of message board does not need to create any type of discussions. This is a way of staying in touch on a personal level.

If your company already allows flexible work options like telecommuting, it may be relatively easy to convince you supervisor to let you telecommute. The main issue will involve proving your reliability and the appropriateness of your job for distance working. However, if you're hoping to be the first telecommuter in your organization you face a larger task. First you have to convince the company telecommuting makes business sense. Once you know that your work habits and telecommuting is a match you need to translate that knowledge into a proposal that will convince your boss. Here are some methods that work: Drop occasional tidbits about telecommuting and how you would like to start doing some of your work from home. Collect articles about telecommuting to become educated on the highlights and drawbacks of this working relationship - become an in-house expert.

Many articles can be found on the Internet. Some sites include,, Two subject related Associations can be found on the Internet - International Telework Association & Council (ITAC) at and the American Telecommuting Association at Show how telecommuting can save the company money. Visit to help you crunch the numbers.

Ensure your written proposal contains all the important information but more importantly, know what you are going to say. Practice in front of a mirror or to another person. You must feel comfortable for the presentation to be professional. Concentrate on what the company can achieve, not on your own needs. A well-researched plan will serve to help with the approval and success of this mutually beneficial working relationship.

Toni Grundstrom's expertise is in Marketing. Working for a professional association, government entity, and small business as a Telecommuter provides understanding of the concept and the issues surrounding this working option. She advocates for, informs and educates people who telecommute, work at home, or own a home based business. They are Professionals Working At Home.

This article may be distributed freely on your website, as long as
this entire article, including links and this resource box are unchanged.
Copyright 2008 Toni Grundstrom All Rights Reserved.
Small Business - Dream To Reality

Telecommutiing Part 1

As the price of gas rises you see that measly 'cost of living' raise being pumped into your vehicle's gas tank. There's got to be another option.

Telecommuting - The Concept , Part 1

This article is the first in a series exploring the telecommuting concept. Part II - 'The Journey' talks about being a good telecommuter, approaching your boss about a telecommuting work arrangement, and how to set up your 'virtual office' space away from the office. Part III – 'The Lifestyle' discusses how to mange your work and personal life, structuring your environment, and staying productive.

In the past, information was transmitted via Pony Express and telegraph – now it travels as e-mail through modem lines. This information superhighway has created an opportunity for a new kind of mutually beneficial working partnership: telecommuting. Telecommuting is broadly defined as any method of working productively away from the office. According to the American Telecommuting Association (ATA), "telecommuting is second only to casual days as the fastest-growing shift in traditional working patterns".

Working at home sounds intriguing but do your job duties allow it and are you disciplined enough to work unsupervised? According to The Virtual Office Survival Handbook by Alice Bredin, you need to understand your working habits. You should consider your ability to: resist distractions, manage your time, set limits on work, and deal with challenges. Know what your virtual office skills are before you try to sell the concept to your employer.

If your work habits and telecommuting are a match, there are advantages to this arrangement for you, your employer, and society. If your lifestyle does allow for full- or part-time work outside of the home you will be productive. Working from home alleviates the need to overcome family/personal issues such as daycare, family illness, events such as a school concert or conferences, and physical or transportation barriers. You can feel better, work harder, save money (childcare, transportation, and parking), avoid commuting time and irritations, and feel motivated to achieve the high performance necessary to keep the position. When you work from home there may be set hours you need to be at your work station yet you have the flexibility to work within the parameters of that day. If the work does not get finished within those set hours you may have the option to come back and finish at a later time that day. Finishing the work with accuracy and professionalism is the goal to gain the feeling of satisfaction and shows your manager that you can and will be productive.

According to the Institute for the Study of Distributed Work, an employer saves over $2,000 per telecommuting employee per year on the cost of absenteeism and reduces business disruptions due to inclement weather, family emergencies, childcare, labor disputes, and so on. The telecommuting option also helps businesses hire and retain experienced workers. By offering a telework option organizations can attract qualified or specialist employees that do not reside near the place of business. Offering it as an option for existing employees helps retain employees, whom have been trained for a specific line of work, and gives the employee an option to continue working with the company instead of needing to quit due to personal reasons or moving out of the geographic area. Telecommuting also saves the employer costs related to office overhead and parking requirements. Society benefits from less pressure on the transportation infrastructure and, subsequently, less air pollution and gas consumption.

Advantages For The Employee
Increased Flexibility: Telecommuters have more control over their time than those working in the office. When working at home they work at their peak energy times which adds flexibility to their overall day and schedules.

Three barriers may stand in the way of telecommuting being an attractive employment alternative to some employers: management difficulties, training issues, and needs of the position. Managers can be uncomfortable with employees they can't see. Therefore, telecommuting requires a shift to a management-by-objectives style. The manager and employee should agree on pre-established goals for the employee and manage the results versus the process. These performance standards are a guideline of what needs to be done and by what time. The Teleworder's performance is evaluated directly by how they meet the performance standards. The performance standards also help the company to keep a close eye on actual cost benefits, productivity, and morale of the telecommuting employee. The manager needs to make certain an appropriate means of evaluating productivity of the pre-established goals is in place to avoid misunderstandings down the road. An open line of communication by phone, fax, or modem allows the manager and telecommuting employee to work out issues that may arise but also keeps the employee in the office 'loop'. There is a good chance that the telecommuting employee becomes a forgotten part of the team since the other employees don't see or hear from them often enough.

Training is also essential for the success of a telecommuting program. Training should include online orientation and how to set-up a virtual office in the home. You must also determine who is responsible for what expenses (utilities, office supplies, travel expenses to meetings, and so on) and how you will interact with the main office to stay part of the team. Preparation for isolation, distractions, and technical pitfalls -- as well as how to stimulate ideas, creativity, and professionalism – should be considered.

Finally, as mentioned above, not all employees are good candidates for telecommuting. Besides employee personality, an assessment if the job function and a telecommuting job are a good match. Questions regarding the job such as - Does the employee need access to office files to perform the job function?; Are there meetings that the employee will need to attend in person?; Could all supplies be made available in a remote work location to accommodate a telecommuter for a particular job? - need to be answered and successfully evaluated. Furthermore, many employers like to have an employee work in the office from six months up to two years before telecommuting is offered as an option.

Telecommuting must be considered, first and foremost, as a tool for meeting business needs rather than a personal accommodation. That said persons requiring this accommodation can fulfill those business needs creating a mutually beneficial work arrangement. Beyond that, telecommuting can be an enviable lifestyle that adds balance to work and home life.
Subsequent articles will explore steps for selling telecommuting to management or working for yourself while marketing your telecommuting skills to others. There are also nuts and bolts to setting up your 'virtual office' and a new lifestyle that you should be prepared for. Advancements through technology have opened the door to this working partnership. It is not there for the taking but you can find your way to succeeding as a telecommuter.

Toni Grundstrom's expertise is in Marketing. Working for a professional association, government entity, and small business as a Telecommuter provides understanding of the concept and the issues surrounding this working option. She advocates for, informs and educates people who telecommute, work at home, or own a home based business. They are Professionals Working At Home.

This article may be distributed freely on your website, as long as
this entire article, including links and this resource box are unchanged.

Copyright 2007 Toni Grundstrom All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Getting Past The Gatekeepers

Jamie Herzlich

You're convinced you have a great product or service and want to get it to the right people, but before you can even make a pitch, you're stopped dead in your tracks by the gatekeeper.

The gatekeeper can take many forms: personal assistant, secretary, office manager or even voice mail. Getting past these gatekeepers can be a daunting task, but it's not impossible, experts say. It just requires a little more planning and persistence on your part.Gatekeepers are "specifically trained to keep you away," says Jeff Goldberg of Jeff Goldberg & Associates, a Long Beach sales training and consulting firm. "If you're going to get in touch with the people you want to sell to, you'd better figure out how you're going to get past them or through them."

So how do you best do that?Well, it starts with understanding who the key decision makers are, so you can best focus your efforts on reaching them and not be handed off from gatekeeper to gatekeeper, experts say."Do your homework first," advises Maura Halligan of AdvantEdge Sales Training Inc. in Massapequa Park. "You don't use the gatekeeper to do your homework for you."Create an ideal client or customer profile, suggests sales trainer Wendy Weiss of Weiss Communications Llc in Manhattan and author of "Cold Calling for Women" (DFD Publications, $15.95).

Look at your existing customer base and analyze what the titles of the key decision makers are, she notes. That will give you a better idea of the kinds of people you should be targeting.You can also check out online databases like, which has more than nine million business contacts in a searchable directory.And if all else fails, you can always verify with the gatekeeper if the person you are requesting is an appropriate fit. Just be sure when speaking to the gatekeeper that you don't approach that person in a passive or submissive way, Goldberg says.

Be polite, but ask firmly to speak to the person in charge.Speak with "authority, self- confidence and assurance," adds Weiss, also known as "The Queen of Cold Calling." If you behave like a boss, the secretary will perceive you as being a boss and give more value, importance and urgency to your call, she notes.If he or she asks what you're calling about, offer some information like "I'd like to discuss some ideas related to cash flow," and then try to take control of the conversation by asking again if their boss is available, advises Linda Berke of Taylor Performance Solutions in Melville, which offers sales training. If they say they're unavailable, ask when would be a good time to reach them, she suggests.

To help avoid a lot of this resistance, try getting a referral, Halligan says. So you might say to the gatekeeper, "I was told to call your boss by X," she notes. Another way is to mention another company in their industry that you're doing work for. So you'd say, "We just finished a project for X, and we thought since your company is in the same business, there could be some good opportunities here," she notes.

Of course, the rules change if you get voice mail rather than a person. It's best to call again, but if you have to leave a message, keep it short, suggests Michelle Nichols, a sales expert and president of Hug Your Kids Llc in Reno, Nev."Make sure your first five to 10 words are extremely relevant," she adds. "You need to leave a compelling message with a benefit in it."If your calls go unanswered, put the prospect aside and try the person again at a later date, Goldberg says."You don't want to harass people," he says. "You should always have enough leads so no one gatekeeper matters to you.


If the front door doesn't work ... Try calling when the gatekeeper isn't likely to be around, either before 9 a.m., after 5 p.m. or even on a Saturday. You'd be surprised how many executives arrive early or stay later, and you just may catch them at their desk. Look for their direct dial on their company Web site, or some companies offer extensions via an automated telephone directory. You can also dial a random extension or department and ask to be transferred.,0,6095875.story

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Schumer seeks temporary small-business loan program

Sen. Charles Schumer yesterday called on the Bush administration to create a temporary small-business direct-loan program to serve as a bridge until funds kick in from the $700-billion federal bailout for Wall Street banks.B

ecause it will take a month for the bailout funds to enter the market, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it is imperative for the federal government to help small businesses that may have trouble acquiring short-term loans to cover things like payroll or purchases.

For the full story click here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Top Ten Tips for Magic Marketing

By Philip Chandler, Business Development Consultant

Whether you already run a business or are thinking of starting one, effective marketing is one of the keys to your success. Conversely, failure to pay sufficient attention to the way you present yourself to actual and potential customers is one of the shortest routes to obscurity.

So, culled from the advice given over many years to my clients, here are my top 10 tips for putting magic into your marketing, with special regard to the needs of people starting with limited resources.

Tip #1: Identify your prospects
Who exactly are your potential customers? Without being able to clearly and concisely answer that question, your marketing campaign will be a hit-and-miss affair with little hope of real success. Too many people new to business think they can sell to everyone. Craftsman-made, high-quality goods sell to people who appreciate and can afford them, not to bargain-hunters or people with good taste and no money. Cheap-and-cheerful, mass-produced products sell mainly to people with less discrimination and lower incomes.

Tip #2: Understand why people buy
People buy in order to feel good, or to satisfy a pressing need or desire. They buy with emotion and justify with logic. Give them good emotional reasons to buy, then show them why their purchase was a really sensible move.

Tip #3: Sell Benefits, not Features
People buy solutions - otherwise known as benefits - not features. They only care about what your product or service can do for them. They want to know that it will do something to improve their lives in some way - not that it is packed with technology they neither understand nor appreciate. Look at your product from a customer’s point of view - would you buy it? What advantages does it have over the competition?

Tip #4: Use simple language
Keep jargon for shop-talk with your colleagues - keep it out of your sales literature, unless you are selling to the trade or a highly technical market. People hate unexplained acronyms in body text. Use plain language and keep sentences reasonably short.

Tip #5: Create a coordinated corporate image
You don’t have to be a multi-national to have a corporate image. Look at how you or your company appears to your customers from their point of view. What do they see when opening your envelope? What effect do the colours, typeface, layout, paper, etc have on people? Have you ever asked them? If you have a high quality product or service, you need to position yourself appropriately in the marketplace using well-designed, high class print and promotional material to project a consistent, congruent image.

Tip #6: Use free and low-cost advertising
Before spending a fortune on media advertising, consider the possibilities for self-publicity offered by story-hungry local newspapers and radio stations. Study them carefully and angle your copy to match their house style. Get yourself interviewed. Consider using leaflets delivered door-to-door to sell domestic products - one way to accurately target your market. Use cards or posters in shop windows or notice boards if appropriate. For mail order products, test classified ads followed up with sales letters before venturing into display space. Always create coded ads so you can track results, otherwise you will never know what works and what does not.

Tip #7: Concatenate your products
Concatenation is the process of forming logical links between your products such that one purchase will lead to others. For example, having read this article you may want to know more about my company’s services and publications. I may consult for you one day, which may lead on to writing your sales literature or training your sales team. Using this technique, you can approach prospects with low-cost - or even free - offers, knowing that a percentage of them will go on to buy your more profitable lines later on. Had you hit them with the big-ticket item first, you would probably have had a tougher time making the sale. Each product should be complete in itself and have logical links to others: don’t cheat by leaving something out of product #1 which forces them to buy #2.

Tip #8: Ask for Referrals
When you have done a good job for someone, ask them if they can suggest two or three other people who might also benefit from your service. Even if they don’t buy, you can still ask for referrals, as in: “I understand that this does not suit your needs right now, and can you suggest someone who may be interested?” Give people an incentive to recommend others, such as a coupon redeemable against future purchases.

Tip#9: Exceed people’s expectations
Go the extra mile. Do something extra without expecting payment. Time and time again it has been proved that people will pay over the odds for exceptional service. A friend of mine actually traveled two or three times a year from Devon to York (about 600 miles round trip) by train to visit her favorite hairdresser! Extreme, perhaps, but this is just one example of the lengths people will go to for that little bit extra. Do more than you promise, and your name will be etched on your customers’ memories in gold lettering. Do less, and you may never see them again.

Tip #10: Learn from feedback
The most accurate and valuable market research you will ever do is face-to-face with your customers. If you want to know what they think of you, ask them! Ask them what they want and they will tell you in plain, jargon-free language. Talk to people - they love to tell you what you are doing right and what you could do better. And it will save you a fortune in fees from market research companies.
Copyright © 1997 P J Chandler. All Rights Reserved.

A New Name - More Precise and Informative Blog

Thanks for visiting me through asll these yeas. I have decided to consolidate all my activitiese into this site. information can be found here as well as information about starting up and successfully running your small business.

Hope to see you back here often.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Telecommuting: It takes discipline to work from home

It may take discipline to work from home but it is worth it. This article discusses if telecommuting is the correct choice.

Your Success Is Our Success.



Telecommuting: It takes discipline to work from home

When one telecommutes, boundaries dissolve and distractions abound. When I do have some work to do at home, I'm tempted to clean out my closet, bake brownies, take a nap, walk the dogs — just about anything can distract me from the task at hand. I guess I don't have the discipline required to be a successful telecommuter.But perhaps I could develop the discipline.

I believe what I would miss most is the social interaction.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

WOW, Telecommuting approved and under fire!!!

This article talks about OSHA regulations employers must adhere to even if the employeeis working at home as well as a list of other topice. You should not miss reading this.

Your Success Is Our Success



Old law vs. the new economy

In August 1997, a certain Mr. T. Trahan of CSC Credit Service wanted to let his sales executives work out of their home offices. He was uncertain about his possible obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, so he wrote to OSHA, the agency that administers the act.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Work At Home Entrepreneur Since 1985

This article discusses the success an individual who has worked from home since 1985. As a pioneer in 'work at home' jobs she discusses how she achieved success as a Virtual Assistant.

Your Success Is Our Success



Entrepreneur Captures Attention in Family Circle Magazine

Diana Ennen knows what it takes to work at home, having done so since 1985. Ennen was among the pioneers in the work-at-home industry when starting a word processing business, but back in those days, it wasn’t as easy to get started. The Internet wasn’t as commonplace and work-at-home moms (and dads) had to learn from trial and error. Research on how to start a business also had to be done at a local library and bookstore, and not from the convenience of a home computer. My how times have changed.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Telecommuting Can Half U.S. Gulf Oil Dependency

If this is really the case, why is there such a lag in businesses and governments to push for telecommuting. Are we willing to have dependency on oil because of the lack trust business has for its employees?

Your Success Is Our Success

Telecommuting Pro


Telecommuting Can Half U.S. Gulf Oil Dependency

Thirty-three million American's could work from home. If they did, the U.S. could make major cuts in oil dependency and significantly reduce global warming.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tax Incentives Help Small Business

Will this tax package help everyone?

Your Success Is Our Success


Stimulus Plan to Offer Business Incentives
New York Times -
United States Small-business advocates have urged Congress to include more permanent tax cuts in the stimulus plan, among other measures.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Marketing You and Your Service

Here are some good thoughts and additional reading suggestions about marketing you and your service.

Your Success Is Our Success



Marketing Your Service-Based Small Business

If your small business is service-oriented, expertise is your product. It’s your value proposition and what sets you apart from your competitors. The better you market your expertise, the better you’ll grow your business.

Both Parents Work At Home

This is a great example of how to work at home successfully.

Your Success Is Our Success



Both parents work at home while advancing in high-pressure jobs

Life is good in the Mayville household, about as good as it gets for two full-time working parents with demanding careers.

Family life flows in and around an eat-in kitchen and two offices -- one near the kitchen, the other at the opposite end of the main floor.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Find Out More About Your Website Visitors

Microsoft Live Small Business Office has created new ways to generate reports to track trends of the visitors to your website and use that information to attract additional visitors.

This is powerful stuff, check it out.

Your Success Is Our Success



How to learn even more about your Web site visitors

Have you noticed that we revamped the Reports area in Office Live Small Business? If not, log into your account and click Reports when you get a chance. We’ve added new features that may help you attract more site visitors and turn them into customers. For instance, now you can follow day-to-day trends in your Web site traffic and see results of your keyword advertising campaigns at the same time. Those are great insights to have when you’re trying to make marketing decisions.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Funding Your Small Business

This article discusses the critical options small business owners face, how much funding to request, and where to get the funding. Precise and to the point.

Your Success Is Our Success



Show Me The Money - Funding Your Small Business

Never say never but with small businessses it is imperative that you do your research on what you need it for and how much you need, before requesting funding. The better organized you are the better.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Telecommuting - Managing a Virtual Staff

As more individuals want to do some of their work at home the issue of managing virtual workers become front and foremost. This article discusses some of the issues Managers and Telecommuters face and deal with. Good info!



Trend 2008: Telecommuting and Managing a Virtual Staff

Advances in technology and cultural responses to it mean that more people want to work from home and more companies want to outsource.

Monday, January 7, 2008

How To Create A Home Office That Will Make Work Fun

It's time to move your office from the dining table to a place your house you will enjoy going to. This transformation will make going to work much more enjoyable.

Your Success Is Our Success




How To Create A Home Office That Will Make Work Fun

To create an awesome home office, look at your living spaces through new eyes. I have no doubt that you have an underutilized room, nook or area that will lend itself perfectly to work. You just have to use your creativity and imagination to see it.

Small Business - Google News