The Small Business Express Podcast
Summary: For online and offline entrepreneurs that want to cut to the chase. Any and every small business topic broken down and massaged into three simple action steps. Join two seasoned small business owners from TheSmallBizExpress.com and experience your AHA! moment today.
The only thing that might be uglier than a divorce is a business partnership gone bad. Business partnerships can be awesome. Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak, Warren Buffet & Charlie Munger, Mike Monroe & Gary Shouldis and Darryl Hall & John Oats are just a few examples of the magic that can happen when two forces combine to create something bigger than one could have accomplished on their own. When you form a partnership, it should be a 2+2=6 (or 10!) equation. Both of you should be able to bring your talents to the table and combined, create something bigger than you could have done alone. That’s the power of a great partnership. But unfortunately, it doesn’t always result in a happy ending. Just like divorce rates, partnership breakups are quite common, often resulting in the ruin (or near ruin) of a business. When there are fundamental disagreements or serious money issues, the stakes and emotions can get high. Once great friends can turn on each other and bring the entire company down with them. So what can you do if you are considering getting into a business partnership? You listen to this episode of course! Listen and Learn… * Learn the ins and outs of partnerships and how to approach one * Why getting into a partnerships with people you really like can end in disaster * Partnering with friends or family? Avoid these pitfalls and avoid ruining a relationship * How a conversation before you start a partnership can save your business years later * Why you both need to plan for a worse case scenario right from the start * Tips for ensuring a partnership breakup won’t destroy the business Action Steps from this episode: * Who’s going to be responsible for WHAT – how that impacts the partnership. Know Who’s going to be responsible for WHAT. You need to have a clear understanding as to who is going to be responsible for what roles in the business and it all needs to be put in writing. It’s the only way to keep things fair and to hold each other accountable if one of the partners fails to live up to their responsibilities. Put it in writing and plan for every possible scenario * Complementary People. Find a Complementary business partner – If both of you love bookkeeping but hate talking to customers, guess what, you should probably rethink the partnership. You want to find someone who will compliment you and add value to the business. When it comes to a partnership, 1 and 1 should equal at least 3 to make it worth getting into. * Make sure you have a shared vision. Be sure you have a shared vision before you start – If you don’t share a similar vision of what you think the business can become, you’ll be faced with conflicting agendas that will most likely end the partnership as you’ll both be trying to take it in different directions. Links and Resources: * An article from CNN/Money that talks about the ups and downs of working with your significant other. * A good article by Ryan Lee on choosing a business partner and why not to choose someone like you. * Great YouTube video about The Front Row Foundation, the charity we spoke about at the beginning of the episode. If you want to find out more on how to get involved, contact us here. * We spoke about
So much social media, so little time! Many business owners believe that if they can’t do EVERYTHING, they shouldn’t even try to do SOMETHING. Which is why we hunted down small business owner and Twitter expert, Mr. Josh King. As a small business consultant, Josh recognizes the need to keep the social media workload light. If Twitter is one of the places your target customers hang out? Then the 15-minutes-a-day Twitter strategy is something you’ll want to have started *yesterday*. Some background on Josh King (outside of what you can learn about him on his blog). He is known as “the Tinderbox Consultant,” a brand of endearment whose goal it is to leave every owner smarter, better, and more successful. His consultant practice (and his Twitter following) is a local one and his strategies contrarian to the oft-held mentality of “build you following, more more more, bigger is better.” For Josh, Twitter is like a virtual telephone, NOT a virtual megaphone. A couple caveats about this interview: (1) Gary and Josh engage in exactly ZERO foreplay. Be prepared to dive right in once the interview starts. (2) We tried using a new method of guest-recording. While it came out perfectly in tests, it came out less-than-flawless in the final recording. You can still hear Josh just fine, but be forewarned. And finally? (3) This is NOT a podcast about “here’s how to setup your account! Make your profile look nice! Make sure you retweet people (duh)!” This is a strategic right-hook from a guy who knows how to build responsive audiences. Facebook is the living room of social media, Twitter is the front-yard. The connections you make on Twitter are unconditional. (Click to Tweet) Listen and Learn… * Josh’s ‘help people first’ strategy and how that’s led to massive word-of-mouth for his business. * Twitter strategy in a nutshell: three times per day is the champions way. Listen for details. * How to put a consistent brand out there across multiple channels by creating a master social document. * The importance of an editorial calendar for brainstorming and systemization. Boom. * The power of notifications and how to “clean up” at the end of the day. * The ambiguity of small business ROI – is my social marketing moving people forward? * How starting a business blog has kept Josh sane. Action Steps from this episode: * Define Success. Know what the purpose of your time on Twitter is. In most cases, it’ll be to drive people to your hub (your website) or get them into your store (brick-and-mortar folk). The surest way to fail is to not know what you’re aiming for. Duh. With the objective clearly defined, you’ll then be able to comparatively measure how one 15 minute strategy compares to another 15 minute strategy. What interactions / tweets are getting the most response? To use Josh’s analogy from above: by playing in the front yard, people will want to enter the house. You don’t need to stand out front begging people to come in. Twitter (and all social media) is ineffective as a self-promotional megaphone. * Make a Plan. When you first start out, you’re probably not going to hit it out of the park right away.
Has anyone ever told you, “you’re so great at (insert skill), you should start a business!” These words, though innocent, have paved the road to more failed business ventures than any recession, depression or economic downturn ever has. Encouragement from friends and family is great, but before you start a business, you have to dive a lot deeper than that if you want to know if your great idea has a chance at business success. Most of us business owners fall in love with our business ideas. You get an idea, fall in love with it and go and start a business. You assume everyone will have the same excitement for your business idea as you do. You’re wrong. Everyone is different and everyone has different tastes. That’s why some people drive a Mercedes and some people ride a scooter, we all have different tastes and are motivated by different things (I would love to zip around on a scooter, but no interest in driving a Mercedes). That’s why taking the time to test and validate your business idea before you spend your life savings is so important. For a few hundred dollars and a few dozen hours of your time, you can get a pretty good idea of what people think about your idea and if it’s something worth pursuing. So why do most people ignore this step? I think first, because they aren’t sure exactly how to test their idea properly, and secondly, they are in love with their idea and are afraid to expose it to criticism. Big mistake. Before you go all in, bet the farm and jump in with both feet, take some time to make sure there is interest in what you think the world will fall in love with. Listen and Learn… * How dreaming is great, but not testing is bad. Very bad * How to find the right audience to test your idea with * How to get people to take action in validating your business idea * How to leverage technology and existing resources to test your idea * What actions people need to take in order to get true validation * Why crafting the right offer is so important when validating your idea * How to get people excited about your idea Action Steps from this episode: * Assemble you audience. Before you start any kind of testing you want to be sure that you are testing your ideas with the type of person that will be your customer. It’s a big waste of time if you try and pitch your idea to a demographic that isn’t interested. Spend the time doing your research so you have a pretty clear idea of who will want to buy your product or service * Decide how you are going to pre-sell your idea. Are you going to ask ask people to sign up for an email list, make some sort of pre-order action or maybe fill out a contact form for more information. Decide what the mechanism is going to be to validate your idea. * So you have the audience, the plan, now you have to craft the offer and call to action to actually get people to take the action you want. Your offer has to be interesting and there has to be a clear call to action or else it’s unlikely they will take any. Here is where you will be able to get the data to see if your idea has legs Links and Resources: * The story Mike told about a local bar that pre-sold beer mugs (that came with a lot of free beer!) in exchange for helping to fund the construction of the bar. * We spoke about this company in the podcast that can provide targeted survey participants to test out your idea. * I think we forgot to mention this in the podcast, but
The hardest part of being a business owner is getting people who need you to notice you. And then, once they notice you, getting them to overcome their natural skepticism and buyers remorse to purchase from you. *Sigh* What if there was a way where you could accomplish both without feeling sleazy, salesy, or scummy? What if this method didn’t cost you an arm and a leg? It sounds like a bold promise. But the reality is that thousands of companies use white papers, e-books, reports, and content marketing (note: worst name ever) to get customers coming to them. You don’t need to go out there and become the world’s greatest blogger. You simply need to share your expertise with the people that need it. Many owners scoff at this strategy because it seems unremarkable or too simplistic. But what’s ordinary to you is extraordinary to others. So help us out and share your know-how with the world. Disclaimer: while it may not be a method for immediate gratification? Creating a report to showcase your expertise is an ethical way to build your brand as an owner worth doing business with. Every customer has something they’re thinking about before they become a customer. This report is your contribution to the conversation. The *thing* that will get them coming to you. (Click to Tweet) Listen and Learn… * What is a white paper and how can it benefit your business? How do these things differ from free-reports, e-books, and all the other “stuff”? * The most effective way to get customers coming to you, whether you’re selling digital services or water filtration systems. This stuff works. Get the necessary instruction so your biz can start working it! * How to narrow down your focus so you’re not overwhelmed by all the things you *could* write about. * Why customers will actually be DELIGHTED when you start talking about yourself (versus how they react to companies that just try to sell-sell-sell, push-push-push) * Offline or online business: get your hot little content piece into the hands of people who are just looking for a reason to buy. Gary and Mike share some of their favorite strategies to do just that. Action Steps from this episode: * Decide the 3-13 things people should be thinking about before they purchase a product or service in your industry. This content piece you’re creating is going to be educational in nature. People buy from businesses (and business owners) whom they respect, like, and trust. They should walk away from this content piece RESPECTING your knowledge, LIKING your style, and TRUSTING your business. Educate to dominate. Make it useful and keep it all about your customers by creating advertising that (as Sonia Simone says) “is too good to throw away.” * Decide how you will make your transition. Once you talk all about their problem (“don’t talk to me about your weed killer, talk to me about my crab grass!”), it’s time to speak a little bit about yourself. You’re not just doing charity work here. You’ve earned it. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point. The goal isn’t to present options and to sell, the goal is to get them to take the next step in your sales funnel.
Have you always wanted to create an eCommerce store for your business but don’t know where to start? Creating an Ecommerce store, as a stand alone store or to supplement your brick and mortar, can be a great way for a local business to create a much broader reach than a physical location ever could. So why doesn’t every business do it? Because creating an Ecommerce store is not like creating a blog or regular business website, the learning curve is fairly steep and if you don’t do it right, it can be end up costing you a lot of money with little return. In this episode of The Small Business Express podcast, we’ll discuss the basics of Ecommerce and the first steps you can take to get started. Listen and Learn… * If an Ecommerce store is right for you and deciding if you’re ready to take on such a big project * An overview of how Ecommerce works and the elements that make up an Ecommerce store * The pros and cons of running an Ecommerce store * How to look like an online giant despite having an itty bitty storefront location * The difference between a hosted and self-hosted Ecommerce solution and which one is best to get started with * Great resources to get you started on the road to creating your own Ecommerce store This little NYC camera shop was (still is) an online giant in the early days of Ecommerce. Gary purchased his first digital camera online from them. Action Steps from this episode: * Deciding if ecommerce is right for you. The first step is to decide if an ecommere store would be a logical step for your business. If you sell products, it probably is a very appealing option, it really comes down to if you understand the work involved and are ready to jump into it with two both feet. It takes a lot of work and fine tuning to get a website to make sales for you. * Decide what kind of shopping cart to use. When we talk about a shopping cart, we’re talking about the type of software platform you will use to power your eCommerce store. There are two options, hosted and self-hosted solutions. Hosted solutions are shopping carts where they take care of everything for you….from the website hosting, to the shopping cart, to the payment gateway and everything else….it’s an all in one solution. It’s a great way to get started and is usually recommended if you’re just getting started in eCommerce. It’s easy to use, but still very powerful, enough to run a full blown Ecommerce business A self hosted solution is where you install the shopping cart software on your own server and have to provide your own payment gateway, website hosting and everything else that’s needed to power your store. People will usually choose a self-hosted solution when they need a lot more customization than a hosted platform can provide and they have the technical resources to setup and maintain their own online store. * Resources to get started. If you decide that Ecommerce is something you want to pursue, the first step is to really (really) educate yourself about Ecommerce and understanding how the sales cycle works online and the important elements required for a successful store. You also have to know how to drive traffic and conversions on the site or else the whole thing is a big waste of time. Check the resource section below for some great places to start. Links and Resources: * Shopify is a hosted Ecommerce solution that makes it pretty easy to create your own online store. Also check out their blog which has some greater started guides if you’re new to Ecommerce. *
Congratulations, you made a sale! But what if it meant more than a monetary transaction that ensured your business could stay open for 12 minutes longer? What if, instead of saying “you made a sale,” we instead suggested “you solved a problem.” That certainly puts things in perspective. And it proves the necessity of upselling at every and any opportunity. Heck, some might even call it an ethical duty. Upselling is the process after an initial sale which you use to introduce people to other products that they may find useful. You go into a department store to buy a pair of pants and, upon the cashier’s suggestion, leave with a belt. You go to the post office to mail a package and they ask if you want to buy stamps. Yes, you DO want fries with that. All examples of great upselling. And whether your business is offline or online, you must confidently accept that there are more problems that can be solved with a little planning. And not in a high-pressure or sleazy way, but in a way that creates WIN WIN for everybody involved. Don’t sell shampoo without giving your customers a chance to buy conditioner. Whatever your game or gig is, you have an opportunity to do more, help more, serve more by upselling properly. (Click to Tweet) Listen and Learn… * The power of related purchases, how Amazon does it, and how you can do it too. * Why it’s totally ok to be offering other people’s products, offline or online. * The best time is now. How to make an immediate upsell offer that is a total no-brainer. * Maybe you’re upselling something a little bigger and need more time to follow-up. That’s in here too. * Coming up with an asking strategy. The difference between hard sell and soft sell. Action Steps from this episode: * Decide WHAT You’re Going to Offer. This might be another product you sell. Or a product somebody else sells. The bottom line, however, is that your customers have more than one problem and you have the means to help them. Most business owners tuck tail and run whenever somebody mentions selling. Realize your awesome power to help people. If they’re going to end up buying it anyway, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be from you. There’s no business that can’t benefit from this. Brainstorm possibilities like a boss. * Decide WHEN You’re Going to Make the Offer. Gary speaks relentlessly about making an immediate offer. Mike regales us with a tale of his knife-selling days (and his oh-so-epic veggie peeler upsell). The more commoditized a product, the more immediate your response should be. While immediate is good, if you’re going for a home run (selling a boat to someone who came by to purchase a fishing lure) then be prepared to have proper follow-up in place. * Decide HOW You’re Going to Make the Offer. Are you going to make a hard-sell? Ie, a now-or-never type of offer? These can be effective because they create major urgency, especially if you’re an online business making a one time offer (OTO) after your sales page. There is tremendous power in consistency, so if you’re not alone or online, make sure everybody who’s touching customers is taught how to be a rockstar at this. Listen to the show for more tidbits on how to determine the right upsell communication for YOUR business. Links and Resources: * The manipulation matrix: how to know if your upsell is ethical or not. * Don’t buy this without that: the power behind Amazon’s “recommended products.
Are you a service professional having a hard time getting paid by your customers? Is cash flow always an issue? This is something that plagues many freelancers and service professionals. Getting paid on time. You can have a successful business and still get into lots of financial trouble because you’re getting paid so slow after you produce the work and you start running into cash flow problems. On top of that, you spend valuable time chasing after payments when you should be spending that time getting new business or servicing the ones you already have Turning your service into a product is one way to not only get paid faster (people pay for products up front, services after they are delivered), but to streamline how you deliver your services. In this episode of The Small Biz Express podcast we discuss: * The plight of freelancers and service professionals, getting paid on time * How you present your service to your customer will determine when you get paid * Why giving your customers too many choices can lead to more dissatisfaction * How creating a systematic approach can streamline your delivery and make you more money * Mike talks about a great 2003 study about online retailers and pricing * How to package and present your product to your customers * Gary’s own example of how he turned a service into a product * Pricing strategies and if you should present your pricing upfront Action Steps from this episode: * Turn your service into a product. The easiest way to do that is by taking your individual service and packaging it with standard pricing, including a pre-formed list of features and options and a set time for delivering the product. If you package it like that, it looks more like product than a service. limit the choices, standardize the pricing and feature set, package it neatly on your brochures and website. The key is not making it where the client is free to take the service in any direction they choose, give them limited choice for a package, if u need more choices, create more packages. * Take a systematic approach to delivering on your product. Create a process from the work you do. Don’t try and be everything to everybody. Take a methodical approach to delivering your work, a step by step process you follow until the project is complete. With a productized service, you should be able to deliver faster and more efficiently each time you do it. Your customers can’t derail you with revision after revision, until you’re starting back at square one. A written plan is essential to delivering efficiently and for training others on executing the system you’ve created for delivering your new product. * How to pitch your new package to clients. #1 thing is to change your vocabulary. Start refering to it as a product, banks do this all the time when talking about loans, they call it a product, even though it’s a service. Start using language like, “when you purchase package A, you’ll get this….” See, you’re implying they will be buying it before any work will be done. It may sound silly, but if you read consumer phychology, like Dan Airielly’s book, Predictably Irrational, you’ll see how even the slightest changes in presentation can cause massive changes in behaviour. To get an idea, just look just look at headlines….marketers test headlines all the time, they test 2 headlines…headline 2 outperforms headline one by a margin of 10 to 1, by only changing 2 words in the title. Happens all the time. Links and Resources Discussed in this Episode * Built To Sell – Great book that tells the story of the owner of a design company who needs to free...
In the beginning stages of owning a small business, you’re going to be doing everything yourself. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. As the owner, however, there are places where your time is better spent: things that please customers, things that grow the business today, or things that grow the business tomorrow. Administration is a necessary evil of every business. An evil which, unfortunately, doesn’t do any of the above. It still needs to get done (and done correctly). The goal is to create systems where it can be done quickly and, when the business is ready, can be done by others. This episode is all about building that system. It’s easy to get into a routine of lengthening work days and filling hours with things that don’t grow the business. The administration of your business is arguably the most essential piece of your operations manual. No matter how new or how small you might be, owners that protect themselves in the administrative department give themselves a competitive advantage from Day 1. In this episode of The Small Biz Express podcast we discuss: * Three simple action steps to create administrative systems that save time, streamline a process, and serve your customers. (so “simple” that nearly nobody does them. ugh!) * The four areas of your business where administrative stuff occurs regularly * Why the administrative piece of your operations manual has to be a living document * The power of a three bullet system and how NOT to rethink an entire process from scratch * Several processes that are total time sucks, including paying your bills * Policies versus guidelines (and why guidelines win every single time) Action Steps from this episode: * Create a List of All Your Admin Tasks. Systems require documentation, so let’s start by making a list. There’s more administrative stuff than you think so be sure to list through every process. What are the simplest things that you’re required to do to service your customers? Be specific. “Publish articles on my website,” “reply to comments,” and “make security backups” is way better than “Run my website.” (By the way, if you’re running WordPress, backing up your website is something that you should automate) Draw Up Step by Steps on How to Do Each Task. This is the point where most people stop because they don’t feel like writing a text book. Well if you don’t feel like writing it, nobody is going to feel like reading it. So let’s make this super simple: three bullets per task. Like we always say on The Invisible Boss, you can accomplish 80% of what you need to do with three, well thought out points. Eventually these three bullets can become more detailed as you bring other people into the fold. Even as solopreneur, having a step-by-step is really important so you can replicate an experience. Side benefit: the more times you do something the same way, the faster you get at it. * Put Guidelines in Place for Situations That Come Up Out of the Blue. Policies are a dirty word, according to Gary (and Mike agrees). It’s important to define your philosophies of handling certain things (like customers, content, finances, etc) because there are dozens of things that come up as an owner that you simply didn’t see coming. And having philosophical guidelines in place means you can stay consistent with who you are as a company. For example,
Every business owner has been told by at least a few people that they need to have a blog. They tell them a blog will make you a leader in your field, will drive tons of traffic to your website and will increase revenues 10 times over. Well, maybe not 10 times, but you get the point. Yes, a blog can be a powerful part of your overall marketing strategy, but most people that start one fail miserably. Why is that? It’s because they start a blog for the sake of starting a blog. It’s because they start with no real aim or purpose in what they are doing. It’s because they have no clue what they are doing. If you take the time to learn about a using a blog as a business tool, it can provide one of the best ROI’s out of any of your marketing initiatives. In this episode of The Small Business Express, we’ll go over how to get started. In this episode of The Small Biz Express podcast we discuss: * How a blog can open up lead opportunities impossible to get anywhere else * Why you need a strategy in place before you start or else you’ll waste your time * How to shape your content to attract the right kind of leads * Creating content is hard, we show you some tricks to make it easy * Why you should spend more time promoting your article than actually writing it * Creating a system to market your blog posts Action Steps from this episode: * Start with your goals and develop a strategy. If you start blogging without an end goal in mind, you’re just wasting your time. When it comes to business, you need to blog with purpose. You don’t have time to waste and need to make every article count. A good strategy will keep you focused and on target and will keep you from just wasting your time. * Decide on what types of content to create. Creating content is hard. If you’re not a writer, sitting down every week to write an article can be intimidating. Having a strategy in place will help guide your content and creating a system of different “post types” will make it easier to write as you’re now using a template format. * What to do after you publish a blog post. Most big time bloggers will tell you that they spend more time promoting an article than they do promoting it. If it takes you an hour to write an article, make sure you spend at least an hour promoting it. This can be via your social media networks, your email list of customers and friends and even using some paid advertising to help give it that little “push” to get your article some traction. Links and Resources Discussed in this Episode * Inbound and Outbound startegies from The Small Biz Express. http://thesmallbizexpress.com/sbx-8-inbound-outbound-marketing-strategies/ * Problogger.net How to create the perfect list post. http://www.problogger.net/archives/2008/08/17/10-steps-to-the-perfect-list * Great headline hacks for your blog posts. http://boostblogtraffic.com/headline-hacks * Stu McLaren’s charity, which is referenced in the show. Stu is co-founder of Wishlist Member and does a fantastic job of integrating his charity with this internet-based business. (http://worldteacheraid.org/) * The ultimate charity page site. No matter what cause you’re trying to support, let these people do the money collecting and distribution for you.
Serving customers is great. But as business owners we have the opportunity to do even more for causes, communities, and people the world-over. Almost everybody nowadays has a favorite charity (or two, or five) and the question becomes: how can you leverage your position as a business leader to (1) support those charities while (2) not alienating any of your customers? Not only is it possible, it may even be desirable. Studies have shown that 90% of customers want businesses to tell them what causes they’re involved in. With the right plan in place, “cause marketing” (as it is not-so-ceremoniously called) can be much just as effective as a high-priced advertising campaign. But before you start bombarding customers with “hey, wanna donate?” it helps to decide the exact strategy you’re going to take. As with most things, a little planning goes a long way. In this episode of The Small Biz Express podcast we discuss: * Gary and Mike’s charities of choice, plus all the statistics you’d ever want to know * How supporting a cause can give you a slight (but powerful) competitive advantage * Telling the story of your involvement in a way that is both meaningful and non-manipulative * Some DOs and DON’Ts of collecting money electronically (see the show notes) * The grocery store and Petsmart strategy that works wonders for getting donations * A variety of different events you can hold (if that’s more your style) * Gary’s simple publicity strategy to make sure people know about them * Mike’s strategy of making virtual offers to nail down donations Action Steps from this episode: * Decide what type of fundraiser you’re going to do. Integrating a fund-raiser with your business is far more effective if it doesn’t disrupt the flow of business. Translation: if it’s something you’re excited about, your customers will be excited about it. Three popular methods (that we discuss in this episode) are (1) asking customers for donations, (2) holding out-of-business events, and (3) making offers, such as pro-bono services or discounted purchasing opportunities. Ask and advertise. No matter what function you use to raise funds, nobody will know how to get involved unless you ask. The ask is your opportunity to connect with customers on a deeper level by telling your story and sharing your WHY. Some customers will be thrilled to support you, others will not be, but even the ones that aren’t will respect what you’re doing if you ask the right way. Don’t be afraid to do a little advertising either, especially the free stuff like signage on your website and/or store. Of course your local media is always looking for something to write about and your story is a welcome change of pace from the negative happenings of the world. * Preparation and execution. You have your WHY, your WHAT, and your HOW. Now it’s just a matter of showing up. Follow-thru is always important, but if you’re making promises to people over a charity, make sure to hold yourself to the highest standard of doing so. If this is your first time attempting something like this, don’t be surprised if you learn (quickly) through trial and error. Correct and continue. If your efforts are truly for the good of other people then there’s no way you can fail. And if your execution is below your standard, you’ll be that much sharper when you try again. Links and Resources Discussed in this Episode * These stats prove the power of cause marketing. So much so that you might be thinking “Whoa. I wasn’t thinking of doing this before… but NOW I am.” Yes. Yes you are. (http://www.causemarketingforum.com/site/c.bkLUKcOTLkK4E/b.6448131/) * Mike’s charity of choice.
Until you put things down on paper, you'll never really understand your business. That goes with creating goals, marketing plans and everyday business processes in your business. An operations manual is an ever evolving document that serves as a reference manual for you and your employees and helps to keep your high standards consistent across everyone on your team. Creating an operations manual isn't hard, though the idea of it sounds daunting. Most people think of a telephone book sized document filled with mind-numbingly boring stuff. While it's no Shakespeare, it'll help you run and grow your business and help you scale your business beyond what you can do alone as a business owner. For some businesses, an operations manual may be just a half dozen "how to" pages that outline what's supposed to be done in certain situations. For others, like in franchising, it serves as a business roadmap where even a novice business person can hit the ground running and start turning the wheel faster and faster instead of trying to invent it. In this episode of The Small Biz Express podcast we discuss: Why putting your systems and processes are so important if you want to grow and scale your business Where to start when it comes to creating an operations manual for your business Some good resources to help you create an operations manual How an operations manual is like a diet plan and why Gary's daughters call him "Muffin Top" How franchises use a written operations manual to scale their business even with non-business savvy franchisees How an operations manual becomes so important (and valuable) when it comes time to sell your business People tend to think "cookie cutter" when they think of an operations manual. We discuss why it's the opposite.. Action Steps from this episode: Map out your business by writing it out. Until you put things down on paper, you'll never really understand your business. The success of your business shouldn't live up inside your head, it should be freely available to both you and your employees. How can your employees deliver success (as you see it) if they can't read your mind? By putting those wonderful ideas on paper. If you do something well, document it for the future! Create consistency in your business. You do one way and your employees each do things a different way. Consistency in doing all of the little things right is more important than occasionally "Wowing" them every once in awhile. Just like in basketball, layups win the game. A documented system for key processes in your business will help you and your team stay on the same page when it comes to doing things the way they're supposed to be done. Plus, it'll keep your employees from calling you during dinner because they forgot how to close out the credit card machine....ugh! Build a tangible business asset. When the time finally comes to sell your business, nobody is going to want to buy the ideas in your head. If you run your entire business from inside your head, selling your business for what it's really worth will become difficult. An operating manual with a systems and processes demonstrates that others can continue with the success you currently have. An operations manual becomes a tangible and very valuable asset when it comes to valuating your business. Links and Resources Discussed in this Episode Screen Steps. Great tool if you'll be doing some serious process creating. http://www.screensteps.com/ How To Create an Operations Manual blog post. One of my most popular articles. http://www.thesmallbusinessplaybook.com/how-to-create-operations-manual-for-business/ Screen shots and screen recording. Free and easy to use. http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html Google Sites. Part of Gmail and Google Apps. Easiest way to set up an intranet for your business and to house an online version of your operations manual. https://sites.google.com
Being a business owner is synonymous with feelings of overwhelm. Our world is so multi-faceted that we must be trained to cope with way more incoming and outgoing stimuli than the person who punches out at 5pm. But what do you do when busy turns into quicksand? Can we really gain a competitive advantage by stepping up our time management game? It’s not always possible to simply focus on what you’re good at or what you like to do, especially if you’re a solopreneur. Two keys to making constant progress, even in the face of chaos: (1) having systems to manage the little things from become big things and (2) habitual prioritization so that the big things remain the main things. Improve your use of time, improve your progress, and improve your life. Simple, not easy. In this episode of The Small Biz Express podcast we discuss: Cognitive bias: why we all (incorrectly) believe we’re better than average at managing our time. Why the mindset of “I’m not doing anything less than $100/hour work” is totally foolish. A half dozen name drops of books we love (and don’t love) on time management. Yeesh! Instead of having a TO DO list? Mike suggests you have one of *these* instead. 3 strategies on managing your email, including the pursuit of the legendary “inbox zero” Gary’s no fail strategy to determine what his big rocks are for the day (the man has 45 kids and runs 15 businesses! He knows what he’s talking about!) The power of saying no to people. And how to do it in a way that is ethical, honest, and won’t make them hate you. Action Steps from this episode: Write everything down. Get everything out of your head and on paper so you can stare your adversary in the face. Having a TO DO list (or better yet, a TO CREATE list) is the first step in turning overwhelm into organization. Plus it has the added benefit of eliminating the stress of “I feel like I’m forgetting something.” Something powerful happens when you put things on paper, which is another reason why your email inbox is NOT your best TO DO list. Identify the BIG WINS. These are the urgent important things that define a successful day. They are not necessarily the things you want to do or even have to do. They are the things that leave you better at night than you were in the morning. For a business owner that often means some type of marketing, time with key people, or systematic improvement. Time is a finite resource. You don't want to be spending it on something unimportant in the same way that you wouldn’t waste money buying groceries you’ll never eat. Eliminate additional, unpredictable, and unplanned baggage. This involves saying no to people, projects, opportunities, and other things. Drawing boundaries is something many owners aren't good at, which is why a few communication tools like "I'd love to BUT" or "I can't commit to this right now" are essential so we don't fall into the trap of taking on more than we can chew. If you're already in the midst of a situation like this? Pull the plug! Show me an owner who is great at saying no to the right things and I’ll show you an owner whose business is growing. Links and Resources Discussed in this Episode A cool article that many of us will relate to. Plus a few things we know to do, but aren’t doing. And maybe a thing or two that we’ve never heard before, but could be doing. (http://www.slideshare.net/egarbugli/26-time-management-hacks-i-wish-id-known-at-20). The famous big rocks teacher story. A great illustration, true or not, that reminds us to always put the big rocks in first. (http://www.csub.edu/tlc/options/resources/handouts/teach_strat/putinrocks.html) Two of Gary’s favorites! Manage your life in a simple way with the Any Do app (http://www.any.do/) Or the awesome Google Keep tool, written about here on Lifehacker. (http://lifehacker.com/not-just-another-notes-app-why-you-should-use-google-k-509256637)
Creating a website for your business can be a nerve racking experience. You know little about how everything works and have to rely on designers, developers and others to help guide you down the path. Pricing is eradicate and there are so many choices, from free DIY platforms to really (really) expensive solutions from design firms. While you don't need to spend 5K+ for a basic website, you also can't try and cheap out and do it yourself. There are too many areas to creating a website that require some level of expertise, you need to find people to help you at a reasonable cost. What do you do? Listen to this episode of The Small Business Express podcast! In this episode we'll cover some of the basics you need to know when you set out to build a website for your business as well as common traps to avoid along the way. In this episode of The Small Biz Express podcast we discuss: What things you need to understand before you start the process as well as common traps you can fall into if you're not careful Should I DIY my website or hire someone. Hint, hire someone! Why you should think of your website as a second virtual storefront, one that can drive more business than your physical one Why you shouldn't hire a single person to design, build and market your website Mike shares his experience with getting his website hacked and how not to let hackers turn it into a porn site Different Content Management Systems (CMS) explained and which one's you should consider, plus the difference between Wordpress.com and Wordpress.org. The most important pages on your website and what to do with them Action Steps from this episode: Make sure you own your domain name. When you first start out and choose a domain name for your business, make sure you are in fact the person who owns it, not your web developer or designer. Through your domain name, you have control of what's called your DNS (Domain Name Server). Through your DNS you can control your website, where it's hosted, email and a bunch of other features. Basically, if you control the DNS, you have control over everything. When starting out in the process, make sure all elements of the website are in your name and you have full login access and control. This means your domain name, the hosting solution where your website is located, the CMS being used and the email exchange your using for your business. If you don't, you may get hit with some unpleasant surprises down the road. Things to consider when building your website. Take your time and do your research when building your website. We recommend that you do not try and do it yourself. Unless you have experience in design, marketing and copywriting, most likely it will look and act terribly and you'll be losing a lot of money further down the line in terms of lost opportunities. Be wary if one person says they can design, develop and market your website, it's very (very) rare to find a single person who excels at all three, maybe two, but not all three. Think of which CMS you'll want to use, we recommend WordPress .org for a traditional website, for ecommerce, you have quality platforms like Shopify, Big Commerce or Magento (for bigger ecommerce initiates). Important pages on your business website. Besides your homepage, there are several pages that are very important to your business website. Your "About" page is your credibility and trust booster and should be personalized and authentic. Your "Contact" page should make it really easy to contact you as well as have a good call to action and value proposition to encourage people to take action. "Landing" pages should be created to target specific products/services you offer or to engage with specific audiences that come to the site. All of these pages have a role and help to contribute to the overall trust and conversion of your website. Links and Resources Discussed in this Episode
In a world where potential customers do online research from their homes, phones, and tablets the need for social proof has never been greater. Online reviews, where customers have rated your business publically for all the world to see, has become one of the most important marketing strategies that very few businesses are using. Some customers won’t buy anything unless it’s been thoroughly vetted by others, while others need that last bit of reassurance before having the courage to make a purchase. Unfortunately as the need for online reviews has sprung up, so has a small industry of fake review writing. A savvy customer can easily distinguish between a fake review and a real one, or even a “motivated review,” where companies provide an incentive for a positive write-up. The goal here is to create a library of online reviews that are both ethical and transparent. And to use a review forum to strategically address negative feedback and prove your concern for the customer experience. In this episode of The Small Biz Express podcast we discuss: Pros and Cons: people will spend mega bucks off the recommendations of total strangers Why taking shortcuts to reviews will actually hurt you in the long-run The mentality of the happy/angry online reviewer and how to capture the middle-class Better to have a laser focus versus a light bulb focus with your customers The frustration of a YELP slap and why authentic Google reviews will never be discounted Why your customer reviews are showing up on many small sites you’ve never even heard of Reviews as a long-term game and how to develop a systematic strategy to get 10, 20, or 30+ per year Action Steps from this episode: Pick the site you’re going to focus on. It’s far better to do one site really well than to dabble in 3 or 4 sites. The question you have to ask yourself is “where are my potential customers reading about me?” It may be a niche site in your particular industry. Or, like millions of other businesses, it may be Google reviews (created through a Google Plus account). Populating google reviews is more beneficial than focusing on a microsite in many cases because of the added benefit of local search. Not to mention the fact that many people have a Google account, which makes it easier for your customers to execute. Do some research and avoid sites that have a tendency to wipe out accounts. Create a systematic asking strategy. The only way to amass reviews is one at a time. Businesses have to ask frequently (all the time) consistently (every time). Most owners and employees are nervous to ask, so write out the exact words to say and practice, practice, practice. Fear will go away with time. An incentive can help create asking confidence but if this is the road you go down, incentive for the act of creating the review, positive or negative. Make it simple and easy for customers to leave a review. Review URLs are often times long, ugly, and intimidating. Shorten them by following one of the strategies in this episode. Follow-up, with those who’ve agreed AND those who’ve reviewed. Most people you ask to leave a review will need a gentle reminder, so don’t be shy about following-up. It goes without saying that you will always keep your promises. So if you made a promise to incentize a review, follow-up and fast. Know that negative criticism comes with the territory of business ownership and, with the right response, can actually win over onlooking customers. Somebody in your business (young business = that means YOU) should be checking online reviews regularly and respond properly to negative criticism. Links and Resources Discussed in this Episode The definitive guide for small business reviews, including an email template you can use to ask your customers to leave a review (http://www.thesmallbusinessplaybook.com/small-business-guide-customer-reviews/)
When looking for a local business, most people start their search online. The search engines know this and have been working hard to create a better local search experience for users. What does this mean for you, the local business owner? It means great opportunity. In the past, you were forced to go head to head with the biggest brands and corporation in the world. You had little to no resources to help get noticed online while they had virtually unlimited resources....it wasn't a fair game. With local search engine optimization (SEO), local businesses have an opportunity to outrank bigger companies.....and for the most part, it's free! The search engines are trying hard to match a users search intent (Pizza places in Charlotte) to a relevant business like yours (Joe's Pizza of Charlotte). This is changing the SEO rules and giving a tremendous opportunity for the little guy to create a very strong presence online. They say to "go where the fish are". For you, they are online. Check out this episode on winning the local seo game and get started in rising to the top of the local seo search engine results. In this episode of The Small Biz Express podcast we discuss: Why the search engines are moving towards local search results over universal search results Why customer reviews are so important and how the search engines know when you're creating fake ones Setting up Google+ Local page and why it's so important (it's free!) How to geo target your content to "localize" your web content How Google determines how and when to list your business in the local search engine results (SERPS) Why your NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) is so important and why so many business owners screw this easy step up Links and citations explained and some easy ways to earn them for your website How social platforms and directories work in the local seo and how to use them to improve your search rankings Action Steps from this episode: Getting your Google+ Local page setup properly. Google offers business owners a free webpage to promote their local business. You'll see these listings when a search results shows a map listing on the page with location markers for local businesses in your search result. It's really powerful because this page can often outrank much larger sites that you would never normally be able to outrank. Set it up and take the time to make sure it's setup properly. Bing offers something similar, both links are in the resource section below. Make sure you're consistent with your NAP. Name, Address and Phone Number. This is so easy, yet most business owners get this wrong. Make sure that your NAP is consistent across the web. Whether it's your website, Google Local+, Yellow Pages or various blogs or directories.....make sure you have a consistent NAP or else the search engines might not give you credit for that mention on the web. Out of the three, your phone number is the most important because it's the most unique of the three. Links and citations, what they are and why they are important. Getting links and citations pointing back to your business and website tells the search engines that people are talking about you and acts as a sort of referral for you and your business. Some links and citations and more valuable than others. Try and target relevant blogs, media and directories that are industry related or location related to get the most value from those mentions. Generic directories don't really do much, but there are a few that still provide value. See the resources below for more. Links and Resources Discussed in this Episode Create your Google+ Local page for your business free. http://www.google.com/local/add Add your business for free to Bing Places for Business. https://www.bingplaces.com/ Great resource for local seo and finding citation opportunities. https://getlisted.org/ Manta.