Business Planning News Archives

Direct Marketing Crucial For Small Business Growth

Everyone is active on spoonfuls of social media networks including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to name a few. You name it, we’ve tired them. In fact, social media has transformed the way direct marketers know how to drive results. They’ve been building business with it for years. With a time-tested, scientific approach to reach target demographics, direct marketers have turned TV, mail and email into sales engines. Imagine what you could accomplish if you could combine a successful direct marketing campaign with the power of social media? That’d be impressive. Here’s how you do it.

Direct Mail

Mail campaigns are still one of the most effective ways to reach new customers and grow your business. A survey conducted by the Association for Education in Journalism this past year found that readers of the print version of newspapers remembered “significantly more” news than those who read the same content online. In other words, the physical paper resonates far more with readers than the electronic version. The same can be said about direct mail vs. email.

A direct mail campaign will only be as good as the contacts you reach and the contents of the mailings. There are companies that provide mailing lists targeted specifically to just about every demographic out there. The lists are relatively inexpensive as well, but paying the extra premium for a more up-to-date and target-specific list will pay off in the long run. The mailer should always include your company slogan and insignia, along with Web site and social media addresses. The contents should get right to the point, but include as much information as you feel is necessary to convey the message. A special offer or some sort of coupon code within the contents is the best way to get immediate responses and will help you track the success of your campaign overall. The envelopes can be made to look more professional and personal by using something like Pitney Bowes postage meters and printing the postage directly on the envelope, as opposed to using stamps.

Telemarketing

The stigma attached to telemarketing, along with growing “do-not-call” lists, have caused many companies to abandon the practice altogether. But a well conceived phone campaign, with a good list of numbers, can be just as effective as email. Calling customers and simply asking them to take a quick survey is an easy way to get feedback and offer them some sort of incentive or discount to purchase something on their next visit.

Marketing Software

The ways in which people communicate have changed significantly over the past decade. In 1990, you either picked up a telephone, sent a letter, or a fax to interact with customers. Today there are so many new channels, including mobile Web and social media, which make it difficult for some companies to consistently and seamlessly deliver messages to their customers. For instance, your company name shouldn’t appear in blue font on your email campaign and appear in red on direct mail. The company Web site also needs to be optimized for mobile phone viewing, so to not look completely different when viewed from a smart phone. Several companies, including Responsys and Eloqua, offer solutions which can address these issues. And with more of these companies establishing themselves everyday, prices for their services are getting more competitive, even for lower budget enterprises.

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Real Biz Tips: Avoid Using Personal Credit Cards for Business Purchases

Any business owner knows that business is personal. It’s impossible to separate your business and personal life when you have everything riding on maintaining a thriving venture. Recent history suggests that small-business owners are having a hard time separating their personal and business lives financially. In 2011, 49 percent of small-business owners used personal accounts for business expenses, according to a Foxbusiness.com report, up from 42 percent in 2009. Business owners are prone to doing what they have to do to get by, but they may not have explored all of their options to pay expenses and keep things afloat.

Investors

Whether your business is struggling to make ends meet or struggling to manage its growth, sometimes the numbers don’t add up at the end of the day. Before you reach for your wallet to cover the difference, consider opening your business to investors. An outside influence can get you through tough times financially and provide another voice in your search for success. Of course, allowing outside investors means you give up some control of your business, but you can arrange the deal in such a way that you have the final word on all business decisions.

Business Credit Cards

It’s not the end of the world to take on some debt for the of sake of your business, but you compound the risk when you do it on a personal credit card. Business credit cards offer flexible terms and rewards to suit your business, and they’ll help you organize your business expenses. American Express business credit cards, for example, offer the option to carry a balance, pay the balance monthly without interest and earn cash back on popular business purchases. These perks, along with the ability to track spending separately, make business credit cards a no-brainer for modern small businesses.

Avoid Overreaching

If you’re using a personal credit card to cover business expenses, chances are you’re business is in a bind. Sometimes, you can’t avoid financial turmoil, but detailed bookkeeping might keep your business above water. Have employees keep detailed spending reports, which allows you to monitor cash flowing in and out.

If possible, avoid using credit to make business purchases. Instead, save up profit and pay in cash. These basic budgeting principles won’t revolutionize your business, but discipline will keep you out of dire situations that require you to tap into personal funds.

Keep a Safety Fund

You probably have a financial safety net for personal emergencies; why not do the same with your business? Take advantage of a surge in business by preparing for a rainy day. Small businesses have ups and downs, and an emergency fund can get you through tough times until things turn around.

Avoid putting your family’s financial stability on the line when you lose your biggest client, face an employee law suit or experience an IT Armageddon. A safety fund protects your business and your loved ones.

Start Me Up: Getting Your Small Business Off the Ground

Getting Your Small Business Off the GroundFrom business planning, to strategy, management and advertising, creative ideas, good management and a healthy understanding of the competition can help a startup business succeed.

According to Tech Vibes, when considering the creation of a new business, focusing on your special talents and abilities will give you an important edge. Also, being creative and thinking out of the box will give you an advantage. Doing things that are typical, and selling mass produced products will saddle you with tremendous competition. Ending up in a price war with established businesses is not an advantageous starting point. Everything from web hosting, like VPS Windows, to a solid social media presence will determine how high your company flies or low it falls.

Use Individualistic Abilities and Ideas

Having a unique business model can help to set you apart from your competitors. An example of someone who achieved success by thinking outside the box is Linda Katz. In the 1990s she decided that she would like to start a web-based business, but had never created a website before, as heard on NPR. As a joke, her site’s subject was tumbleweed farming. Though it was never intended to actually be a business, people took her seriously.

She began to get orders for tumbleweeds and some of her customers were movie companies. She even sold tumbleweeds for Johnny Depp’s “Finding Neverland.” Her tumbleweed sales earnings reached $40,000 per year. Her product was easy to obtain and unusual at the same time.

Promote Your Business on Social Media

Business Insider talks about how Facebook Small Business can help get the word out about new businesses. It also offers many of the resources necessary to educate business owners about marketing their products and services. Guides are available demonstrating how to build a Facebook page and how to create posts that will attract customers.

Startup Donut suggests that social media marketing can help your business from the very start. An advantage of social networking is it’s a very measurable and a cost-efficient way to reach a large audience of potential customers and let them know how your business can help them.

Having a Business Plan

Tech Vibes suggests that a good business plan can greatly increase a startup company’s chance for success. When creating a business plan, you must think of all the business aspects and work through them to see if they make sense. At this point you should conduct research to test your ideas. Decide upon a competitive price for your product, identify a potential customer base and try to determine if your sales will cover your costs. Two of the main reasons businesses fail are undercapitalization and poor management. Plan well and thoroughly to set yourself up for success.

The world is connecting digitally more than ever, and it’s only going to continue to rise. Growing a solid social media base with your startup will help to put your name out in the digital landscape. Growing a following is key when trying to create a brand. Being backed by web or VPS hosting can assure security in your web presence. Keeping promotions high will be sure to spearhead your business into the great wild wonder of startups.

Strategies to Improve Your Online Marketing

In order to effectively match consumers with your product or service, it is essential to take advantage of online marketing with original content, audience targeting, efficient outreach and staying fresh. Today’s consumers are much more likely to spend time online than consumers of the past. In fact, people use the internet to socialize, learn and shop on a daily basis.

Below are tips to improve your online-marketing strategy to reach more potential consumers:

Make Your Content Interesting

Nothing drives customers away more than uninteresting or bland content. Any article, social media post or mass email that is overtly promotional or boring will immediately turn consumers off. Instead of sending form letters or posting generic ads on social media websites, do your best to create content that is both engaging and useful. Intriguing articles and exciting social media posts will keep consumers coming back for more.

Update Frequently

Even if you post great social media content and use email-marketing software effectively, your target audience will lose interest if you don’t maintain a steady stream of communication with them. If possible, try to update all of your social media profiles at least twice each week. If your company engages in email marketing, send an email to your customers once each week. It is vital to have a reliable smtp service to ensure your emails are reaching their destination efficiently through tracking technology. However, be careful not to send emails too often, as consumers are likely to flag your messages as spam if they are received more than once or twice weekly.

Target the Best Audience

Not every customer will be interested in the products or services your company offers. It is important that you target consumers most likely to become loyal customers. To determine which audience makes up your target market, collect data on past sales and use it to get a clear picture of your “typical” customer. Make sure that all of your online-marketing tactics are implemented with this customer in mind.

Reach Out at the Right Time

One of the goals of online marketing is to entice potential customers to make purchases. However, online marketing can also be used to spark offline conversations and reach a wider audience by word-of-mouth. To engage the highest possible number of people, reach out to your target market during a time of day that they are likely to be awake and interacting with one another. For example, if you plan to use email-marketing software to send a newsletter to loyal customers, consider scheduling the message for a time when people are likely to check their email, such as early morning.

Monitor Your Progress

The key to effective online marketing is constant improvement. Monitoring the effectiveness of your online-marketing strategies helps identify your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if your data indicates that consumers convert most often from your social media profiles, pour more energy into social media marketing to increase conversion rates. Likewise, if you learn your company blog has only a limited following, improve your content and update more often to obtain better results.

Though traditional techniques are still effective, online marketing is clearly the future. Following these tips and continuously analyzing and improving your online marketing strategies will solidify your online presence and increase sales volume.

Basics of small business insurance

business insurance

Running your own business is quite riskier than many other things in life. You will have to deal and solve many problems and also use proper risk management strategies to stay protected. Being a small business owner you need to buy insurance cover for various types of liabilities to ensure that you, your business and employees are protected. Also having business insurance gives the confidence to face challenging situations without worrying about financial burden. Claims and lawsuits filed against business insurance policy holders will be settled by the insurers. Hence it gives the insured peace of mind to concentrate on the progress of the business.

To run a successful business, you need to know what are the types of insurance available, which type of coverage is required, how to buy business insurance and how to make claims. Small business owners should basically include public liability cover and business contents insurance to protect their business. Liability insurance covers if a customer suffers injury while being in your business premises or gets affected by using the products marketed by you. Contents cover or property insurance protects business owner from property loss and damage to equipments as a result of natural disasters like flood, storm or man-made problems like theft, improper usage, etc.

Small business liability insurance covers for different types of events such as physical injury to third party, damage to third party property, personal injuries and false advertisements. The liability cover can be used to pay for the medical expenses and the settle claims resulting from property damage. Business contents insurance covers for the physical assets of your business and includes building and contents cover, furniture, equipments, machineries, documents, intangible property and many more. Contents cover can be either basic or broad. Basic contents insurance covers for fire, lightning and the effects caused by it. The broad form covers for extended perils like hail, storm, burglary, explosion, damage caused by others property and so on. Some small business insurance UK providers also offer special contents cover which includes the features of basic and broad form and in addition covers for direct physical losses.

Small business insurance quotes can be obtained online and will be suitable for small to mid-size businesses like offices, stores, home office, package businesses, etc. The things that determine the small business insurance cost are nature of business, size of the premises, risks involved and number of employees. Find the great deal on business insurance for your business click here to visit more information.

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How To Get Ideas – For You, Your Business and Your community

how to get ideasComing up with new ideas isn’t always easy. And while there are loads of different ways you can create the opportunities for ideas to spring to mind, there is one fundamental ingredient you must have if you want to get new and innovative ideas. You need to give them space to grow.

To begin with though, have you thought about how you actually come up with ideas? Do you already have a method whereby you allow ideas to come into existence? For example, do you go running or some other form of exercise to create the space to come up with new ways of solving known problems? And what about coming up with ideas about how to help your friends, family, community and the world at large? Idea-generation doesn’t stop with just your needs.

Usually, ideas come about because you want to do something better or there is a problem that you have recognised that you want to help solve. This could be in your business, personal life, of in the lives of others.

What can happen with any new idea is that it can be discounted or dismissed even as it is being shared. The best way to describe this is with the phrase “All ideas are born dying”. This reflects that many people will talk down an idea even before it has been properly heard. The moment you even utter the words “I have an idea”, someone is already thinking “oh yeah, here we go. What crazy idea am I going to hear now?”

So, it is vital that you create a space in which you, and those who you will share your ideas with, are allowed to share any and all ideas without fear of ridicule or being dismissed as having nothing to offer.

Having a safe space in which you can share your ideas still will not actually help you come up with any ideas on its own. So, here are some prompting questions to get you thinking. In effect, this is a brainstorming session.

  • Is there a problem that you know of that needs a new solution?
  • Is there a need you know of that needs to be met?
  • Do you know someone who is in pain and you can help them overcome it?
  • Is there something exciting you want to experience or help others experience?
  • Is there a part of your community you want to see changed?
  • Is there a part of your city you want to see changed? Or even your country?
  • Have you always wanted to do something but you aren’t sure what?
  • If money was no object, what would you be doing (in your business, your job, your personal life)?

These prompting questions can be asked any time of day or night to help generate ideas. What often happens with ideas is that they come to you at times when you least expect it. You may be catching up with friends, watching a move, reading a book, doing some exercise, or even taking a shower when you have a brilliant idea hit you like a lightening bolt. When this does, as soon as you can be sure to capture as much of the idea in a notebook so you can review it later and share it with others

Once you have some ideas then it is time to share these in that safe space you have created. By sharing ideas, you can build off others’ knowledge and passion, and see what synergies may be between all the ideas. Synergy means that together there is a connected, and through that connection, greater achievement can be made then the separate parts acting independently. So, pair up with those who like your idea and can add to it with ideas of their own.

Finally, once you have some ideas and have seen about aligning these with any others that are relevant, you can then get to the point of seeing how to make the ideas become a reality. What resources do you need to make it happen? If you don’t have all the resources yourself, consider how you could get it. Certainly in business, this is part of partnerships and even buying in specialist help on a particular area. If it is an idea with your community, then perhaps it is finding out which of your neighbours and friends have the time to get behind the idea.

When creating an environment to come up with ideas, go crazy. Brainstorm ideas on a variety of topics, and then create the safe space in which to share these ideas with those you trust. In doing so, you have a greater chance that your creativity can flourish and help you identify ways to be more efficient, more effective and have more fun in what you do.

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Getting the home office right: selecting home office furniture

Working from home is becoming increasingly popular as the world of work becomes more flexible, and this had lead to a growth in the home office furniture market. Broadband internet connections and the affordability of IT equipment mean that for many there is not the same need to work full time in an office as there was ten or fifteen years ago, while there are also an increasing number of self-employed workers in the economy. Add to these the people who simply have a desktop computer set up at home, and the growth in home office furniture sales is not hard to understand. At a basic level, anyone planning to regularly spend sessions of more than about twenty minutes or so at a computer keyboard should use basic home office furniture to prevent the risk of health problems like back and neck strain, and thankfully acquiring this equipment need not cost a fortune – try taking a quick look at the home office furniture provided by suppliers like ryman.co.uk to get an idea of cost.

As you will see, sourcing this equipment online is the easy part, but just as with dedicated office space, the set up of the working environment in the home can be achieved with varying levels of success. Here we will take a look at a couple of factors that can have a significant bearing on getting the best usage out of your home office furniture.

In basic functional terms, your desk chair should be designed for the kind of hours you plan to put in at the home office – some chairs are designed only for moderate use, while others can be used all day. Check manufacturer’s instructions before purchase, and be prepared to invest a little more if you are planning on spending full time hours in the chair. The possible consequences for your health of using inadequate seating over a period of time will far outweigh any initial cost saving achieved by selecting a budget option that does not provide adequate support – you can find out more about how to get the ergonomics right at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg90.pdf.

Once you have established that you have a suitable chair, you need to make sure that you get the right desk. While the desk needs to be big enough to accommodate all the equipment you will regularly use without being cramped, this is mainly an issue with the height of the desk. Your feet shall be able to rest on the floor while your eyes are level with the top of the display screen, and while you can use a footrest to get this posture right, it helps to have a desk that is roughly the right height for you, given your body size.

Fitting all the equipment that you need into your home may be a challenge, but try to avoid selecting the space that you will be working in simply on the basis of the dimensions of some home office furniture that has caught your eye. It is much better to use a smaller desk that can fit into an area with natural light and access to fresh air than to end up working in a windowless box room. If space is tight there are always solutions, such as using a wireless printer situated in another room to free up limited desk space.

Your Business Plan – Keeping Your Executive Summary Clear and to the Point

executive summary for business planAn executive summary is a short, sharp snapshot of the key points contained in a document. It reflects the content of your detailed business plan and makes it easier for the reader to gain a good understanding of what the rest of the document will cover.

In order to prepare an effective executive summary, you will first need to write your business plan. And whilst there are many ways you can go about doing that, such as using software, writing it from scratch or using a business planning template, you will need to keep one key point at the top of your mind during the process – who the reader is. Without readily knowing who will be reading your plan, and basing decisions on what you include, then your document and executive summary may be quite confusing.

Using sample business plans are also a good way to see an example of a good executive summary. You can check out some sample business plans here.

To help get this clarity up front, think about the purpose for writing your business plan. Is it for a banker or investor to review and consider loaning you money for your business? Is it for your staff so that they have a clear understanding of what the business will do in the next 1-3 years? Or is it for you, helping to shape your ideas and strategies for business establishment and growth?

Even though your plan should be applicable for all three types of readers, once you have determined who the audience is then you can shape your executive summary to highlight those areas of the plan that matter most to the reader.

For example, if your reader is a banker who you are asking for a loan, then they will want to know that the plan outlines the ways in which the business will make a profit and how you have come to your conclusions (such as market research and testing). They will also want to know how well you have captured the current and planned expenses of the business, and the projected income from the products/services you intend to sell. Including a budget in your plan will also help show the details of your financial projections which you can then refer to in your summary.

The bottom line is that an executive summary is a top-level outline of what the rest of the document is about. A good summary will mean that someone can read it and get a reasonable understanding of what you want to communicate, and then choose to dig into the plan for the areas that most interest them.

It needs to be engaging, succinct and to the point. No rambling sentences and repetition. Keep it short and sharp. As long as it communicates the essence of the plan, then it will be fine. It may help to structure your executive summary before you write it. Think about the major aspects of your plan and structure the summary in a way that each points leads to the next and builds a good understanding in the mind of the reader. You may also want to try explaining to someone what the plan is about and ask that person to write notes as you talk. Then, you can use these notes as the basis of your summary.

Your executive summary in the business plan will not be as long as the rest of the document, but it is probably the most important aspect of the entire plan. Without a good, clear and direct summary, your reader won’t get past the second page.

How to Keep Your Emotions in Check When Achieving Success

As you go about developing yourself in your business or in your career, you will have moments when you feel on top of the world, and other moments when you think that everything is falling apart around you. The good news is that this is a natural part of being human. But knowing that your emotions may go up and down on your journey to success is not the same as and actually keeping your emotions in check.

Success can take many different forms. It can be a successful family, a blossoming career, or a booming business. Whatever success means to you, it is important to always remember that it is an impermanent thing. Success is not a constant state of existence, and as such, when you feel that you have achieved success, you haven’t ‘gotten there’.

I have read many self help books, business books and religious books, and all the inspired authors recognise one truth – that the good comes with the bad. What this means is that with every success comes failure, and with every failure comes success. The two feelings and subsequent emotions are intrinsically tied. And as such, appreciating each emotion you have on the journey to success is important, but not as important as not getting carried away by them.

In no way should you deny yourself the chance to feel and experience the joy, happiness and excitement that comes from achieving a dream. It is everyone’s purpose to experience these feelings for themselves during their life, and to help others experience these emotions too. But, as with any process of learning and experiencing, there will come a time when the feelings will fade, the experience will change, and you will be presented with more challenges in your life that will cause you to think that you have not succeeded.

So, whilst you are enjoying the emotional highs during a period of success, recognise that future challenges will come your way. This will help you to remain respectful of others and their current situation as well as appreciate your present moment even more.

The reverse can also happen. People can feel depressed or worried when they are achieving or have achieved success. The phone is ringing, things are going your way, and you begin to think “When is this going to end? When is the bad news coming?” It surprises me that some people have this tendency, but it can and does happen.

If this has happened or is happening to you, then remind yourself of this universal truth – this too shall pass. What this means is that every experience you have ever had has come and gone. All the past good AND bad experiences have come and gone, and your current situation is no different. It is not permanent – by its very nature, achieving success is an impermanent thing and it will pass.

So, you most likely will experience future challenges after success, and you will achieve success after challenges. If you make efforts each day to live the best way you can with what you know, look to improve yourself through education and taking risks and helping others in the process, then success will come your way. And when it does, remind yourself that whilst it is a wonderful feeling, it too shall pass.

Small Business Development – Start Your Business Year Off Right

Coming back from a break can be hard for most small business owners. Knowing what to begin working on and where to develop your business can be a challenge. Providing some clear direction to the energy you have for promoting your business is vital to set yourself up for the coming year ahead.

If you live in a culture that celebrates the Christmas season, then you most likely have had a short break. During this time, you might have thought about your business and about how you can grow it in 2012 – how you can market your business, get more customers, and either achieve the success you have dreamed of or achieve a higher success than you had in 2011.

But, when most people return from a period of absence from their business, they can find themselves at a bit of a loss about what to begin working on. And, if you don’t know what it is you should be doing, then all the enthusiasm and energy you had before returning can be whittled away until you find yourself back in the same routine without much to show for your good intentions.

To help set you on the right path for your business development this year here are some simple and actionable steps you can take to provide a great foundation for the coming year ahead.

  1. Develop focus. Know what your goals are for this year. Know with absolute certainty what you want to achieve, how much and by when.
  2. Get rid of the clutter. This could be either physical clutter of papers, etc in your office or it could be the mental clutter of all the ‘things’ you keep telling yourself you need to get to. Unless your business has come to a halt over the period of time you have been away, a few more days will not cause it any harm. Spend the time to brain dump all the things you are worrying about that ‘need doing’
  3. Match your Goals to tasks. Look at your brain dump of the things in your business – the marketing strategies, the phone calls, the sales, the accounts – and match them up to your goals for the coming year. All those activities that will help you achieve your goals put a tick next to them. For the activities that do not help you, put a cross next to them.
  4. Create your business action plan. All the tasks with a tick next to them, put them into an order that clearly shows what goal they support, when you will do the task, how long you think it will take you, what has to happen before you start one of these tasks and what resources do you require to complete them. In effect, you are putting together a chart of activities that show the realistic timeline of when you will complete these goals, and it will show you the resources you require to do so.
  5. Review your plan. For the list of tasks and resources in front of you, take note of the resources. Have you created too much demand on your time, someone else’s time or on another resource? If so, review the time you have allocated to complete a task to balance out the resources so you are not operating at 110%. No matter what you think, no one can operate at more than their capacity.
  6. Delegate. For those tasks that you have put a cross next to, consider if you can delegate them to someone else. Could you get another business to help? Could you outsource it? Do you really need to do the task anyway? Wherever possible, free up your energy to focus on those business development tasks that will help you achieve your goals.
  7. Do it. Now you have uncluttered your bran, know what you are aiming for, and have a clear action plan, you can unleash the creative energy inside of you and get on with the job of achieving the business success you are striving for.

This 7 step action plan for developing your business can be applied at any time during the year. You can also apply it to a specific strategy you are running as well as across the business. No matter where you are at in your business development, by using these steps you will set yourself up for a successful business year.

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