Archive | January, 2017

5 Things You Can Do (This Week) To Improve Your Business – 2017 Edition

23 Jan

improve-busniess-performance-1-285x300I originally posted this article back in 2014 and I am repeatedly reminded how simple and useful these 5 points can be in driving business success.

Starting and growing a business takes time – with most small businesses having to survive for 3 to 5 years before seeing a profit. But here are 5 things you can do (today) to improve your chances for success in business (even if you are a pre-startup).

1. Have a Web Presence: The average user checks their smart phone 110+ times a day – that’s a lot of eyes on the internet. And when it comes to purchases, even if we eventually buy at a brick-and-mortar store, we do most of our research online. Now I am not advocating that you go out and spend thousands of dollars on a fancy website – there are applications that let you build your own for free and it costs less than $10 a month to be hosted. Note to self (and for my followers): post the 4 pages every website needs. More importantly, and especially for pre-startups, is to have an updated LinkedIn profile (including a recent photo of yourself). If you reach out to me to conduct business, I’m going to look you up. If I can’t find you online, I’m not going to consider you a legitimate business owner and I’m going to ignore you.

2. Respond Promptly: This tip is actually a two-parter – respond and respond promptly. I make it a habit to respond to my clients within 24 hours (it may be longer if you email me at 10PM on Saturday) even if it is to let them know I am out of the office and will respond in detail a little later. And especially respond to emails where you are scheduling a meeting or activity – never assume that the other party knows your intentions. My advice is to have unique email and phone accounts for your business – check regularly and don’t mix business with personal email.

3. Don’t Forget Etiquette: Mobile devices make it easy for us to communicate, but don’t forget you are conducting business. One of my pet peeves is business owners who answer their phone with, “Hello?” It’s an easy marketing method to greet potential clients with, “Thank you for calling XYZ, this is X. How may I help you?” It presents a more professional face for your business. With respect to email: 1) don’t put the text of your email in the subject line, 2) address the person you are sending the email to, and, 3) include a signature line with your contact information.

4. Arrive On-Time: Nothing says “unprofessional” more than arriving late for a meeting. I know some people who think arriving late gives them a psychological advantage, but it tells me you respect my time less than yours – and I’ll think twice about doing business with someone who is consistently late. When I was in the military, on-time was late and early was on-time. Always plan to arrive 15 minutes early.

5. Google It: With virtually the entire world at our finger tips, I am amazed at how unprepared many owners are when it comes to conducting business. Industry and market research are an absolute must before spending a single penny to start a business. And a little bit of research before a business engagement can go a long way. Knowing the background of the person you are meeting can help you find ways to connect – and relationships are key to business. And using a mapping application can help ensure that you arrive on-time (i.e. early).

All of these tips are free (except for web hosting) and easy to do. Start employing them today and you will increase your chances for success in business.

January 2017 Book Recommendation: “The Happiness of Pursuit”

20 Jan

happines-of-pursuitWhether your quest is to start a business or visit all 193 UN countries in the world, this book is a great guide to overcoming fear, getting started and achieving your life goals.

Hear more from Chris Guillebeau: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqE4mJl26uQ

goodreads review: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20170321-the-happiness-of-pursuit

5 Steps for Starting Your Business in 2017

8 Jan
Alexandria resident and entrepreneur, Jeremy Brandt-Vorel, started The Board Bus with his own savings and a lot of sweat-equity (http://www.theboardbus.com/)

Alexandria resident and entrepreneur, Jeremy Brandt-Vorel, started The Board Bus with his own savings and a lot of sweat-equity (http://www.theboardbus.com/)

by Charles McCaffrey

A lot of people think starting a business is hard. Too many would-be-entrepreneurs get stuck early in the process because they think only a certain type of person has what it takes to make it as a successful business owner. Or they try to start too big. Or they try to go it alone.

What most people lack, however, are the patience, determination and willingness to start small, plan and test their business idea. It’s easy to become overwhelmed in the early stages of starting a business.

Here are five key first steps to starting your own business:

1. Connect with an SBA Resource Partner: There is no reason for a would-be-entrepreneur to try to start their business alone. The Small Business Administration (SBA) directs a national entrepreneurial network that provides business assistance to more than 1.2 million entrepreneurs and small businesses each year. These SBA resource partners (SCORE, Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) and Women’s Business Centers (WBCs)) give quality training, one-on-one counseling and networking events that can help you start, grow and compete in the marketplace. And they have helped small businesses across the country to raise start-up and growth capital and sell billions of dollars in products and services world-wide. You can find the SBA resource partner nearest you at https://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance

2. Do Your Research: There are two great myths in the start-up community – 1) Everybody wants/needs what I’m selling and 2) My business is different/unique – and so potential business owners fail to do the proper market and industry research. I highly recommend using The Lean Start-up Method (http://theleanstartup.com/) and The Business Model Canvas (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ks68qw5cBMc) to conduct Customer Discovery and build a Business Model before taking any other steps in starting your business. Here is another great resource to help you through the research process: https://steveblank.com/tools-and-blogs-for-entrepreneurs/

3. Educate Yourself: You probably have a fair amount of expertise in your chosen field (IT/cybersecurity, consulting, butcher, baker, candlestick maker, etc.) or you wouldn’t have the passion to start a business based on it. Equally probable is that you lack the requisite knowledge to turn your passion into a successful business. That’s not an insult – most of us are not born with an innate understanding of business entities, small business taxes, registration and regulations, finance, accounting, marketing, etc. You don’t need an MBA – your local SBA resource partners offer monthly classes on all these subjects and more.

4. Draft a Business Plan: Once you have determined that your idea is feasible as a business, you want to draft an action plan. Most lending institutions will want a 3 year financial forecast which is absurd at this point. Instead, this first draft (that’s right, the first of many) should focus on only those actions you need to take to start testing your business. If your plan calls for $250,000 in funding or signing a 5 year lease for office space – STOP!

5. Test Your Plan: Repeat after me: “THINK BIG, start small!” Too many times I meet entrepreneurs who were overly ambitious in the startup phase and are now struggling to generate revenue to cover all of those unnecessary fixed costs. Instead, ask yourself, “How can I test this idea without spending a lot of money?” Again, opt for lean. Start a home-based business or use a business incubator for part-time office/meeting space, prototyping (http://www.techshop.ws/) or as a commercial kitchen (http://www.eater.com/2016/2/26/11110808/food-incubator-accelerator-small-business). Try selling on-line, at the local farmer’s market or try a pop-up (http://www.dummies.com/business/start-a-business/just-what-is-a-pop-up-business/). Can you test your services (and build past performance) by teaming, sub-contracting or forming a joint venture with another, established, business? Not only are you testing your business idea, you are building brand awareness and, hopefully, generating revenue.

In closing, I want to address two issues:

1. Start-up Capital: You are an unknown would-be entrepreneur with an unproven business model, so traditional lenders are going to be reluctant to fund your venture. Instead you are going to have to count on self-funding, microloans and crowdfunding. Osiris Hoil, co-owner of District Taco, started his taco empire with a loan from a neighbor (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/using-his-moms-recipes-this-mexican-immigrant-became-the-dc-taco-king/2016/01/07/99d18c70-b410-11e5-a76a-0b5145e8679a_story.html?utm_term=.50d8aa20a3f9)

2. Start-up Timeline: Building a successful business takes time. If you are planning to start your business in 2017, I suggest planning to take the whole year to work through these 5 steps. It takes time to conduct 100 customer interviews, attend small business classes and test your business idea. The most important thing to do is to start. Too many would-be entrepreneurs spend too much time refining and re-writing their business plan without ever talking to a potential customer or teaming partner.

Now, go forward and thrive!