Is Your Business Ready for Growth?

Guest Blogger: Richard Proffer, University of Missouri Cape Girardeau County Extension Office SBTDC, profferrd@missouri.edu

Growth curve

Growth (CC) www.stockmonkeys.com bit.ly1gKOjcq, on Flickr

Most business people what to grow their business but a question often comes up is am I ready to grow or can I afford to grow? Those are big questions for small business owners because of the time, commitment and financial resources it takes to successfully grow a business.

The first step towards growth is to take inventory on your business. Richard Proffer, business development specialist for University of Missouri Extension, says, “I am not talking about physical inventory where you count your product but a more mental and financial inventory to see if you have lined up the right resources to grow.”

For this inventory, the business owner will need to invest time in analyzing the current situation and work on redefining the business’s goals. This analysis will allow the owner to make smarter decisions, be more accurate in the financial projections and move faster into growth when it happens.

Many business owners face the Red Queen paradox where they feel the constant strain of working and working and not getting anywhere but where they started. This feeling is typical of entrepreneurs who have not done a good job of planning their business’s future. “Simply doing more of the same thing is usually not the answer for growing the business,” per Proffer. “You need to take action.”

Growth, at some level, is necessary for business survival. The alternative is stagnation and being overtaken by the competition.

In summary, the four steps in growing your firm include:

1. Taking an inventory, some may call it a SWOT analysis, and defining where the owner wants to be in the future with the business.

2. Develop plans out what needs to happen with the business either in sales, employees, financials or marketing to reach the desired goal. This must include measurable goals.

3. Start putting into action processes to reach the goal in the stated time.

4. Measure progress towards the goals to know progress is being made and the right path has been chosen for success or where to make corrections to the plan.

Strong businesses are always thinking of tomorrow. Take time to plan how your business will grow.

If business growth is part of your plans, contact your local Extension office for help and guidance for other resources. Also check out our website, Power of Business, as well as the national eXtension effort, Entrepreneurs and Their Communities.

Fat Toad Farm Talks Social Media

[Editor’s Note: Our guest blogger for this post is Christine Porcaro, sales manager at Fat Toad Farm and part of their social media team. In case you missed it you can catch the Google Hangout with Christine at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1GlqX9rr9c. The photos are courtesy of Fat Toad Farm.]

Having to run a business is hard enougImageh in itself. Having to manage social media on top of it can appear a daunting task. Here at Fat Toad Farm, we have learned a great amount through practice and analysis but also through following businesses that we thought did social media really well. Through these various lessons and outlets, we have been able to slowly development a better understanding

When we create our social media plan, we take into consideration our vision statement, our successes and failures from the year before, holidays, sales, special events and new products and collaborations. We allow for there to be wiggle room for spontaneous posting as planning out every single post you are going to make in a year leaves no room for innovation or random fun posts that happen along the way. We make sure to have general rules for number of posts depending on the medium. For example, we will post daily on Facebook but will try wait until we have great recipe from our test kitchen to post on Pinterest. This frequency was very much dictated by analysis from our previous year and how we saw followers interacting with our posts.

ImageFor analyzing our use of social media, we primarily use Google Analytics. It is nice to be able to see on which day, which social media outlet brought the most traffic to our site. From there, we can even see who ended up buying from our site. This also helps you compare it to other traffic, such as blogs, to see if we were able to get a boost from certain collaborations. The mediums that produce the best ROI tend to be where we will spend more time in terms of frequency of posting and creating content. Google Analytics is a great tool to be able to gauge through time how well you are performing on all social media so you can better plan for your future investment in various mediums.

ImageFunny enough what is often lost while using social media, is the social aspect of it all. It is easy to get in the rut of posting every day and becoming frustrated that no one is “listening”. To remedy this there should always be an effort to collect followers by consistently reminding people in your marketing materials to follow you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. We never let an e-newsletter go by or a printed material leave the press without a reminder to follow us on any social media. Make sure that you are working as hard to gain followers as you are at building content.

ImageAnother great way to be actively social on social media is by making sure you are connecting with other businesses. We always follow businesses we want to be like, businesses we think are doing a good job and businesses where we sell our caramel. This will allow you to comment and share on their posts which can encourage them to do the same for you. Any time someone tags you in a post or asks a question, make sure to respond. People like to know there is someone behind the computer. I think one of the biggest lessons we have learned on the farm is that social media isn’t social unless you take the actions to make it that way.

There is no perfect recipe to social media success but the above mentioned steps definitely make it more manageable and useful. Don’t be afraid to experiment, particularly when you are first starting out. The more you post and experiment with different social media platforms the more you will be able to look back at and see what works for your particular business.

And speaking of Fat Toad Farm…here is where you can find them on the web! Like Fat Toad Farm; Browse the photo galleryFollow Fat Toad Farm on Twitter; or Pin their fabulous recipes…and they may just follow you back.

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The Power of Great Decision-making

ImageHow do you make decisions?

Are you a muller—someone who does careful research, considers all the consequences of every decision, weighs the options and then decides?

Or are you more impulsive—someone who makes decisions quickly, based on intuition and without a lot of data?

Most of us make hundreds of decisions every day. We make small choices—What will I have for breakfast? Will I need an umbrella today? Should the new bath towels be blue or green?

We also make bigger decisions on a daily basis—Is my child too sick to go to school? When can I get my car into the garage for service? Should we buy season tickets to the museum? Many of these types of decisions can be made without a lot of research. You have the information you need readily at hand. Generally the consequences, while important, are not critical. A bad choice may result in some regret but is not likely to affect the path of your life.

Life-Changing Decisions

Then there are the big decisions. Should I buy a house or continue renting? Is now the right time to start a family? Should I turn my hobby into a business? Can I afford to retire this year? Can I make a living from self-employment? These types of decisions are much more complex. Decisions which have a major effect on your life are referred to as life changes. Life changes generally result in: a long-term impact; a significant level of risk; an increased level of stress; and the need for some careful research. Life changes are often a comparison of at least two alternative actions and frequently involve more than just one individual. For that reason, life changing decisions often lead us into conflict with the very same people whose support we need most.

The decision to start a business is definitely one of these life changes. Deciding to start a business is not a “right” or “wrong” type of decision. For some individuals it is the very best decision, for others it is the worst possible decision. The result depends on individual circumstances and how carefully the decision was made. Too often, people make a choice based on a whim or in reaction to a current situation. For example, a bad situation at work can result in someone thinking that all their problems would be solved if they just worked for themselves. Or a really great vacation in the country can start someone thinking about how much fun it would be to own a bed and breakfast.

How individuals make decisions varies with different personality types. Some people are naturally conservative and really agonize over making the right choice. Some individuals are, by nature, more impulsive, making choices quickly and without fully thinking through the consequences. Because our personalities are, in part, determined by our core values, it is important to consider values in our decision making. If you regularly make a habit of reviewing your values and goals before you make big decisions you will, over time, begin to make better choices because you will be using a concrete reference point as your guide.

The Critical Questions

There are six critical questions that can help you through the decision making process. Each of these questions will require you to think about the issue from a slightly different perspective.

  1. Will taking this action move me toward my goal?
  2. If I choose this action will I be creating a new problem?
  3. Does this action address a root problem or a symptom?
  4. Have I considered at least two alternative actions?
  5. Am I comfortable with this action?
  6. What are the best and worst outcomes that could result from this action? Can I live with either outcome?

Once you have wrestled with these questions you will be in a much stronger position to make great decisions in your business and your life.

 

Planning for the Future

From Power of Business (powerofbusiness.net), an Extension initiative, and our eXtension community, Entrepreneurs and Their Communities, welcome to Small Business Week. The land-grant university system and Extension support small businesses and their development as a part of their mission. Today we highlight another small business assisted through a variety of programs offered by this resource.

By Mandy Gross, Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food Agricultural Products Center Communications Services Manager

Corey Carolina

Corey Carolina

Tulsa-native Corey Carolina wanted to take his grandmother’s passion for making jelly and start his own business developing delicious wine fruit spreads, and he did just that. In August 2011, he created Carolina Food Co. LLC.

However, Carolina knew little about how to market his product. He turned to Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food Agricultural Products Center for assistance and attended the center’s Basic Training for food entrepreneurs, which helped him develop a plan for the future of his business.

“I learned so many important things in the Basic Training class, such as marketing and the importance of looking at the competition,” Carolina says. “The jam/jelly market is extremely competitive. When one of the presenters showed a slide of a grocery aisle with jelly products from top to bottom, I really realized that this was my competition. I needed to find a niche and be unique.”

After attending Basic Training, Carolina followed the Client Success Path, a model established by FAPC to help clients enter the market. He continued to work with FAPC specialists for product scale-up, label and nutrition panel assistance, and marketing assistance, including food show opportunities.

As a result of hard work and perseverance, Carolina sold his first jar of Toasted Wine Fruit Spreads in April 2012. This spring, he celebrated the completion of his second year of selling the unique wine spread.

This is a big milestone,” says Rodney Holcomb, FAPC agricultural economist and one of the organizers of Basic Training. “Of the more than 1,200 Basic Training graduates, only about 15 percent of these new food product companies are in business after one year.”

In addition to Carolina’s success in selling Toasted Wine Fruit Spreads, the company was named one of the top six in the 2013 Tulsa Community College Startup Cup business model competition.
The seven-month competition is designed to support entrepreneurial growth, expand business and community connections and maximize promotional opportunities both locally and nationally. It awards local entrepreneurs who develop and pitch the best business model.

“I have been blessed to have been selected to the top six entrepreneurs in the Startup Cup,” Carolina says. “My dreams have come true; I have been able to sell Toasted Wine Fruit Spreads to great Oklahomans who have been so supportive.”

Carolina said FAPC is essential to the success of a small business, and the center has gone above and beyond to help his company.

“I want others to take the leap of faith and start selling their products,” Carolina says. “The Startup Cup coaches and judges have helped me improve my business. It is opportunities like this that really support the small business industry.”

Today, Toasted products are available in six flavors: Strawberry with Sangria Wine, Peach with Peach Chardonnay, Plum with Sangria Wine, Grape with Blush Wine, and a Wine Pepper Spread and Wine Pepper Sauce, both with bell peppers and jalapeños. The fruit and wine spreads can be used on sandwiches, meats, cream cheese, toppings for cakes or ice cream and more.

Carolina said his future plans include continuing to work with FAPC to further develop his brand and distribution methods and launch at least two more products.

What advice does he have for others wanting to start a food company?

“Be willing to work late and often seven days a week,” Carolina says. “Be willing to travel, give out free samples and make a personal financial investment. Follow your dreams.”

Carolina’s products are available at more than 50 retail outlets including several Oklahoma wineries; Green Acres Market in Jenks, Okla.; Akin’s Natural Foods and Whole Foods in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and Reasor’s in northeastern Oklahoma. The products also can be purchased online at www.toastedwinespreads.com.

To view a video about the FAPC Basic Training class, visit http://fapc.biz/videos/basictraining or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57cPbL7wd-w.

How MU Extension Programs Set Me on a Path Toward Entrepreneurial Success

About the blogger: Brandon Banks (@brandonbanksbiz), a serial entrepreneur began his entrepreneurial adventure at a young age and currently travels to educate students on the possibility of seizing the day and moving toward their dreams of being their own boss. Together in collaboration with his network, Banks disrupts common traditional barriers and exposes that, through proper support, anyone can be an entrepreneur regardless of their age. Check out more of Banks’ blogs here: www.brandonbanksbiz.wordpress.com

Photo of Brandon Banks

Behind every successful entrepreneur are two things: a strong support system and a stronger story. This is the story of how working with support programs took a normal 15-year-old boy and turned him into a young successful entrepreneur.

Success can be measured in many ways to different people. Some credit success as money, status, growth, staffing, etc. No one is truer than the other for a measure of success. However, I consider myself successful but I will be the first to admit, my numbers for growth aren’t outlandish, revenues are nothing outstanding, and many other avenues along my entrepreneurial journey have been rather simple. My aim hasn’t been to grow a company to vast sales. My motive through entrepreneurship has been one single target, summed up in one word: impact. If I can make an impact on one person, one business, one program, or such, I consider myself a success. I am modest enough to understand and admit, that while I could focus on growth or money, I don’t. I value others over myself. So I suspend my energy to help others rather than grow my own ventures exponentially.

To begin, I was a 15-year-old, typical student, with what many people acknowledge as a sleeping fire inside me. I had no clue what I could be. I had a feeling one day I would do something great. I had no clue it would start to unfurl at the age I was. My story starts at the end of summer, 2009. I had been given a flyer about a summer camp program. I narrowed my picks and finally decided upon the Build-a-Business Camp, which is part of the Summers @ Mizzou program, sponsored by University of Missouri Extension 4-H. Undoubtedly, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

This camp is geared towards awakening the entrepreneur inside of youth hopefuls. They enter camp with little to no business experience, but they leave with a new world in front of them. The weeklong camp introduces youth to campus faculty, business advisors, and student and community entrepreneurs. It engages them in hands-on activities to develop their own idea and plan for a micro-business they can start at the age they are, and then teaches them how to pitch their idea to an audience. The camp prepared me to launch the first of my three current businesses, and was the educational background I have founded my entrepreneurial journey on.

As I stated earlier, my goal as an entrepreneur is nothing more than leaving a mark, making an impact on others. The Build-a-Business Camp coordinator, Steve Henness, with the 4-H Center for Youth Development office in Columbia, Missouri, has been essential in helping me fulfill that dream. Each summer, I return to the camp that gave me my start. Working with the camp training team gives me the opportunity to pass on my experiences, mentor youth hopefuls, and leave my mark each year on over a dozen elite students.

Shortly after the start of my first company, Spot Light Stars (a children’s theatrical production company), I was introduced to another opportunity: the MADE in Missouri statewide entrepreneurship competition. The competition allows entrepreneurs of any age a chance to present their idea at the Missouri State Fair and take home seed capital to further their venture. Though I have taken home “Youth Entrepreneur of the Year” two years in a row, and runner-up the year before, MADE gave me another larger contribution to my journey. Along the process, MADE Competition Coordinator, Cheryl Zimny, offered suggestions provided by the judges, including contacting the Small Business Technology and Development Center (SBTDC) in Warrensburg, another MU Extension program. Upon connecting with the center and my mentor, Lynette Watson, I was able to access resources and counseling to ultimately make my idea better.

Following connecting with the SBTDC office, I was invited to their office on the University of Central Missouri campus. Upon collaborating with the Director of the office, Darrell Brammer, I decided to attend school and eventually become a student worker with their office. This interaction with the SBTDC has helped me reach new people and resources, understand complicated situations in business, and have an opportunity to give back to other businesses.

In my opening, I began by telling what my motive in business is, to leave an impact. The reason I tell this is because, anyone can make money. With the right setup, anyone can succeed in business. It takes a specific alignment of people, ability, and support to create an impact. I believe, that my experiences and connections with the MU Extension Program – Build-A-Business Camp, the MADE Competition through the Missouri Valley Community Action Agency, the SBTDC, and others have put me in a proper position to help others. I own and operate three businesses. Each year I mentor and educate dozens of young minds on the opportunities in entrepreneurship (over a hundred in the last 5 years). I tour and speak to youth and adults on how to engage and further entrepreneurship, as well as attend many events each year to network with others I might be able to help in some respect. These programs have been essential in my success as an entrepreneur.

If one thing can be taken from my story, I hope it is this: go out, venture forth, and find your support, whether that is other entrepreneurs, the SBTDC near you, the MU Extension office, or other consultation firms. Build a support structure with many people and branches for you to rely on. These structures will help you become who you are meant to be. But remember to continue to add value to them as well, give back what you can, where you can, when you can.

Small is Big in Business

Small Business Week

Small Business Week

We probably pass several small businesses sometime during our day.

While we appreciate the business for the products and services it offers, I would guess that many of us do not think about what small businesses mean in economic terms. Typically, we think of the large companies as the major component of the U.S. economic engine. Or maybe you just haven’t thought about it at all.

This week, May 12-16, is Small Business Week in the U.S. It is a time to recognize these businesses and what they do for us.

Did you know that small businesses:

• Represent more than 98 percent of all business firms
• Employee about 50 percent of all U.S. workers
• Generate more than $12 trillion in receipts each year

These are powerful numbers that do not even take into account the technology they have created, along with new jobs and growth opportunities, and their status as an economic driver for a community.

Small-business owners not only provide dollars and jobs but often can be found supporting local improvement efforts, taking on a leadership role in civic and public organizations, and being available when a call for assistance comes in.

Besides being important to the larger economy, small businesses are a prime entity that supports the owner’s family and the families of his or her employees.

Finally, the small business represents an individual’s dream. Owning a business can mean using certain skills and abilities, the ability to generate income or the opportunity to take a good idea to market.

Given the importance of the small business, growing and maintaining its strength is a high priority. This means working to ensure a stream of new businesses constantly is entering the marketplace. New businesses mean more individuals are trying something they have wanted to do. It also means local revenue and more jobs.

So during Small Business Week, do two things: First, reflect on how the small business is supporting the local, state, national and international economies. Second, stop by and tell local small-business owners how much you appreciate what they are doing.