Innovation

For small businesses to succeed, they need to be innovative. But what is it?

It might be said that we know innovation when we see it, but don’t ask us to define innovation or tell you what it is.

As this short video outlines, it is dots, known and those unknown.

Businesses that continue to operate discover the unknown dots. Yes, they may be new but they also may be dots we have forgotten.

Take a couple of minutes to watch the video. Then go discover the dots that will help you move forward and remain competitive. https://vimeo.com/77911159 

 

 

Be a Destination

destination sign

Photo (CC) 2.0) by Mai Le, on Flickr

You probably have heard small-business owners talk about being a destination.  And you might have said to yourself that while it works for them, the type of store you have would never lend itself to that. But why let traditional thinking stand in your way?  This owner didn’t http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/08/convenience-store-owner/494756/

Take Control of Time Spent Doing Your Small Business Online Marketing

Online Marketing

Online Marketing Options

Developing an online presence is a necessity.

However, you hesitate because: you hear it takes a lot of time or you are not comfortable with technology or you know your customers won’t use it or they all know about your business already. Perhaps it a combination of these items and more. So why have an an online presence?

Yet if you are reading this, you are using that same technology. And if you look around, you will see mobile technology all over being used.

Let’s not hide the fact though that the time needed for a large online presence can be substantial. This article clearly points out that fact. Yes, it really does talk about 12 to 104 hours per week just for doing search engine optimization of your web site. Such time is not even available in your wildest dreams. Perhaps if you didn’t want to sleep…… And we haven’t even talked about your social media efforts yet!!

But are you at that level?  If so, then go for it.  If not, keep reading.

So what can be done to build an online presence and yet control the amount of resources it takes? 

These are my thoughts on the steps you might take. Others may disagree but this will get you started.

First, learn about the online world and the technology. Understand its place in a marketing effort. Then find a way to dip your toe in the water. Let me suggest the following steps:

  1. Learn about the online world and be ready to commit some resources. Take some classes about what this online world is at your Extension office, library, school, college, etc. Any time you are out, look at the people around you, they are probably online with a mobile device (and you may well be reading this on your mobile device). And ask how much you can carve out to commit to developing an online presence.
  2. Online starts off-line so talk with your customers. What are they doing online and how are they getting online? What would they like to see from your online presence? At the same time, see what your competitors are doing as well as other businesses in your community.
  3. Claim your bubble. You know, that little pin that shows where a business is located. Get listed in at Google business and other similar services. Correct inaccurate information. Google is the current big player but don’t overlook other sites such as Bing and Mapquest.
  4. Check out the review sites where your business might be listed.  Set up a plan for reviewing those sites on a regular basis. I would encourage at least a weekly review and a response to any negative reviews. A thanks to positive reviewers would also be a good idea. Now might be the time to consider how you can get more reviews. (15 minutes per week)
  5. Set up Google Alerts or some other means of getting an update, such as Twitter lists,  Feedly or Hootsuite, to know when your name or the name of your business is mentioned online. You may also want to follow your key products, trends, or key industry informants (15 – 45 minutes per week)
  6. It’s now time to take the next big step in your online presence. My recommendation is to build a website. The reason for that method versus something like a Facebook page is you control it. Social media sites are owned and controlled by others. If they decide to change, everything you worked for can disappear quickly. Your site can vary from something basic to very elaborate with shopping carts, etc. You can do it yourself or you can hire someone else to build it. Taking this and step 7 may require more help and training. This is also where your required time commitment will start to grow.
  7. Another big step – Now it’s time to add social media perhaps including a blog.

You have covered the basics (Steps 1 through 5, and have moved on with items #6 and #7. The first five steps require a reasonable (dare I say small) ongoing time commitment, maybe as little as 15 minutes per week although I hope that you are getting lots of positive reviews that take time to read. Just a reminder, though, there is upfront time being spent to get ready.

At this point, you can look at social media advertising, search engine optimization, getting ready for mobile, and tracking your metrics.

The bottom line is you can begin an online presence without spending the hours suggested by that first article. And you can do much of the work yourself, even with the long days your business takes.

Additional information:

Important to Watch Trends

Mary PeabodyStaying current with what’s coming is key to small business success.

Your business is bubbling along. Things are going good. And then one day you look out and no one is buying anything. Not only are they not buying anything but there isn’t even anyone coming in the door.

Can you envision this?  What happened?

One of the possible answers is you missed an important trend.

Mary Peabody, University of Vermont Extension, looks that this topic of “trends.”

She notes how important it is for business owners to keep an eye on what’s going on.  She also cautions business owners to try and distinguish what is actually a trend from something that might be a fad.

Trends, she notes, can have a serious impact on your business but they can also represent opportunities.  If you find an interesting trend, further determine if it is going up or headed down. You want, if possible, to catch the upswing.

Watch this webinar. And then check out trends. It’s worth the effort. 

 

Online and E-commerce for Your Small Business

social-media-graphicsThe answer is, “Yes, your small business needs to be online.”

That means having an online presence and considering e-commerce operations. E-commerce typically means selling products online but I tend to think of it as something bigger. There are service companies that allow you to schedule your appointments online. And paying your bill has long been an available online activity.

If you are like many small business owners, you first need to understand your options and then select and put one or more options into action. To help you with this, Extension across the country has developed resources for you. Check with your local Extension office.

You can also check out the powerofbusiness.net website. Information on these topics can be found in several locations including our blog, the archived “live chats,” in the “tips” section, and in past issues of the newsletter.  And don’t forget to check out the three online marketing free workbooks found right on the front page.

Another useful site is the National e-Commerce Extension Initiative. A variety of short information briefs are there to introduce you to various online possibilities.

Examples of the kind of help Extension provides include:

So as we close in on a new year, make this your year for starting and expanding your online presence. 

Could I be an Entrepreneur?

lemonade stand

Photo (CC 2.0) by Steven Depolo, on Flickr

Lots of people have a desire to start their own business.

At the same time, communities and economic development agencies encourage this as these businesses help build the local economy.

The interest for starting from the owner’s perspective come from a desire for control, to show their creativity and to make money. Communities see them as adding new jobs as well as providing a substantial amount of US sales and GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

Yet often people just don’t take the plunge.

One thing holding them back is the fear they don’t have the right stuff to develop a successful business.  It is the myth that entrepreneurs are born and not made.

Kay Cummings, Michigan State University Extension, examines that myth. She outlines what qualities are helpful to the entrepreneur and defines what business skills one should have, either before starting or soon thereafter. Read her article here.

Kay also outlines some of the resources found he her state that can help the aspiring entrepreneur. And she outlines some national efforts as well.

While your state may not have these specific resources, nearly every state has some type of support services for the new business owner.  You just need to go out and find them.  I would suggest you start with your Extension office. They can define the resources available in your state.

Good luck.

Marketing and Your Business

It can’t be said enough that “build it and they will come” is just a myth. A “one-and-done” effort will not get you what you want, either. Developing a successful business means putting a marketing plan that creates and maintains awareness of your product and/or services.

Learn how to build your marketing plan from Glenn Muske, small business specialist for North Dakota State University Extension.  Check out Glenn’s article on marketing your small business for more information: Standing Out from the Competition

Tell Your Story

story book

Photo (CC) by UNE photos, on Flickr

Information provided by: Susan Moffat, Extension Educator, Oklahoma State University Extension

Storytelling is a marketing tool small business owners should capitalize on. They have great stories on how they got the idea for their business along with its growth, bumps and all. Plus it allows them to highlight some of their own story.

Susan provided the stories that two quilting/fabric shops have included on their websites. (You may see a theme in these stories. I worked with Susan and know quilting is a passion).

Missouri Star Quilt Company discusses the reasons why they started along with why they picked this industry. They make a strong case for going online thus showing that a solid business can grow in small towns. They offer some key elements that helped the business grow. Hamilton, MO has now become a destination because of their efforts.  Read their entire story at: https://www.missouriquiltco.com/content/aboutus

Prairie Quilt, http://prairiequilt.com/about-us/our-history/, also has their history posted in the “About us” section. They not only include the history of how Randa became the owner along with information about the team and story hours. They also list nearby hotels. The date the business started as part of their logo as well as their tag line, where sewing is fun, is all found on their website.

Both of these examples show how story telling is a great tool in marketing. You don’t find anything lengthy. Pictures were used to highlight the stories. And they are not just about the business but also about you, the owner.

Do you include your story in your marketing? Do you have a short version to tell when networking? Consider them. Customers enjoy knowing more about how you and your business.

For more information, check out:

Are You Telling (and Selling) with Your Business Story at Small Biz Survival blog

http://smallbiztrends.com/2015/05/what-is-brand-storytelling.html

Moving Forward

Quiet time

Photo (CC) Marin Pulaski, on Flickr

As a small business owner sometimes one of the hardest things to do is to keep moving.

When times are rough and even when times are good, looking ahead and moving forward just seem impossible. You’re tired and you just want to get away.

So what keeps you going?

Each of us have our own methods. One of my methods is to find quotes that inspire, motivate, make me laugh, or cause me to think. I just peruse my list finding ones that cause me to pause and think about for a couple of moments. Another method is taking a walk and still a third is just taking time to reflect (one management text I read called it navel-gazing). Some business owners may work on a hobby for a few minutes.

The idea is finding something that helps you have some quiet time, gather your thoughts, and reflect. While these examples may sound like you have stalled, the idea is to let your mind wander and your body recharge.

What you do isn’t important? The important part is doing.

So does this mean you don’t take a vacation when you shut down the business side of your brain? Certainly not. You need those times as well. Taking regular breaks helps you move forward also.

The danger is when your vacations are unplanned and random, done only in frustration.

So the next time you get stuck, pull out one of your methods to push the clutter out of your mind and get ready to get back to business.

I’ll leave you with some of the more recent quotes I have seen recently. Happy reflections.

  • Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often – Mark Twain
  • Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be – A. Lincoln
  • There are seven days in a week and Someday isn’t one of them – Author Unknown