Using All the Resources Available – Build Your Network

Success sogm

Photo (CC) Bruce Berrien, on Flickr

In order to do the best job we can, whether we are in business or are a service provider, the bottom line is we must use every resource available.

For business owners, one such resource are other business owners. This idea formed the basis for the Power of Business effort.

For service providers, such as those of us working for Extension, we have this vast network of each other that we can turn to for help and ideas.

Both of these internal resources are great and I hope you use them. Yet many more resources exist in organizations and businesses outside of our and second circles of connections. The example I will use here is the Farmers Market Federation of NY. 

This organization provides information for customers, farmers, and market managers. I have followed it for a couple of years. No, I am not from NY but what they provide gives me ideas for my work with local food promotion and the growers involved in that effort.

In there August 17th newsletter, they wrote about holding music events during market days. Now that may not be something new to you, but they included a press release used by a market manager, the Facebook event connection, and a photo used.

The article also provided some other resources (I love these type of freebies) including where to find special days and months (National Chicken Month, National Smile Day, etc). This lets you make an event when you might not think nothing exists. They also challenged market managers to make the market the special event of the week.

There may be nothing new here, but outside resources, such as these, can remind us of ideas we may have forgotten and new twists to something we are already doing. 

 

Lessons From Business Colleagues

Peer-to-peer learning

Photo (CC 2.0) by USDA, on Flickr

If you have been following our Power of Business effort, one thing has probably come to your attention. We believe in the power of peer-to-peer learning.

 

This week’s blog is story of a restaurant owner as he takes a bootstrap, or shoe-string, approach in developing his self-defined “community restaurant.” The restaurant focuses on serving local foods as much as possible. But, he notes the need to take the customers into account at all times plus knowing that, to remain viable over the long term, he must make the finances work as well.

The story,  “How I started My Business: North,” comes from Lucky Peach and can be found at: http://luckypeach.com/north-restaurant-providence-ri/

The owner identifies an untapped market that helped him spread the word about his business. 

I appreciated reading the last paragraph when he says, “We’re not a perfect restaurant…But we’re getting better…” Constant effort and creating an experience are two keys that will help him on the road to success. 

 

This story present our them found in most of our Friday 15 chats, in our educational series of Online Marketing z-mags have all highlighted, and discussed in many blog posts. That message is learning from business owners who have “been there and done that.”

Our message also can be found when other guests use information shared by the business owners they work with in a search for common threads leading to success and helping us to pull different ideas into a deeper, more comprehensive way of organizing and running a business.

Much can be learned from listening to your peers, whether or not they are in your specific industry. Join us as we help being these ideas to you.

Research in Progress: Unpacking the Farm Labor Puzzle

Our Guest Blogger this week is Mary Peabody. Mary works for University of Vermont Extension. She reports on an team effort to examine the best practices of farmers in terms of effective labor management.  This work matches the Power of Business effort rural small business owners are encouraged to network with other business owners to help answer questions. This post is used with permission. It was originally posted on OOct 9th, 2015 at: http://bit.ly/1GQHNs3 

Farm workerOctober 2015.  One of the strategies new farmers often use to learn their craft is to observe and talk with other farmers that appear to be having success in similar operations. In fact, farmer-to-farmer learning has a very high preference score in nearly every aspect of farmer training

In this research project, we are using the same principle to identify labor management practices. By interviewing experienced farmers who also appear to be effective labor managers we are learning about the process of recruiting, hiring, training and retaining the right employees.

Throughout the summer and fall our research team has been conducting interviews with farmers in Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. As we collect their stories about what works and what doesn’t we’ll be looking for themes to emerge and building our next research phase from these findings.

In the meantime, no reason not to share a few of the pearls that have emerged from these interviews. So, a few keys to successful farm labor management from the experts in the field:

  • Be clear in your own mind about your business goals before you begin hiring.
  • Detailed job descriptions are critical. It sounds so obvious but an accurate, detailed job description is no simple matter.
  • Have prospective workers visit the farm so that you can meet with them face-to-face and observe them in your farm setting.
  • Do not expect farm workers to learn every aspect of the business right away. Manage the training so that the employee has time to master one activity before taking on something new.

Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting project. And if you are a farmer that has successfully Female farm workernavigated the farm labor maze and you’d like to share your tips and strategies with us please contact us — we’d love to talk with you!

Thanks to all the farmers who gave us their time so generously in the heat of the growing season. You Rock!!

If you’d like to participate in this research project please email aglabor@uvm.edu

[In March 2014 UVM Extension, with several UVM research faculty and colleagues from University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Wisconsin was awarded a 3-year integrated research and extension grant to look at labor management practices on small and medium-sized farms. The goal of this project is to identify clusters of labor management practices that “successful” farmers are using and develop decision tools that make these tools more available to other farms.]

The research team:

  • Mary Peabody, UVM Extension
  • Jason Parker, UVM Plant and Soil Science
  • Kathleen Liang, UVM Community Development and Applied Economics
  • Seth Wilner, UNH Cooperative Extension
  • Carolyn Sachs, Pennsylvania State University
  • John Hendrickson, University of Wisconsin Extension
  • Beth Holtzman, UVM Extension
  • Monica Petrella, UVM Graduate Student

NIFA AFRI Award #2014-68006-21873

Networking: Where You Can Find Answers to Your Questions

Networking

Photo (CC 2.0) by USDA, on Flickr

I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a meeting sponsored by the Prairie Family Business Association. It was a great reminder on how much information you can learn by networking with other business owners.

While in the hallways and during the breaks, you could not help but notice small groups or even just a couple of individuals having good conversations.  If you listened in, a lot of information about management practices was being exchanged.

Yes, some of the conversations dealt with current events and sports but that’s okay. Those conversations help build relationships and trust between individuals. It also gave insight into trends and future changes impacting your business, something crucial to you as a business owner.

Effective networking is a key in business success.  Effective networking helps you get answers. It helps brand your business and it is a great marketing channel.

There are lots of opportunities to network. You should join organizations such as your Chamber as well as social organizations. You can also find trade organizations and industry organizations. I would also urge you to consider organizations such as the family business meeting I attended.

Many of you probably operate a family business. They are unique ventures that blend both the business system and the family system. Merging those two systems requires some special management and operational considerations. The best place to learn those skills is in working with other family business owners.

Effective networking can make a big difference in your business. Make the effort and you will find lots of benefits.

For more tips on networking, check out our video and tip sheet.

 

Asking for Advice

Starting and operating a small business is hard. There are so many things that have to be done and, it seems, so little time to do them. Plus, at least in the early years, you don’t have the funds available to hire help.

Adding to the obstacles you face is the fact that many of the tasks that need doing are things you probably have little or no experience in. Most business owners start a business because of a passion for creating or building something or providing what they see as a needed service. That passion though does not provide a background in handling the variety of other tasks that need doing.

What happens in many cases is the business owner does the best he or she can do. Research through the Internet and reading is done. Talking to others is also a common practice.

In this video, one of five done during Small Business Week here at Power of Business, George Johnson of George Paul’s Vinegar encourages small business owners to do more of the latter, asking for advice. He indicates some of the resources he used and notes that those and others can be accessed, often for free. While specific state resources vary, across the country you can find Cooperative Extension (in each state and through eXtension), the Small Business Administration and its related agencies, Small Business Development Centers and SCORE.

So listen to George’s advice and then get in contact with agencies that can help you achieve success.

Creating an Online Community

Article written by Jerry Buchko, MA, AFC, a Counselor, Coach, & Tutor of Personal Finance who is building a private practice serving clients using online social networking and real-time voice & video collaboration spaces. Prior to entering private practice, he worked for almost 14 years in the employee assistance field, providing financial counseling over the phone to clients from a diverse range of life circumstances and experiences.

Social network As I mentioned during our Friday 15 session, many of the ways in which we might develop relationships and community with others offline are essentially the same ways we can develop them online. Sure, there’s an aspect of learning how to use these social tools and spaces that’s involved. But at a more essential level, it also takes a willingness to get in there, and to learn and engage with other people.

You have talked about networking. We are all familiar with that term but how are you doing it online? And how do you maintain your connections?

Well I suppose it would be important to say that I don’t think of networking in the same way that people seem to commonly think of networking events, or at least in the way networking events are commonly portrayed, i.e. as experiences that seem to mainly involve making introductions, shaking hands, exchanging two minute elevator speeches and trading business cards.

I network online in many of the same ways that I might do offline. Through getting to know people over a period of time, for example, I’ve come to be an active member and collaborator within several professional communities of practice, all of which are related in one way or another to my interests and the work I’m doing as a private practitioner.

I have ongoing conversations and interactions with the people I’ve come to know in these communities. And these conversations and interactions can happen in a variety of ways, for example, discussions in social media and social networking spaces, like Twitter and Google+, as face-to-face conversations over real-time voice & video, exchanges over the telephone and email, and even opportunities to share discussions and “talk shop” while spending some leisure time together. Circumstances can also allow us to meet in-person in the more traditional way from time-to-time, like at conferences and project meetings we might attend together.

So these online spaces offer new ways to meet and connect, and I maintain my connections with these folks I’ve come to know online in essentially the same ways that I do with the people I’ve come to know offline, which is by being an active community member, relating and interacting with the other folks that participate in these communities we share together.

How do you build rapport online to get people to open up?

I think building rapport is fundamentally about nurturing and building familiar and trusting relationships, so on a very important level, I can’t “get” anyone to do anything. I think people naturally and reasonably have a difficult time opening up and trusting someone who isn’t willing to be open and trustworthy in return. Online or offline, I think it takes being willing to get to know people, and being willing to allow them to get to know you, so you can both decide whether working together would be a good thing.

How does this approach to building community work with your marketing efforts as a small business?

Actually, the marketing is an important challenge that I’m wrestling with right now. I’m trying to figure out a balanced approach to marketing and advertising my practice that’s both effective and properly reflects who I am as a professional, as well as the nature of the service and experience I’m offering clients.

On the one hand, I definitely don’t want to become “that guy” who seems like he’s always about marketing or pitching his service. And at the same time, I do need people, especially those who maybe don’t already know me well, to recognize that I’m working as a private practitioner for my livelihood, and that I welcome being approached by and engaging with prospective clients as well.

So I’ve taken some basic steps more recently towards “hanging out my shingle”. For example, I’ve rewritten the ‘Introduction’ to my Google+ social profile into something more approaching ad copy or content you might expect to see in a brochure (in contrast to something that’s either informally personal, or something that’s impersonally formal, like what you might expect in a resume). I’ve also added my business contact info to my banner image, along with a favorite quote that resonates with who I am personally and expresses something of the nature of my work with clients professionally as well.

Additional resources.

As I mentioned during the session, many of the people I’ve been fortunate to have gotten to know online have been educators interested in exploring and studying how this technology can be used for education and learning. These initial resources I’m sharing are put together and presented with educators in mind, but the information and tools can be readily adapted and applied to developing online community, as well as towards personal and professional learning, from the perspective of being a private practitioner or other small businessperson as well:

Edudemic – Why (And How) You Should Create A Personal Learning Network: http://www.edudemic.com/build-personal-learning-network/

TeachThought – 8 Ideas, 10 Guides, And 17 Tools For A Better Professional Learning Network: http://www.teachthought.com/social-media/8-ideas-10-guides-and-17-tools-for-a-better-professional-learning-network/

Here are a few resources that provide some perspective of the development of the World Wide Web and the online technological environment, including trends in social media, social networking, and in the use of video meeting and mobile technologies.

Pew Research Internet Project – World Wide Web Timeline (Mar. 2014): http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/03/11/world-wide-web-timeline/

Pew Research Internet Project – Social Networking Fact Sheet (Highlights of the Pew Internet Project’s research related to social networking.): http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/

Pew Research Internet Project – Social Media Update 2013: http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/12/30/social-media-update-2013/

Pew Research Internet Project – Video Calling and Video Chat (Oct. 2010): http://www.pewinternet.org/2010/10/13/video-calling-and-video-chat/

Pew Research Internet Project – Cell Phone Activities (Sept. 2013): http://www.pewinternet.org/data-trend/mobile/cell-phone-activities/

Here are a couple of resources on the topic of entrepreneurship that I’ve found offered some useful perspective as well:

Kauffman Foundation – Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity: http://www.kauffman.org/what-we-do/research/kauffman-index-of-entrepreneurial-activity

U.S. Small Business Administration – 6 Tips for Avoiding the Common Financial Pitfalls of Being a Young Entrepreneur: http://www.sba.gov/community/blogs/community-blogs/small-business-cents/6-tips-avoiding-common-financial-pitfalls-being

(I think these are good tips for entrepreneurs to consider regardless of age.)

And finally, there was a question from one of our audience members, John Blue, that we promised to respond to in this blog post. John wanted to know what tool I was using for my lower third banner during the Friday 15 session.

Yes, the tool I was using was a Google+ Hangout app called Hangout Toolbox. I was using its Custom Overlay feature to display the custom lower third banner I’d created for the session.

And I created the custom banner using an image creation program called GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). There are several useful guides out there about how to create a custom banner overlay, and I’ll share one that I personally found very helpful.

Hangout Toolbox: http://hangouttoolbox.com/

GIMP: http://www.gimp.org/

How to create custom overlays for Google Hangouts by Ayoub Habchi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5nHTxJ660k#t=16