Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why learn everything the hard way?

Okay, that may be the only way that some of us learn anything but there are so many more options that are far less painful and less expensive.  Some of us just have to get honest with ourselves that we do not know it all - and it scares us to death.  Starting our own business (or growing an existing one) takes risk and guts.  If that doesn't scare us - we are doomed.  Just because we think something should work like we want it to does not make it do that.  Rely on the experience of others who have already "been there - done that" before we all go trying to reinvent the wheel to suit ourselves.

Start with your local business community (ie: Chamber) and Economic Development agencies.  They often have programs in place to help you get started and/or to grow your business.  They can help you find a mentor, or there are retired folks in your field willing to answer your questions and offer advice.  Join a trade association for your trade - there are experts ready to assist you.  Take some classes on things you are not 100% at (software applications, marketing, public speaking, etc.).   Small Business Entrepreneurial Centers are in most areas and they offer a magnitude of services and assistance - FREE!

Whether in the vastness of America's rural wonderland or in the heart of the city - there are services and guidance available to help achieve success.  Taking advantage of them is up to us.  Whether it's an e-commerce business or a brick and mortar store (or both) just waiting for that customer to walk in the door (or log on) is not going to result in success.  There are other items that we need to pay attention to as well.  They may seem insignificant in the face of the "Big Picture" but they are very important too.

Can people find you?  Are you listed in the phone book or are you using a cell phone?  That makes a big difference.  Advertising can be a matter of the available budget and making the best choices.  You can't afford to advertise everywhere that an opportunity presents itself (or whenever a sales person calls) so be picky.  What is your product and who is your target audience?  Advertise accordingly.  Don't waste money on ads that won't generate you business that you would not have gotten anyway, through some targeted advertising, networking and word of mouth.  Ask new customers how they heard about you so you can plan for the future.

Are you on Main Street or along the highway corridor where one large sign out front of your business is usually adequate for folks to see and locate you?  What if you are on a side street or side road?  Directional signage now becomes very important to get folks to you.  Make it as easy for them as you can.  Having one at the corner, with an arrow pointing your way, displaying your business name, is usually enough but you may also need one on that other corner too.  Make sure they can be read from both directions and that they do not blend in with their surroundings - Stand Out!

Participate in community events as a business as well as an individual.  Are you a member of any service clubs (Rotary, Lions, etc.).  Often the Chamber will sponsor events that help you become more visible to the members of the community.  Participate in them or even host one yourself.  Sponsor something like a team for a fundraiser.  Put a T-shirt on each member of the team bearing your logo.  They probably won't wear it just that once. 

In summer many communities have a night where businesses stay open later and activities are planned to get the people to come shop there.  You want to be involved, even if it is only to offer free water/soda/coffee and information about the business or service you provide.  What about parades?  Putting together a float and tossing some candy can get you far more exposure then you realise.  Be a contributor to fundraisers and events where prizes will be awarded.  It doesn't have to be much but it helps to get your business known.  Put your name and contact information on everything from your invoices and business cards to your contributions and products.

Press releases are a no-cost form of advertising.  These are most often picked up by smaller newspapers but the releases help to spread the word that you have a new product, process, employee or service.  Also use them when professional development courses or seminars have been taken, when promotions are given or received within your company.  People like to know that they are dealing with the people who know what they are doing.  Any certifications you receive in your field should also be announced in such a way.

Hang a big WELCOME sign above your entrance door, or on the first page of your website.  Make people feel comfortable and welcome!  Always remember to smile!  Even if you are doing business from your home in your bathrobe and curlers - do it with a smile.  People just seem to sense it.  They will reward you with their business. 

Contact regular constomers often.  You can use a newsletter or make it more personal like birthday cards, reminders of an upcoming repeat order so they don't get rushed, holiday cards or just an occasional phone call to say "hello".  A really great treat is to send them a gift certificate for a cup of coffee at a local cafe, a coupon for something you know they like or for a discount on their next order from you.  Sincere efforts made are long remembered, no matter how small they may be.

These are some of the little things that have we have done over the past 20 years to grow our small business from being home based to having it's very own home.  Sometimes it is the smallest of things that have reaped us the greatest rewards.  We love what we do and coming to work each day is a joy.  If you can make your business like that for you - you will do great.

Lee McCubbin CRS
McCubbin Trophy & Engraving
Forest City, Iowa 50436

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