Archives for posts with tag: small business

To start and run a successful business requires a lot of knowledge, support and resources. Most of us don’t have all of those right out of the gate. Luckily, many who have gone before (and built successful businesses) have opened up about their experiences. Some great CEOs and entrepreneurs have put pen to paper to share how they’ve grown, how they’ve failed and what they’ve learned, and those of us who are just getting started can get a head start on our own successes by standing on the shoulders of these giants.

Over the years, we at Popular Thoughts have read a lot of business books, and we’ve compiled this list (in no particular order) of the ones that were the most helpful, informative, entertaining, inspiring and thought-provoking for us. Some of them offer concrete advice about running a business; others are more about making big-picture improvements in time management, outlook, attitude and perception, all of which contribute to business success. Our CEO recommended these books personally, so the next time you browse the business section of the book store or library, check them out and let them help you lay the groundwork for the business and personal life you want!

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com – Zappos is well-known for its exceptional customer service and commitment to quality, and it’s also known as one of the best companies to work for. This book shares the corporate philosophies and attitudes that make such success with both employees and customers possible.

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss – This wildly-popular book is at the top for a reason! This latest version has been expanded and updated from the original. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to live with more leisure, drop out of the 9-to-5 rat race and maximize the time spent working to achieve the ideal lifestyle design.

Play to Win! by Larry Wilson and Hersch Wilson – This book is excellent at getting the reader to think about what’s possible, rather than what’s impossible. Simply put, you can thrive if you learn to think in terms of winning instead of thinking in terms of not losing (it sounds like a difference of semantics, but really, it’s a huge change in outlook that means much greater success).

177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class by Steve Siebold – The philosophy here is aimed at helping readers go from middle class (how most people think and act) to world class (how the truly successful think and act). Being mentally tough can make all the difference in life and success, and this book makes mental toughness attainable.

Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service by Ted Kinni – Taking the best care of your customers can mean the difference between struggling in your business and achieving real success. This book explores the customer service principles developed and used at Walt Disney World and uses them as a model for how to make customers keep coming back, time after time. Use this book to ensure that every aspect of your company is consistently delivering for your customers!

These five are just the beginning – there are many other great books out there for entrepreneurs, small business owners and anyone else looking to achieve success in work and life.

Got other suggestions for great business books? Post them in the comments and we’ll try to check them out!

We’re almost a week into the new year, and that means most of us are diving into our New Year’s Resolutions. There are more fitness, diet and stop-smoking commercials on TV than ever, gym memberships are up, and millions of us are trying to be healthier, smarter, calmer, fitter and just plain happier. But while you’ve been crafting your personal resolutions, have you thought about resolutions for your small business? The new year is a great time to address any issues that have come up for your business over the past year, make plans to improve where possible and lay the groundwork for a great 2012.

So now that you know you should probably make a few business resolutions for this new year, what are other businesses resolving? Reuters reports that many small businesses are making technology-based plans, with resolutions focused on becoming better established online or improving existing tech. Social media sites, search engine optimization and other great online opportunities are helping even the smallest of niche businesses compete with bigger companies, the article notes, and some small businesses are handling the economic downturn by taking more of their tech duties on themselves.

Technology isn’t the only factor driving small business resolutions. Barbara Taylor wrote on The New York Times Small Business Blog that she intends to use the “24-Burger Strategy” with her small-business brokerage firm this year. The strategy, based on an Atlanta pub that serves just 24 hamburgers each night, is one of quality instead of quantity; making every transaction count in a down economy is vital to long-term success. No company can please everyone, and if that means turning away some potential clients (especially those with the least potential to add value), it’s a small price to pay for establishing one’s company as the place with the best, most detail-driven, most carefully-prepared burgers in the business (or whatever your company sells).

Ready to make some business resolutions of your own – and KEEP them? The Fox Small Business Center has some tips for you. They asked small business coaches for guidance on making resolutions, and they got the following advice in reply:

1. Be specific in what you want to achieve, and make the feedback clear along the way. Don’t make a vague resolution like “I want to grow my business” – it’s hard to measure that, and without a clear, specific goal, a resolution is doomed to fail.

2. Identify obstacles. What’s in your way? What’s stopped you in the past from getting to your goals, and how can you adjust for those roadblocks now? Figuring out what might come up to hinder your resolution is a great way to be prepared and avoid that hindrance.

3. Remember, it’s all on you. Holding yourself accountable is a major key to keeping your resolution from falling apart. Join or create a group of other business owners, or just check in with one other business owner weekly, to support one another and keep each other on track.

4. Make an action plan and stick to it. Write out the steps you’ll need to take to get to your goal, and be as detailed as possible. Set deadlines whenever you can, and keep them. You can make this step even stronger by putting together a reward and punishment system for yourself – come up with specific rewards you’ll give yourself when you reach various steps, and set aside punishments for yourself if you miss deadlines or fall short of your steps.

5. Work backwards from where you want to be. Some goals seem too high to achieve, but if you work backwards from your goal to where you are now, it can be easier to set reasonable steps along the way that will get you there. You can put monthly checkpoints into place, write up small action plans for each week or month, and even draw out the map visually so that you can see your progress as you approach the goal. Taking it all backwards is great for organizing the path and making it look less daunting.

So now that you know what the popular resolutions are and how to make your own, get to work! Your small business could see some big changes this year, and when you look back at 2011 from this point next year, you’ll be glad to see how much you accomplished.

Whatever your product or service is, you know it’s great. You know that, if people only paid attention, they’d be lining up to get what you’re offering. But therein lies the rub: how do you get people to pay attention in the first place? In this world of nonstop chatter and sensory overload, standing out from the crowd is tougher than ever. Word of mouth and organic growth are important, but most businesses can’t rely entirely on the traditional WOM marketing techniques. You must work to get noticed in other ways, as well, but how?

Dave Navarro wrote at Small Fuel Marketing about how to get your small business noticed. He offered 35 tips, but we’ve combined some and highlighted others to create the following list of ten. Take these tips, get your business (and yourself) on the map, and watch your success increase!

1. Conquer your fear of public speaking. One great way to become more visible is to speak in front of people. Find meetings, organizations, clubs and groups that are relevant to your offering, then make yourself available to speak to them. Many of these groups are regularly on the lookout for guest speakers for their meetings, and you might fit their bill.

One important thing – Don’t make your speech one big sales pitch. Instead, pick a topic that relates to your offering and to the group, position yourself as an expert (or expert-ish), and give an informative, entertaining talk. You can reference your own offering in subtle ways, and of course, the group will have your business card and other info in hand once you’ve met them. You won’t get paid for these speaking gigs (and you shouldn’t be paying to do them, either), but they can do wonders for your visibility.

If you REALLY can’t conquer your fear of speaking, invite a speaker to your own office instead, and send invitations to people that you would like to connect with. Invite them to come hear the speaker, and then take the opportunity to interact with them when they arrive.

2. Invite a media outlet to interview you. Many media outlets, especially local or very niche-specific ones, crave news about local businesses. Interviews are especially attractive because the interviewers can get in-depth while still making the subject human and accessible (and they’re more fun to read than a big block of non-dialogue text). Again, offer insight into a topic relevant to your product or service; the better you position yourself as someone with the knowledge, the more likely people will turn to you for what they need. Being interviewed will also put your name and business in front of a wide variety of potential customers.

3. Be part of a worthy cause. There are lots of great causes out there, and being a sponsor or regular contributor can put you in the spotlight. You don’t have to be a platinum-level sponsor for a major fundraiser, of course; simply contribute how you can, be it through money or goods/services. Causes are always seeking business sponsors who can help them reach their goals, and the publicity and good PR for you are helpful to your own desire to get noticed. If you can manage to get your brand associated with a cause that people care about, you will have succeeded.

4. Get your blog on. We’ve talked before about why you need a blog to build social capital and get more attention for your offering online. But having a good, high-ranking blog is more than simply writing a post here or there about something helpful or entertaining that relates to your product (although that’s very important, since fresh, quality content is key). Take your blog further by inviting other professionals in your field to write guest posts, and offer to guest-post for others. This sort of “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” arrangement means a bigger audience for you and increased recognition for your blog. You can also interview someone for your blog, further driving traffic to your pages; don’t forget, you should comment on other blogs to maintain your participation in the conversation surrounding your niche.

5. Do an ad space swap. Buying advertising space can be pricey, but if you swap ads with another company, it can be free and beneficial. Find a company with an audience you’d like access to (perhaps a company with an offering complementary to yours) and suggest that they place an ad for your company on their page. Put an ad to their company on your own page in return. This can widen your visibility significantly.

Along the same lines, if you’d like to buy ad space but can’t afford it on your own, think about splitting the cost with another company. You can share the space and divide the cost, which could be great for both of you. Your business relationships really can help you be seen!

6. Take Word of Mouth up a notch. Word of mouth matters a lot, and we know that people are more likely to buy from companies that are recommended by their friends. So how do you get people to talk about you? Usually, people talk at one of two times: after a really bad experience, or after a really good one. Try to be the latter! The more outstanding your service is, the more likely customers will refer others to you in glowing terms. Be the standout in your field for how you treat people, and word will definitely get around.

7. Don’t cast too wide a net. Many companies try to do too much and focus on too broad a market. Narrow your niche to get more visibility quickly among a more specific group of potential customers. Once you’ve established your superiority in that niche, you can start to widen your field a bit, drawing in other niches or a broader customer base. Starting small can be the key to getting really and truly set as a success before you branch out.

8. Make a video. Lots of companies try this and fail. They try to be cute, funny, shocking or unique in the hopes that their video will go viral, but in the end, they generally end up falling on their faces. Instead of trying to one-up the “evolution of dance” guy, do what you should be doing with your blog: create content that’s helpful to those in your niche. If your company makes a specific engine part for cars, make a how-to video that illustrates how your part can be installed and used. You can also use video to interview experts, illustrate case studies or otherwise share info with those who really care to see it. Once you’ve made and posted your videos on YouTube, share them on your blog, website and forums. You might not reach viral spread to the tune of 14 million hits, but your videos might become the go-to content for your niche market, raising your visibility still further.

9. Make new friends, but keep the old. Don’t burn bridges in your business. Instead, get to know the influencers in your niche, and make yourself useful to them. Help them solve issues and make new contacts, and they’ll probably return the favor by spreading the word about you. In addition, keep in touch with your older contacts regularly! You never know when someone might be in a position to refer a customer to you, so you want to stay on all the relevant radars.

10. Stay above-board. You might have heard recently about the online businessman who used negative feedback from his angry customers to boost his own page ranking. He abused and threatened clients and, as a result, he saw his position rise, at least temporarily. But now, that guy is in jail, and Google is tweaking their algorithms to try to keep negative content from raising a company’s rank. That guy thought he had the system figured out, but he got his visibility in a bad way, and it came back to bite him.

When you’re working toward getting noticed yourself, don’t break the rules. Avoid spam (in emails, comments or forums), don’t go for link farms to artificially inflate your page rank, and don’t make people angry just to get ahead. Google has ways of punishing those who game the system, banishing them to low rankings and bad reputations. It’s not worth it! Keep your nose clean and get noticed the right way. Good luck!

If you’ve got a great idea for a tech/web start-up but need help getting it off the ground, TechStars is a resource you need to check out.

TechStars is a seed stage investment fund founded in 2006 to help entrepreneurs get started on their dreams. Based in Colorado, TechStars has annual programs in Boulder, NYC, Seattle, and Boston. Any tech entrepreneur is welcome to apply, and those who are accepted receive up to $18,000 in seed funding ($6,000 per founder for up to three founders) and a three-month mentoring program. Participants get free server hosting, workspace, legal services, and access to angel investors and VCs, all of which can help the fledging business really take off.

What does TechStars get in return for offering this wealth of support? Simple: a flat 6 percent of the start-up. And since 70% of companies launched through TechStars in the past few years have become financially self-sustaining or have received outside funding, that 6 percent usually means owning a chunk of success.

Of course, with so much to be gained through TechStars, there’s a lot of competition for the programs. Their website notes that they get hundreds of applicants each year, but they choose only ten or so companies annually for each of their four program cities. The program rotates between the cities: New York plays host to TechStars in the winter, but Boston gets the program in the spring. Boulder is the summer program location, and Seattle hosts the fall participants.

TechStars describes itself as “big on mentorship,” with a laid-back style of working hard in a friendly atmosphere. Their website is peppered with testimonials from business owners praising what TechStars does, less for the funding than for the wealth of advice, support, connections and experience brought to the table by the program mentors during the 3-month “summer camp for entrepreneurs.” In short, TechStars has a whole lot of help ready for you if you’re one of the lucky few they select for your really great tech or web idea.

Get started by applying on the TechStars website. Who knows? You might end up attending one of their programs and seeing your own tech company dream come to life. Good luck!

Sources: TechStars, Wikipedia, TechCrunch

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