Friday, February 27, 2009

Small Businesses will be the leaders

Into The Wild Green YonderImage by Matthew Stewart | Photographer via Flickr

Small Businesses Will Lead Us to a Better Future

It is amazing that 63% of people feel that Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses will lead us to a better future.

If you look at most of the troubles that we are currently facing you will find that either government or big business or more likely both created the problems that we are facing.

Considering that small business owners have been largely ignored not only by the government but also by the general population, it is nice to see they are starting to see the importance that small businesses play in the success of the economy.

Now you need to get the message out on how important small businesses are to the economy. While sometimes a chamber of commerce is helpful in getting this information out, many of them have very large corporations as their members so are not willing to alienate those large companies by putting the focus on smaller businesses.

What some areas are now doing is creating locally owned business associations that are designed solely to promote locally owned business and to get information the public about their importance. In Utah their are two organizations designed for this purpose. First is the Vest Pocket and the second is Buy Local First.

Buy Local First comes out with a directory of locally owned businesses plus also promotes their importance to the local community.

Small businesses are very important to the economy and now is the time to let people know. If you do not have an organization designed to promote your small business get together with other small business owners to get the message out.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Learn lessons from the failures...

A newly designed Circuit City store (St. Louis...Image via Wikipedia

Previously I have discussed how important it is for you to know thy enemy and to keep appraised what they are doing right and wrong in order for you to be more competitive. However, it is also important for you to learn from those that fail since as the old saying goes "Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it".

In the retail sector there has been many failures over the last year including such names as Steve & Berry's, Circuit City, Mervyn's and others.

Today I am going to give a couple of examples of things you can learn of what went wrong at Circuit City and how to use those as lessons in your own business. By studying your own competition including those who don't make it, you will learn valuable lessons to improve your business and insure the same thing doesn't happen to you.

Among the issues that Circuit City faces was the lack of a niche, customer service, and the layout of their newer format stores.

While I may start sounding like a broken record, it is critically important that you have your own niche away from the major competitors. In the case of Circuit City, it could not separate itself from its major competitor Best Buy. The only major difference between the two stores was that Circuit City eliminated appliances several years ago which seem to contribute to their problems, not help them. Otherwise, they seem to try to emulate Best Buy not set themselves apart from Best Buy.

Following up on their attempt to emulate Best Buy, Circuit City eliminated their commissioned sales staff a few years ago and put them all on hourly. At the time Circuit City said it got rid of the top of sales ladder because they would have wanted too much money and in my experience it was clear that they kept the mediocre people and that led to poor customer service.

Let me give you one of my personal examples. I wanted to buy and item and the only store to have it in my state was Circuit City (otherwise I would have gone to a local competitor). I walked into the store and immediately found it in a looked up case. There was two employees standing just a few feet away but neither one of them would come over to help me. Finally I went over to the customer service counter to ask for a manager in order to get some help.

Instead of coming up to the counter and helping the customer personally which should have been done, the manager calls on the phone, tells the customer service person to find someone to help me because he had better things to do. Finally someone did respond to the calls by the customer service counter and I got the item I needed.

Clearly Circuit City failed from management down to take care of the customer. While in many cases this could have been an isolated incident, I heard many similar stories from other people which showed that Circuit City was failing in this area.

Finally, Circuit City also had problems when it came to their new format stores. The last new Circuit City store to open near me was in their newest format and I took a drive over to check it out one day. While the store was nice and new, the whole layout of the store was confusing. There was one department that was spread over three different areas of the store. How confusing would this be to the average customer? Stores need to be logically set up so that people can come in to them and find what they need easily.

That is just three examples of what where major problems at Circuit City. These are valuable lessons to learn so that you do not suffer the same problems as they did.

Learn from your successful competitors and learn from the failures so that you do not make the same mistakes they did.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Know Thy Enemy...

Jordan LandingImage via Wikipedia

How well do you know your competition?

If your like many small business owners, the answer to that question is probably not well. Many times small business owners are so caught up doing their thing every day, that they forget to keep an eye out on what their competitors are doing.

In previous entries I mentioned how important it is to keep ahead of the competition, especially the big boys, but how can you do that if you are not keeping an eye out for what they are up to. Now I am not talking anything secret agent style here but hey if that is your style, have fun. The main thing you want to do is to find out what their stores look like, how well their employees are trained, how they price, and figure out how you can out smart them.

I would recommend you go out and visit each of your major competitors at least once a month. However, you should also not forget about the smaller competitors and visit them every few months to keep up on what is happening out in the world.

Often times the big players will send out people to shop the competition but they often will not visit locally owned stores because they don't consider them to be important. This can be a major advantage to you since you will know more about them than they know about you.

The more you know about your competition, the better prepared you are to be competitive and ahead of the them.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Email Clutter

Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail clientImage via Wikipedia

One of the worst villains in robbing us of our productivity is clutter, and one form of clutter that is becoming all too common is email clutter.

Much like the old snail mail, we get all kinds of junk emails and other emails that are not that important but take valuable time out of our day.

One of the ways I reduce email clutter is to route regular emails that are low priority directly to a special folder.

For example, I get a large number of emails from one source that I need to read but they are not a priority so I created a folder and any email that comes from that source is automatically sent to that folder so I don’t have to deal with it.

Another suggestion is to create an email account on one of those free email sites such as Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. Then anytime you sign up for newsletters or other low priority emails, you can have them sent to that email account so it does not clog up your important main account.

Also, create folders in your email system so that you can store emails that you want for either future reference or to read later. However, keep these folders to a minimum and only save really important emails. Otherwise the folder section of your email program will become cluttered just like everything else.

For more ideas check out the Organizing Queen.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Are you willing to put in the time?

Hard WorkImage by Christolakis via Flickr

Wil Schoter is another small business blogger that I like to check in on now and again. Today he has a great entry that everyone who is considering starting their own small business should take into consideration.

When you first start your own small business you will not have a nice cushy 9 to 5 job. Starting a new business is going to take a lot of time and effort. Often it will just be you or a couple of people running the ship and you have to be there to nurture it all the time. If you look at the people who have been successful at starting small businesses, you will see that they often put in 16 to 20 hour days in the start up phase in order to get it successful.

That is one thing you want to consider especially if you have a family or don’t like to put in any more time than you have to. While in the long run the hard work will pay off, you have to ask yourself are you going to be able to make those kinds of sacrifices now.

This is another reason why it is so important to find a business that you will truly enjoy working at. You need to have the passion to see the start up times through so that you will see it through this phase and beyond.

Starting a business is not a full time job; it is a full time commitment. Are you willing to put the effort in?
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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Finding your Niche

Wal-Mart HermosilloImage via Wikipedia

In my last entry I talked about staying ahead of the competition and the importance of having a niche. Since it has been some time since I talked about your niche today I will go over what a niche is and use an example to hopefully get your mind working on ideas to find the right one for you.

Basically a niche is the part of the market you go after.

Using the big retailers for example, Nordstrom’s niche has always been its customer service and return policy. People do not go to Nordstrom’s for low prices but for the service and the outstanding return policy. Target’s niche is being a step above Wal-Mart in quality.

Now look at the office supply market. The three major competitors are Office Depot, Staples and Office Max. So what sets them apart from each other? Well you could say that Staples with their “easy button” but many people don’t even remember which store that comes from. The problem with these three stores is that they are not separating themselves from each other so most people either shop at the most convenient location or the one that they have the best experience in.

So let’s assume that you want to open an office supply store and you have to figure out what your niche is going to be. First of all, if you are going to carry the same things the other three stores do you are not going to be very successful because there is no reason for people to shop at your store instead of the others except for convenience or if there is neither of the big competitors in the market.

Now let’s look at the three major areas of the office supply store and see where you can set yourself apart.

One of the big departments in office supply stores is electronics. However, consumer electronics is extremely competitive and there is very little money to be made in them. In fact you may sell a $500 all in one and make $20 dollars profit.

However, instead of selling the basic consumer electronics all the office supply stores sell, you could look at items they do a poor job selling and don’t have much of and that is higher in electronics. If you are looking for a good business copier, specialty printers, or other similar items, the big office supply stores just do not have the inventory or the ability to service this market. However, something you would need to take into consideration is that people who buy these items need excellent serving so how are you going to offer that?

While there may be more mark up in furniture, the big stores have the advertising dollars to pull people in. A majority of people rather get a cheap price than buy something quality by paying a few dollars more. But there is the market for quality and you may not sell as many pieces as the big boys, but you could go for a market that makes you more money in the long run. Once again people spending the money want service, what are you willing to provide? Design services? Set Up and building? That is something you would want to consider.

Finally there is the main office supply area of these stores. Once again you cannot compete by offering the same products they do and in general it is hard to look at having higher end products. However, if there is a big enough market you could consider selling the items that the other stores don’t carry in their inventory but have to order. You could find out from local businesses what items they cannot find in the big stores and work on bring customers in on those items plus having the everyday items.

What it all comes down to is what part of the market you are going to go after to set yourself apart form the competition. It does you no good to try to fight them head to head because you will loose. Find out what the customers need and what the big boys are not doing to satisfy their needs. The better you set yourself apart from the competition the more successful you will be.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

What are you doing to stay ahead?

Small Businesses 1Image by Angela Radulescu via Flickr

One of the things we talk about to small business owners is finding you niche. Once you find your niche, does that mean you can sit back and relax? Of course not, because we live in a constantly changing world, and your business needs to evolve on a regular basis or your business will find itself behind the eight ball pretty quickly.

An advantage you have as a small business owner is that you can respond to changing trends faster than the big corporations. Take a look at lodging facilities, some smaller lodging facilities were far ahead of everyone else when it came to offering their customers Wi-Fi service. In fact some of the big chain hotels are still behind the curve when getting an effective Wi-Fi network set up in their facilities.

However, what are these smaller lodging facilities doing now? After all, the big companies are quickly catching up so the smaller places need move the bar up even farther to improve their customer’s experience.

It is no different no matter what business you are running. If you’re small owner you can move faster than the bigger competition but you must be ready for your next move when they start catching up.

So how do you stay up with the latest trends? Research, Research, Research, and when you have done lots of research you need to do more of it. Does not sound like a lot of fun but it is the only way to see what is happening out in the marketplace and to implement new ideas before the big boys catch on.

There are many places where you can research what is happening in the marketplace. Your chamber of commerce is a good source, SCORE, magazines, Google searches, and many others.

The question is, what are you doing to stay ahead?

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Stamp out that Negativity...

My Motivational Poster - Attitude v1.1Image by heath_bar via Flickr

Last week I mentioned one of my favorite blogs, the Zen Habits blog. Today the article comes from another one of my favorite blogs which is the Positivity Blog with a new entry called 8 Awesome Reasons to Blast Negativity Out of Your Life, and How to Do It

Negativity is one of the biggest challenges we face. Negativity can poison us and keep us from achieving what we truly desire and deserve. It can also harm both personal and business relationships.

Think for a moment, what kind of people would you rather be around? Someone is always griping and complaining, or someone that has a positive outlook? Which one makes you feel better and which one brings you down?

A perfect example is my wife’s brother in law. While he can be a nice guy, he is so negative that after a while I just have to get away. As Zig Ziglar would say “they brighten up a whole room by leaving it”.

On the other hand, I had a manager one time that was always positive. Even when things were not going well you could always count on him to have a positive attitude and as we called him “the little ball of fire”. Guess what? Everyone wanted to be around him and the energy level of the store increased when he was present.

The Positivity blog has several suggestions to help you to keep your attitude positive so go over and take a look.
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