Category Archives: Small Business

How to Find a Corporate Strategic Partner to Assist in Bringing Inventions to the Marketplace

Many entrepreneurs do not think about teaming up with a corporate strategic partner to fund their invention or idea and/or to bring it to the marketplace. Today, finding a corporate partner is one of the better ways to tap money sources. A corporate strategic partner can provide the capital resources, credit, management expertise, distribution channels, and/or manufacturing services necessary to successfully market your product or service. A corporate strategic alliance can provide needed funds for research, development, and marketing your product or service.

There are several advantages to partnering with large corporations. First, a corporate partner is usually willing to wait longer to receive a return on its investment than traditional lenders or investors such as bankers or venture capitalists. The return on the investment is not as important as the potential of establishing new divisions. If corporate partners are interested in taking an equity position in your business, you probably will give up less ownership than working with a venture capitalist.

Corporate partners can contribute more than capital to your business. They may offer good business advice and moral support and provide state-of-the-art technology. Establishing a corporate strategic alliance can also provide valuable contacts in the business and financial community.

The disadvantages of corporate strategic alliances include loss of control or the risk of the corporate partner making demands that you are opposed to. For example, you could be required to share your research results in exchange for use of its facilities. Also, your affiliation with one corporation may affect your ability to sell your product to its competitors. Or corporate mission and goals could change, causing your corporate partnership to sour.

To identify a potential corporate partner, look for corporations searching for complementary products to distribute through their existing channels. The key is to find a corporation with the resources but not the time, commitment, or creativity to pursue the product or service you provide. Remember, corporations are mainly interested in building and strengthening their basic business. Therefore, your output must fit their mission and goals.

Focus on corporations that are interested in early-stage ventures and have already invested in your industry. Also look for a corporation that might be interested in the right to license your invention.

An excellent resource for structuring corporate strategic alliances is Winning Combinations by James W. Botkin.

Transform Personal Talents into Small Businesses: Tips for Promoting Unique Skills for Small Profits

Whether it’s the party-throwing skills that put together a blockbuster Christmas bash or the back-breaking gardening skills learned in grandma’s backyard, find a purpose for talents abandoned for real employment opportunities. A reputation among friends and family for a special skill may be more than just bragging; sometimes it may signal a gift worth a small or occasional profit.

A few simple tips below can help utilize or promote a special skill in the form of a business or promote the money-making side of a talent. From small items like order slips to big efforts like self-promotions and business stands, find an outlet that best showcases a skill and increases the chance for business success.

Promoting Small Business with Parties

What better way to showcase a special talent than with a party? While it sounds slightly silly, convincing friends and neighbors than a talent is worth paying for takes time and effort. Organize a party that entertains guests while displaying the business idea front and center.

Kick off a landscaping business with a “lawn party” that shows off elaborate landscaping skills for free in a volunteer’s yard, complete with a few hands-on training techniques. As a kids party coordinator, host a “party” party that lets potential clients sample a variety of potential party themes, from decorations and games to music and snacks.

Keep the money investment in the party to a minimum, but make the best effort to showcase the business concept in its best light. If nothing else, the party will be a good time for the host and guests even if the business doesn’t fly.

Advertising Small Business

Advertising is one of the most expensive and important aspects of starting a business. Rather than suck any business funds dry, try using personal and offbeat means of advertising to promote a small business, especially a part-time venture based on personal skills.

Cheap t-shirts with creative iron-on logos are a great means of promotion; pass them out for free or wear a thought-provoking version to self-advertise in public. Be a shameless promoter for the business, printing off flyers to post (where legal) in neighborhoods and business bulletin boards; consider offering a service partially or wholly free to a potential client capable of recommending the business to others.

Promoting Personal Skills

Personally designed order slips for handicrafts, artistic projects, or creative designs are a great way to promote a small business and make personal skills accessible to potential clients. Pass them out or carry them along with business literature, so clients can easily make contact with requests. A prompt response to work out order and payment details using the information on the slip, makes a professional impression on customers.

Since personal or small businesses are always a risk, weigh carefully the consequences of taking on any debt, such as expensive business equipment or investing in advertising, stationary, and other costly features. Remember to have fun with any business venture, regardless of its outcome.

Small Business Increase Sales to Make Money: Do Market Analysis to Develop Effective Sales Growth Strategies

A small business represents a financial investment and to make money lots of things need to go right. Market analysis is the fundamental starting point as without understanding the competitive environment and customers there is no potential profit. Good market analysis will lead to a clear understanding of the customer and their buying patterns. Consequently, this will help to develop clear strategies, including sales strategies to improve your product or service to customers and to increase sales growth and make money.

Market Analysis

Comprehensive market analysis will help to determine the opportunity to increase sales growth and what barriers there may especially in the form of other competitors. Market analysis must perform two core goals:

  1. Define market opportunity in terms of size and customer segment
  2. Define competitive landscape

Tools such as SWOT analysis and Porter Five Forces model will be useful in this context.

General Sales Strategies

Sales strategies will usually focus on one of three core approaches:

  • New – introduction of a completely new product or product design or the latest and greatest version for example cars, electronics, mobile phones, etc.
  • Differentiation – establishing a brand that will typically command a higher price for example designer clothes and accessories, premium brand cars, etc.
  • Price – low cost or commodity pricing to reach a mass market for example budget airlines, etc.

Business Sales Strategy

To exploit the market opportunity the business needs to select the right sales strategy and try to build on business strengths – things that the business is very good at. For example, a small business may decide that their focus to increase sales should be on building a local brand based on excellent customer service, especially the after sales service. If existing staff are not good at providing this service then they need training to make this strategy work. This service approach would be very different to a stack-them-high-and-sell-them-cheap strategy. A business sales strategy must combine:

  • Market opportunity that can be exploited by the business in the face of existing competition
  • Business strengths that will reinforce the sales approach

Increase in Sales

The selected sales strategy needs to be targeted at the customer segment and exploit their buying patterns to increase sales growth and make money for example:

  • Unique selling point such as a new product with a stylish design, build quality or more exclusive
  • Seasonal influences such as greeting card based on time of year or specific anniversaries
  • Preferred channels such as retail outlet or internet
  • Sales incentives such as promotions, money back guarantees, after sales service

Ideally, feedback from customers will inform the sales strategy to allow the business to increase sales by giving the customer more of what they want.

Small Business Ideas: How to Live the American Dream of Owning a Business

Starting a small business is an exciting time in a person’s life. The business owner gets to become the boss, can come and go as he or she pleases, and has the final say in all business decisions. It is this sort of independence, free will, and self-determination that truly personifies the great American dream.

 Before Starting a New Business

Before starting a new business, the prospective business owner should visit the U.S. Small Business Administration website for comprehensive information on starting, managing, and expanding a small business. Other information includes how to formulate a business plan and how to obtain SBA loans.

Turning Hobbies and Interests into a Small Business

Many successful small business owners have started a business based on their hobbies and interests. These may include sewing pillows and clothing; opening an antique or thrift shop; making birdhouses; starting an automotive shop; or arts such as pottery and painting. Also applicable is travel. The owner of popular Iceland travel site Iceland in 8 Days decided to turn an Iceland vacation into an income stream and tax write-off by creating a full travel site around the excursion.

Small Business Ideas

Many other small business ideas have provided small business owners with independence and financial security. It still takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but given time and patience, the business owner can reap the benefits of owning a small business. Other small business ideas include:

  • HVAC. For the HVAC professional who has been in the business for 8-10 years, starting an HVAC business may be lucrative. HVAC is a recession-proof industry – all homes and businesses must run their HVAC systems year-round, and problems must be fixed by someone. This same principle applies to electricians and plumbers.
  • Lawn Care and Landscaping Services. Lawn care and landscaping is another recession-proof industry. The grass, weeds, and bushes never stop growing – and somebody has to trim them to keep property values up and everything looking tidy.
  • Pest Control Services. Pests such as roaches, ants, spiders, rats, and mice invariably invade homes around the world. The first line of defense is a pest control service, who sprays away those uninvited guests.
  • Consulting or Freelancing Business. This can include a graphic design business, accounting business, technical writing business, training business, and much more. The small business owner can either hire a staff and start a full-blown consulting business, or go solo and freelance for journals, magazines, news media, and the internet.
  • Handyman. Handyman services are particularly in demand among the elderly who may not be able to perform minor household repairs on their own. These services include painting, window repair, fixing leaks, and much more. A more apt title for this business idea would be “Handyperson,” since more women are choosing this business opportunity. This can even extend to things like MIG welding, with a portable Hobart Handler 190 a good choice.
  • Janitorial and Maid Services. Janitors and maids provide a valuable service to everyone: keeping things clean. So long as there are homes and businesses, there will always be a need for janitors and maids; hence the reason this is a great idea for a small business.
  • Hair Care Professionals. Everyone has at least a little hair on their heads, or perhaps just want a new look. Thus, there will always be a need for talented hair care professionals. Some have opened up hair salons in their homes, and have reaped the benefits of making money from home.

These are just a few of the hundreds of small business ideas available to those who would like to own their small piece of the American dream. Though small business owners must overcome some challenges along the way, owning a small business can be very rewarding at the same time.

Protecting a Small Business from Disaster: A Different Approach

The Small Business Administration (SBA) reports that 85% of small businesses that go through a disaster event never recover. Key to ensuring that businesses not go under is planning for business continuity. Ensuring that a company is resilient is crucial to protecting the company from failure. This is the first of four articles on preparing a small business for disaster. For this series, a small business is any establishment that has fewer than 200 employees, and/or an income of less than $25 million in earnings per year. However for any business,whether it is a micro-business, a medium-sized business, or a major corporation, these tips are practical and worth exploring.

The articles will cover the following areas:

  • Protecting a Small Business from Disaster: A Different Approach
  • Risk Analysis and Mitigation
  • Creating and Executing a Business Continuity Plan
  • Realistic BCP Exercises and Testing: Beyond DR

Business Continuity = RESILIENCY

Business continuity is not a project that ends when a document is created, signed by the Board, tested, and filed away. First, banish the word “recovery” from the company dictionary. The goal is not to recover from a disaster; it is to continuethrough the event without failing the company’s primary stakeholders: the employees, the customer, and the owners, whether shareholders or the company founder(s). A business owner should consider business resiliency as integral to their business operations. Each area of the organization should be built to continue if there is a disaster. Resiliency is as much a part of the bottom line of any business as location, information technology (IT) support, or a loan from the local bank.

Send a message: this is serious business

Do not look at continuity as an “add-on” duty. Take the approach of ensuring that the company’s existence depends on the ability to continuefunctioning no matter what happens. Continuity planning should be someone’s full time job. That person and their staff (if they have one) should report directly to the CEO or the COO. This makes it clear to everyone in the organization that continuity matters: resiliency is what will keep the organization flowing.

While the Business Continuity Manager may want to have a disaster recovery specialist on the team, the BCM manager should be someone who understands how businesses work and how resiliency can boost the bottom line. Focus on hiring someone who has the outlook that business continuity affects everyone from the janitor to the C-suite. If necessary, hire a consultant to help get the Business Continuity Management department started.

A steering committee should be formed that involves the managers or subject matter experts from throughout the organization. This may include the CEO/owner,COO, CFO/accountant, warehouse supervisor, head of retail management, or whatever is appropriate for the business. The steering committee will determine what the risks are to the organization, what the critical tasks/functions are, and what strategy to take for mitigation and continuous resiliency. The committee does not have to be static; people can be added or released as needed. But the top people in the company are permanent members. Again, this lets everyone know that resiliency is just as important to the organization as accounting, sales, and the fashion buyers.

Focus on Resiliency

Company management must be committed to looking at every area of the company and determining how to continue the business of business during a disaster.

The first issue is to expand the definition of the word “disaster” to this one, as defined in the Disaster Recovery Journal’s Glossary of BCP terms: “A sudden, unplanned catastrophic event causing unacceptable damage or loss.”

This definition is broad enough for the focus of this article. A sudden drop in stock prices that cuts the company’s cash reserves in half in an hour is a disaster because the loss is unacceptable. Has your company already secured credit that can be tapped during a sudden downturn? At reasonable rates? The head of Accounting, who is actually the entire Accounting department, survives a heart attack on Thursday and decides to retire. Immediately. Who is going to take over on Friday morning and get the payroll processed? A wild fire burns down your warehouse full of spring fashions on February 28, just as the sales circular is arriving at prospective customer’s houses. How quickly can stock be replenished?

Oh, and someone forgot to do the backups in the IT department for the last three days. So when the air conditioners go out and the servers crash from the heat (I have seen it happen), there is a good chance that the transactions for the last three days are not recoverable.

In traditional Business Continuity Plans, only the heart attack and the IT debacle are considered in planning. Challenge the BCP Steering Committee to create a list of all of the risks to the company. Do not worry about going overboard. Only colonization by Martians is off limits. Cutting the brainstorming list down to a reasonable and manageable number during a risk analysis will be discussed in the next article.

Continuous Resiliency

Finally, consider the day-to-day activities of the organization. What steps can be taken to ensure that, no matter what happens, the business continues to run? If the electricity goes out, do the cashiers have calculators? Do they know how to use them? If the price of gas goes up to $5 a gallon, have all of the landscapers been trained in fuel consumption, and do they use those procedures daily? If a fire breaks out at the charter school, have the students and teachers been trained in evacuation?

Resiliency requires the company management to create procedures that are not only efficient, saving money and time, but also resilient. Using laptops for every employee instead of desktops may allow the company to continue processing customer requests from the local coffee shop if the normal workspace is uninhabitable. Better yet, the company can save money on leasing office space by using telecommuters and increase the company’s resiliency by disbursing the staff to different geographical areas. If a tornado hits one area, the entire staff will not be affected, and work may be able to continue.

This article provides a general overview of what a resilient organization should look like. The next article, “Risk Analysis and Mitigation,” will provide an overview of how to determine the risks to a company and how to effectively mitigate them without breaking the bank.

Small Businesses That Thrive Overseas: Deciding Whether a Company Should Compete in the Global Marketplace

Webkinz, Amazon and Overstock all have one important thing in common. These big companies did not exclude the global marketplace when they focused on expanding their business. Today, they are major players in their fields, both overseas and at home. So, should every business owner focus on growing globally? Not necessarily. The folks at Shipwire.com talk about businesses that should concentrate on global sales in this interview.

What Types of Businesses Do Well When They Expand to Include the Global Marketplace?

Two types of businesses absolutely must have an international growth story: 1) Niche Product manufacturers; and, 2) Established online retailers.

If you are manufacturing a new toy, consumer electronic or starting a clothing or apparel line you have to make it easy for buyers to get your projects. If you sell direct-to-consumer the shipping costs has to be low and preferably locally delivered. If you sell b2b or through retailers, you can grow market share by offering distributors and retailers drop-shipping (inventory-less selling) and small minimum order quantities that can be easily restocked; both of these features require local storage.

If you are an established online retailer with a large product catalog – focus on your best sellers. Find a limited selection of inventory that will sell well overseas and focus on just increasing your sales of those products. Don’t worry about selling your whole product catalog overseas. By focusing on best sellers you can optimize your time and investment. If a buyer wants a product that isn’t stored overseas it is an easy conversation and most buyers understand that the product may take longer for delivery; however, you got the sale because you were in market with local products.

Our customers that have gained an international market share include everything from apparel and toy companies to more niche verticals like mattresses and automotive accessories.

What Are the Top Three Things You Wish Every Small Business Owner Knew About Overseas Markets?

  1. The opportunity is there for those looking to expand into key new markets for very little to no extra cost.
  2. You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company to enter overseas market. Look for tools and resources that provide you the flexibility without the high cost.
  3. Make the international market operate like your local market: don’t ship products one-by-one to international recipients. Create working relationships with local warehouses (through Shipwire). An Internet enabled distribution center (warehouse) will help you respond to buyers like a local e-tailer.

Small Business Management: B2B Data Lists Sales Benefits

While it goes without saying that increased business growth comes from increased sales, there is something to be said for the benefits afforded to small business owners who use B2B data lists to shorten the time it takes to find those potential customers and convert them into consistent business. So, what are B2B (business to business) data lists and how can they help small business owners in their marketing & sales efforts?

B2B Data Lists Contain Essential Information on a Given Industry

Business to business data lists provide all the pertinent information on a given market and industry. This information is available through an easy to use database containing information on a company’s key decision makers, their positions, their phone and email addresses, the company’s core competencies as well as the location of the business itself.

 Improving Marketing & Sales Leads is Essential to Business Growth

Every company, regardless of its size, spends a considerable amount of time and money locating customers, gathering information and using that information to close on sales opportunities. Shortening the time it takes to locate those customers, and gather that information, is critical to reducing costs and increasing sales. B2B data lists provide companies with the tools needed to shorten those times and provides the necessary leads to close sales.

Having access to essential customer information is just one benefit of B2B data lists, but there are others. These are summarized below.

  • Improved Sales & Marketing Strategies:

    Successful sales is predicated on being able to reduce the costs of finding and keeping customers. These data lists allow companies to reduce their costs of finding customers while improving their overall sales and marketing initiatives by allowing companies to focus their message to the most interested parties.

  • Improved Telemarketing Strategies:

    Most companies assume telemarketing to simply be calling up anyone about anything. However, telemarketing is simply cold-calling and any small business owner must have a sales team capable of performing cold calls. B2B data lists provide the necessary information to speed up that process.

  • Improved Email Marketing Strategies:

    Email marketing allows companies to focus their message to new and potential customers. It’s cost effective as the only cost pertains to managing the email list. Email marketing allows companies to provide product information, discounts, rebates and pricing initiatives as well as including a company newsletter on industry and market news.

  • Improved Direct Mail Strategies:

    Direct mail is another aspect improved by B2B data lists. While not used in every aspect of business to business sales, it still plays a vital role in a company’s overall marketing campaign. Again, companies can deliver focused marketing messages to the most interested parties.

With some estimates that it costs a company up to four times more to find a new customer than it does to sell to an existing one, it simply goes without saying that to be able to reduce the costs associated with finding customers is a savings in itself. This savings goes directly to the company’s bottom line. Reducing costs means to work smarter. In this case, sales can not only work smarter, but faster and produce results sooner.

Why Have a Small Business Website?: Websites Are Cost-Effective Small Business Solutions

For the small business owner, having a URL on a business card is vital for establishing credibility with new clients and a low cost way to promote the company brand and products. Customers and new clients now expect to find in-depth information on a company website.

When starting a small business, website development must be part of the business plan. In fact, many businesses start as a website first to test the markets before investing in commercial real estate.

A Small Business Website Lends Credibility

Like a good business card, a professional-looking website creates a favourable impression of the company whose name is on it. A well designed website will give users the information they need to feel confidence in the company. For example, a website can offer company history or biographies of the owner and key employees in much more detail than could be conveyed in a conversation.

Small Business Advertising on the Web

There are over 250 million Internet users in North America alone and more than half of them use the Internet to research and makes purchases online. A website is lends itself to a national market that can allow a small business to expand beyond geographic boundaries that may not provide a big enough market in which to succeed.

A Small Business Strategy for Customer Service

A website is always open. Customers can visit the site any time of the day or night, any day of the year. A small business owner can use a website to answer customer questions instantly. By visiting the website, the customer can find out all the products and services offered that they may not have been aware of.

A Cost-Effective Business Idea

Setting up a small business website is easier than ever. For simple sites that give information and contact information only, a website can be maintained in-house for as low as $10 per month. There are many turn-key site and applications where a business owner merely selects a design template and enters the content.

Even websites with simple e-commerce capabilities to allow customers to purchase goods online, can be set up inexpensively and quickly with minimum technical knowledge using any of several applications available.

More complex applications will no doubt require the services of a designer and programmer to set and maintain customized applications.

Having a company website is no longer an option. The small business owner must include a website in any marketing strategy proposed.

Sample Forms for Small Business Bookkeeping: Free Accounting Templates vs. Business Budgeting Software

Many business owners believe that it is necessary to find accounting software in order to perform small business bookkeeping functions. Free accounting templates, such as accounting ledger templates and access databases, allow small business owners to perform accounting functions without expensive software purchases. This reduces expenses as well as training time, due to the level of complexity found in many types of business budgeting software.

An Accounting Ledger Template

Using an accounting ledger template allows entrepreneurs to keep track of small business bookkeeping information. A free general ledger template can be easily downloaded to a computer running Microsoft Excel, or any later version. The template can be used by opening the file with Microsoft Excel, and allows a small business to keep their books without additional expense, or extensive training. Once the accounting ledger template has been opened, information regarding transactions can simply be plugged into the appropriate cell in the pre-made worksheet.

Accounting General Ledger Purpose

In accounting, a general ledger is a vital document for businesses, and consolidates all information found in other accounting documents, including accounts receivables. Also known as a nominal ledger, this allows a business to track revenue and expenses, as well as assets and liabilities and all other vital information. In order for the general ledger to perform its function correctly, all information must be entered, or posted, into collateral documents correctly, and in a timely fashion. Using an accounting ledger template to keep track of general ledger information ensures that this process is error-free, and up-to-date.

Business Budgeting Software Alternatives

Business budgeting software is often expensive. An accounting ledger database, such as this Microsoft Access database, can also be extremely useful as an alternative to business budgeting software, such as Quickbooks. In order to use this database, the destination computer must be running Microsoft Access, version 2003 or later. Users can download the file for free, and customize the information to reflect the needs of specific businesses. This database allows business owners to enter information about transactions, including the date of the transaction, a description, and the amount of the withdrawal.

Accounting Templates for Small Business Bookkeeping

Small business book keeping can be difficult, due to the challenges of learning new types of software, and expensive, due to the costs associated with most kinds of business accounting software. Using accounting templates, such as a Free Travel Expense Report Template, or a Free Time Sheet Template, which can be downloaded via the Internet, allows business owners to keep track of their finances without excessive cost or training. Even Time Tracking Business Software can be bypassed with the use of timecard templates.

Business Cards a Necessity for Small Businesses: Small Companies Need Cheap Custom Business Card Printing

Business cards are just one of the things entrepreneurs need. Many people need more than one card because they run more than one business, or wear more than one hat at one organization. Some specific examples:

  • daycare and other small business owners
  • actors and other artists
  • electricians and other independent contractors
  • cleaning services

Cheap Business Cards Can be of Good Quality

Cheap as in “inexpensive” doesn’t have to mean cheap as in “poorly made.” Small business owners want to find cheap business cards that are high quality, but doing so can be a challenge.

Low prices don’t necessarily mean shoddy workmanship. Low cost can be a result of the bulk buying power that professional printers have. Printers who keep overhead down can also pass on the savings to customers.

Business Card Design Choices Include Creating Own Business Cards, Hiring Graphic Designer

Special business card creating software is available for small business owners to buy, but it isn’t necessary for creating business cards on a home computer. Business cards can be made with programs that are already installed on most personal computers – Microsoft Publisher and Microsoft Word are just two programs that will create business cards.

Hiring a graphic designer or a professional printing company may be a good idea for those who are not confident in their ability to design their own business cards. Local art students, marketing majors and business majors might also be able and willing to design business cards at a low cost. The businessperson can then take the card design to a printer, or make business cards at home.

Business Card Printing Options Include Printing at Home, Sending to Professional Printer

Many people who are starting small or home-based businesses believe that it costs less to print business cards on their home computers. They may plan to use a free program online, use software they already have, or purchase special software.

Printing business cards at home is the least expensive option only when printing a small batch of cards. Buying card stock and computer ink is more expensive than ordering the cards from a printer. If more than a few cards are needed, it is more cost effective to order cards. Purchasing special software also adds to this expense.

Order Business Cards Online From Internet Printers; Possibly Get Discounts, Free Shipping

Ordering business cards online may be the most convenient option for small business owners who have some experience shopping and ordering online. Entrepreneurs can design their own cards, or they can have other professionals design their cards for them. Professionals who design business cards include graphic designers and printers, and local art students can be a good resource.

Online printers or internet printers can be a source of high quality business cards and other printed materials at affordable prices. Most are fast and flexible, offering standard and custom printing options. Small business owners may find them to be less intimidating to deal with than traditional printing houses may be.

Ordering business cards from a professional printer can be the most cost-effective option, whether small business owners design their own business cards, or have the printer design them. Some companies run specials from time to time or offer volume discounts, so customers should be on the lookout for discounts and free shipping when ordering business cards online.