Category: SME

 
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Competing With Color Levels The Playing Field

According to the United States Small Business Administration, small businesses represent 99.7 percent of all employers. There are an estimated 22 million small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in the U.S. today. Such companies are constantly challenged with the need to create a huge impact in a noisy marketplace with a limited budget.

Today, affordable imaging and printing technology makes it possible to build an in-house marketing program. In fact, Revival Lighting, a vintage lighting fixtures company in Spokane, Wash., cut the cost of producing marketing materials 90 percent when they brought marketing in-house. In addition, because marketing materials can age quickly and frequently need updating, companies with the flexibility to respond on the fly will impress customers while reducing costs.

Color has become an effective, even necessary tool in marketing materials. According to a study by Loyola College in Maryland, using color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent.

Bold and multicolored designs can impact people’s moods. Environmental green is considered hip and has taken on new, positive associations, while the combination of blue and floral reds has been found to evoke vintage designs and heritage, according to a 2005 study by The Color Association of the U.S.

In addition to printing materials in-house, SMBs should take advantage of inexpensive and often free marketing services that are available on the Web. For example, HP hosts an in-house-marketing portal for entrepreneurs and SMBs. It contains case studies, how-to seminars and other free tools and information, including over 200 free marketing templates ranging from brochures to an image library.

Blogs-online journals or newsletters intended for general public consumption-are another great tool for learning more about how to use color and create marketing materials in-house. To save time and money, SMB marketing guru John Jantsch, who maintains the popular blog Duct Tape Marketing, recommends that businesses create a marketing kit describing you, your company, services provided and what sets your business apart from the rest.

To improve marketing effectiveness on a shoestring budget, bring it in-house, remember to use color, take advantage of free services and seek out expert advice.

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Business Basics for Catalog Retailers

Catalog retail is a world all it’s own. Many considerations that other retailers don’t have to deal with are of utmost importance to a catalog retailer. To name a few, the ordering process, warehousing and shipping must be streamlined for maximum efficiency. Maintaining a top notch inventory control and receiving department is also very crucial to business success. Above all, however, a catalog retailer must have a quality business phone system.

Considering the fact that the majority of customers will reach you over the phone, it is paramount to be able to not only handle call volume during peak times, but also to provide your customers service representatives with the features they need to do their job well. Business phone systems should be capable of not only putting your customers in touch with you, but also offer routing flexibility, voicemail and forwarding options for the administrative side of your company. Often, the difference maker for catalog retailers is not the products they sell, but the service behind those products. People who want to buy will have questions regarding an item that a simple picture and brief description will not answer. Most companies have service reps who take orders and product specialists who are familiar with the inventory.

It is essential for the product specialists to have access to a phone system that will accurately and easily allow them to receive and transfer calls between departments. After the initial contact by the sales representatives, the most common transfer of waiting customers will be to product specialists and hopefully back to the sales reps. A customer who is dropped accidentally during this transfer is likely to not call back. Additionally, customers who are made to hold for extended periods of time without an automated message thanking them for their patience are a primary example of lost revenue that could be curtailed by the proper business phone system. All in all, a well thought out business phone system is an integral necessity for any company, but it is especially important for catalog retailers.

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Boomers Have Big Hopes For Small Businesses

As they approach retirement age, many baby boomers are considering alternatives to retirement.

A growing number of them plan to forgo golf, travel and other pursuits to continue working through what have long been considered the retirement years. According to a report by AARP, 80 percent of those born from 1946 to 1964 plan to work after retirement.

Some are taking this time of their lives to start a small business. In fact, AARP also reported that 40 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs are over 50.

For those thinking to take advantage of this trend, Paul and Sarah Edwards, self-employment lifestyle experts and authors of “The Best Home Businesses for People 50+,” offer some advice. “Starting a small business out of the home at any age can be very challenging but rewarding,” says Edwards. “However, Sarah and I have developed a few tips for our fellow boomers to keep in mind when embarking on this exciting new phase of their life.”

– Do it Your Way. A home- based career allows you to decide everything from how much time you want to dedicate to your business to where you want to be located.

– No More Office. Many experts believe that taking a business online is the easiest way to accomplish your goal of working while maintaining freedom. If your small business is located online, you have low overhead costs and can be found by customers around the globe without regard to where you are located.

– Have an Online Presence. Virtually every business can be helped with a presence on the Web. This is easier than it seems if you work with a reputable Web solutions partner.

For example, Network Solutions focuses on small businesses by offering products and services such as Do-It-For-Me Web sites (DIFM), easy-to-use templates and 24/7 customer consultants. Such services provide you with a Web partner that will enhance your business.

– Do What You Enjoy. “Becoming your own boss is an opportunity to do something you want to do,” says Sarah Edwards. “For example, you can spend as much time as you want on a hobby because you’re making money in the process, or helping other people or working with the kind of customers you choose to work with.”

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Don’t start it, buy it!

Why should you buy a business versus starting
your own? Here are ten solid reasons:

1) The success rate for businesses purchased is much higher than the success rate for a new business startup. Just ask your accountant.

2) An established customer base means immediate cash flow! Enough said.

3) It is much easier to find capital to buy an existing business than to start a new one. Why? See reason #2 above. Bankers are not dumb. They know the statistics. Bankers are much more willing to lend money when there is an identified source of repayment already in place.

4) Many sellers are willing to carry-back financing at very reasonable terms. Why? For income tax reasons. They would prefer to defer any gain over a longer period versus taking a gain all at once. And if a seller is willing to carry back any part of the purchase price, it tells you the seller believes that the business will continue to succeed under your management.

5) Projections for a startup are nothing more than an educated guess. Projections for existing businesses for sale are based on historical results. Which is more reliable?

6) Startups always, I repeat, ALWAYS cost more to start than expected. For the money you will end up spending to start that new business (which may or not succeed) you could have probably purchased an existing business with immediate cash flow.

7) You may actually need to come up with less cash for your down payment plus working capital when you buy an existing business than you would need if you started your own business. Why? With owner carry financing and a performing track record, your existing business purchase is very bankable. A new startup is not very bankable. The cash required to get the new business to a cash flow positive is unknown. And it eats cash.

8) An established web site presence. Although each business will vary, most businesses rely to some extent on a business web site. The longer a web site has been established, and the more traffic that web site receives, the more value search engines place on that site. This is important as your web site ranking determines your placement in search engine results. In other words, building a new web site is not enough. Customers still need to find it. A quality, established web site can be a real asset, something that a new startup will not have.

9) Many businesses listed for sale are actually very fairly priced. One can often find a business for sale that will sell for three to four times cash flow. Think about it. Four times cash flow equates to a 25% annual cash return on investment. 25% will usually cover all debt service and still leave a decent return for the investor.

10) Less brain damage. Just ask anyone who has been ‘wrung through the wringer’ by starting their own business. Always wondering if customers would really come.

Think about it. It really is a pretty easy decision.

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Business Journals – A Strong Business Planning Tool

Business journals, or diaries, are an excellent way to record your business growth and progress. Business journals are extremely valuable in providing you with some amazing insight. By recording what you have done you can reflect and see where your time is going, where your growth spurts have occurred, whatís working and whatís not.

Plotting your course in a business journal lets you see opportunities with ease and clarity. It’s hard to see what is right in front of us but when you revisit what you did a week or a month ago, your perspective on the situation is often different enough that you can analyze the situation much more effectively.

Business Journal Tips

Use a good old fashioned paper and pencil business journal as opposed to an electronic or online version. It’s easy and it’s accessible everywhere.
Take five minutes before you go to bed every night and write down three or four sentences and bullet points about what you feel you accomplished that day.

On the back page of your business journal start a business idea log or brainstorm list that addresses two questions: ideas for getting leads and clients and ideas on how to increase service revenue.

By recording this type of information every day you will have a permanent record of what you thought about doing, what you have done, and how successful your ideas were. Your business journal will show you where you have been and it will help you determine where you should do.

The Bottom Line on Business Journals

A business journal allows you to efficiently organize your ideas and record both what you have tried and things you are thinking about trying but haven’t quite put on the planning radar screen. At the front of your business journal you’ll write three or four sentences every day on what happened to help your business grow and in the back you’ll put ideas on where to find more leads and clients and get more services revenue. By using your business journal on a daily basis you will create a powerful tool that helps you get the right perspecive and helps you both operate and grow your business.

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Computer Consultant Startup: Identify Your Business Skills

Computer consultants need to have the right mix of business and technical skills to succeed with small businesses. Do you have the right skill-set to be a successful small business computer consultant?

Since you’re taking the time to read this article right now, it’s a good sign that you have what it takes to become a computer consultant. You’re in the small minority of people who have recognized that this is a business and needs to be run like one.

A Good Computer Consultant Has More Than Just Technical Skills

It’s not about playing with the latest routers or wi-fi device or VPNs or firewalls. Sure, you have to have a certain amount of skills to make a successful computer consultant because people are buying your expertise. At the end of the day, though, it’s a business.

In order for the business to be successful, you have to know a few things about getting revenue in and keeping your expenses down. You also need to forecast and be able to bill, negotiate, and network properly.

There are a lot of stubborn techies out there who think that studying the Windows Server Resource Kit is going to tell them what they need to know about running a business. Not true. It’s going to teach you about registry keys and directories and things like that.

Even a Computer Consultant Needs a Good Resume

If you’re currently self-employed, you may not have an up- to-date resume, but for most people looking to transition into the business to become a computer consultant you probably do have a resume. Take out a copy of your resume and a yellow highlighter marker and go through and highlight every sentence or phrase in your resume that describes a project or a job or a skill that you think would be relevant or marketable to the owner of a small company.

Categorize the Items on Your Resume

Go through it and look for all the phrases and the jobs and the projects that you’ve worked on for the past couple of years and think about what’s going to catch the eye of a typical small business owner or manager. Once you’ve done that, go back through each highlighted item and mark whether it was IT related, whether it had to do with understanding how to run a business or whether it had to do with being able to communicate effectively.

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