‘No website’ means it’s time to get to work

January 25, 2011

By Mark Evans

I recently read a story about an appliance repair service, which is apparently something of a rarity given the disposable nature of most appliances these days.

At the end of the article, the company’s contact information was listed but surprisingly it included a tagline that said “No Web site.” As someone who is digitally engaged (obsessed?), a company without a website is like a person applying for a job without a resume. In this day and age, a website is a standard business feature – just like a phone number.

Even if we’re talking about a simple site with a few pages, it has to be part of how a business operates. An increasing number of consumers are turning to the Internet to find products and services, so not having website means being invisible to them.

It means that doing a search for “appliance repair in Toronto” would not include this business even though it is one of only a handful in Toronto. If the company did have a website, it would probably rank near the top of the search engine results, which would be good for business.

For some businesses, particularly small ones, a website can be intimidating because the owners may not be web savvy or understand the mechanics of building and maintaining a site. While there are lots of people and companies who develop websites, it can be challenge to decide on a particular supplier when you don’t have a lot of knowledge about what’s involved.

A good way to cut through the clutter is to ask friends for recommendations. If you come across a good small-business website, you could contact the owners to see if they would provide information about who developed it.

A small but solid website with a good design should cost about $5,000, although the work can be done for less by someone who is a one-person operation. Before committing to anyone, ask to see their portfolio and referrals.

For businesses looking for a quick and easy way to have a web presence, there are several options. Yellow Pages, for example, offers an online listing service for small businesses willing to pay a monthly fee. The downside is that Yellow Pages uses a template, which doesn’t offer much opportunity for customization. And some business may not want to pay a monthly fee just for a listing.

Another option is to use a service such as Homestars.com, which lets companies in the home renovation and repair business establish a web presence without the need for their own website.

A down, dirty and free approach that is far from perfect but functional is using WordPress.com or Blogger.com. Both are blogging services as opposed to website services but they can be tweaked to tell the world what you do and how you can be contacted. If anything, they serve as a short-term solution.

Whatever option is selected, the bottom line is that businesses need a web presence of some kind – whether it is a full-blown website, a listing or a corporate profile on a service that promotes small businesses. To not have a web presence is like cutting off your nose to spite your face … or not having a telephone number.

Source:  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/your-business/start/mark-evans/no-website-means-its-time-to-get-to-work/article1872670/


All About the Brand

January 24, 2011

It’s all about the brand.

If you are embarking on a new venture, how should you envision and develop your brand? Let’s start with a quick sketch of what a brand does.

Brands exist as a means of communicating what to expect from a product or service. Subscribers to a magazine or newspaper expect a certain perspective and subject matter; families look forward to taking their kids to see the new Pixar movie, regardless of whether it’s about animals, toys or cars. The Virgin brand tells you that using this credit card is rather like using this airline, which, in turn, is rather like using this health club, staying in our hotels, and paying into this pension fund. It is a guarantee that you’ll be treated well, that you’ll get a high-quality product that won’t dent your bank balance, and you’ll get more fun out of your purchase than you expected.

Should you follow the Virgin formula and focus your new company on providing a certain customer experience? It really depends on the type of business you are in. We are in consumer-facing sectors where service is key. You need to assess what is core to yours.

When you are creating your first ads, designing a logo and reaching out to potential customers for the first time, you may be tempted to create a brand that’s very corporate and remote. Too many companies want their brands to reflect some idealized, perfected image of themselves. As a consequence, their brands acquire no texture, no character and no public trust.

In contrast, Virgin wears its sense of humor on its sleeve. It has to do with our wanting to be honest about the ups and downs of our business and to share what we think with the people who matter most to us — our customers. The people who see our ads are the same people who read about our tussles, our setbacks and our mistakes. So why would we want to pretend the real world doesn’t affect us?

Almost everybody in Britain knows of our run-ins with British Airways over the years. We had a lot of fun when we introduced onboard massages on Virgin Atlantic, running an advertisement in the newspapers saying “British Airways doesn’t give a shiatsu!”

Whatever you and your team decide that your new brand will stand for, you will have to deliver on that promise. So when you’re having these discussions, be honest about what it is you’re offering.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver, and then deliver everything you promise. That’s the only way you’ll ever control your brand. And beware: brands always mean something. If you don’t define what the brand means, your competitors will. Apple’s ads contrasting a fit, happy, creative Mac with a fat, glum, nerdy PC tell you all you need to know about how that works.

So, what’s next? For any business building a consumer brand, speaking to journalists is part of the deal. Be prepared! Know what you stand for and be certain that you’re delivering it. Then you’ll be able to answer every question openly and frankly, building your relationships with your customers and the media.

Exerpted from “It’s All About the Brand” by Richard Branson

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more about the Virgin Group http://www.virgin.com.

Source:  http://www.openforum.com/idea-hub/topics/managing/article/its-all-about-the-brand-richard-branson


Business Structure For A Home Business

January 21, 2011

I blogged the other day about the new small side business venture I’m planning on exploring: Selling photographs I’ve taken in Europe, at Niagara Falls, in California, etc. I also stated that I would document this unfolding process for your information and mine.

My most recent contact was with my long time accountant, “Tom.” I assumed the correct form of business structure was a sole proprietorship and asked Tom if this form allowed deductions for assorted expenses. Please see below for my question and Tom’s answer:

Q: I am considering a side business selling photographs taken in Europe and Niagara Falls.
Should I consider any business structure other than a sole proprietorship? Estimated income is from a few hundred dollars per year, to perhaps a thousand or two.

If using the sole proprietorship option, can I deduct expenses: Craft show costs, framing, etc? What paperwork do you need me to maintain? Am I missing anything else I need to provide for either you or the IRS?

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A: For your business you can deduct direct supplies and materials, and selling expenses such as craft shows mileage to get there advertising etc.

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Simple process: Ask a qualified expert about options, document any expenses, and market the product to your chosen niche. With a little planning, fair pricing, and a desirable product, I can make a little extra money on the side. My plan is to sell primarily from a web site with a few craft or art shows added for more exposure. Once again, if I can do this, you can too. Use your talents and contacts, look for opportunity, and follow through!

Best of all, a sole proprietorship structure costs nothing for my venture.

A sole proprietorship, also known as a sole trader or simply a proprietorship, is a type of business entity that is owned and run by one individual and in which there is no legal distinction between the owner and the business. The owner receives all profits (subject to taxation specific to the business) and has unlimited responsibility for all losses and debts. Every asset of the business is owned by the proprietor and all debts of the business are the proprietor’s. This means that the owner has no less liability than if they were acting as an individual instead of as a business. It is a “sole” proprietorship in contrast with partnerships.1


By Dion D Shaw

Dion Shaw is the founder and owner of Homepreneurs.

1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sole_proprietorship


5 Budgeting Ideas for Every Small Business Owner

January 20, 2011

Scott Allen
Jan 17, 2011 -

Managing cash flow is one of the most challenging aspects of being a business owner. Learning to budget, however, can help you overcome this challenge.

Many entrepreneurs leave a secure job to run a business. When you do this, you move from earning a regular income to earning a more haphazard income, which can make personal budgeting difficult. The haphazard nature of business income is one of the risks of running a small business. The following tips will help any entrepreneur or small business owner reduce the risks by creating a workable budget for the business.

1. Create a Realistic Cash Flow Projection

Don’t assume your sales will live up to your projected market potential in your first year or two of operation. Your dream business may be terrific, but reality is often quite different. While it can be difficult to project income since you don’t know exactly how sales will go in any month, be as realistic in your projections as possible. It’s better to underestimate your potential business income than to overestimate when you come to budgeting.

2. List Your Essential Expenses

Essential expenses incurred in running a business include wages, taxes, rent or mortgage payments on the business property, and operating expenses such as power, water, Internet and telephone bills. You may also have legal obligations that incur a cost, such as registering your business name. When you estimate your initial startup costs, include all the essential expenses for the first six months, as this will give you some time to get your business up and running. Even if you work from home, there will be essential services and costs you’ll need to pay for your business.

3. List Discretionary Business Expenses

Discretionary expenses for a business could include buying some supplies, especially in the initial startup of a business. Do you really need to purchase new plants for the office in the first month? Or to provide free coffee or sodas for your employees? Decide which items you want, but could live without until your business can afford to purchase the items without going into debt.

While people trying to sell you advertising may tell you otherwise, expenditure on marketing is not a required cost of doing business. If your business is self-funded, or any time cash flow is tight, focus on marketing strategies that are either free — networking, public speaking, media outreach, and even cold calling — or pay-for-performance, such as affiliate marketing or referral programs. For budgeting purposes, it’s best to set your marketing expenses as a percentage of sales. Exactly what percentage depends on your industry and business model, but 2-10 percent is the starting range recommended by both SCORE and the SBA. Note, though, that it may need to be as high as 20 percent or more in certain industries, particularly during the critical brand-building stage.

4. Reduce Debt Quickly

While it may be difficult to start a business without incurring some debt, you’ll want to reduce the debt as quickly as possible. Debt costs the business more in interest repayments, so having a budget that has the business operating in the black sooner is always a good idea. If you do take out a debt for your business, ensure you will be able to make the repayments every month.

5. Never Spend All of Your Profits

Always keep some of your profits in reserve to cover contingencies. Work out a spending budget that spends less than you expect to make. Even if you are operating a small business from home, do not pay yourself all of the business profits each month. Instead, work out a reasonable wage for yourself and pay it regularly, as part of the budgeted expenses of the business. If your sales are higher than you expect in one month, don’t be tempted to splurge in the next month. Keep to your written budget and keep the additional profits aside. That way, if the sales fall unexpectedly in one month, you’ll have reserve funds available to cover the shortfall.

Write out your business budget and ensure that your expenditure is less than your actual (not projected) income. A successful business is one where both business profits and personal income for the business owner and founders continue to rise. Good budgeting techniques will help you achieve both.

Scott Allen is Vice President of Marketing for OneCoach, a business growth coaching and consulting firm that helps successful entrepreneurs achieve even more. He is coauthor of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online, The Emergence of The Relationship Economy, and a contributor to over a dozen books on entrepreneurship, marketing and social media.

Source:  http://www.openforum.com/idea-hub/topics/money/article/5-budgeting-ideas-for-every-small-business-owner-scott-allen?cid=em-smartbrief


What is Innovation?

January 18, 2011

When I’m out on the road speaking to audiences about innovation, it is reinforced again and again that innovation has become a buzzword, and much in the same way that people struggle to define love – there is no commonly accepted definition for innovation. Try asking someone:

“What is love?”

And then see if their definition matches your own. Chances are it will be completely different. Then ask them:

“What is innovation?”

Try this with a group of people and then the fun really begins.

In many cultures people talk about a language of love, mostly because the subject baffles most of us and we are always failing to truly communicate our love to the special people in our lives. And, if you think about it, often the most successful love language is non-verbal. I’m afraid this won’t work for innovation.

From the Language of Love to the Language of Innovation

So, let’s examine the importance of the language of innovation, or to be specific, the importance of creating and sharing a common language of innovation in your organization. This begins with actively defining in cross-functional groups (multi-level if possible) what you want innovation to mean in your organization. It may sound like a silly or pedestrian exercise, but my experience working with organizations looking to commit to innovation has shown repeatedly the necessity of getting everyone speaking the same language before an innovation effort begins. And you know what?

Most organizations skip this step.

You may think that everyone in your organization knows what innovation means, or that it should be obvious what you want your innovation efforts to achieve and that you can just skip this step. But, how many of you would build a product without at least a business, marketing, product or technical requirements document?

An Exercise in Perspective

I don’t want to give away the exercise I do in my speeches, so here is a new one for this article. Imagine that you work for an automobile manufacturer and I were to task you with the solving the following technical challenge, and think about what your approach would be:

“How would you make our automobiles use less gasoline?”

Now, some of you might focus on making the automobile lighter, others might focus on making the engine more efficient, still others would focus on making it more aerodynamic, and a few of you would think about ways to make an automobile that ran on something other than gasoline altogether.

Ask the innovation question in the wrong way and you will get different innovation results than you expect.

While it may be good sometimes to have people going off in lots of different directions, that needs to be a conscious choice, otherwise the innovation energy of your organization will dissipate and little will be achieved. You must focus the innovation energy of your organization and that is done by defining what innovation means to your organization and what the common language around innovation will be.

Getting Started

As I described in Innovation is No Accident, a formalized approach to innovation begins with defining what innovation means for your organization and by creating a common language for the organization . So, how will you define innovation in your organization?

As a thought-starter, here is my definition of innovation:

“Innovation transforms the useful seeds of invention into solutions valued above every existing alternative – that are then widely adopted.”

For me, value is the key. To truly be successful at innovation, you must increase the value enough to overcome the pain of switching from their existing solution (even if that is the ‘no solution’ solution).

But, you must decide with those in your organization what innovation means to you, what your common language of innovation is, and make a plan to communicate these things out to the entire organization. Creating a language of innovation is more than just defining what innovation means to your organization. It also requires you to agree how you are going to talk about innovation in your organization and often it is wise to combine these with communications of your innovation vision, strategy and goals – but that’s a topic for another day.

For now, I leave you to explore the important work of creating your own shared innovation language.

Parlez vous innovation?

Braden Kelley is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden is also the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy, and @innovate on Twitter.

Source:  http://www.openforum.com/idea-hub/topics/innovation/article/the-language-of-innovation-braden-kelley


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