Automate, Automate, Automate! The Tools You Can’t Afford To Live Without

Automation

Advances in technology have made it possible to automate more of your business processes than ever before, and this is an opportunity you really can’t afford to pass up. The fact is that modern business operations are more complex and demanding than in the past, and those who fail to take advantage of available automation systems can be sure their competition will not make the oversight. When competitors boost their efficiency through automation and you don’t, you put yourself at a disadvantage.

Why automate?– To save time, which saves money, which gives you more investment capital to grow on. Automation allows you to get many of your business tasks done without doing them yourself and without hiring an extra employee to handle them.

How can you automate? – There are many tools available, too many to list them all. But 4 of the most important tools that make your life easier by reducing the number of business tasks you must do manually include:

  1. Email Marketing Tools: EMTs, like Active Campaign and MailChimp for example, help you to set up web forms and autoresponders as well as receive email marketing reports on things like open-rates and click-through rates. Auto-responders are particularly helpful because they automatically send out emails after a web form is filled out.
  2. Marketing Automation Tools: MATs, like InfusionSoft and Marketo, are a step above email marketing tools in that you can pre-set rules that will respond to actions related to your follow-up emails. They also allow you to segment contacts more effectively, which lets you keep delivered content relevant and far more likely to see high conversion rates. You can pre-arrange the rules to automatically send the right messages to the right people at the right time.
  3. Contact Relationship Management Tools: CRMs, such as Zoho and Insightly, automate the gathering and storage of valuable data on clients/prospects. They also help with management of sales processes, workflows, and more. With a CRM, Human error is greatly reduced in your files, and updating is easy.
  4. Shopping Cart Tools: Automating online payments with shopping cart solutions, like Shopify or BIG Commerce, is a must for any company selling through its website. Shopping carts can also help you track sales data like purchase quantity and frequency and give prospects the chance to make a purchase through one of your online “sales funnels.” If anything is worth automating, surely it’s the money-making process.

The Magic of Free Promotion: Worth the Time and Effort

depositphotos_26653227_m-2015Every business owner knows, without good promotion the best product in the world won’t get to customers. The challenge is getting your message to interested people. Advertising is one tried and true way of bringing in new customers. Advertising; however, is expensive, and your budget might not support spending so much. So, as a business owner, what can you do to reach a large audience quickly and affordably?

Publicity is an attractive way to reach out to your target market and increase your profile. Positive media coverage is a gift to businesses. That’s why big corporations spend millions on publicity. The good news is that done correctly getting publicity is free. The question is, how do you get the media interested. The following step by step instructions will guide you as you begin connecting with and benefiting from the media.

Step 1. Define How You’re Different Than Your Competition

Employment experts talk a lot about the elevator speech, which is a short statement that allows you to explain quickly who you are and what makes you stand out to prospective employers. The same principle applies to your business. Write out a statement, no more than a few sentences that will tell people what your business has to offer and why you’re better than the competition

Step 2. Set Specific Goals

After writing your statement, develop a list of what you want to accomplish by gaining publicity. Prioritize six objectives and remember to be very concrete and set deadlines. Two examples include gaining more brand recognition in your community and attracting more visitors to your location (physical or virtual).

Step 3. Identify Your Target Market

You define customers by many criteria. Age, gender, buying habits, occupation, income level, geography, and cultural norms. Include anything you can think of that would define the customers who would find value in what you offer. For example, you generally wouldn’t market yachts to factory workers, and you wouldn’t waste your time offering a book on shopping on a budget to the country club set. You need to understand who your potential customers are before you try to reach them. That brings you to step number four.

Step 4. List of Relevant Media Organizations

Create a list of all the media outlets in your local area. Radio and TV, newspapers, magazines, and any others you deem appropriate. Separate and prioritize them by relevance, high, medium, and low and add contact information. Get the names, numbers, email, and other contact information of local reporters, editors, and DJs. You can find most of this is found on their website. Learn who covers what within your industry. Your goal is creating a list of everyone who has influence or decision-making authority about which stories to cover. Make the list as comprehensive as possible. The project will take some effort because lots of research is required; however, the results will serve you well.

Step 5. Develop Relationships with the Media

Building productive media relationships are identical to building any business relationship. The key is focusing on the needs of the people who you can help you. You want attention to your company; they want attention for their publication. Media organizations are always on the hunt for stories that will interest their audience. Your task is getting to know the key players, gaining their respect, and understanding how they work. Ask about their deadlines and the type of stories they seek. Prove with your actions that you can provide, or help them find, good quality content. Placing your focus on them will motivate them to help you. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when working with media people.

  • Remember they are people, just like you
  • Know what they are writing about
  • Read and comment on their work
  • Act with respect
  • Ask what they need
  • Respond to their needs
  • Act Professionally and reliably. Deliver on your promises
  • Keep requests on a realistic level.
  • Most of all become a go-to resource for good ideas and good content.

Step 6. Creating Stories to Pitch

Sometimes, as in the case of a new product, you have a great story to share, and if the new product is groundbreaking, for example, the iPad, it will be relatively easy to get attention. Usually small businesses or startups have to create story angles that pique media interest. Other ideas for stories include events that your planning, important charities you support, expanding with another location, and anything substantive and positive. It is vital that your content is of interest to the media and your customers. Do not waste your contact’s or your customer’s time with fluff. Remember some of the tips from the previous step. Know what reporters are working on, ask what they need, respond to their needs.

Step 7.  How to Pitch Stories

Why is one pitch effective when others quickly find their way into the gone-forever file? What is the difference? The following tips on how to pitch a story to the press are a composite of advice from experts in the public relations field added to reporter’s opinions on what works for them. Some of the items are repeats of previous information, but you will benefit from considering them again.

1.Get specific with who you pitch and make sure they are a good fit for the story. Don’t pitch a story about women’s clothing to a reporter who covers organic produce.

  1. Always read the work of the person you are pitching. Read it carefully and thoroughly so you understand what interests them. Pitch them stories that add value to the original line of thought. Describe how your story will add that value to writer and the readers.
  2. Don’t sell your company, sell the story. The story provides no value unless it helps the cause of the writer, the publication, and especially the readers. Your message will come through but only if they publish the story.
  3. Always act with respect. Sometimes the answer is no. Accept it and move on to pitch another day. Don’t give up easy. Be prepared to offer evidence that proves the value of your story, but don’t get angry and try to bully your way to success.
  4. Be succinct. Don’t go into the whole life story of the company. Get right to the point, say thank you, exchange a few pleasantries, and excuse yourself with the promise to check back at an agreed upon time.
  5. Don’t lie about your reasons for the story. Be honest and upfront at all times. Act with respect.
  6. Resist the temptation of becoming a pest. Call once, email once, or pitch once and then let it go for a respectful period before following up; however, please do follow up. You run the risk of losing many opportunities if you forget to follow up or if you follow late. You’ve worked hard to get to this point, don’t lose your coverage now.

New Media Options to Promote Your Business

So far the focus has been traditional media options, but the world has changed rapidly in the last few decades. Traditional methods are not the only, nor some would argue the best, choice for businesses trying to get the word out.

Social Media has become a way of life, particularly for younger generations. Staying connected with these sites is something you must take advantage of as a business owner. To augment your website, you should have business pages on social sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. These options are an excellent way to explain to people who you are and what you do. Make a habit of posting business related material every day and remember to keep the material relevant to your customer’s needs and interests.

Email lists have become a very useful tool for growing businesses. You inform people about the latest industry trends by sending out a monthly or weekly newsletter. Often these newsletters will contain a call to action that will result in increased sales. Again, like with traditional media, if you create content that provides value for customers they will share that information. Over time, your email list will grow. Some e-commerce businesses operate primarily off of these lists.

Learn to promote your business visually on social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram. Sharing images, video, and other graphic representations are great ways to drive traffic to your website, or customers to your physical location.

YouTube and other video sharing sites are easy and free. Every computer or mobile device comes equipped with camera’s that produce good quality video. Star in your commercials or grab your most adventurous employees and get them ready for their close up. Or just explain what you have to offer and invite people over for a visit. Have fun with it and keep in mind all the catch phrases you’ve heard over the years. You might have one go viral create a new trend.

Take action to ensure your website is mobile friendly. Statistically, more people buy from their mobile device than from their computer. That trend will undoubtedly continue for the foreseeable future.

Tie everything together. Your social media sites, video sharing sites, website, stories in the press, email newsletters, all of it should list information about finding the others. Make sure when people get to one part of your coverage they will find out how to get to all the parts. See you in the media.

What Are the Qualities of a Successful Small Business Owner

depositphotos_84011318_m-2015Successful small business owners come from every background and have as diverse of personalities as anyone else, but they also tend to have certain character qualities in common. These qualities directly impact the way they think about their business and the way they manage it. While a full list of pertinent traits would be indeed voluminous, here below we discuss only a handful of the most important ones:

Visionary: Having a clear view of precisely what it is you want your business to ultimately become and why the product or service it provides is important is the very definition of a “business vision.” Without a vision, it will be difficult to stay “driven to succeed” because there will be no higher purpose for your activities than getting through the “daily grind.”

Goal-oriented: Long and short term goals, which translate into a detailed business plan, are essential to keeping motivated to get things done in a timely manner. When everything is, as much as possible, well thought out ahead of time and broken down into small, practical steps, it is simply easier to succeed.

Ever-learning: The most successful small business owners are always reading, asking questions, researching a better way to do things, and networking with others more experienced than themselves. They also often engage in formal, ongoing education such as business seminars and online classes.

People-people: To some degree, a business person must interact with others and build relationships that are mutually beneficial. This includes with clients, employees, partners, mentors, and suppliers. They will need to head up a team and collaborate with others in working toward a common goal in the most efficient way feasible.

Good with money: Without a steady cash flow, available investment capital, and a sufficient cash reserve, your business will likely soon fold. Knowing how to manage money and make the most out of a limited budget is key to success in the business world.

Organized: Budgeting time and money, scheduling workers, dealing with payroll, and even arranging your personal office for maximum productivity all require a good deal of organization. Routines must be established that allow you to accomplish as much as possible during any given workday, but disorganization will constantly thwart your efforts.

Tech-savvy: In the modern world, businesses must rely heavily on high-tech devices to accomplish basic tasks. Being able to use computers, smartphones, apps, and social media sites effectively and efficiently is almost required these days.

Resilient: There are too many ups and downs in the life of a business for a non-resilient person to keep his/her company afloat. Believing strongly in what you are doing, you will not give up easily.

Above, we listed 8 major character qualities that the most successful small business people frequently possess. No one, however, possesses all desirable qualities to the point of perfection- thus, humility and a willingness to improve must also characterize a good business owner.

Three New Apps To Add Hours To Your Week

Finding the elusive work/life balance can be a little like searching for something that exists only in theory. But it is out there, and with no shortage of helpful apps available to aid you in your quest, it can actually be attainable.

That said, here are three apps that can help you get the most out of each day, both in work and in life. Moreover, the time saved will help ease the stress and help you concentrate on other things.

1. Shyp

It’s never more fitting to mention Shyp than during the holiday season – even if Shyp encompasses much more than that. That’s because anyone who has dealt with post office crowds at this time of year can save time, stress and money thanks to Shyp.

What is it? In short, Shyp will come to you, pick up your items, and pack them and ship them anywhere in the world while using the most reliable, cheapest option available. Talk about taking the hassle out of gift-giving.

But there’s more:

*For starters, Shyp’s couriers will arrive at your office or desk within 20 minutes of being notified.

*Instead of using shipping addresses, Shyp’s customers get usernames instead. Those usernames are then synced with addresses and shipping preferences. In turn, that tackles the problem of not being home to receive a package and having to go off-site to get it. Instead, it can be delivered to wherever you are.

How It Works

Open the Shyp app, take a photo of the item you want shipped, and a courier will arrive to pick it up – for only $5. The package is then taken to a warehouse where the postage fee is determined.

2. Pocket

If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve probably had your productive time hijacked by an interesting article that keeps you engrossed for far too long. If the Internet is an ever-tempting distraction and you have a long list of articles to get through, then Pocket will come to the rescue.

How does it work? Put simply, you can save content and view it later with Pocket. You don’t even need to be online to view it, because Pocket downloads the articles (and videos) so you can view them anywhere later during your spare time – without a Wi-Fi connection.

3. LucyPhone

Getting put on hold while waiting for a customer service rep is about as much fun as standing at line in the post office as you wait to ship your package. Enter LucyPhone.

You can either choose from the app’s mega-list of companies or enter the company’s number and it will call it for you. If you’re put on hold, press ** and the app will take over the agonizing task of being on hold. When an agent becomes available, you’ll get a call back telling you so.

The Power of a Business Mastermind Group

Mastermind Group

Mastermind groups are a relatively new concept to most business owners. A mastermind or peer advisory group is designed to help people navigate through challenges using the combined intelligence of others. How does it work? A group of smart, goal-oriented people meets on a regular basis to tackle problems and challenges together. These people lean on each other, share advice and connections, and conduct business together when appropriate. What are the benefits of joining such a group?

Challenging Yourself

Do you want your business to grow beyond your wildest dreams? You need to join a peer advisory group; it will challenge you to grow your company to its fullest potential. In day-to-day life, it is very easy to get distracted – when this happens you lose track of your goals and your business suffers. However, a peer advisory group would keep you from straying too far.

Accountability

As a human being, you need to be held accountable for your actions. Otherwise, you will just do what you want regardless of how it affects the business. At the end of each peer
advisory group meeting, you will have objectives and an action plan that you need to work on before the next meeting. The group will hold you to account for everything, because it takes true discipline to achieve anything in life. Being held accountable by your colleagues will help you keep your focus and succeed in your business.

Lasting Connections

The life of a business owner can be quite lonely. However, if you share your aspirations, challenges and dreams with a team of like-minded people, it will be less lonely. As you spend more time with your peers, you will share ideas and develop strong connections that can last a lifetime. Whether you are looking for lifelong friends or not, you will form lasting bonds with some people.

Brainstorming

As a group, you will be able to share your ideas and come up with better ways of dealing with challenges. If you are not sure which direction you want to go next, seek advice from members of the group. You might be surprised by how helpful your new group mates are. Consequently, you should not be reluctant to help your new team members.

Better Decision Making

When you are alone, it is easy to dismiss an idea as silly. However, with the support of a Mastermind Group, you will be able to make decisions easily. You will have your own due-diligence group to boost your confidence when you need to make an important decision.

Feedback

Get feedback on how to solve problems from successful individuals in your field. If you are facing financial challenges or dealing with staff issues, let your group know and ask them for help. Maybe one of the members has dealt with a similar issue and can offer solid advice. Remember that every person in the group has the same goal: to grow his/her business. There is no hidden agenda – you should all work together for the betterment of your businesses.

Support

Are you going through a hard time? Sure, you can discuss your problems with a close friend or family member, but they would not understand. When you are in a peer advisory group, you can discuss your challenges with a group of like-minded individuals who understand. Some of your colleagues might even be in the same boat. Therefore, you will never lack alternative suggestions on how to deal with your problems. Moreover, you will get sound advice that will stop you from making the same mistakes that your mastermind colleagues made in the past.

Expanding Skills

Each person in a peer advisory group has unique skills and connections. Therefore, it is safe to assume that everyone is an expert at something, and as you forge new connections with them, you will pick up new skills. If you all agree to teach each other something new, you will be armed with the necessary skills to make your business succeed. In such groups, individuals tend to raise the bar by challenging one another to implement goals and brainstorm ideas.

Hot Seats

What is a hot seat? The principle behind it is that each person gets a chance to present his/her biggest challenge to the group. In turn, the group will provide a series of solutions and options to follow up on, and the individual in the hot seat leaves with more ideas. If the mastermind group is too large, not everyone gets a chance to take the hot seat. However, the person in the hot seat might be dealing with the same issues as you, so pay attention. This might help you to gain clarity on the challenges you are currently facing.

Helping Others

When you give a person advice and he or she succeeds because of it, you feel a sense of gratification. Furthermore, offering advice to others gives you the perfect opportunity to forge new and lasting connections. When you help people, most of them will want to reciprocate in any way they can. Therefore, you should think of helping others as a way of earning future favors.

New Business Ideas

The generation of new business ideas is the biggest benefit of joining a peer advisory group. You will come across new ideas that are perfect for your business. The idea may not even be related to your business, but it might jump start something in your brain. Just being in the same room with superior brains in the business world should be enough to give you new ideas.

Increased Profits

The objective of a Mastermind Group is to help you to take advantage of opportunities that come your way. Once you start doing so, your profits will soar and your business will become a great success.

Now that you know why you need to be part of a peer advisory group, you should think about joining organizations that run them, including Virginia Council of CEOs, Entrepreneurs Organization, Team Nimbus, C12 Group, Renaissance Executive Forums, Sage Executive Group, and Vistage. The owner of 1-800-Got-Junk, Brian Scudamore, grew his company’s revenues over a five-year period from $201,532 to $8,057,563. He has won many awards since and been featured on CNN, Oprah, and CBS. What was his secret for success? He joined a small group of entrepreneurs. According to him, ‘the value of peer networking turned out to be more than great business advice’. Brian says that his
peer network enabled him to expand his business. Before he joined a Mastermind network, his profits were low. Why don’t you join a Mastermind Group too? There is no losing; you can only win.

Do You Have a 12-Month Business Plan? If Not, You Are Hurting Your Business

In the world of business, setting clear, obtainable goals and working toward them consistently until they are achieved is indispensable to success. Without a plan of action, the tendency is for your actions to become one of two things: rote and unmovable or random and spur-of-the-moment. Without a 12-month business plan, it will be nearly impossible to focus on your goals in the midst of a hectic business environment. You will inadvertently end up hurting your business for lack of a plan.

Why Is a Written Business Plan Necessary?

Committing your vision for your business over the next 12 months to writing will benefit you in a number of important ways, including the following:

  • Putting your ideas down on paper and/or into a PC will help you to focus on your goals and identify your highest priorities.
  • The finished plan will serve as a point of reference to give you direction as you strive to achieve your stated goals.
  • It will be a starting point from which you can adjust to the changing circumstances (update the plan), and insightful year-on-year comparisons will ultimately be possible.
  • A secondary reason to have an annual business plan is that investors/bankers who may be interested in loaning you some capital will want to see on paper how you plan to manage your business.

How Do I Set Business Goals?

Without clearly defend, specific goals, your larger goals will not likely materialize. Part of your business plan should spell out these goals, covering such areas as:

  • Marketing Goals: Increase sales to existing clients by 15% and increase retention of new customers by 30%.
  • Production Goals: Boost output by 5% within 6 months and by 10% within 12 months.
  • Financial Goals: Reduce overhead costs by 5% while raising the profit margin from 12% to 15%.
  • Environmental Goals: Increase the energy efficiency of my facility by 20% and install solar panels on the building’s roof.

How Do I Strategize and Forecast?

Not only goals but also a step-by-step plan of action to accomplish each goal should form a part of your annual business plan. These steps will then, in turn, guide your daily operations. These steps might, fore example, include things like buying new equipment or holding worker training meetings.

A final section of your plan should be a forecast of the “financial implications” you expect will result from the plan’s implementation. This should include a 12-month cash flow forecast and a profit/loss forecast that extends across two or three years. Monitoring actual expenditures against these projections will help you to keep to goal as much as possible.

Conclusion

As a final note, realize that your 12-month business plan is a tool and not a “straight jacket.” If you need to change it to adjust to a new situation, it is better to update the plan than to miss an opportunity. At minimal, you will “update” your business plan once a year, when you sit down to formulate your goals and strategies for the next 12 months.