Apple Capital Group Blog

An Insight on Small Business Management, Financing, and Marketing provided by Apple Capital Group, Inc.

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How to Create Interesting Twitter Content

Let’s face it, when you first come across Twitter, it seems a little strange. It definitely is a more challenging social media platform to grasp than Facebook or LinkedIn, and even when you get a handle on it, the question becomes: What should you tweet? Originally, Twitter got a bad rap as a platform where people would tweet the most mundane things – what they had for breakfast, where they were headed at that moment, that sort of thing. And while that may have been true previously, it is far less true today, especially for businesses that use Twitter.

To help understand how to use Twitter, and what to tweet, visualize the platform as a river – a continuous stream of tweets, links, information and conversations floating by. As such, your job is to make your tweets so interesting and valuable that they stand out in the ever-swelling river.

That means the content you tweet has to be not just OK or good – but great. It has to bring value to others. It is content your customers, viewers, friends, fans and followers would find interesting and useful. It is content that is fun, funny, intriguing, quirky or fascinating. It is an article that would help people in their own business, or a video that they would find appealing or a free e-book. With your ongoing stream of useful information, your followers will find you to be a valuable and worthwhile online addition to their busy day.

Example: One of my favorite tweeters is Guy Kawasaki. Guy’s Twitter handle tweets fascinating stuff all day long (Guy admittedly does not tweet it all himself, but that is not the point.) I often check out his tweets because there is always something interesting there – either something to help my business grow or something that is just, well, different. Here are a few recent ones:

10 TV medical conditions that are rare in real life
How iPhones are revolutionizing one restaurant company
10 surprising facts about Steve Jobs
The world of photo sharing [infographic]

So that is the basic idea. You can stand out in the continuous flow of information on the River Twitter by tweeting things that other people will find valuable in some way. It could be an industry tip or a success story or whatever, but it has to be what I call “great content.” Great content gets you followed and builds your brand. Great content impresses people and gets them to want to know you better.

Where do you find all of this great content? Here are a few places:

You: You can post interesting content on your blog or create videos and post on YouTube, etc.
Websites: As you surf around the Net, you can tweet those articles and pages that you find interesting. Industry sites are especially good for keeping people up to date in your line of business
Business sites: Sites like this one, or Business Insider, Smart Brief and USA TODAY Money all have great general business articles.
StumbledUpon and Alltop: With StumbledUpon, you sign up and indicate your topics of interest. The site then helps you stumble upon new sites about those things. Alltop is Guy Kawasaki’s site and is an online version of a magazine rack covering 900 subjects.

But note: Posting articles and other interesting content is only one thing you can and should post on Twitter. The other main idea is to engage your audience, and to do that, you should do more than just post articles. Consider some of these ideas:

Offer a freebie: Tweet the special of the day. People will sign up to follow you just to find out and get the daily deal.
Have a contest: Re-tweeting is the 21st century version of word-of-mouth advertising. By re-tweeting others tweets, you spread the love.

One last tip: When tweeting, keep the 80-20 Rule in mind, only for Twitter modify it like this: 80% of your tweets should be for your followers direct benefit, and only 20% should be about you and promoting your business.

To Meet or Not to Meet: Figuring Out When, and How, to Conduct Meetings

Every day, there are 11 million meetings held in the United States, and 3 billion take place each year. How can you, a small business owner, make the most out of company meetings? Small Business Owner.png

To start, there are different types of meetings. To ensure you are being smart in your approach, know the type of meeting you intend to hold:

Brainstorming meetings should be held when you want to generate as many ideas as possible. This is the one type of meeting where you can do away with a specific agenda.
Action-oriented meetings should be conducted when a crisis is looming or a deadline is approaching. Participants should be given enough time to gather their thoughts and recommendations before the meeting.
Short-term planning meetings will likely involve key decision makers. These types of meetings will likely include teamwork, so it’s important to make sure everyone understands what the meeting is about and what you’d like to accomplish during the gathering.
Long-term planning meetings are likely to include most, if not all, top executives, and many small businesses will invite the entire staff as well, if budget allows. If many employees are involved in the meeting, make sure to choose a format that either maximizes the opportunity for executives to share their vision with the employees – or for employees themselves to discuss what changes they’d like to see to help the company meet its goals.

When conducting meetings, time is often money. If decisions are made, creative solutions are devised or consensus is reached, then you might consider the meeting to be efficient and a good use of employees’ time. If, on the other hand, the meeting consists of long discussions on topics that are irrelevant for the meeting or an information dump that is difficult to follow, then you might feel you’ve wasted time and money. The following are tips to running a productive business meeting.

Stay on point

Since a meeting can easily go off the rails, you should take some initial steps to ensure the gathering proceeds smoothly and efficiently.

A meeting shouldn’t be a comprehensive update from each member of your management team; disparate issues such as monthly goals and long-term planning initiatives. By contrast, meetings that are relevant to all attendees and that focus on one or two topics tend to work best.
While creative brainstorming sessions might not require a tight agenda, most meetings should have a detailed one that is distributed in advance
Briefly speak with employees who will be leading the meeting and determine which agenda items are most essential. It’s also important to discuss what needs to be accomplished during the gathering.

Maintain order

Although you might think you’re being productive by multi-tasking during a meeting – answering e-mails or working on another project – it has been proven to lessen your creativity and interfere with long-term retention.
Whether you’re running the meeting, taking notes or just sitting in, try to show up on time and stay until the end. This will help make sure everyone is on the same page once the meeting concludes, and a recap to somebody who missed some of the meeting will not be necessary.

If you plan your meeting and invitation list strategically, motivate attendees to make meaningful contributions, prepare a comprehensive agenda and use some conversation-guiding techniques – you can make sure your meeting is one that’s worth having. Do you have any tips on how to run successful meetings? What challenges have you encountered? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.

Rolling with the Punches: Optimism and Guts in a Down Economy

By Sherron Lumley.

“In my mind, it seems like I’ve been through this cycle three or four times,” says Rick Reed, founder of R.A. Reed Productions in Portland, Oregon, a company that creates scenery for theaters, opera houses, and performance venues around the world. “Persistence comes from doing something you like and believe in,” he says, with the wisdom of 33 years at the helm of his company behind him.

“Starting your own shop is a passion; you want to create something special,” says Sander Flaum, CEO of Flaum Idea Group in Manhattan, a consulting firm he launched in 2004 after retiring from decades in the top ranks of global advertising. “I decided I didn’t want to work for anyone anymore,” he says.

Sidebar.pngCall it having a growth strategy coupled with calculated risk-taking or more simply optimism and guts, being able to roll with the punches means adjusting to difficult circumstances as they happen. This idea has a literal meaning, from boxing, where staying in constant motion lessens the impact of your opponent’s blows, an apt metaphor for the small business owner—finding opportunity in the face of adversity, surviving, and winning.

Finding opportunity certainly isn’t easy nowadays, however, as a recent National Small Business Administration study confirmed. Among the NSBA’s members, who represent every state and industry in the nation, the survey found that 72 percent had serious concerns about the economy. Perhaps not surprisingly, business optimism has likewise eroded in the face of stagnant economic growth. In fact, optimism is lower than it was a year ago, lower than in the Reagan-era recession, and it’s now even lower than during the Great Depression, a phenomenon the Pew Research Center calls the Optimism Gap.

Nevertheless, the hardscrabble years of the 1930s provide an important lesson for the small businesses of today. Despite the economic catastrophes, financial fragility, and a longer-lasting period of high unemployment, Pew found that Depression-era Americans still remained hopeful for the future. And today’s entrepreneurs should understand that adopting a head-in-the-sand, do-nothing strategy is not the way to get through tough situations. So, here are three business strategies that have stood the test of time in the worst of times.

Market Development – Finding new customers for current products

Perhaps the easiest of the three strategies, at least on paper, involves finding new target markets for a business’s current products. In addition to stage scenery, Reed has a large supply of barricades for outdoor concerts and festivals. The cache of crowd-control equipment he has in stock is something that sits idle in a warehouse most of the time, waiting for that next festival to come along. It is not something he would want to sell, though, as the need comes up again and again. So, by being willing to rent the product to others, Reed was able to tap a new target market. In fact, the barricades have been rented to new customers—some as far away as Japan—that were never going to be in the market for his scenery.

Product Development – Making new products for current customers

Despite the additional revenue from this clever rental strategy, Reed’s business has significantly declined, forcing him to lay off 85 of his 100 employees. “We’ll do almost anything for money,” Reed says with a little laugh. But he has seen this happen before.

With a smaller crew, Reed now focuses on industry innovation, creating automation software for what he sees as the future of the business. “Our customers are moving away from stage hands pushing stuff around,” he says. Similarly, a product development strategy means finding new products and services to sell to your current customers. It can involve creating an altogether new product or it could mean extending the product line—for example, by offering less expensive products that meet the needs of customers’ smaller budgets.

Diversification – New products and new customers

Call this strategy the haymaker—a hard swing with all of one’s might. Diversification means providing new products and services to new markets, and it has a long history of success. A famous example comes from the Prohibition era, when alcohol became illegal in the United States. Beer brewers sitting atop vast acres of farmland and thousands of square feet of warehouse space decided to redirect their resources toward dairy farming, providing a new product (milk) to new customers.

Although going after new markets with new products sounds highly risky, it doesn’t have to be. “Everyone is kind of wringing their hands about the economy,” says Flaum, “but we are doing better than ever.” During its seven years of existence, the company has grown from two initial employees to a staff of 29 today by doing something entirely new, what Flaum calls focusing on the big idea—providing breakthrough strategy for new customers in the healthcare and biotech industries. “We do whatever service in whatever area that the clients need,” he says. “We give the customers hope and they put their trust in us.”

All this will happen again, so just be ready to deal with it

Although Reed is retrenching and Flaum is in expansion, both have decades of experience in weathering business cycles and don’t worry too much about them.

“You only have 24 hours in a day. How much time do you want to spend angry, depressed, rejected, and thinking ‘Why me?’” Flaum says. A struggling national economy, an industry lifecycle in decline, a seasonal dip in the market—whatever the scenario, a small business will experience some hits. It’s part of the territory. But it’s what you do afterwards that makes all the difference.

Additional Resources

Books

Breakthrough, by Paul Kurnit and Steve Lance (2011)

Make Your Own Luck, Success Tactics You Won’t Learn in Business School, by Peter Morgan Kash with Tom Monte (2002)

Selling When No One Is Buying, by Stephan Schiffman (2009)

Web

“Learning from the Great Depression,” Bloomberg.com, Businessweek, by Stacy Perman, October 17, 2008:

http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/oct2008/sb20081016_825689.htm

National Small Business Administration, 2011 Mid-Year Economic Report:

Click to access 2011_nsba_my_survey.pdf

The Pew Research Center

Luxury or Low-Price: How Should You Price Your Products and Services?

Whether your business leans toward luxury or low-cost, setting the right price for your products is critical to success.

by Sherron Lumley.

In the exclusive realm of artisanal furniture, Steven Garfield, owner of Steven Garfield Fine Furniture in Stanton, New Jersey, is among the most elite in the country. “When you’re dealing with luxury, it has to be as perfect as humanly possible,” says Garfield, who is currently working on a custom dining suite for the Johnson family, of Johnson & Johnson fame, a commission that “could be in the $100,000 range.”

Pull-Quote.pngStill, even in such a high-end market, Garfield acknowledges his company is not immune to robust discussions about price points. “We debate it all the time,” he says. Perhaps that’s not surprising since hanging a price tag on a one-of-a-kind piece of custom furniture can be difficult. “I don’t like to think about money,” he says, but it’s a necessary evil for someone who admits with a chuckle that “if I were to keep a time log, there are times I would be making less than a dollar per hour.”

“Most of a business’s customers are relationship or value-based, but by focusing mainly on price, you run the risk of converting them to price-based customers,” explain price consultants Reed Holden and Mark Burton in Pricing With Confidence: 10 Ways to Stop Leaving Money on the Table. The authors urge that companies consider value-added pricing, which focuses on the total value delivered to the customer, rather than more traditional cost-plus pricing, which tallies the cost of the product plus a set mark-up.

Whether operating in an upscale or cut-rate market, getting the price right can make or break a small business. A price strategy is step one in getting to that profit sweet spot, the point that keeps customers happy and demand high, while still stoking business growth. Each business is unique, and strategies must be tailored to demand, the market, competitors, customers, perceived value, actual value, and cost. A look at three strategies for small businesses follows: premium pricing, competitive pricing and product differentiation.

Premium pricing

There are a limited number of pieces that Garfield and his staff can create in a year. The furniture is made from old-growth trees that have fallen naturally at the end of a 100 to 200-year life span. Each piece is handmade in a process that can take several years.

“I feel more confidence in the higher price point. A life is going into it,” says Garfield.

Premium pricing is appropriate when there is something unique about a product or service, and luxury, exclusivity and high quality are all associated with perceived higher value. Premium pricing strategies may mean a longer sales cycle, but better margins and higher profits will result from a smaller revenue base.

CFinding_Price.pngompetitive pricing

People are more price-sensitive about the necessities of life and less price-sensitive about the niceties. Whereas fine furniture is a luxury, children’s clothing is a necessity. On the other side of the country and the other end of the price point scale, Cristina Berry is the owner of Pipsqueak Resale Boutique, in Vancouver, Washington, a name-brand children’s clothing resale shop. Baby and children’s clothing at Pipsqueak starts at $1.50 per item and peaks at $15.00. The store also carries new and resale baby gear such as strollers, mobiles, and bouncers.

“I’m a mom of two kids and I know the economy is tough right now,” Berry says, “You have to be priced right or customers will go somewhere else.”

The more competitive the industry, the less flexibility there is on price. Even so, having the lowest price is not necessarily the best strategy. Finding the right price point starts with evaluating the competition based on the full package of products and services offered.

“Compared to our competitors we are low to medium priced,” says Berry. “We add value by offering better quality and service.” The merchandise at Pipsqueak Boutique is put through a triple-check process including steaming and sterilizing before stocking the sales floor, something her customers know about and appreciate, she says.

Customer care is another way to add value. “I want people to know that I care, and hope they will get a more personable feeling when they come into my store than they would at a larger competitor,” she says.

“If your product is a necessity, you need to focus on the value of your product compared to your competitors,” writes Laura Lake in her book, Consumer Behavior for Dummies. “You need to prove why consumers should spend their hard-earned money to purchase your product rather than your competitors.”

Product differentiation strategy

“You want to be sure that the market you’re targeting has the buying power to purchase your product,” Lake writes in her book. “When evaluating buying power within your target market, consider providing several quality levels of the same types of products that match the buying power and the demand in a given sector of the market.”

By carrying both new and used items, Pipsqueak’s is, in effect, pursuing a differentiation strategy, offering products at different price points.

The differentiation strategy applies to luxury goods as well. For those who admire his work but are not prepared to drop six figures on fine furniture, Garfield has more attainably priced pieces in the collection starting at $7,500 for tables and $1,500 for chairs.

White-in-article.jpgPrice testing

It’s not always the lowest price that pulls the best sales. But how do you find that perfect price point if your business isn’t a discount house or a premium outfit? Sometimes no amount of pencil-to-paper calculations or estimates of customer perceived value will lead to a specific best price. At this point, some actual information is needed—real data, not just theory. Testing different prices to discover what customers are willing to pay is the purpose of conducting a price test.

In an ideal price test, identical items would be priced differently at the same time in the same market to discover which price delivers the best results, but in a solo retail shop, this isn’t going to work. The next best scenario is to use different prices on similar pieces of merchandise. For small businesses selling online, the new era of real-time Internet pricing, where prices can change from minute to minute, makes online sales the ideal testing ground.

The price is right

Once the right price has been established, stand firm. “There is only one way to present your price,” says Tom Reilly in Value-Added Selling. “Use these three words only: ‘the price is…’ Anything other than that creates doubt in the buyer’s mind,” he says, adding, “The time to exude complete confidence is when you’re asking people for money.”

6 Reasons You Should Consider WordPress for Your Website or Blog

About four years ago, needing to redo my own website, I put out an RFP and received proposals from a lot of designers. I eventually settled upon the one guy whom I liked best and he recommended that we build the site using an underlying architecture, the Content Management System (CMS), with something called Drupal.

I learned at that point that there are no shortages of CMS systems available, all of which are designed to, essentially, allow you to easily update your website. For reasons too complicated to get into here, it turns out I hired the wrong guy, wasted a lot of money and time, and had to start over from scratch.

At that point, my assistant and content manager extraordinaire, Vivian, kept telling me that the obvious answer was to use something called WordPress. At the time, WordPress was gaining a reputation as an easy and powerful blogging platform which was, increasingly, being used to build websites too.

Long story short – we built it with WordPress and I couldn’t be happier. It was indeed simple and inexpensive

It’s no wonder then that WordPress has become a very popular choice for websites large and small. I knew that WordPress had reached the tipping point when not one, but two, of the major sites I write for (national and well-known sites and brands), redid their sites with WordPress.

So if you need to redo your site or, shame on you, create a site, then let me suggest that you follow the lead of the big boys (and small boys too) and consider using WordPress. Here are six reasons why:

1. Themes: Creating a website with WordPress is surprisingly easy. There are literally hundreds of themes to choose from and most are free. These themes can be used as is, or they can be customized. You can see some of the best themes here.

2. Web 2.0 Out of the Box: Far too many small business websites are boring cookie-cutter sites that look like they were built circa 2002 or so. In fact, many were. But, we are now living in the Web 2.0 era where people expect to see not only cool designs, but some site interactivity.

That is what you will get with a good WordPress theme: It will look and feel very current with slideshows, flash movies, blogs, video, comment options, advertising spots – the whole shebang.

You no longer need to be stuck with a drab site.

3. Great CMS: As indicated, CMS is the Content Management System. This is the backend tool that allows you to easily, in real time, add an article, blog, or video to your site without having to know code or hire a webmaster. Its WYSIWYG tool (pronounced ‘wissywig’ for What You See Is What You Get) is very reminiscent of any document creation software, like Microsoft Word. As such, the WordPress CMS is simple and intuitive and designed to make adding or changing content to a site a breeze.

4. Cost: Most WordPress themes are free, and those that are not cost less than $100, generally. Customizing your theme, if desired, is relatively easy.

5. Support: WordPress is open source software, meaning there is an army of developers who write code and improve it. As such, getting help is easy because so many people work with and know the program.

6. SEO: Maybe the best part of WordPress (although they are all best parts really) is that it makes Search Engine Optimization a snap. Built into the WordPress dashboard are SEO tools you can use to make sure your site shows up in your target audience’s search results. Your pages will be indexed correctly, your content will be chock-full of keywords and your site will be friendly to search engine spiders. How effortless is that?

Five Tips to Starting a Healthcare-Related Business

Posted by SBOC Team on Oct 10, 2011 9:17:25 AM

By 2025, seniors are projected to outnumber teenagers two to one, and by 2050, the number of seniors in the United States will be close to 88.5 million. By extension, revenue for home care providers may grow 4.5 percent and the number of home healthcare services may increase by 11.4 percent by 2014, according to IBISWorld.

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Baby boomers will likely seek less-expensive, out-of-hospital healthcare as an alternative to hospital procedures. This could create opportunities for the proliferation of independent medical care businesses, such as outpatient surgery centers and walk-in clinics, which are run by medical professionals who are able to prescribe medication. Further, getting to and from outpatient services will increase demand for medical transportation services.

An overwhelming number of baby boomers, 9 out of 10, have expressed a desire to age at home. If these boomers stay in their homes, home care businesses, such as companionship care and home health aide

services are likely to increase in the future.

While many healthcare-related jobs require interaction with patients, there are financial and administrative roles in which workers do not require contact with patients. These types of positions include healthcare billing, coding, payroll and other back-office jobs. If you’re considering starting a healthcare-related business, here are some tips to keep in mind:

If you open a medical franchise, try not to put all your eggs in one basket: You can have separate divisions related to travel nursing, in-home companionship and medical transportation, for example.
Typical fees for non-medical care are $16-20 per hour, and even higher for in-home medical care.
Opening an emergency medical transportation service may require some specialized permits, including state-mandated transportation licenses and registration with the state Health and Human Services Department.
For any health-related business, if you are going to accept Medicaid, you have to register with the state’s Medicaid office.
Marketing may be more effective via networking, word-of-mouth and referrals from retirement homes and assisted living facilities. Most people want detailed information that you can’t get from traditional advertising when it comes to something as personal as healthcare assistance in the home.

Have you considered opening up a healthcare services company? Or, are you already involved with one?

Steps for Attracting Bigger, Higher Paying, Clients and Customers

Here’s an easy solution to some of your business woes: Go out and get bigger clients and customers. This could include, but is not limited to clients who have a bigger budget, clients who have more to spend and are willing to spend it with you.

Steve-Strauss–in-article-Medium.pngSmall businesses often have small customers; that’s the nature of the gig. Small business customers could be individuals, families, other small businesses, non-profits, professionals, freelancers, startups – you name it. And, while they all have budgets like the rest of us, it is also true that their budgets are usually pretty tight, which often means you have to work hard and long to make some real money since your margins are so thin.

That’s why I am telling you that the smart move is to go out and get some bigger, probably corporate clients who are playing on a bigger field with more dollars. You can do more for them and charge more.

Example: I have a pal who sells real estate. His specialty was selling small duplexes and four-plexes. When the real estate market was still humming along, this afforded him a nice lifestyle because there were so many of these types of deals available. But, then the economic tsunami hit. He was soon underwater.

Instead of drowning by staying with what he had always done, he devised a new plan – namely, the one I am suggesting here. He decided that selling large apartment houses took basically the same skills that he already had, but that he would make a lot more money per sale.

He decided to seek out bigger, better paying, customers.

So that’s what he did. He took classes on selling these sorts of properties and began to schmooze potential owners. It took a while, yes, but within a year he was in escrow for a 100-unit, multi-million dollar apartment complex. When it closed, he made more money on that one sale than he had on all of the deals he had done in the previous year.

So that’s the idea, of course begging the question: How do you attract and land these corporate clients? This is how, in seven easy steps:

1. Do your research: Make a list of your ideal corporate client. What companies nearby fit that description? Come up with a list of five or 10 candidates.

2. Target the right people: This part is a little tricky, but doable. Once you have identified a corporation with whom you would like to do business, you need to find the right manager with the budget who buys what you sell. But of course, in this Internet age, it is possible. Search for terms like “purchasing agent,” “procurement” and “RFP” (Requests for Proposal).

You should also turn to LinkedIn to research and find the right people in those corporations. My previous post shows you how to do this.

3. Be prepared: When approaching corporate clients, your job is to show them that hiring you is not a risk, and that you can handle the extra business and have a history of doing so efficiently. And look big. Spruce up your website. Dress for success.

4. Know your new customer: Corporate managers are busy, and must be able to justify the decisions they make. So, you will need to make a crackerjack presentation. Why hire you? What is your offer? Show them why you are the best choice for the job.

5. Understand their budget issues: Yes, they have bigger budgets than Sam the Butcher, but they still must spend their money wisely, justify their choices and get good results. You will need to able to show them that this expenditure is the best use of their budgetary dollars.

6. Check out their supplier diversity programs: Typically, large companies have supplier diversity programs, which are intended to increase their work with small businesses. They may even have legal requirements to do business with minority-owned, women-owned or veteran-owned business for instance. This can be your ticket in.

7. Follow up, follow up, follow up, and then remind: These words of wisdom once given to me do not mean you need to become a pest, but you do need to be persistent and professional.

Now, go catch that big fish. Do you have any success stories on “catching the big one?” Share your thoughts with the SBOC community in the comments section.

About Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

Family-Run Businesses: Challenges and Opportunities

Most family-owned businesses tend to operate by the rule of thirds– only a third of them make it to the second generation, and only a third of the businesses in that group remain in business by the third generation, and so on.

If you are currently running a family business, considering joining your family’s business, or weighing the pros and cons of bringing your children into the fold, the following are some thoughts that you may want to consider, as you begin to think about what challenges you may encounter – and what opportunities could lay ahead.

Challenges

If you bring your children into a family business at a young age, you may have to walk a fine line between teaching them about hard work, working as a team and allowing them to pursue their own separate dreams.
Older members of the family may not understand or value concepts such as market share, database marketing or social networking.
Family members may have to play multiple roles, ranging from manual tasks like painting and repairs, to executive duties like negotiating partnerships or securing bank loans.
While new family businesses may require flexible work roles at the beginning, eventually you will need to outline every person’s responsibilities, compensation level, long-range goals and line of command.
Certain patterns of behavior or types of communication between family members, like one-upmanship or a tendency to correct someone’s grammar, may be played out in the business realm as well.

Opportunities

Cross-generational entrepreneurs tend to pass on traditional values such as perseverance, a willingness to get your hands dirty and ways to build trusting relationships with customers and self-sacrifice.
The choice of how much to grow your business is up to you. If you are in a family business because you enjoy the flexibility and camaraderie, you may want to keep your company small and local. If you’re in business for big profits, you may want to strive to take your business international or spin off subsidiaries.
Family-owned businesses foster resiliency as they center around a close-knit management team, which has a vested emotional and financial interest in the company’s survival.
Without pressure from shareholders, family-run businesses may be able to take more time to achieve profitability and take business risks without needing to justify decisions to others invested in the company.

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Business Without Borders: How to Effectively Manage Global Business Relationships

By Sherron Lumley.

Even though a business might be considered small because of its relatively tiny staff, it can still have grand ambitions in today’s global marketplace. Just ask Mark Hilden, president of Dateline Exports. His company, based in the small, rural town of Aurora, Oregon, only employs 18 people, yet it nonetheless exports steel, timber, electrical materials, lighting, and underground utility piping to island countries spread all across the Pacific Ocean. “Our territory is anywhere beyond the International Date Line,” Hilden says. Increasingly, other entrepreneurs are sharing Hilden’s strategy of selling his small business’s wares on a large, geographic scale. In fact, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), 70 percent of all U.S. exporters have 20 or fewer employees and small businesses now account for more than $1 billion, and growing, per day in exports.

Small businesses that achieve an export foothold also tend to have better long-term growth. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, exporting small businesses averaged 37 percent revenue growth between 2005 and 2009, compared to a decrease of 7 percent for non-exporting small businesses. So, it’s perhaps no surprise that the federal government launched an unprecedented focus on expanding the role of small businesses in international trade last year. Known as the National Export Initiative, the project’s goal is to double all U.S. exports by 2014. Creating personal business relationships abroad

Still, whether a business is selling to a customer down the street or halfway around the world, creating personal relationships remains critical. Word of mouth and referrals helped grow Dateline Exports in the early years, and today, of the company’s 18 employees, five employees travel overseas frequently, four to six times per year for business. In addition to these face-to-face meetings, local agents, who are paid a commission on sales, have been established in each country to provide more immediate service and communication to customers.

“We’re out there to help the customer and the reward is that we are helping people in other nations to build up their infrastructure with quality products,” says Hilden. But the fundamental lesson is this, he says: “It’s all about people.”

Kamal Kirpalani, Vice President at the Internet e-commerce firm TouchCommerce, agrees. After more than a decade of providing online solutions to help U.S. businesses expand internationally, Kirpalani says overseas business relationships are fundamentally the same as domestic business relationships, with a few notable exceptions.

“The communication is a lot more challenging,” Kirpalani acknowledges. “In addition to a language barrier, you need to take into account sometimes significant cultural differences. This leads to more possibilities for misunderstandings to arise and means that you sometimes need to over-communicate to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Of course, email has made communicating instantly around the world nearly effortless, but there are times when a disconnected digital handshake just won’t suffice. International travel is seen as a perk to some and a time-consuming obligation to others, but meeting in person may be necessary, Kirpalani notes.

“In the U.S., web-based meetings like WebEx and GoToMeeting are increasingly common and accepted and it is possible to get a lot done without having to travel,” says Kirpalani, who is based in Paris. But in Europe, although virtual meetings are slowly gaining some acceptance, Kirpalani claims that almost all meetings still take place face-to-face.

Don’t get lost in translation

To successfully sell in foreign markets, a small business must make a commitment —both in resources and time—to bolster communication at every step of the process. Without such an effort, a small company’s export efforts are likely headed for a steep and possibly expensive learning curve.

So, whether you’re staying put or traveling abroad to meet clients, an important early step in building an overseas relationship is to properly translate your company’s marketing materials into the local language or dialect. An experienced translator will understand the target language within the local cultural context and can help to avoid an unintended public relations disaster. When it comes to legal documents, take the time to find a certified translator whose work will be accepted by courts and government agencies in the U.S. and abroad. (To find a certified translator check out the American Translators Association website’s “Find a Translator or Interpreter” tool.)

Go big or go home

Going global will lead to new business relationships requiring as much or more time than what a small business is already handling at home. Offering up excuses in the face of supply snafus, mixed messages, or inadequate customer service will displease overseas customers as much as it does domestic clients.

“My most important advice would be to not pursue international expansion half-heartedly,” Kirpalani says. “Cultivating international relationships will probably take longer than expected to pay off.”

Hilden has heeded this strategy in his approach. Dateline Export’s in-country sales agents not only help with customer service, they collect payments as well as handle other customer or product-related issues. “One of the biggest challenges is educating customers,” he says, which is an important element of cross-cultural customer service.

Where to begin?

The Small Business Administration provides an International Business Plan Workbook at the end of “Breaking Into The Trade Game, A Small Business Guide to Exporting.” And to start your foreign market research, try perusing the U.S. Commercial Service Market Research Library, which contains more than 100,000 industry and country-specific market reports that are available to U.S. companies, students, and researchers for free.

How to fund it?

There are new SBA programs in place for small businesses considering exporting: the Export Express loan program, the Export Working Capital Program, and the International Trade Loan program, to name a few. The SBA website has more information about financing and insuring small business exports.

Other helpful resources

The U.S. Export Assistance Centers, which are staffed by professionals from the SBA, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and other private sector and public organizations, can answer many import-export questions. The American Association of Exporters and Importers and the Export-Import Bank of the United States are two more good resources. And prior to actually importing or exporting goods, it’s a good idea for any small business owner to check out the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “Tips for New Importers and Exporters,” which is available online.

 

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Additional Resources
Books:

Cross-Cultural Selling for Dummies, by Michael Soon Lee and Ralph R. Roberts, 2009.

Going Global, An Information Sourcebook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, by Susan C. Awe, 2009.

Import/Export for Dummies, by John J. Capela, 2008.

Start Your Own Import/Export Business, Entrepreneur and Jennifer Dorsey, 2007.

The Small Business Bible, by Steven D. Strauss, 2008

Web:

American Association of Exporters and Importers:

http://www.aaei.org

American Translators Association

http://www.atanet.org

Customs and Border Protection

http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/trade/trade_outreach/diduknow.xml

Export-Import Bank of the United States

http://www.exim.gov/

International Trade Administration, U.S. Dept. of Commerce:

http://www.trade.gov

National Export Initiative:

http://export.gov/nei/

Small Business Administration Office of International Trade

http://www.sba.gov/about-offices-content/1/2889

U.S. Commercial Service Market Research Library

http://export.gov/mrktresearch/

Using Apps for Business

Every year for my USA TODAY column, I do an annual Top 10 Trends in Small Business column. This past year, it seemed that Facebook was a shoo-in for the No. 1 spot. After all, The Social Network was one of the top movies of the year, Facebook topped the 500 million user mark and the site was valued at more than $50 billion. Facebook seemed like the obvious winner.

Except it wasn’t. It came in at No. 2 for 2011, actually. What could have topped Facebook as a trend that is changing small business more than any other?

Apps.

Indeed, the only thing hotter and more buzz-worthy than Facebook is the popularity and ubiquity of smartphone apps. People are using apps every day, all day long – not only to have some fun and kill some time (death to pigs by Angry Birds I tell you, death!) – but also to effectively run their businesses.

The smart small business owner can capitalize on this trend in two different ways. First, you can, and should, find and use those apps that make running your business simpler and more profitable. Second, you should strongly consider creating and offering your own app to your customers.

Let’s take a look at both of those options:

The reason it is smart to have the foresight to integrate business and efficiency apps into your work day is because it’s where social media is headed. You are on your smartphone far more than you ever used to be, right? Well, the same is true for your staff, vendors and customers. Mobile devices and smartphones are where the eyeballs are and, as such, it is where you need to be too. It is how people are gathering information these days.

Of course, I can’t tell you which specific apps would work best in your business. There simply are too many available, doing many different things for businesses that it is impossible to say which ones you need and would like. However, you can figure out fairly quickly which ones you should check out by

Doing a Google search
Reading industry magazines, websites and blogs
Getting recommendations from writers and bloggers you like (personally, I enjoy and use recommendations from SmallBizTrends, CNET and SmallBizTechnology)

The important thing is to find apps that fit your business needs and try them out. Undoubtedly you will find some amazing tools out there that will help you run your business more easily, efficiently and effectively.

The second way to take advantage of this trend is by developing an app of your own. Essentially, there are two approaches you can take: pay a developer to create a custom application, or create a mobile version of your website.

The first method – creating a real app – looks like this:

1. Have a good idea: Your app idea should be based on fulfilling an unmet need or desire that exists in the market.

2. Analyze the idea: Who is going to use it? Why would they want it? Will they pay for it?

3. Hire a developer/designer/programmer: Expect to pay roughly $10,000 and expect it to take at least a month for the app to be ready. To help get started on creating an app, check out Craigslist, Guru.com and Elance.

4. Submit your app to the app store(s): Since this is a fairly technical process, this is something your developer should help with.

5. Market your app: Just as you must market your business, you must market your app. Look into creating a press release or announcing it on your website and other company collateral.

Finally, the last option, creating an app version of your website, is easy and cheap.

There are plenty of web-based services you can use to create a simple app that mimics your website, for instance SwebApps. With this type of service, you just point, click, drag and create an app. It’s easy.

Your app could include the following:

Content, blogs, podcasts, etc.
Products from your store — allowing anyone to make purchases through the app
Maps and contact info
YouTube, Facebook and Twitter buttons

Whether you outsource your app development, or create one in-house, offering a mobile application is just one more way to stay in front of your customers.

But whichever approach you choose, it’s probably time to hop on the app bus, Gus.

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