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2012

Resolutions_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

Like many business owners, Patty Moreno-Fletcher has a few major year-end deadlines.

 

Hers are a bit more unpredictable and life changing than most: She’s a doula—a non-medical coach who supports people through the labor, birth, and new-parent process, or as she calls it “mothering the new mother.” Three of her clients have due dates around the holidays.

 

She’s setting a deadline for herself, too: In 2009, she purchased the domain name for her practice, Butterfly Babies NYC, but has procrastinated ever since. After relying for years on just positive word-of-mouth among New York families, she’s now made this her primary New Year’s resolution: Develop the website and start a blog to reach out to more potential clients.

 

“Being a doula—it’s very hands-on work. But when it comes to the Internet or a Web presence or even managing an office or billing, it just give me a headache thinking about it,” she says, laughing.

 

With 2013 just days away, business owners can celebrate the end of another year of hard work and look ahead at what’s to come—and what they might do differently based on what they’ve learned. While one notable study found the track record for successfully maintaining attempts at change wasn’t all that great, the dawn of every new year brings optimism for starting anew and becoming a little wiser and maybe a bit more efficient.

 

Here’s a look at what a few business owners are saying they are hoping for, possibly with some inspiration for your own next 12 months.

 

Hire new staff

John Kwan, chief executive of VeriPic, says he's resolving to increase hiring in 2013. With the economy still sluggish, “there are plenty of talented people available and many just want moderate pay,” he says. “This is the perfect environment for expansion as labor costs are low and this is also an excellent way to help the economy by hiring people.”

 

Resolutions_PQ.jpgValue your time

“What entrepreneur doesn’t want to focus more?” asks Will Mitchell, a founder of the Startup Bros. business consultancy as well as owner of online marketer Clear Presence Media and reputation manager RepAssured in Tampa, Fla. He resolves to concentrate on one task at a time in order to see it to completion. “Once you start taking the initiative on this, it’s pretty impossible to ignore, particularly if you set up time-tracking software on your computer,” he says. He uses RescueTime, which tracks how much time you spend online and, importantly, shows where those stolen moments on Facebook or fantasy football sites are adding up, and detracting from more important tasks.  

 

Get better rest

Mitchell says his family is full of entrepreneurs (he’s been doing business online since he was 14) and all have struggled with being able to tune out and get to sleep. “Most entrepreneurs will tell you the one thing they can do to improve their performance is get more rest,” he says. “But it’s rare that they’ll actually put down the computer and go to bed.”. How long have his resolutions lasted? “With sleep, historically I can get two to three months into that before the first crisis comes up and kind of ruins that,” he admits, chuckling. 

 

Be able to “glide”

That’s what Heddi Cundle aimed to do after a hectic year of starting up myTab.co, a travel gift-card system she’s founded. After months of 18-hour days getting her start-up off the ground and chasing venture capital from Silicon Valley, Cundle says she and her team in San Francisco recently altered course and decided to license out myTab to e-commerce sites—a move that she said has been received with great enthusiasm. It’s also changed the company’s outlook going into 2013. “Things are falling into place,” Cundle says. “In the next 12 months at least, we can glide a lot easier because we’re not trying to push and strive to fit into a specific mold that we thought we needed to be in to generate revenue. We just found a different sort. Now we’re gliding into 2013. By licensing our technology to verticals, we can use revenue to invest back into myTab.co travel.”

 

Get ready to market online

“Three years I’ve had this website—it’s ridiculous!” Moreno-Fletcher says. Among her many hopes for the new year for her business—start hiring more doulas for Butterfly Babies, get certified to be a birth educator, expand her community-service efforts—she says she feels she must put her online presence first in line come January. While word-of-mouth marketing has been strong from parents, pediatricians, and even acupuncturists who specialize in fertility issues, Moreno-Fletcher says promoting her business online in a more efficient way is, well, a fact of life.

 

And what are her chances of ringing in 2013 with a New Year’s baby? Pretty good, it turns out. “My birthday is New Year’s Day. I have three moms ready around that date, and I’m really hoping one of them goes then. It would be so special.”

SurpriseNiche_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

Define “fit.”

 

Consuelo Bova had her “Aha!” moment while shopping for her husband. At five foot one, the seasoned businesswoman in Winter Park, Fla., was already familiar with the struggle to find clothes that didn’t require an additional trip to a tailor. Jeff, at five feet eight, shared in that frustration. (Ever notice stores have no male equivalent to ladies’ petite sizes?)

 

That was the spark behind FORtheFIT.com, the men’s clothing website they launched with an emphasis on goods for shorter, slimmer men. Even as the business took off, Bova says she always would hear from other dissatisfied men: If only they carried goods for short and stout men, or very tall and slim men, etc.

 

“About two to three years in, we started to make the shift to clothes for the short and stout market,” Bova says. “And that evolved into 50 percent of our business.”

 

Many entrepreneurs start with a clear vision of where they believe their clients will come from, only to have new prospects shake up that notion. But can you stay true to your vision? We talk with a few successful entrepreneurs who say they’ve learned that while new avenues may seem to pose an enormous challenge initially, their core abilities and methods often translate remarkably well.

 

Innovaxis

Sean Parnell started out in marketing consulting after stints in document imaging and selling pro audio equipment. Most early clients for his Chicago-based firm were for B-to-B campaigns within those two industries, along with other technical products. But he then started drawing more and more work through his partner’s experience in the medical spa and wellness markets. It seemed a bit out of his comfort zone. “There are certain things where you are proactive, and then some things just come your way,” he says. And they managed to make it work.

 

Now, one of his biggest clients is a neurosurgeon who sells nutritional supplements that can aid in healing and recovery. “Once you start working with a variety of clients, you start learning more about yourself. I’ve discovered things that we were good at, and other things that we’re just OK at and might want to refer to somebody else,” Parnell says. “What I’ve realized is that we’re good at specialty products that require educating the market.”

 

“Marketing can be applied to any market or product,” Parnell says. “We learned that our core set of capabilities can apply to areas that we never thought we’d get into—but sure enough our skills have been applied there very well.”

 

Brafferton Inn

Brian Hodges wasn’t a Civil War buff when he bought the Brafferton Inn with his wife, AmyBeth, and his mom, Joan, in 2005. The trained chef and hospitality veteran from the Southeast was looking for a bed and breakfast opportunity in an area with a long tourist season. So, as the new innkeeper at the oldest house in Gettysburg, Pa., he had to immerse himself in the remarkable story of the building (the original owners hid in the basement during the epic Civil War battle) and the war itself (yes, that is a bullet wedged in the upstairs mantelpiece). 

 

SurpriseNiche_PQ.jpgYet for all the fascinating history that draws visitors from around the world, Hodges says most guests want their modernity: even if the building dates back to 1786, amenities for its 17 guestrooms had to become 21st-century, meaning adding TVs and WiFi access through thick walls, along with spa showers.

 

“Ninety-nine percent of people that come know they’re coming to an old house,” Hodges says. “But it’s us adapting to technology, too, not just the guests. When Gen Xers come, they have their laptops. For our reservations and website, we need the Internet, too. And any update we’re going to do is going to be adding Jacuzzis, a gas fireplace—even though we’ve got this old house, travelers want these amenities.”

 

Beach Betty Creative

Shelly Cone launched her copywriting and marketing strategy firm in 2007, aiming for clients who sought a laid-back, casual style that would let her personality shine through. The Santa Maria, Calif., venture took off from the beginning, but Cone says she just kept getting contacted by technology companies—the opposite of who she’d expected to attract. “It wasn’t until someone mentioned to me, ‘You know, they probably really are your customers: They’re innovative, creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, too. Just creative in a different way.’” (One other possible clue: The back of her business card reads “Jedi Mind Trick: I am the writer you’re looking for.”)

 

Now tech companies make up some 70 percent of her business. “In the beginning, I would just resist. I had to change my approach to this niche,” Cone says. “Most of my clients didn’t want numbers or hard facts; they were about selling a feeling or experience. Tech companies were different. They didn’t want to tell people how their product makes people feel, it was ‘This product makes you 46 percent more efficient.’ Once I got that key, it was like—hey, this can work!”

 

FORtheFIT

Now a few years later, FORtheFIT has expanded to include even more subsets of male shoppers. Listening to her six-foot four-inch tall brother-in-law’s laments, Bova says even tall, slim men don’t have it easy. “That size is hard to come by. You see Big & Tall stores everywhere, but if you need, say, size-medium extra-tall, where do you shop?” she says. “So when we heard the voices and it became possible for us, we added them in.” As the Bovas started doing more of their own manufacturing instead of just buying, it brought some surprising results.

 

“Even today, I’m sometimes surprised when we get orders for, say, an extra-small with a 40-inch inseam,” she says. “They exist. I never thought that size would sell, but not everyone out there is a cookie-cutter shape.” The same can be said for small businesses.

Not long ago, I was overseas for a business trip. I went out to dinner with some colleagues and we were having a great time, although the woman next to me seemed preoccupied with her smartphone; texting to and fro. When she came up for air, I asked her what was going on and she explained that she owned a high-end art gallery back in New York and that she had just gotten word that a pipe in her shop had apSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngparently frozen, thawed, cracked, and burst, ruining over $100,000 of art. Yes, she had good reason to be preoccupied.

 

More than any other season, winter is a time when Mother Nature reminds us that the best laid plans often go awry. While you might be readying that Mid-Winter Sale or quick getaway, the season may have other plans in store for you.

 

Similar to the dog days of summer, the dead of winter can bring unpredictable weather and affect both employee attendance and productivity of your small business. So this is a good time to make some contingency plans and get your business and employees ready for winter weather. It is essentially a four-step process:

 

Step 1: Winterize: The very first step in any winter plan is to winterize the store or office just as you would your home. Check pipes and windows and eves. Clear storm drains. Get extra supplies and store them in a safe place in case anyone is ever stranded at your business. Additionally, consider getting a backup generator in case you lose power during a storm.  Finally, be sure to review your insurance needs and policies.

 

Step 2: Assess contingencies: For the small business facing potential harsh winter storms, the assessment should look at:

 

  • The type of likely storm or other disruption;
  • The potential for power outages;
  • The possibilities of equipment failure; and
  • Employee safety and ability to get to work

 

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

 

Step 3: Plan: Based on your assessment above, the next obvious step is to plan for these contingencies. Bad weather can close a business for a day, a week, or more. Anything more than a week usually becomes a very big deal for most small businesses, so your winter plan has to include ways to keep things going as much as possible during any weather-related incident.

 

The first step here is to create an emergency committee (or contact person for the very small business) that will be in charge of communicating contingency plans to other employees. These communications should include: 

 

  • Emergency contact information for all employees, including home phone, mobile phone, personal email and family contact information;
  • Instructions for a communications chain if necessary;
  • A list of alternate ways to get to work, other than by car; and
  • A contingency plan for operating the business remotely

 

Step 4: Rehearse and test: The SBA suggests that it is a good idea for a small business to engage in a “table top” exercise whereby an imaginary weather emergency is acted out. Who will do what, when, and how? Does your plan actually work? Are there gaps in the system? This exercise will help you iron out any kinks in the plan.

 

Pull Quote.pngAfter the table-top evaluation, it is also smart to then test out any backup computer and continuity systems you have put in place— after all, the point of all of this planning is to make sure that no matter what obstacles the winter weather presents, you will be able to keep your business running. Says the SBA:

 

“Testing is a critical component of business continuity planning. If your systems went down, how long would it take to get them up and running again, and what would be required to achieve that goal? Testing your plan is the best way to ensure that your business will remain in operation no matter what, or that it can be quickly restored under any circumstances.”

 

In some climates, winter is an especially dangerous season. Smart entrepreneurs take the necessary preventative steps to make sure that his or her business and employees remain safe and sound.

 

How have you planned for the winter weather? Tell us how below.


About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. 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. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

As we’re now in the thick of the holidays and it’s getting colder and colder, my wife recently made a list of things for me to do around the house before winter really sets in, including cleaning the mildew off the deck. As I am not oSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngne to procrastinate on such things and am always 100% happy to oblige, I (eventually) trundled off to our local hardware store to find the right product to help me accomplish my important new goal.

 

I saw many products that promised to do the job, and I am sure that all of them would have worked well to some degree or another. But which one did I choose? It was something called 30 Second Outdoor Cleaner. Now, did I really expect that this stuff would clean my deck in a mere 30 seconds? No, of course not, but I did expect that it would be quick, easy and effective. It was.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

 

Why did I pick that product over all the other ones? It was the name that made all the difference.

 

That is the power of naming your business or product well: It has the potential to win customers over instantly.

 

So just how do you pick a business name? You basically have three options:

 

  • You can pick a basic name;
  • You can pick an odd name; or
  • You can pick a name with benefits.

 

Of the three, I like Dec 18.pngthe last one best, and I will explain why in a moment. But let’s look at the first two options before that:

 

1. The basic business name: Plenty of businesses go this route: “Smith & Sons” or “Diamond Dry Cleaners.” These are fine, if ordinary, names. But in my mind, the problem with choosing a basic business name is that it’s a lost opportunity. Indeed, when you own a small business, creating an image in the mind of the customer is no easy feat. And given that getting noticed above the din is tough, if your business name is not different, unique, or remarkable, it is unlikely to be remembered. 

 

2. The strange name: Think Xerox, or Amazon.com. These names are great because they are in fact so unique that they become memorable. The risk here is that while your odd business name may be memorable, too, if you can't afford to get people to remember it, it may just be odd. One reason we know of Amazon and Xerox is because those companies had the wherewithal to get us to remember their names. If you do not have a sizable marketing budget, picking an obscure name can be more of a curse than a blessing.

 

That is why the third option is often the best for small businesses:

 

3. The name with benefits: Here, what you do is think about the brand you want to create before you even name the business. What are the benefits your business offers that you want to emphasize, that you want to build your brand around? Once you know that, the next step is to come up with a few adjectives that exemplify those benefits and try adding them to the business name.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. 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. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.


We are pleased to share the Fall 2012 Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual study that uncovers the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners across the country. This study examines a variety of topics that are top of mind for small business owners, including the upcoming holiday season, revenue and growth expectations for 2013, business management and access to capital.

 

 

Small business owners want to grow or sustain the level of success they’ve experienced in 2012, in the year ahead. They are optimistic about revenue and hiring expectations, but are still wary about the health of the economy.

Info-Graphic.jpg


Moreover, small business owners are overwhelmingly committed to running their business, with the vast majority saying they’ve never had second thoughts about their decision to start a company, despite the stress it can cause them.

 

At Bank of America, we share in this commitment and continue to provide small business owners with the personalized counsel they need to manage their deposit, credit and cash management needs. Small business is without question the most critical driving factor of our national and local economies. We will continue to provide the resources, specialists, research and insights needed to enable small business owners’ success in the coming year.

 

Click Here to Download the Bank of America Small Business Owner Report.

 

Click Here to Download the Informational Charts and Graphics.

When I launched my new site earlier this year, I knew from the beginning that at a minimum we would also need a Twitter and Facebook presence. The bad news was that a band in Holland owned the URL names that we were after. And even though the band (sadly) had only a few hundred fans and followers, they were reluctant at first to turn over their URLs.

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

But getting the URLs turned out to be the easy part. Especially on Facebook, the challenge after we established ourselves was getting all the necessary Likes. Sure, our Likes grew organically, but I started to realize that Dr. Steve needed to take a bit of his own medicine – the guy who always talks about marketing and advertising needed to do some social media marketing and advertising!

 

So we invested in Facebook advertising designed to grow our Likes, and it has been hugely effective. In a little over two months, and with a frugal budget, we have gone from around 600 Likes to over 6,000. A ten-fold increase.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

The reason for that background story is that it should hopefully illustrate that we all need to brush up on our social media chops in one way or another. Here are five major benefits to doing so:

 

1. Social media creates brands: A brand is, essentially, the personality and promise of your company. There are many ways to build that brand, of course – have a great name for your business, consistently use a tagline, do what you promise – but there are none that are quite as easy as social media.

 

Even better: It costs nothing but time. By tweeting, posting, and interacting with folks who can share valuable comments that reinforce your desired brand and image, you will not only meet new people, but they will come to think of you in the way you intend. That’s what branding is all about.

 

2. It extends your brand: Why did I want to get all of those Likes? Because once we post something new on our Facebook page, it automatically gets pushed out to all of those folks who Liked us. The math goes like this: 1 post x 6,000 accounts = big brand extension. And that is where the real magic happens. After a while, people begin to notice you and your brand grows, as they say, virally.

 

3. Social media can get you leads: Twitter, Facebook, and especially LinkedIn, can be used for the very specific purpose of generating leads for sales. On LinkedIn for instance, the “advance search” feature allows you to search for people by profession, industry, company, region, etc. You can input your very specific criteria and out will pop a list of highly targeted people who fit your needs.

 

How cool, and useful, is that?Dec 11 Pull Quote.png

 

4. It can help you create a community: One of my favorite social media stories is about a woman who lost her job and started her own business. Because she had never been an entrepreneur before, she joined several LinkedIn groups and got involved. She met new people. She learned new things. She gave advice. And when the time came that she wanted an advisory board for her startup, she put out the word to her online groups . . . and got more than 50 people offering to help her for free.

 

5. Social media allows you to stay, and seem, current: We live in a fast-moving culture, and social media is getting all the buzz these days because it is hot. So keeping abreast of social media allows you to be part of the zeitgeist, it keeps you in the know and accessible.

 

With the world of social media ever changing (Pinterest, anyone?) it is incumbent upon the smart small business owner to stay on top of it.

 

How are you harnessing social media? Share your story below.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. 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. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

GIFT_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

Coffee, sleep, angel investors—what more does an entrepreneur really wish for?

 

As the holidays roll around once again, it’s time to show thanks to those who work hard all year long. And few work as hard as entrepreneurs, whose deadlines, commitments, and demands mean their most-appreciated rewards should be pretty specific. Though time machines and cloning aren’t quite an option just yet, there are plenty of goods and services out there now that might make the burdens of running a small business a bit lighter—or at least a bit more tolerable.

 

Katie Hughes, a writer, inventor, and chief executive of Slip-On Dancers, says most entrepreneurs would benefit from the gift of help from an outside expert—like a business coach or marketing guru. “Many entrepreneurs can’t see the obvious because they’re too stuck in the weeds,” she says. “A session or two will help raise them up so they can achieve great things in the business.”

 

Even an extra push on the physical side might be a treasured gift—like a few spa treatments or sessions with a personal trainer. “If your body isn’t taken care of, it’s tough to take care of all the other balls you’re trying to keep in the air,” Hughes says. “When you’re moving, it’s a lot easier to think about problems in different ways.”

 

Here’s a look at what Santa’s enterprise might consider, including items of encouragement, aids for those precious few downtime moments, and gifts that can get those inspirational juices flowing.



GIFT_PQ.jpgStrategy and the female entrepreneur

When Sun Tzu was penning his thoughts on strategy in The Art of War, he didn’t give much thought to the ladies. The classic Chinese military tome—an ‘80s executive suite staple—has been re-imagined by Becky Sheetz-Runkle, a jujitsu master and marketing pro whose book, Sun Tzu for Women, translates those ancient lessons for modern women in business, with updated principles on financial and personal matters that address the unique challenges females face.

 

 

Now hear this, not that

If you need to get in the zone or tune out noisy distractions, a pair of noise-canceling headphones is essential. Try Able Planet’s headsets ($79 to $349), which utilize advanced hearing-aid technology to deliver clear sound from any of your pile of gadgets, while keeping the volume low enough not to disturb those around you.   


 

Light Brigade

If commuting means pedal power, the winter months often mean you'll be hitting the streets in darkness. Pure Fix Cycling considered that with its glow-in-the-dark frame option for its fixed-gear bicycles ($399). The paint is solar-powered and stays light for hours. The technology makes the bike more visible to those on four wheels and gets you home—or back to the office—safely.


 

Lifesavers in the deskdrawer

If you’re looking to go practical, consider the smart survival kits from Minimus.biz, including their travel-size packs that are geared to convention-goers, office dwellers, male and female road warriors, and actual, non-zombie-apocalypse-related emergencies. Prices for packages start around $10 and are easily customized—and could be a godsend when your time is limited.

 

 

Clever at the cuffs

Aiming for a Bond-like turn during a presentation? Consider the ooohs you might get from your audience thanks to UBS flashdrive-equipped cufflinks (starting at $125) from CuffLinks.com. What panel of tech-savvy VCs wouldn’t be impressed when you whip out up to 8GB of flash-drive space with a flick of your wrist, or even their WiFi-enabled models. For the hardcore nerds, there’s even an R2D2 lookalike.

 

 

An extra hand

No matter how hard you try, you still can’t be everywhere at once. Nevertheless, there are cost-effective solutions to help lighten the load for busy entrepreneurs. In the New York area, there’s PA for a Day, which, for $20 per hour, lets people hire short- or long-term personal assistants to do everything from dog walking and grocery shopping to moving assistance, schedule keeping, and event planning—and gift certificates are available.

 

 

Rent a power tie

If you’re about to go before a VC panel and need to look extra sharp, here’s an easy, inexpensive way to fake it until you make it. The Tie Society, dubbed a Netflix for fine neckwear, offers top-notch men’s accessories from brands that aren’t necessarily for beginners, or to meet those one-time-only needs, like bow ties or specialty cufflinks. Plans start at $10.95 a month (and gift certificates are available).

 

 

Forced relaxation

Is that knot in the muscles between your shoulder blades aching again? There isn’t an entrepreneur in the world that couldn’t use an hourlong session that squeezes the stress out of their body and brings on the bliss. Get a gift certificate or a regular massage package for a local spa—and support another small business in the process—or grab a SpaFinder gift card, which is accepted at more than 20,000 locations. 

 

 

OK, maybe just a bit more coffee

If the mere thought of drinking another cup from one of those little concentrated packages gives you the shakes, maybe it’s time to aim higher. Try supporting another startup: Ideal Brew, based in Indianapolis, offers a monthly pack of three samples from three small-batch roasters, with the option to buy a full-size bag if you like what you’re drinking. The monthly shipment is $9.95, but the access to quality joe? Priceless. 

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