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2013

There was a time, not so long ago, when “going green” was thought to be both exotic and expensive. While CEOs liked the added value that came with having a greener brand, they wondered whether the cost made sustainable business better only in theory rather than in practicSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pnge.

 

Lately, however, creating a green (or greener) business has become far more mainstream as business owners understand that sustainability is both good business and good for business.  Here are a few reasons:

 

  • It saves money by encouraging waste reduction, recycling and reuse;
  • It improves efficiencies;
  • It creates a competitive advantage;
  • It lowers costs; and
  • It increases goodwill.

 

These days, consumers are more apt to expect that any business they interact with has green operating procedures, and many are willing to spend more for green products.  This is especially true among Millennials, who far more than their consumer-oriented Baby Boomer parents, take green values seriously and are willing to use their buying power to enact change.


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Given this attitude shift, it makes sense that small business owners are looking to promote sustainability in their business practices, among their employees and with their customers.  Here are three ways to do just that:

 

1. Reduce energy and water use: There are many easy and affordable ways to create a green business. One city that really encourages this is Portland, Oregon, which was recently named the Greenest City in America. In Portland, both small and large businesses are implementing creative ways to make their businesses, and thus the region, more sustainable. Some of the ways you can create a greener business include:

 

  • Purchasing Energy Star-certified goods when buying new technology;
  • Purchasing green-certified products;
  • Installing power timers so that equipment and lights go off at night.

 

2. Encourage your employees to be greener: One nice by-product of having a green workplace is that it is good for morale, as people generally enjoy working for businesses that have values. Helping your staff live the green values you set is pretty easy:

 

  • Encourage employees to take public transit or bikes to work by creating a bike room for storage or offering financial incentives for leaving the car at home (e.g., offer to subsidize a transit pass). You can also reward employees who carpool to work.
  • Ban plastic water bottles and offer filtered water so that employees can refill their water bottles at work instead.
  • Make reusing and recycling easy by having recycling bins available throughout the office.
  • Ask your employees what they want to do. Put out a “green suggestion box,” or simply make it known that you are open to new ideas for how to be greener and more efficient. By offering a prize for the best ideas, you will really get some good ones.

 

3. Encourage your customers to be greener: The same eco-consciousness that boosts employee morale is also present with your customers these days. It can be used to your April 16 Pull Quote.pngadvantage— especially if you make it easy for them to go green when doing business with you:

 

  • Offer green products.
  • Incentivize.
  • Match their donation.

 

So this Earth Day (April 22), remember— going green doesn’t cost, it pays.

 

How has your business focused on going green? 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

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.


TimeSavingTips_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.

 

Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu said, “Time is a created thing. To say 'I don't have time,' is like saying, 'I don't want to.’” Writer H. Jackson Brown, Jr. said, “Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

 

Time. We all have that set amount of time to complete what we need—and want—to do on any given day. The key for every small business owner is deciding what to do in those precious hours and minutes to maximize time and, hopefully, maximize revenue. Consider these statistics: A 2012 study by Mavenlink found that 38 percent of the small business owners polled considered time their most valuable asset, while 50 percent said their top worry in running a business is that there is not enough time to get everything done. Only 35 percent said making a profit was the top stress.

 

Is there a better way to spend your time? Maybe, probably, yes. We chatted with small business owners who changed in little ways how they spend and organize their work hours, and saw benefits from increased productivity and more time in the day to boost their bottom line.

 

 

Shift when you do things

Are you a morning person? Do you get an afternoon slump? Use that knowledge to your advantage, and switch around your schedule accordingly. “Work on tasks that suit your energy levels. If you are a morning person, tackle the most complex tasks early in the day,” says Marion Thier, president of Listening Impact, a company that teaches people how to listen to achieve better results. Thier utilizes this technique herself and passes this advice to her clients. “One of my clients has dramatically improved her sales performance by scheduling calls mid-afternoon when she has the least amount of nervous energy and has gotten the administrative work accomplished. She is calm and open to focus on prospective and current clients.”


 

Cut out unnecessary tasks

Roberto Torres, director of operations for Black & Denim, a small denim manufacturer in Tampa, Florida, stopped performing a time-consuming task of his every day, and instead shifted to completing it only once a week. “We [used to run] reports every morning, comparing our warehouse and website before we implemented a
tweak. Now, instead of running the report every day, we run the report every
Friday,” says Torres, “Our web store is more active on the weekends, so we make sure that the
inventory was accurate before the busiest part of the week.” Not only was this shift a time saver for his company, it also helped ensure an accurate inventory by preventing customers from ordering a style that wasn’t available, and therefore helping maintain solid customer service.

 

Stop multitasking

You return emails as you are in a meeting with your top team. You read reports as you work out at the gym. You may think doing two (or five) things at once is saving you time, but it may be doing the opposite. “Our brains cannot multitask,” says Thier. “Trying to do more than one thing at a time causes errors, loss of focus, and poor decisions. Instead, carve out a block of time to accomplish one task. Doing one thing well in a single block of time is the most efficient way to achieve results.”

 

Lindsay Anvik, CEO of See Endless, a brand and marketing consulting firm in New York City, uses technology to stay on one task. “I break up my day into small tasks
using an alarm/clock as a way to keep my focus. We all get bogged down
with checking email, answering phones and fielding all the other things
that come our way. I found that when I started using the 30/30 app [a customizable app that allows you to set tasks and the length of time for each] on my
iPad, I was able to focus on one thing at a time and get it done without
being distracted by anything else,” says Anvik. “When I use the app religiously, and not let myself stop working on the task
at hand to do something else (unless critical, of course), I found my
productivity increased.” 

 

TimeSavingTips_PQ.jpgRevamp that to do list

Sure, a list of everything you need to accomplish is good, but the way you organize the list can make your hours more productive. Jennifer Daly, co-owner of Kinespirit Studios, New York City’s largest Gyrotonic and Pilates studio, reworked her daily checklist to make it more specific and break down into exact times the things she needs to accomplish. “Take your list of to-dos and give them a schedule. For example, [on my daily agenda], I sit down to email from nine to 10 a.m. and four to five p.m. That's it. I check my iPhone regularly to make sure there are no
emergencies, but I give myself set email times to be more
focused and to not spend my whole day being distracted by communication
that can wait,” Daly explains. She then arranges weekly activities, like reaching out to new clients and welcoming them on Mondays,
manager meetings on Wednesdays, and checking for supply re-ordering on Fridays. “It is overwhelming to think that you have several things to do
everyday,” she says, “so set it up on a schedule and stick to it.”

 

Thier prepares her list the day before and prioritizes it. “Take time at the end of the day to review what you've accomplished and make a list for the following day. I color code my list, since interruptions are apt to claim attention. I use green for those with the highest priority. I tell my clients to be rigorous in the selection, of ones that require immediate attention and will cause positive or negative financial impact,” says Thier. “Of course, we'd like to check off everything on our lists, but that's not realistic. Not surprisingly, some of the [low priority] items remain there until they are no longer relevant. [Not doing those now-irrelevant tasks] doesn't translate into working fewer hours, but it does mean the time can be used to network, market, write—activities that will create income.”



 

Learn to ask why and remember how to say no

“People too often just write down all the things they think need to be accomplished without examining why,” Thier says. “I ask clients to keep a log for one week and we review how they spent their time and what were the results. People are often flabbergasted by how much nonproductive time they spent, often because they just went from one task to the next without asking if the task was necessary.” That wasted time is valuable time you could have been using to be more productive to grow revenue. Challenge yourself to opt not to do something unless you can see how it will really benefit you and your revenue. “Say no to extraneous requests for your time,” says Thier. “Question its relevance, its impact, and how it will fit into your already full load.”

When you go into a grocery store and find a box of cereal for $2.99 versus one that’s priced at $4, what’s the first thing that goes through your mind? It seems like a big price difference for two varieties of a commodity product, but it really is only a buck. Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png


On a much larger scale, if you go out car shopping, you expect to pay more for a BMW than a Volkswagen, even though both are quality, German-made autos. The business difference is that BMW aims to sell fewer products at a higher price to a wealthier, and maybe more discriminating, audience, while VW goes for high volume and less profit-per-sale. Both are valid strategies, and both work.


You may not be selling cars or cereal, but as you can imagine, the pricing of your product or service cannot be underestimated. It has a big impact on both your brand and on the decisions of your consumer.

 

When you pay more for an item, you expect more from the product. The price of your product carries a great psychological impact with it. You expect more from a car that costs $50,000 than you do from one that costs $19,000. Or you might expect a tastier brand of cereal if you’re buying a $4 box as opposed to a $2.99 box. The direct correlation between price and quality in the minds of most shoppers is no secret. Your task is to use that mindset to your advantage.


For example, marketing experts say that a product with an even-numbered price is considered to be of higher quality than one with an odd-numbered price; the same office chair selling for $500 is thought of as better quality than if it sells at a different store for $389.79. So if you are seeking to sell high-end items, you might want to price them with an even number. However, if you’re looking to sell more items at a lower price, you should consider odd-numbered pricing. One study found that merchandise sold better in lots of 3 for $1.77 per item, than at $1.69 each. A price of $3.33 might also catch someone's eye.


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

 

Certainly, when you take steps to price the products or services you offer, you need to consider both the brand that you’re creating and the customer to whom you are selling— are they high-end, low-end or something in between?


There is more to setting the right price point than simply determining your target audience. Determining your optimum price— the one that affords you the greatest number of sales at the greatest profit— is actually a four-step process.


1. Figure out your base cost: If you are selling widgets, you need to know exactly what it costs you to sell just one widget. This includes the price of materials, rent, labor, insurance, etc. Once you know that, you will know the minimum that you need to charge to break even.


april 9 pull quote.png

2. Determine your target market: Again, you can sell a lot of items for less money and a lower profit, fewer items for more money and a higher profit, or something in the middle.

 

3. Create a price that fits with your brand and image: Your price has to reinforce your existing brand and image, or else people won’t buy from you. For example, if Volkswagen started selling nothing but luxury cars, their original brand positioning would be futile, and consumers might start getting confused. Make sure that, whatever you charge, you don’t lose sight of the brand you’ve created for yourself.


4. Test your price: Your first price is not set in stone. Try pricing a bit lower, and a bit higher, and compare the results. Even s


mall business owners who have been in business for a long time should occasionally test new prices for old products. You never know, there may be a hidden gold mine in your store, simply awaiting your discovery.


What tactics do you currently use to determine pricing? Share your tips 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

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

 

QAmichalsalmon_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

If you’ve ever tried to figure out how to make your gadget dreams a reality, Michael Salmon may be the man to see. He’s one of the founders of San Diego’s MakerPlace, an independent “hackerspace” that welcomes members to tinker with an array of power tools, gain knowledge about new fields in classes run by pros or in collaboration with others, or learn to design with the latest in 3D printing technology. Business writer Erin McDermott talked with Salmon recently about how his own vision came about, what small business people are doing at MakerPlace, and where the future of the “maker” movement is heading.

 

EM: How did MakerPlace come about? It’s pretty unique.

MS: I’ve always been a hands-on person—instead of sitting behind a computer dealing with websites, I’ve preferred to design tangible stuff and create it. Throughout school, I always based my projects around that: In wood shop, I would build skateboards; in design class I would design advertisements or silk-screen shirts. In college, I started working on a custom skateboard brand and afterward, while doing freelance design, I kept it going and started on the production part, selling it out of local skate shops. Later, I moved out to San Diego for a job. But after a while, I realized that working for someone else wasn’t for me.

 

My brother was out here too, so we decided to do the skateboard thing full-time: bought the machinery, did the trade-show circuit. We realized that what we were doing—high-end boards—really didn’t click because the market wasn’t there for it. So we took our machinery and tried to see what else we could do with it. With my experience in design and my brother’s in fabrication, we decided to branch out to anybody in whatever possible industry to see whom we could help out. We started doing stuff for the Navy, the aerospace industry, even consumers who had custom little gifts and trinkets. So we geared our shop toward that and opened in North Park, which is a little arts community, and were there for about three years and did really well.

 

One of the groups we always did a lot of work for was students, especially in architecture and design. They always had a lot of projects to run, but for us, it never felt right to charge them our full rate, but at the same time didn’t enjoy spending three days in row not pulling in a full-dollar value for it. So we started doing Student Days, which were cash deals for these guys to come in and do their stuff, which put a little money in our pocket but also helped them out, too. After that, we began trying to figure out how we could make that work better: Let them come in after-hours where they could pay us to use our equipment, so that we didn’t need to be there to babysit them.

 

This was all floating in the back of our heads when one of our customers came in and mentioned the same idea and asked if we ever thought of it. We were looking to move to a bigger space, and he said if we ever thought about doing it to let him know. My brother took his card and kind of put it on the back burner for a bit. When it came time to move out of that rented space, we made that phone call and it was “Let’s do it.”

 

We found a building on Craigslist that same day, pulled the trigger and just founded MakerPlace. We got the keys in December 2011 and had the doors open by March. We stripped everything, totally renovated, acquired the equipment, and got this place going. We still have Soul Ride going, which we operate out of here and which keeps us busy seven days a week, as well as growing and tweaking MakerPlace to make it the best it can possibly be right now.

 

QAmichalsalmon_PQ.jpgEM: And you serve as an incubator, too?

MS: We have five small businesses operating out of here. We provide a turnkey solution to these guys and there’s also access to a conference room, printer services, administration services as far as the front desk receiving all of their phone calls.  

 

EM: You offer new 3D printing technologies along with other types of traditional machinery. What are you encountering with the people who are using it?

MS: We have a lot of guys who are trying to come up with prototypes. With 3D printing now so accessible, there’s an opportunity for these people to create and come up with these prototypes they’ve had floating in their heads for quite some time—things that were otherwise unreachable at a decent cost. So I see a lot of guys come in who are just playing—downloading models online to print stuff for the fun of it. But I also have a lot of guys who are doing R&D work for their small companies, or even large companies. We have a couple of industrial-scale 3D printers that are a little more robust and some open source-style ones that are smaller, single-filament versions.

 

There’s a huge scope of what people are doing here. You’ve got guys with totally off-the-wall ideas and expect 3D printers to solve all problems. With this type of facility, you’ll always have everybody thinking there’s this cool tool above their knowledge base and that tool should be able to solve it, and that’s true with 3D printers. There are a lot of constraints that you have to operate within, but it’s really great to see the guys who really grasp those limitations and know how to exploit them and use them to their advantage. They come up with some really cool stuff.

 

EM: What type of things are they making?

MS: I’ve got guys who are making new skateboard products. Others are working on things like child-safety lock devices or housing for electronics. One guy was an old race car driver and is building 1/15th scale version of his race car. Some of it is pretty ambiguous—you look and you’re just not quite sure what that is. [laughs] We have one member who was working on something geothermal. I guess that technology was pretty outdated and he created a new fitting for it. He actually prototyped it here and then took the model he made on the 3D printer and sent it to his partner in China to have it manufactured. That was cool to see something go from drawing to prototype to actually go straight into manufacturing.

 

EM: MakerPlace just had its first birthday. What are your members like? Do you see a lot of interaction with the local business community?

MS: There’s a decent amount of our membership that are smallbusiness guys. Maybe not brick-and-mortar types, but a lot of designers and fabricators. Architecture students who have moved on and now have a lot of restaurant build-out and home design work. There are a lot of landscape architects who come in and do custom signage and fixtures for their projects. There’s also a lot of tech-based folks who are looking to get funding and are busy scrambling to get their prototypes and documentation. We have a patent attorney on site—he rents one of our incubator spaces and does a lot of work with these guys.

 

EM: So you’re there in the beating heart of this “Maker” scene. Where do you think it’s all going?

MS: Good question—that’s what we’re trying to figure out. It’s definitely on the rise, but one of our challenges is how to harness and ride that wave. Awareness is a big thing for us. We do a lot of events to bring people in. But this is also kind of like a glorified gym—people come and go. You have guys who are hobbyists and just want to come in here with a project and build. You have people who come in with a business and use the space to make money. And then you have the “makers” who are here for the sheer enjoyment of learning and growing and capturing as much knowledge in every realm that they possibly can.

 

Trying to tap into those types is the tricky thing—they’re so spread out. It’s not like I can go sit at Home Depot for 12 hours and hand out fliers and capture everyone I need to capture. It’s really about trying to figure out strategically where to hit: Do we do engineering firms, the biotech stuff, aerospace, the military? It’s really trying to captivate the audience that we’re going for—because there’s a little bit of this in everybody, besides the people who are completely hands off. I’d say the majority of people don’t mind fixing things themselves. And for those who do, it’s about trying to inspire them to think beyond their normal scope of what they’ve been able to do. Let them know the access to what they have here—the laser cutters, the CNC plasma cutters, the 3D printers. Really, any little idea you’ve had or things you’ve wanted to do, it’s now possible to make it happen. If you don’t necessarily know how, you can take one of our classes to get a bit more knowledge.

 

Another really cool aspect of this place is the collaboration—the stuff that happens in-house. We’ve got guys that created businesses just by sitting here collaborating on things with other guys. And that’s a pretty cool thing to see happen.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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