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As a small business store owner with a brick-and-mortar presence, you have three main digital priorities:

 

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    1. Reach your target audience online.
    2. Engage with your target audience.
    3. Entice your target audience to visit your store and become paying customers.

 

It’s a good bet much of your target audience spends a lot of time on social networking sites. There are currently 4.39 billion internet users, and 3.49 billion of those are active on social media, spending an average of 2.5 hours per day on the platforms of their choice.

 

Regardless of whether you are an online business or a brick and mortar store, social media is a fantastic way to accomplish your top business priorities in a time- and cost-efficient manner.

 

Reaching your target audience online comes down to answering the following three questions.

 

1. Who exactly is your target audience?

 

Social media is massive. It’s important that you hone in on who exactly you want to attract.

Here’s a tip: it’s not everyone. When you attempt to talk to everyone, your message becomes diluted and, as a result, it doesn’t resonate with your audience.

 

Instead, you want to focus on building a community around the type of people who buy from you. This way you can communicate in a way that captures your community’s attention and piques their interest to learn more. As a brick and mortar store, location will play a big factor here.

 

Consider demographics such as age, gender, occupation, income level and household set up. Think about the personality of your customers. What are their pain points? What do they value? What interests them? These can all be used to define your niche and the people you want to attract online.

 

2. On which platforms do your audience members spend most of their time?

 

On average, people have 5.54 social media accounts. It’s your job to choose the one or two platforms where the largest portion of your audience is engaged and focus your efforts there. For most brick and mortar stores, I recommend Facebook and Instagram. They are perfect for the visual aspects of retail.

 

If you try to be on every platform, you’ll likely run into resource issues related to the amount of time, staff and budget required to manage your social media accounts. It’s better to focus your efforts, stay consistent and make one or two platforms a success before adding more.

 

The easiest way to find out where your target audience is most active is to simply ask them. You can bring it up with current customers while in-store or ask them to fill out a survey. If your current customers are spending a significant amount of time on a certain platform, chances are, the rest of your potential audience is too.

 

3. Which similar accounts might they be following?

 

Most likely, your competitors are active on social media. They may have already built a community of your ideal audience, making it easy for you to find them. Similarly, there are likely to be a number of non-direct competitors who share a similar audience to you. They also have communities you can tap into.

 

You can easily search accounts on both Facebook and Instagram if you know your competitors’ names. On Instagram, you can search hashtags that your customers or competitors might be using. You can also search for your location on both platforms, which is a big advantage as a physical store.

 

Once you understand the locations, hashtags, and accounts that are performing well, take time to reach out and engage with your audience members.

 

Like posts, add thoughtful and relevant comments on posts, reply to Stories and show you are invested.

 

Connect with local business owners and learn from them. With the right ‘collaboration over competition’ mindset, you’ll discover opportunities to serve your customers by tapping into the community of others.

 

Now you’re ready to engage with your target audience

 

Once you’ve found your target audience, you need to earn their attention and their engagement with your brand. This is not always easy. It takes time and consistent effort but there are some best practices for you to follow.

 

1. Be consistent

 

Consistency will always have the greatest impact on your success. It’s important to post consistently and ensure you optimize your post for each platform. When it comes to Facebook and Instagram, a combination of photos and videos works well.

 

Aim to post on a daily basis if you possibly can. To help with consistency, come up with a content plan and consider using a tool like AgoraPulse, Hootsuite or Buffer to plan and schedule your content in advance.

 

2. Create thumb-stopping content

 

Your content has to be thumb-stopping to capture the attention of your audience. Use high-quality photos and videos that are visually compelling.

 

Definitely allocate a budget for content creation, particularly if you have a visual brand. Consider hiring a photographer and setting up your store aesthetic so that you encourage customers to take photos in your store and publish them online, too.

 

Share your products online and in a setting in which your audience can relate. Showcase your store. Give your prospects a reason to visit you!

 

3. Be sure to include well-written captions

 

Your captions should speak to your audience rather than at them. Including a question and some fun emojis can be a great way to spark a conversation and boost engagement. In fact, emojis increase Instagram engagement by 48 percent.

 

For video posts, always add captions, as 85 percent of videois watched with the sound off. If you’re unfamiliar with how to do this, you can use a tool like Rev, Zubtitleor Temito create these captions for you. Or, Facebook has the caption tool built-in for most video lengths.

 

4. Use location tags and hashtags

 

When posting on Instagram, always add your location to each post and include hashtags relevant to your audience. You can use up to 30 hashtags in each Instagram post. Discover which hashtags are popular and relevant simply be searching within the Instagram app and filtering through ‘Tags.’

 

5. Use Stories daily

 

Use Stories on a daily basis to give your audience an insight into the offline experience they can expect when visiting your store. Share behind the scenes of what goes on in your business. Not only does this build trust through transparency, it helps to build real relationships with people online and generate excitement around visiting your store.

 

Stories have a number of fun, interactive features. Use quizzes, questions, polls, GIFs, and stickers to showcase your brand personality and encourage engagement. Invite your audience to be part of store decisions such as which items to put in your storefront, your next offline promotion, etc. It shows you genuinely care about providing the best experience possible and helps your audience to feel invested in your brand, again, giving them even more reason to visit.

 

You can also use Stories to share experiences posted from other customers who have visited your store. This will create a buzz and provide social proof to those who are yet to visit.

 

For more tips on Stories, check out How to Make Stories Work for your Small Business.

 

Bonus Tip: If you really want to generate excitement, create a small ‘Instagram Booth’ in your store to encourage current customers to take photos/videos and post online tagging your company. This way you are also growing your online word of mouth through your current customer base.

 

 

About Mari Smith

 

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Often referred to as “the Queen of Facebook,” Mari Smith is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on Facebook marketing and social media. She is a Forbes’ Top Social Media Power Influencer, author of The New Relationship Marketing and coauthor of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day. Forbes recently described Mari as, “… the preeminent Facebook expert. Even Facebook asks for her help.” She is a recognized Facebook Partner; Facebook headhunted and hired Mari to lead the Boost Your Business series of live events across the US. Mari is an in-demand speaker, and travels the world to keynote and train at major events.

 

Her digital marketing agency provides professional speaking, training and consulting services on Facebook and Instagram marketing best practices for Fortune 500 companies, brands, SMBs and direct sales organizations. Mari is also an expert webinar and live video broadcast host, and she serves as Brand Ambassador for numerous leading global companies.

 

Web: Mari Smith  or Twitter: @MariSmith

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Mari Smith to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Mari Smith is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Mari Smith. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

The act of starting a business is often arduous and lonely. Long days and nights hunched over a computer, bouncing ideas off yourself since there’s no one else around.

 

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Imagine being surrounded by like-minded entrepreneurs — and experienced coaches—soaking in a pool, staring at a volcano. Or savoring some alone time, taking the time to be mindful and reflect on your goals — and what you want to be when you grow up.

 

Sound like a dream? It’s not — it’s reality thanks to childhood friends Brian Helfman and Josh Gershon, the cofounders of Startup Island, who are determined to empower young entrepreneurs to be the CEOs of their own lives.

Rieva Lesonsky: What is Startup Island?

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Brian Helfman: Startup Island is a personal development accelerator designed to connect entrepreneurial-minded college students and young professionals through shared travel experiences. We host an alternative spring break program in Costa Rica for college students from all over the world. We also host summer camp weekends for “older” millennials (ages 23 - 39) in upstate New York and run a New Year’s trip, Ignite, for that same demographic, which is in a new location every year.

 

During our trips, participants have a chance to de-stress in an inspiring environment, develop meaningful connections with entrepreneurial-minded peers, and work with a team of experienced coaches. On all our trips, we try to maintain a 4:1 ratio of participants to coaches. Each coach leads a workshop within their realm of expertise and conducts one-on-one “Island Office Hours” with participants looking to dive deeper into their own goals.

 

Lesonsky: What was the impetus for launching Startup Island?

 

Helfman: Josh and I have been friends since we were 11. During the summer of 2015, I was two years into building another business when Josh approached me with the idea to do a retreat for entrepreneurs. He wanted to call it Startup Island. The more we talked about the idea, the more passionate I became about it. I realized Startup Island could be a perfect combination of the things I enjoyed, and the things I was really good at — creating meaningful experiences, travel, spending time in nature, mentorship, and building businesses. So in October, we decided to launch and began marketing our first trip — an alternative spring break program for college entrepreneurs. During that trip, in March 2016, I decided to shift my focus to Startup Island full time, to grow a business that could make massive positive impact.

 

Lesonsky: What’s the feedback from alums of the program?

 

Helfman: The feedback from our travelers has been really special. Some of the overarching themes include business breakthroughs, positive mindset shifts, and the development of a supportive community. There are traveler testimonials on our community page.

 

Lesonsky: One of your goals is to build a community. Have you accomplished that?

 

Helfman: One of the coolest things to witness as our business continues to grow is how much value our participants realize from the community itself. We always say, our participants arrive as strangers and leave as family — corny, but true. And the trip is just the beginning. Our travelers stay in touch through online forums we’ve built and organize their own in-person meetups around the world. We’ve seen everything from business partnerships to lifelong friendships form, even between people who originally went on different trips.

 

Lesonsky: You believe entrepreneurial thinking is not just for people starting a business.

 

Helfman: We believe having an entrepreneurial mindset is useful whether you’re starting a business or not. An entrepreneurial mindset helps you take ownership over your entire life. That said, we have seen many of our participants start businesses, especially those who were in corporate jobs when they first joined us.

 

They’ll start ramping up a side hustle after they get home from their Startup Island trip, and eventually they make that side hustle their full-time focus. Many of our alums credit us for helping build the confidence, network, knowledge, and resources to execute and build on their big ideas.

 

Lesonsky: What have you learned from creating Startup Island?

 

Helfman: I’m so grateful to be building this business for many reasons — the most significant is being surrounded by so many smart, ambitious, impact-driven people, who are equally as kind, funny, and genuine.

 

I’m also driven to learn more about the world’s problems, so I can do my best to help the members of our community solve those problems. Entrepreneurship is hard. Making an impact is hard. And doing it alone is even harder. Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned is a mutually supportive community of impact-driven people can help maximize the chances of success for each member of that community. I’ve seen it start to happen, and I’m so excited to see how each member continues to grow and change the world for the better.

 

Lesonsky: Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

 

Helfman: Yes, thousands of things. Mostly optimizations that could’ve made our trips even better, or things that could have saved us time. But I’ve learned from all of it, and I’m very happy with where the business is today.

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

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Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

Whenever you hear about some big advertising campaign or catch a clever commercial on TV, it’s easy to think: “But I’m a small business. I can’t do that. They must have an astounding budget.”

 

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You’re right. It can cost quite a lot to build what a company needs to be seen in the modern age. But I want to share that marketing with little or no budget can still earn big results if you use a little creativity, some personalized effort and free internet tools.

 

Here are five ways you can build strong customer and community engagement:

 

1.  Launch monthly events - No matter what you sell, there’s a reason for people to gather. I live right beside a smaller, old-timey hardware store. If they had monthly or weekly events like “Simple Fixes” where they show us how to change out a bathroom faucet, it would work well. Make the event about the product or about the kind of people the product serves. You might sell insurance. Maybe your event could be “Small Business Meet & Greet.” There are plenty of options.

 

2.  Publish an email newsletter - My No. 1 marketing technology after all these years is a personable, well-written email newsletter. I’m advocating for a “looks just like Mom sent it” plain old black text on white background email template. And instead of sending the random “junk drawer” of whatever you find online, think about what your customers might actually want to know more about. You deal with accountants? Teach them how to sell packages instead of just billable hours. Make the newsletters reasonably brief (300 words or so) and to the point. It’s your option whether you end with a call-to-action of some kind (but I would).

 

3.  Shoot Brief Videos - Five seconds, 30 seconds, a minute at most if you can do it. Use your smartphone to shoot small videos. What should you cover? How-to answers. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Interviews (super brief) with employees. Video testimonials where the story is about the customer, not about how great you are. “Show and tell.” Post them on YouTube and/or on your website.  [Check out How to use Compelling Video On Social Media for your Small Business by Mari Smith for some great tips.]

 

4.  Send Personal Messages to Your Best Clients - My buddy Mick runs a gaming and comic store. In the old days, when he was selling more comics (and I was buying some), he’d email me or tweet me pictures of new comics that came out on Wednesday. Not “the” comics but “my” comics, the ones I’d care about. That one move can be copied and stolen by almost any business. Send specific one-on-one messages that engage and encourage your customers or prospects to come in and visit. It makes a difference. These can be in email, text, private Facebook messages, or postcards for all it matters.

 

5.  Build a Great Onboarding Process - A lotof customers express frustration with the “purchase and forget” experience they have with lots of smaller businesses. They buy a product or a service and the company stops interacting right there. Depending on what you sell, a great way to engage and reach people and earn their continued business (and referrals) is to follow up after a sale to see how things are going, to provide how-to instructions if that makes sense, and to offer any further assistance. There’s a wealth of “next sales” hidden in those connections.

 

What I love most about these recommendations is that nothing here takes a whole lot of time to put together, nor does most of what I recommended cost money. Time? Yes. Effort? Absolutely. But not much (if any) money.

 

If we want to sell and serve the best in our community, we will need to build better levels of engagement. It’s simple but not easy, and you can do it.

 

 

About Chris Brogan

 

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Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better support modern humans. The age of factory-sized interactions is over. We all come one to a pack. And it’s time to accept that we are all a little bit dented. Chris advisesleadership teams to empower team members by sharing actionable insights on talent development. He also works with marketing and communications teams to more effectively reach people who want to be seen and understood before they buy what a company sells.

 

Web: https://chrisbrogan.com Twitter: @ChrisBrogan

Read more from Chris Brogan

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Chris Brogan to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. The third parties within articles are used under license from Chris Brogan. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

These days, small businesses have no lack of data. You can run analytics for how well your Facebook posts are doing, the open rate for your e-newsletter, shopping cart abandons, what time of day products sell best, and a whole lot more.

 

The question is not whether you generate data – you do – but rather, do you have the time or insight as to how to digest these numbers and determine what they mean for your small business goals?

 

That’s where a good dashboard comes in handy. In the parlance of analytics, this is called Business Intelligence, or BI. The good news: Several innovative companies have created a slew of BI tools to analyze and interpret your data.

 

So which dashboards are worth your time and can best help you run your business?

 

Here are some of my favorites:

 

Bank of America® Business Advantage 360: This is a superior financial dashboard from our friends at Bank of America. Business Advantage 360 (BA360) is a digital tool designed to make it easy for small business owners to manage the various financial aspects of their business, especially the all-important cash flow.

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Available to any Bank of America client with a business deposit account, Business Advantage 360 provides a birds-eye view of business cash flow and access to real-time expertise and guidance. With BA360, you can:

 

      • Create and graphically display cash-flow projections
      • Integrate account information to easily keep track of finances
      • Manually adjust projections with additional data like new sales
      • Set up cash flow thresholds and display them graphically and add alerts when adjustments may be needed

 

Here’s a good video that can show you how Business Advantage 360 can help your business.

 

Dasheroo: Dasheroo began as a tool that collected and curated social media data. You could compare your Facebook Likes and Insights, Twitter follows and analytics, Instagram hits and so forth all in one place. Simply set up your customer Dasheroo dashboard, attach your different accounts, and the system would give visually interesting analysis and insight of all of your social media metrics.

 

Now, Dasheroo allows you to corral data from many of your other useful business apps, including:

 

      • MailChimp
      • PayPal
      • YouTube
      • SalesForce
      • Infusionsoft
      • Google Analytics
      • SurveyMonkey
      • QuickBooks®

 

You get the idea. A great analytical tool.

 

Zoho Reports: Most of these dashboards offer the same eye candy functionality. That is, you have access to:

 

      • Beautiful dashboards
      • Drag & drop report creation  
      • Interactivity
      • Customization
      • Visually stunning graphics

 

Zoho offers this as well. By taking the headache out of producing reports, Zoho Reports makes it easy to generate clear, powerful, useful reports based on your data.

 

Board: According to Board, “We feature some of the best data visualization tools available alongside in-depth planning and forecasting functionality, providing users with a consistent, self-service, fully integrated approach to reporting, analysis, simulation, and planning.” With Board you can:

 

      • Plan, monitor and get insight into your sales processes
      • Track, analyze and plan your sales "lead to revenue" process
      • Plan and analyze across the entire supply chain management
      • Streamline workforce planning and get better insights into human resources performance
      • Automate financial planning and analyze business performance down to operations

 

And these are just a start. Check out some of the tools listed here – you, and your business will be better for it.

 

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steve Strauss Headshot New.pngSteven 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 also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

Transforming a hobby into a small business takes preparation, passion and faith. On this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Karen Anderson shares the story of her company, Tiny Doors ATL, and its evolution from a personal art project into a successful business and local phenomenon. Karen takes listeners behind the scenes of her journey, offering advice to anyone looking to turn their passion into a business.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Check out more small business stories:

 

Podcast transcript:

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com. Here’s your host, Gregg Stebben.

 

Gregg Stebben:        Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. I am here with Karen Anderson, she's the principal artist and director of the company, Tiny DoorsATL. The website is tinydoorsatl.com, on Facebook and Instagram @TinyDoorsATL. Karen, I'm gonna let you explain what you do, I'm just gonna explain that the ATL part stands for Atlanta. You're on your own for explaining the Tiny Doors part. Welcome and tell us about your business, Tiny DoorsATL.

 

Karen Anderson:        Hi, thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here. Tiny DoorsATL is a fun little thing to try to explain to people and I think a lot of small business owners have this issue of the elevator speech, how exactly you explain what your ... what your thing is.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Is it a tiny elevator door from Tiny Doors, for the tiny elevator pitch?

 

Karen Anderson:       Yes, that's a perfect idea — I have made tiny elevator doors for a Marriott, actually, so that's a good little segue way. I went to art school, art school is not business school…it is just making art. They don't really teach you about the business of making art, and so it became something, I started making these tiny doors and then they started to get more and more demand for them. I found that I wanted my business model to be just making a few of what I was doing a year and making them matter.

 

 

                                   Instead of taking that large-scale production I went with smaller scale and with a more impactful way about it. What I do is I make literally seven-inch doors, they're one inch to one foot, so it would be a seven-foot door to seven-inch door. It reflects and respects the neighborhood that's around it so it's gonna look like it belongs where it is, whether it's at the business or in a neighborhood, I try to make something that is interactive and feels like it belongs to the neighborhood. Does that make sense?

 

Gregg Stebben:         And so we are literally talking about tiny doors, I just want to be clear about, and not just tiny doors, by the way. For instance, I'm looking at one, I think it's at either a pet food store or a doggy day care center. It's a tiny door with a tiny dog door in the tiny door and a tiny dog behind going through the tiny dog door. We actually find out there's this little secret or an Easter egg. It's actually a cat behind, not a dog behind.

 

 

                                   What I love about what you just said is that you have a completely different — maybe you have to go to art school to come up with this — but you have a completely different take on supply and demand because, as you said, many businesses think you have to get bigger and do more and more to grow. What you actually did was decide to get smaller and to address supply and demand in a completely different way.

 

Karen Anderson:       Yeah, and you know what's funny, is that I thought that didn't qualify me as a small business. I have an LLC, I am a small business, and I still didn't think of myself that way because I wasn't doing the more demand.

 

Gregg Stebben:         There was no tiny door factory — you are the tiny door factory and there's only one of you.

 

Karen Anderson:        Right. I'm an artist and this is my art that you're looking at. I do have some employees who work for me, I do have all the other things that a business would have, I just don't have a factory that makes a thousand tiny doors a year.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes. So I guess I have to ask. I'm talking with Karen Anderson, she's the principal artist and director of Tiny DoorsATL. You can see the tiny doors at tinydoorsatl.com, the ATL part stands for Atlanta. She's on Facebook and Instagram @TinyDoorsATL. It is such a joy to go and look at the photos, it is so much fun, almost as much fun as I'm sure being there. There's a map of where you can tour the tiny doors in Atlanta, but I am hoping you will give us a little insight into the business model of your business. You've alluded to it, but I think, for some of us, it's a bit of a mystery how you could make a living, create a successful business, creating tiny doors and deliberately only creating a few.

 

Karen Anderson:       Yeah, you know, it's certainly never been done before, and I followed the business model of a lot of other artists, say muralists, who can't make a thousand murals a year, but they can make 10 or 12 great murals a year. So, they look for 10 or 12 companies who are interested in commissioning. That's what has ended up happening with me, is that I get commissioned to do these doors, and then there's a lot of business that goes on around that.

 

                                   I have a lot of merchandise that people buy, things like that, that aren't doors, and it also has led to public speaking, which is another part of the Tiny DoorsATL business. I do conferences and I do schools — it's been really fun to go talk to students who have seen the doors and are interested. There have been a few facets that this business has turned into rather than just being a door production factory. It's become meeting demands as they come up and really sticking with having the doors themselves be my resume rather than be a product you could buy off the shelf.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You've said so many really great things here. One is, I actually want to direct our listeners back to “The Heartbeat of Main Street Podcast” because we did another interview that was really focused on what you just described, which is creating multiple profit centers. Again, it sounds like you've done a brilliant job of that, merchandising things around the doors, merchandising yourself as a speaker. There's probably all kinds of ways you can continue to grow the business without actually making more tiny doors.

 

Karen Anderson:       Absolutely.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, in the evolution of this is a business, given that you went to art school, at what point did you realize, "Oh — oh, I have a real business here." Was there any conflict inside you about that? Did you ever think, "Well, wait a minute, I'm an artist."

 

Karen Anderson:       Yes, I think all artists get that sort of starving artist thing thrown at them so many times that they might start to feel guilty about making money and a lot of people at the beginning of this process, the beginning of Tiny DoorsATL, becoming more known, started to ask me to become a non-profit. They were like, "Okay, here's the time. Become a non-profit, we'll help you file the paperwork," and I looked at what it meant to be a non-profit, and I thought about whether I wanted that or not, whether I could stomach being for profit as an artist.

 

 

                                   It was something that I really struggled with but the thing about profit is it's what you do with it. With my profit, I choose to pay my employees as much as I can, I choose to reinvest into the business. I’m not doing anything nefarious. I’m taking care of the street art that I've made in Atlanta, with the money that I make from private commission, so I literally take care of street art with my profit. But if I were a non-profit, I would have had to go about it so differently and I decided that wasn't for me.

 

Gregg Stebben:         That's a really wonderful way that you describe that, and it actually leads into one of the questions I wanted to ask you which is, with your art and with this business philosophy you just shared with us that includes things like taking care of your employees in the best possible way, have you found that turning your passion into a business has given you the power to reach a wider audience? Did you envision that, is that something you embrace, is it something that you want to do more? Talk more about the power that having this successful business gives you.

 

Karen Anderson:       Yeah, I’m gonna use the M word. I'm a Millennial, and I think that's important to note because I came of age at a time when the economy had tanked. I graduated from high school in 2001, and so I was heading off to college right at the beginning of a recession. It really empowered me. I felt like I could follow my passion because there was no safety, there was no route where you could go and you were guaranteed, at least for me, at least for someone who didn't want to study math.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Or business.

 

Karen Anderson:        It wasn't a safe route for me to get through, and so I felt like, "Well, you know what? The only way I'm gonna do it is if it's something that I love. Then starting Tiny Doors, I had other things that I was trying. Tiny Doors wasn't ... I didn't start this thinking, "This will be my career, this will be my business." I just had been listening to people paying attention to it, people wanting to participate, wanting to buy more art from me. It has made me feel empowered to keep building and keep growing.

 

                                   It's also, I think, just really good to listen to what's going on around you and respond to that, and that's a lot of what I've done with this.

 

 

Gregg Stebben:         I want to ask one last question, Karen. Talking with Karen Anderson, she's the Principal Artist and Director of Tiny DoorsATL, tinydoorsatl.com, on Facebook and Instagram @TinyDoorsATL. Go to the website, go to the Facebook page, go to the Instagram page. Look at the tiny doors.  They're tiny doors, but way more than tiny doors. As you can hear in Karen's voice, they're really, it sounds like transforming neighborhoods and communities and even businesses that embrace this because of everything that's included in this whole, I'm gonna call it a tiny door movement.

 

Karen Anderson:        I think that what people respond to is honesty. Like, I have a t-shirt that I bought from a company, that I love the honesty of the people who put that company together with the materials that they use. There's that story of why it was important to you, why this was created. This project is so honest to who I am. I've always made miniatures, I've always loved it. I'm a little bit shocked that people are as nerdy as I am and they love it right along with me. But I embrace that and I move forward with it as much as I can.

 

                                    I think a lot of that, a lot of the success of this business has been the response to how real it is.

 

Gregg Stebben:         That's a perfect place for me to ask this last question which is, what advice would you offer others who see what you're doing and your success and hope to turn their own passion into a business? What advice can you give them to get started and give them the courage to go for it?

 

Karen Anderson:       I'm kind of, I'm pretty deliberate. For somebody who has pink hair and makes tiny doors, I'm actually pretty reserved when it comes to making choices like that. I chose not to take a job teaching art, I chose to nanny when I first moved to Atlanta because I wanted to pursue making art. So, I chose not to take the status position. I chose to take a job where I could pursue my passion as a hobby, and see if I liked it. I ended up two years into that job writing my TedX talk while the kid was taking a nap because I just was afraid to make that leap, because I liked my job and I liked having it all, but I was like, "This isn't gonna move forward until I really give it everything I have."

 

                                  I slowly and deliberately made that leap into Tiny Doors, and I'm really glad that I did. There have been a lot of leaps along the way — I know every small business owner will say that. It's not as though you made one big decision, it's like a lot of little decisions that ended up as a business.

 

 

Gregg Stebben:         Could we summarize what you just said as saying you had faith in yourself?

 

Karen Anderson:       I did. I did have faith in myself and I think that when you're doing what you absolutely love, there's that faith that's in there because you know that it's something that you're never gonna give up on. There was one day when my business took a big leap forward. I was posted on Instagram's Instagram, which has hundreds of millions of followers, and then I was on the Travel Channel all in 24 hours. And I was freaking out, honestly, I didn't know what to do with all that attention at once and so I called a friend, who has been a rock star for about 30 years and I asked her what she does.

 

                                   She said, "Here's how I think of it. You’ve got to find the one thing that you love about what you're doing and do more of that. Do as much as you can. Take one thing, just pick one thing that you don't like, and don't do that thing anymore, hire someone to do it. Find a way that you don't have to do that one thing," and she said, "Everything else is just your job. Even if it's your dream job, it's just your job, just do it." It really changed how I felt about this project. It really helped me get some perspective. Do more of the thing I love, it seemed so simple.

 

                                  She was like apologizing to me, going "I know that's so simple," and it was brilliant and I hope it helps someone else.

 

 

Gregg Stebben:         And we get to know who the rock star is, so we can give credit where credit is due?

 

Karen Anderson:       Sure. Sure, it was Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls.

 

 

Gregg Stebben:         That's awesome. If you were as charmed as I am by Karen and her story, go to the website tinydoorsatl.com, Facebook and Instagram @TinyDoorsATL. If you want to hear more great small business stories and tips just like those we just heard from Karen, check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Karen, thanks again for joining us.

 

Karen Anderson:        Thank you, it's been a pleasure.

 

Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.comand Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

There’s never been a tougher time to own a local business. Today, anyone can order the same goods they’d find in a brick and mortar store using their mobile phones from billion-dollar businesses with huge economies of scale. They can get those purchases delivered to their door the very next day, or even the same day, without ever leaving the sofa, let alone looking for a parking space or waiting in line.

 

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It’s no wonder chains as ubiquitous as Toys R Us, Payless Shoes, and Borders have all closed stores or gone out of business in the last few years while the value of Amazon’s shares almost doubled between April 2017 and April 2019.

 

The rise and convenience of Internet shopping mean local firms need to look beyond the simple exchange of goods for money as the foundation of their businesses. Any outlet can do that. They need to offer something that Amazon and other online businesses can’t deliver—and that’s a personal service.

 

They need to stop being stores and start becoming neighborhood institutions.

 

It’s a role some stores have always played. The owners of local hardware stores never just sold hammers and bags of nails. They also talked to their customers about the projects they were working on or the repairs they were making. They pointed them to tools better suited for the job and gave them advice about avoiding mistakes. That advice was both personalized and localized.

 

The value of that personal advice is why a huge company like Apple has expanded its Today at Apple sessions. Those creative lessons help customers to get more out of their iPads and Macs, but they also turn Apple stores, already best known for their Genius Bars, into personal learning centers as well as retail outlets.

 

They give people a reason to come through the door instead of buying online.

 

That’s exactly what local businesses need to do. They must expand beyond retail sales to include events and experiences related to the products and services they sell.

 

    • It’s always possible to buy clothes online, for example, but only a local clothing store will work with local designers and provide an outlet for students studying fashion at the community college.

 

    • Paint supplies are easy to purchase but only a local art shop can also run a class and provide models for local artists.

 

    • Anyone can work out alone but only a local fitness center can provide a personal coach and the camaraderie of working out with other people.

 

All those services allow the business to do more than exchange a good or supply a service. They build a relationship with a customer. They turn the customer into a friend. They make the customer feel welcome and they lead the customer to trust the business that they buy from.

 

Check out how Barebottle Brewing Company builds relationships with their customers in the Bay area.

 

The way for local businesses to compete with online businesses is to make use of their local advantages. Make customers feel welcome. Know their names and the problems that they want the store to solve. Give them an experience they just can’t get online.

 

When that happens people won’t just be willing to put down their phones and get off the sofa. They’ll want to visit you. They’ll want to do business with you.

And they’ll want to keep you in business.

 

Watch our videos about Nashville and Atlanta small businesses:

 

About Joel Comm

 

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As an Internet pioneer, Joel has been creating profitable websites, software, products and helping entrepreneurs succeed since 1995. He has been at the frontlines of live video online since 2008 and has a deep expertise in using tools such as Facebook Live, Periscope, Instagram or Snapchat to broadcast a clearly defined message to a receptive audience or leveraging the power of webinar and meeting technologies.

 

Joel is a New York Times best-selling author of 15 books, including “The AdSense Code,” “Click Here to Order: Stories from the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs,” “KaChing: How to Run an Online Business that Pays and Pays and Twitter Power 3.0.” He is Co-Host of The Bad Crypto Podcast one of the top crypto-related shows in the world and has spoken before thousands of people around the world and seeks to inspire, equip and entertain.

 

Web: https://joelcomm.com/ or Twitter: @JoelComm

Read more from Joel Comm

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Joel Comm to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Joel Comm is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Joel Comm. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

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Preparing for the unexpected is a key element of small business ownership. The Bank of America spring 2019 Small Business Owner Report found that many entrepreneurs are taking steps to prepare their business for  unexpected events, but there’s still room for improvement. On this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Bank of America Head of Small Business Sharon Miller shares tips on how to prepare for unexpected events including disasters, cyberattacks, reputational crises and more.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com. Here’s your host, Gregg Stebben.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America, I'm here with Sharon Miller. She is the head of small business for Bank of America, we're talking about the new Small Business Owner Report that Bank of America just released. Sharon, welcome.

 

Sharon Miller:            Thank you, Gregg, for having me.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Really a fascinating report here, among other things, you asked small business owners how they're preparing for the unexpected. Things that could potentially disrupt their businesses like natural disasters, cyber security issues, reputational threats. Give us a summary of the things you found.

 

Sharon Miller:            First of all, the good news is a majority of entrepreneurs do have a continuity plan in place. Entrepreneurs are recognizing the need to prepare for disruptive events, like you talked about. Whether it be a natural disaster, maybe a cyber breach, so they're thinking about it, and nearly two thirds do have a plan in place, but that still leaves one-third without any planning at all, which is troubling.

 

Gregg Stebben:         We're going to talk here about some things that small business owners and entrepreneurs can do to put a continuity plan in place. Let's dive into some specifics here. First of all, accidents and disasters, like a fire or a flood, what should I be doing? What should I be thinking about? What steps should I be taking to prepare for that?

 

Sharon Miller:            When you think about protecting your business, first of all for a flood, for a fire, or other natural disaster, you want to make sure that you have an insurance policy in place. And what we found, was about half of the small business owners that we surveyed did have an insurance policy in place. But again, that leaves half that did not. Also, you want to be thinking about backing up your files, because what if a flood happens? What if something damages your computer system? Make sure that you're continually backing up your files, because you've got all your records, you've got your clients, all the things that you need to understand what's happening with your business, your tax records. Make sure that you have them backed up.

 

                                   And then, the communication protocol for employees. Those entrepreneurs that have employees, make sure that you've got some type of calling tree. So, if something happens who calls who? And making sure number one, all of your employees are safe, and then from there, what happens to report back to work? Is the business open? So that you have that open line of communication with your employees. Those are some of the steps you can be taking, and we want to make sure that entrepreneurs are thinking about it. Because, you've got to plan for the unexpected, you never know when it's going to happen.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Obviously buying fire insurance, accident insurance, flood insurance, those are pretty obvious things, even if you're not doing it, you know you should. I think backing up your systems is essential, and there's lots of tools available today that make that very easy and affordable. I love you bringing up the idea of communications protocol, because I think that's something that would escape many, many businesses until they hear it, like in this interview with you, or frankly until something bad happens and they don't have a communications protocol.

 

Sharon Miller:             That's exactly right. And I think about Bank of America. In Houston, we had the hurricane, and that was the first thing we go to, the communication. Check in on our employees. Are you okay? What's happening? Because we want to make sure, for the safety of our employees, and again we didn't anticipate a hurricane coming, but you've got to plan for the unexpected. And the safety of our employees is of the utmost concern, that's the number one thing for any business. Making sure they're safe, and then giving them the instructions on what happens. Will we be closed? When are we going to reopen? How do you report back to work? All of those things are necessary.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Now, for accidents and disasters, like fires and floods and things like that, it seems like the steps are pretty obvious. Especially, now that we've talked about them. Buying insurance, making sure you're prepared in advance, backing up all your data and your systems, having a communications protocol. I love that idea. The next thing we're going to talk about is a little harder to prepare for, it's a reputational crisis. What happens if something happens to your company's reputation? What should we be thinking about there?

 

Sharon Miller:            Reputational management is so important, and it's critical to business success. And what we found on that front as well, is only one quarter of small business owners have a crisis management plan in place. And it is something that absolutely needs to be developed to address reputational issues, and at least three quarters that don't. So, how are you actively managing your social media? How are you making sure that you are out there visible and ensuring that there are good reviews?

 

                                   We asked about reviews in this report as well, and what did business owners think about reviews, negative versus positive. By and large, the business owners told us, “We think the positive review is much more effective for our business.” And I think they're missing a big piece, because something written negative about your business, just one person, that can have a rippling effect through people reading social media, can create doubts about your company.

 

                                   So, it's important that you consult, whether it be for cyber issues, cyber security specialists, there are companies out there managing social media, so all of those things are important to the reputation of your company and your brand. You're building a brand for your business, and so you want to make sure that there's nothing detrimental out there, and when it is, that you're able to take action and address it. Because you're always going to have issues. There're going to be service issues, there's going to be things that go wrong. And what I always say, “It's not that things will go wrong, it's how you fix them and address them when they do.” Because consumers know, everything is not going to be perfect every day. But it's when you make a mistake, how do you recover, and how quickly can you recover and make it right for that client?

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm really glad you said that, and in fact in an earlier interview, which you can hear as part of the Heartbeat of Main Street podcast. We talked with a company called PSP Diesel, and we talked about exactly how you can use your reviews to build your business, and what to do to be prepared in the event that you have a bad review. So, that's another great podcast to listen to. We're talking with Sharon Miller about the new Bank of America spring 2019 Small Business Owner Report. Sharon is the head of small business for Bank of America. We've been talking about things like natural disasters, fires and floods. We've talked about reputational crisis, let's talk about cyber security. Do you have any tips for things we should be thinking about, to make sure that our businesses are secure?

 

Sharon Miller:             Absolutely. Well, the top three actions that we find for business owners, when it comes to cyber and making sure that you're prepared for a cyber-attack: one, make sure you're installing security patches and updates. This is a pretty simple step. When there's a security patch, when there's an update, make sure everything is up to date. Make sure you're securing your customers’ data, you've got to make sure that data is secure, that is a trust factor with your clients, and making sure that all the data that you have on them, for them, about them, that it is very, very secure.

 

                                   And then as you have confidential documents that are floating around your office, that you have as a part of doing business, you got to make sure they're securely disposed. You can't just throw them away, you make sure that they're shredded, that they're securely disposed, picked up, however it is that you are filing those things away. It's got to remain very, very confidential, because yes, cyber we think of the security on our computer, but it's also papers that could be laying around. All of those things have to be secured and have to be disposed of properly so that you can protect your clients’ interests.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You know what's really interesting to talk about here, relative to cyber security, that you brought up, it's not just cyber security, but security includes being aware of and handling appropriately what you're doing with physical paper as well. The great news that I think about that is, that you can outsource that. There's lot of best practices, you don't have to invent this for yourself, you just have to go and find the vendor, or the partner that can handle it for you. And know that you're in good hands, because it's their area of expertise, it doesn't have to become your area of expertise.

 

Sharon Miller:            Not many companies have the luxury to hire a chief technology officer or a cyber expert. So, it's important that you go and contract with other vendors that have this specialty, and that's what small businesses do. You can't afford to not invest in this for your business, and whether it be through the computer or for the physical papers that you have floating around in your office, it's important that they're handled correctly. Because when a reputational issue hits, sometimes it's not recoverable.

Check out our Fraud and Privacy Resource Center

 

Gregg Stebben:         We're talking about Bank of America's new spring 2019 Small Business Owner Report. We're talking with Sharon Miller, Sharon is the head of small business for Bank of America. Sharon I want to ask you one last question, because we're talking about things that businesses need to do to be prepared for all kinds of unexpected things. And the last thing I want to ask you about is another type of event that small business owners have no control over, and that's an economic downturn. What should we be doing to be prepared for that?

 

Sharon Miller:            Business owners are not as optimistic about the local and national economy as they have been in the past. But they are optimistic about their business, and their prospects for growth over the next 12 months. No matter how you feel about your business, it's important to make sure you're preparing for the unexpected. So, number one, make sure you have an emergency fund. Things may not always be going great. The number one reason why businesses go out of business, is because they're not managing their cash flow appropriately. We just launched out Business Advantage 360 platform, for business owners this first quarter and over 400,000 business owners have already gone on this platform and what we're hearing is, “Wow, this is great information. It’s great tools, it's helping us manage our cash flow, which is a huge concern.”

                                   So, make sure you've got an emergency fund, and that you're appropriately managing that cash flow. Two, make sure you've got some alternative business plan, reducing your overall expenses. Because when times get tough, you don't want to have to close the doors. You can cut back a little. How can you reduce expenses? How can you be managing that P&L, so that you're able to stay in business through the ups and the downs? And then, opening a line of credit. Most people come to a bank to open a line of creditwhen they need it. To me, it's part of a foundation of smart credit.

Read next: 10 Cash Flow Tips for Small Businesses

 

                                   Get a line of credit established, even if you don't need one, because there may be a time when you do. And when you do need one, that might not be the time when you can qualify. So, as you're planning your business and as you're managing your cash flow, be sure you're working with a specialist, with a banker that can help you think about these things. So that when times get tough, because it's not if, it'll be when. History repeats itself, there are cycles that go on in business. So, you've got to make sure that you're working with a partner who has seen these cycles and who can help you plan for the unexpected.

Read next: Creating a Balanced Cash Flow Cycle

 

Gregg Stebben:         Sharon those are really great tips. Thank you so much. These all come as a result of the spring 2019 Small Business Owner Report from Bank of America. She’s Sharon Miller, she's the head of small business for Bank of America, and for more great small business tips, check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community at BankofAmerica.com/SBC. Sharon, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Sharon Miller:            Thank you, Gregg, for having me.

 

Narrator:                    Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

 

It’s not every day you encounter a small business with such a unique combination of components as: 1) a core product offering of handcrafted, made-to-order bicycle bags, 2) an owner who attentively sews these wares out on the showroom floor, and 3) an adjoining bar and café that sells an array of locally sourced treats to hungry bicyclists.

 

Welcome to The Spindle, one of many eclectic small businesses within Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, and part of a thriving, close-knit community of entrepreneurs who are pursuing their passions.

 

For brothers and co-owners Sharif and Ezz Hassan, The Spindle is a natural reflection of both their individual strengths and shared interests, not to mention the simple need for a place in the neighborhood that offers honest expertise from people who ride bikes.

 

“To be successful in any small business, you need three things: patience, humility, and passion,” said Sharif during a recent visit, emphasizing the latter trait. “Otherwise you’re not going to follow through with it all the way.”

 

It’s this shared passion that’s not only kept them in business, but growing well beyond the initial vision of a small shop serving only handmade bike bags. Indeed, The Spindle opened in 2013 as an extension of Ezz’s burgeoning hobby of sewing custom-made bike packs. Over the years, it has evolved into a neighborhood institution and gathering spot, especially after the shop further expanded its offering to include The Spindle Kitchen in 2018,serving coffee, beer and a range of healthy dishes sourced from local farmers and vendors.

 

This ongoing commitment to the surrounding community is a point of pride for Sharif and Ezz. Visit The Spindle’s website and you’ll find a comprehensive calendar of upcoming rides and events that they help organize and participate in. And while Ezz is busy making the bags, Sharif is regularly making the rounds within and beyond the neighborhood to check in on friends, family, and patrons.

 

“Sharif’s really good at bringing the community together,” Ezz maintains. “He goes out on a lot of rides, and I think it’s nice to have someone out there in the community who’s really genuine.”

 

Of course, that leaves Ezz with the formidable task of fulfilling all the orders that come in, which is why you’ll find him dutifully attached to his sewing machine during business hours – and often times, overnight and into the early hours of the morning.

 

“If you find something you really like, you have to do it all the time,” Ezz explains. “And when you make something and hand it to a customer who’s really excited about it? I don’t think there’s anything better than that, because you’re giving them an item they’ll have for the rest of their life. That’s why I feel really lucky.”

 

Balancing the around-the-clock demands of a business like The Spindle may not be for everyone, but Sharif and Ezz wouldn’t have it any other way. For them, it’s an opportunity to not only pursue their passions, but also create a lasting legacy with each other.

 

“This is a fulfilling lifestyle,” Sharif says. “Being able to engage with the community and to work with my family on a daily basis is the definition of fulfilling.”

Next: Go around the block in Atlanta with Myrna Perez

 

Check out our other Small Business Spotlights:

by Robert Lerose.


Stories of small, seemingly outmatched underdogs beating larger rivals date back centuries. Malcolm Gladwell's book, appropriately titled David and Goliath, is an exploration of this perennial theme. The conflict continues to play out every day on Main Streets across America, where local businesses try to prevail against bigger or nationally known brand names. Although these outsized competitors may be better financed or give deep discounts to customers, many local merchants can leverage their position in the neighborhood to gain a decided edge.

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RELATED ARTICLE: Competing with the Giants: How a Small Store Can Thrive

 

Be involved

 

Local businesses can gather key information about their customers by dealing with them regularly, seeing them in the neighborhood, and interacting with them in their personal and professional lives—and then use that knowledge to target those customers effectively. "A national brand would have to do a lot more legwork to really find that sort of data to give it a personal touch," says Christopher Tompkins, CEO of The GO! Agency, a Seminole, Florida-based full-service marketing company.

 

Event marketing can cement relationships between local vendors and the community, Tompkins says. For example, a sporting goods store could sponsor a school competition, sell equipment and apparel to the athletes, and also make a donation to a charity selected by the athletes and their families. In addition to school events, choosing an activity where the whole community participates also favors local merchants over bigger names.

 

"If you're a huge company, you'd have to figure out what these events were and hope that the information is correct because you could be putting $10,000 into a race that gets 100 people," Tompkins explains. "Whereas if you're in that neighborhood, you know that one of the most popular races is the one on Thanksgiving morning that gets 1,000 to 2,000 people. So you get the inside scoop. By getting involved in what your audience is involved with, it's almost like a simpatico relationship."

 

Social media channels are good for establishing credibility, driving traffic, and brand building, but often don't result in closing the sale on their own. Tompkins believes in using a mix of traditional and online advertising methods to reach customers, such as billboards, flyers, direct mail, and email campaigns. Local businesses also need to optimize their website for mobile devices, since their primary customers will often be within driving or walking distance. "All these work together to build a buzz about your business that can take you to the next level," Tompkins says.

 

Do what you're good at

 

Local businesses should play to their strengths and provide something that their bigger rivals don't or don't do as well, such as customer service.

 

"As soon as you start to compete on price, you have no emotional loyalty. [The customer then says,] 'Give me a number and I'll determine whether I'm loyal,'" says Shep Hyken, a St. Louis, Missouri-based customer service expert. "What you try to do is connect on another level—on the value you deliver. That value can be in the relationship you have or the service that you give." Hyken gives the following example:

 

There was a small family-owned hardware store that had been in a Boston strip mall for over 30 years, when a Home Depot and a Lowe's both opened up nearby—yet the owner says that he has never been more successful, even though he stays open fewer hours than the megastores. "The owner said that if he tried to do what they do, he'd lose," Hyken explains. "He does what he's best at—creating value for the customer in the form of service by asking the customer what they need a part for, and then making other suggestions for the project that the customer might not have thought about. There's a big difference between that and just taking the order, [like the big box stores do]."

 

Hyken says that every employee at a local business should conduct themselves as if they were the owner. For example, he spoke with an 18-year-old waiter at a pizza parlor, who was mistaken for the actual owner by a group of customers because of the attentiveness he displayed in his work—resulting in loyal patrons. "Everybody needs to take pride and make the good decisions necessary for either their internal or external customers as if they owned the place," Hyken explains.

 

Nurture your employees

 

Local business owners can usually develop personal relationships easier and faster than workers at megastores. "Every customer should know your name and you should call them by their name," says Tom Egelhoff, a Bozeman, Montana-based author of How To Market, Advertise & Promote Your Business Or Service In A Small Town. "Calling them by name reinforces that local feeling."

 

While it is crucial for owners to focus their attention on customers, nurturing employees can motivate them to say good things about your business, even when they're not working, to anyone they meet in the community. Egelhoff also says that employees should get their own business cards to hand out to customers so that the owner knows who provided good service when the sale was made—and then reward employees. When Egelhoff was a personnel manager for a retailer, "I would try to publicly recognize each employee for something at least once every six months. I would encourage the other employees and customers to let me know the good things they did."

 

Egelhoff encourages local businesses to have a grand re-opening once a year for the benefit of new people who just moved to the community, even if the business has been long established. Local businesses can also become the go-to source in their neighborhood if they take time to bond with their customers on a one-on-one level and put their priorities first. Colossal chain stores, such as Circuit City, are no longer around because "they didn't adapt to the customer. They tried to make the customer adapt to them," Egelhoff says. "People buy on emotion, not on logic. I don't know the guy or the manager at the big box store, whereas if I walk into a small business, the owner is probably the guy behind the counter."

 

    RELATED ARTICLE: Brewing Success: How Tapping a Community of Beer Lovers Drives Barebottle Forward

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Like you, I bet, I learned about the uncertainty that comes with owning a business the hard way.

 

The first time for me was when I opened my first business, a law firm. Starting in March of that year, I hung out a shingle, advertised the heck out of it, and made a profit my very first month. I thought I was some sort of capitalist genius.

 

That belief stuck with me… until November and December of that year, when business completely dried up. I didn’t know people generally don’t like hiring lawyers during the holidays. OK, lesson learned.

 

Fast forward a decade later: I had begun my second business, a better-fitting content creation and writing business. But much to my surprise, an unexpected recession hit, and my business completely dried up a second time.

 

These days, needless to say, potential bumps down the road are alwayson my radar.

 

And I am not alone.

 

Twice a year, our friends at Bank of America issue the Small Business Owner Report (SBOR). Always a fascinating glimpse into the mind and machinations of small business owners, the SBOR this year indicates that not a few small business owners are starting to think about, and plan for, an upcoming downturn in the economy:

 

“Overall, we found that most business owners are preparing whatever the future may hold, creating continuity plans for their business in the case of a disaster and taking steps to prepare for a potential economic downturn.”

 

According to the Report, “Concern over a variety of economic factors has ticked up over the last six months. Health care costs remain the top-ranking issue, with the political environment emerging as a close second.”

 

The good news is that according to the SBOR, confidence among small business owners remains high. For instance

 

  • Almost 60 percent of small business owners surveyed expect their business revenues to increase over the next year (almost exactly the same percentage as last year)
  • Just about a quarter plan on hiring this year (more than last year)
  • Well more than half expect to be able to grow their business over the next five years (slightly down from last year)

 

So, yes, as is their nature, small business people are optimistic. But, that said, they are also prudent, and smart, and as such, are expecting the unexpected.

 

According to the Report, “Business owners recognize the need to prepare for disruptive events such as economic downturns, natural disasters and cyber breaches, [with] a majority [having] continuity and preparedness plans in place…”

 

Specifically,

 

69 percent have taken steps to prepare for a general economic downturn. Steps taken include:

 

  • Established an emergency fund: 37 percent
  • Created an alternative business plan, reducing expenses: 25 percent
  • Opened a line of credit: 19 percent
  • Obtained a second job: 13 percent

 

61 percent have a continuity plan in place in the case of a natural disaster(flood, hurricane, earthquake, etc.) This includes:

 

  • Purchased an insurance policy: 49 percent
  • Backed up files: 40 percent
  • Implemented a communication protocol for employees: 19 percent
  • Made structural updates to building: 14 percent

 

80 percent have plans in place in case of a cyberattack:

 

  • Installed security patches: 47 percent
  • Secured customer data: 44 percent
  • Securely disposed of confidential documents: 42 percent
  • Trained employees on confidentiality protocols: 27 percent
  • Implemented a third-party security management program: 25 percent

 

As they say, what goes up, must come down. But they never said that it has to come down with a thud. What these savvy small business owners (and even your late-to-the-game author) know is that with a little planning, even the most unexpected of changes can yield a soft landing.

 

Start. Planning. Now.

 

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steve Strauss Headshot New.pngSteven 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 also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

Did you know more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA)? Since 2000, small businesses (now 30 million strong) have created 66% of all net new jobs in the U.S. Clearly, small businesses have an outsized impact on the nation as a whole. But how do small businesses impact their local communities? In honor of National Small Business Week (May 5-11, 2019), let me count the ways.

 

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1. Small businesses employ local workers. Independent businesses create jobs and hire people who live in their communities. Those small business employees then spend their paychecks in the community, resulting in other local businesses needing to hire more workers to keep up with the increased demand. All this stimulates the local economy. For each dollar spent in a local store as much as $3.50 recirculates into the local economy, according to the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA). A small business in an economically-challenged community may provide employment for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to find work because they can’t afford cars or transportation to jobs outside the area.

 

2. Local small businesses generate tax revenues. Sales tax, property tax and other taxes paid by small businesses help finance improvements in the community. The more small businesses there are in a city or town, the more money is available for public works projects such as road repairs, new parks, public schools, police and fire departments andmore.

 

3. Small business owners give back to the community. Whether by joining local organizations (like the Rotary club or chamber of commerce), sponsoring Little League teams, chairing civic committees, or hosting fundraisers for schools and charities, small business owners and their employees often are at the forefront of community engagement and involvement. Their efforts help create a better, more tight-knit community for all residents.

 

4. Small businesses hire other small businesses. Because of their small size, independent businesses tend to use local suppliers and services. For example, a local retailer might hire a local sign-maker, electrician and contractor to build out or repair their store. Small retailers are more likely than chain stores to sell locally-produced goods, according to AMIBA.Local businesses also use independent professionals such as accountants, lawyers, insurance agents and advertising agencies, putting more money back into the community.

 

5. Small business success has a snowball effect. When a region has a growing community of small businesses, more entrepreneurs are attracted to the area. As more businesses then open up, the community becomes more desirable and attracts more residents, drawn by both the thriving business activity and the increased job opportunities. Property values rise, and everyone benefits.

 

6. Small businesses sometimes become big corporations. Those small businesses that grow to become big ones have an even bigger effect on their communities. For example, major employers like Microsoft, Nike, FedEx and Amazon all started out as small businesses. By staying put as they grew and expanding in their home cities, they now provide jobs for thousands of people and have turned their communities into major business hubs.

 

How does your small business benefit your local community? What more can you do to make it even better? Let us know in our discussion forum.

 

Join us in celebrating Small Business Month!

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

Though we are surrounded by a slew of shiny new social media platforms, the backbone of all digital communications, especially in business, remains email. Even though the first email was sent all the way back in the 1970s, it has not lost an ounce of its relevance after all these years, and in fact, is now more vital than ever.

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As times have changed, however, so has email etiquette. What was acceptable at the turn of the century is different from what passes muster today. But fear not. I have compiled a list of the six most important rules when it comes to business emails. Take a look:

 

1. Write a subject line that resonates: Whether you are writing a proposal, a virtual introduction, or simply a follow-up, you want your email to get noticed and read.

 

In this regard, your subject line is your first, and easily most important, tool.

 

Quickly summarizing your email in the subject line is a great way to make sure your email does not get skipped over. By the same token, a “No Subject” email will never catch anyone’s attention, and similarly, a boring subject line will easily get ignored. So craft a short and snappy subject line that will cause them to want to read more.

 

Think of it as the headline of your story.

 

2. Keep it short: What do you do when you get an 8-paragraph email? If you are human, you tune out.

 

The secret is to keep your emails short and sweet to the extent possible. Not only does a shorter email save you time, but it also helps you build a good reputation as someone who respects other people’s time, and in the business world, it is essential to make this kind of impression.

 

Other people are just as busy as you are. Because we all skim over our emails from time to time, the details of a long email will surely get lost in the shuffle. Your emails must be short and easy to read if you want to ensure business gets taken care of.

 

One last note re: length. Keep paragraphs short, too. Attention spans are shorter these days. Long paragraphs are difficult to read. Keep it snappy, pappy.

 

3. Emojis are OK!: This is a significant – and recent – change. It used to be that emojis were seen as child’s play, literally. But not so today. Emojis help to personalize email communications. Yes, you must use them judiciously, but, that said, the right emoji at the right time helps you create rapport with the right person.

 

4. Use the correct tone: Work has become less formal and email has followed suit. Friendliness and being personable in your written communications are generally quite important.

 

Remember though that tone and intonation do not easily translate into text. Because of this, you need to be careful about using sarcasm or making facetious jokes; these can easily be misinterpreted in the context of an email.

 

By the same token, an email can quickly come across as rude or too-serious if there is no detectable levity (even if the words are innocuous spoken out loud.) An exclamation mark or lightly playful remark will remedy this, amigo!

 

5. Writing is re-writing: You. Must. Proofread. Period. While this tip may seem obvious, there are plenty of people who still forget to proofread their emails before they send them off. Using “i”  instead of “I” for instance makes your look sloppy, immature, or both.

 

Look for obvious spelling and grammatical errors, but also make sure your email is readable, organized, and formatted properly. For example, if you notice two different topics in one paragraph, you should take the time to break up that paragraph into two smaller ones. Proofreading your emails will make you look smart and will make it easier for your recipient to give you the response you need.

 

Writing is re-writing.

 

6. Remember, nothing is private: This is the key rule for using the internet generally, and email specifically. Only the illusion of privacy exists in email. People forward on emails, they bcc people, they copy and paste, etc. There is no privacy in email.

 

Although email has evolved throughout the years, the basic rules remain the same. Common sense (and good grammar) can see you through.

 

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steve Strauss Headshot New.pngSteven 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 also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

 

May is Small Business Month and this year Bank of America is celebrating by highlighting one of the most vibrant cities in the country; Nashville. Celebrity Chef Maneet Chauhan is our guide as she takes us around her block, showing off some of her favorite, go-to small businesses. We see her relationship with these small business owners, diving into what makes their business so special, and showing us that when a community has the power to support small business, there is nothing that can hold them back.

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Check out the businesses featured in this video:

 

CHAUHAN ALE & MASALA HOUSE, Indian Fusion Restaurant

HANDMADE STUDIOS, Ceramics

THE TURNIP TRUCK, Natural Foods Grocer

THE CUPCAKE COLLECTION, Bakeshop

 

NEXT: Visit Atlanta with Myrna Perez

 

And be sure to visit bankofamerica.com/SBcelebrate to see other small business stories and read expert advice about connecting to your community.  Be sure to tell us your story in the discussion forum.

 

Video transcript

 

MANEET: “I decided to open a small business because Indian food is pretty much not something that you would associate with Nashville.”

 

SUPER: Maneet Chauhan, Chef & small business owner


MANEET: “One, two, three, go!”

 

SUPER: CHAUHAN ALE & MASALA HOUSE, Indian Fusion Restaurant

 

MANEET: “Just textures and flavors and everything fun.”

 

MANEET: “Small businesses are what gives neighborhoods their heart and soul, and today, I’m going to take you around my neighborhood.”

 

SUPER: NASHVILLE

 

HANDMADE STUDIOS: “We’re called Handmade Studios, so everything we make is made completely by hand.”

 

SUPER: HANDMADE STUDIOS, Ceramics

 

HANDMADE STUDIOS: “We embrace imperfection. We find that there is beauty in that.”

 

MANEET: “Nothing in nature is perfect, and that’s why it’s beautiful.”

 

HANDMADE STUDIOS: “The most surprising thing about opening a small business is that it actually worked. That I actually run a business that is growing.”

 

SUPER: THE TURNIP TRUCK, Natural Foods Grocer

 

THE TURNIP TRUCK: “I grew up on a farm and when I made it to Nashville, I could not find any local food that I was used to.”

 

THE TURNIP TRUCK: “The food tastes so much better coming local.”

 

MANEET: “Fresh!”

 

THE TURNIP TRUCK: “Trying to build local farmers and we buy [from] at least 80 different vendors that sell within the Turnip Truck.”

 

MANEET: “That’s how we make our entire community stronger – by supporting each other.”

 

THE CUPCAKE COLLECTION: “For me, we don’t sell cupcakes here. What we sell is actually joy.”

 

SUPER: THE CUPCAKE COLLECTION, Bakeshop

 

THE CUPCAKE COLLECTION: “I think people want to come back here because they find connection, they find love, they find family. When I started this, I was drowning in debt, and I was broken. People were getting out of debt by having a bake sale and I thought you can have a bake sale every day. Now I feel like there’s nothing that I can’t do. I’ve learned that impossible is actually I’mpossible.”

 

MANEET: “These small business owners have the power to lead a life that they are so proud of.”

 

SUPER: Bank of America is proud to support Small Business Month this May.

 

SUPER: Join us in celebrating the impact small businesses have on a community.

 

MANEET: “Seriously, I don’t have as much sass as you do. I’m like okay, that’s it.”

 

SUPER: WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THE POWER TO DO?

 

SUPER: [Bank of America logo]

 

SUPER: Discover more small business stories at bankofamerica.com/SBcelebrate

 

May is Small Business Month and this year Bank of America is celebrating by highlighting one of the most vibrant cities in the country; Atlanta. We are introduced to Myrna Perez, a small business owner in her own right, as she takes us around her Atlanta neighborhood to all her favorite small businesses. We see her relationship as a customer to these small business owners and how important these bonds are. Because when a community has the power to support small business, there is nothing that can hold them back.

BA12496540_Myrna_High_Res.jpg

 

Check out the businesses featured in this video:

 

LOTTAFRUTTA, Frutería

THE SPINDLE, Cycling Apparel & Café

THE CLEAN DOG, Pet Daycare & Grooming

TINY DOORS ATL, Public Art Project

 

And be sure to visit bankofamerica.com/SBcelebrate to see other small business stories and read expert advice about connecting to your community.  Be sure to tell us your story in the discussion forum.

 

 

Video Transcript:

 

SUPER: Myrna Perez, Fruitologist & small business owner

 

Myrna: “I live above my shop.”

 

SUPER: LOTTAFRUTTA, Frutería

 

MYRNA: “I wanted to build a place that had all of my childhood memories and that’s why I have so much of my family inside LottaFrutta – in the Ofrenda and in photos and in recipes. I love to feed people.”

 

MYRNA: “And now I’m going to give you a taste of my neighborhood.”

 

SUPER: ATLANTA

 

SUPER: THE SPINDLE, Cycling Apparel & Café

 

THE SPINDLE 1: “People are coming in because they’re going to get honest expertise out of people who definitely ride. As long as you’re treating people with respect, they’re going to feel respected in your shop, whether they buy a four-hundred-dollar bag or a three-dollar coffee.”

 

THE SPINDLE 2: “Relationships are really important in businesses. It’s much stronger with my brother because we’re family and we’re stuck together.”


SUPER: THE CLEAN DOG, Pet Daycare & Grooming

 

THE CLEAN DOG: “The clean dog customer loves their pet. Right? It’s not okay just to sit them in the corner and let them play with a plush toy. You want to engage, you want to see the community.”

 

MYRNA: “An interactive experience.”

 

THE CLEAN DOG: “Right? Here we go…”

 

TINY DOORS ATL: “I started the business, Tiny Doors ATL, after I had started making the art that you see on the street.”

 

SUPER: TINY DOORS ATL, Public Art Project

 

TINY DOORS ATL: “And what’s really cool is that my resume is right here. You know, businesses will call me and say, ‘Hey, do you have ideas on how we can make tiny trophies?’ and I’m like ‘Yes!’ It’s a lot of upkeep because people love it so hard. And I’m there a lot because I love it too.”

 

MYRNA: “My fruteria gives me the power to support other small businesses in my neighborhood – as a customer, as an owner, and as a neighbor.”

 

SUPER: Bank of America is proud to support Small Business Month this May.

 

SUPER: Join us in celebrating the impact small businesses have on a community.

 

MYRNA: “Mami, let me just get you an ice cream. Let me get her an ice – hold on. Come have some ice cream.”

 

MYRNA: “That one’s for you.”

 

LITTLE BOY: “Thank you!”

 

SUPER: WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THE POWER TO DO?

 

MYRNA: “You’re welcome, papa.”

 

SUPER: [Bank of America logo]

 

SUPER: Discover more small business stories at bankofamerica.com/SBcelebrate 

Despite their concerns, entrepreneurs remain largely optimistic about their business outlook, with revenue forecasts, growth and hiring plans holding steady since the fall of 2018.

 

The bi-annual Small Business Owner Report, conducted by Bank of America, explores the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners throughout the U.S. and across 10 major cities. The spring report explores a range of topics important to the constantly evolving small business landscape. Some important insights from this report explore:

 

  • Strong business growth indicators despite shifts in economic confidence
  • Divided opinions on how major policy issues are impacting business
  • Small business owners planning for the unexpected
  • The pros and cons of online reviews
  • Barebottle Brewing Co. Client Profile

 

For additional insights, see the Small Business Owner Report infographic below.  For a complete, in-depth look at the insights of the nation’s small business owners, download the Spring 2019 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report here.

 

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