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QAjennawatson_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


Not surprisingly, public relations is a key aspect of practically every big business or major corporation. But while small businesses share some of the same fundamental goals as their larger counterparts, they aren't as likely to avail themselves of the PR machinery, often due to fears about the costs involved. But Jenna Watson (pictured), who co-founded the Los Angeles-based public relations firm Visionary5, says there's more value to PR than what most entrepreneurs think. Recently, business writer Robert Lerose talked with Watson about budgeting for PR, the risks of doing it yourself, and ways to get free exposure.


RL: What made you see the necessity of a PR firm that specifically serves small business?

JW: I realized that there was this huge gap in PR for small businesses. The cost [for a campaign from a large agency] was just so high, so I wanted to create something that was feasible for them and which didn't focus just on PR. Small businesses often need advice on marketing, branding, and social media. Sometimes they also need a brand spokesperson to do interviews or go on the news for them. A lot of my clients are a one-man show.


RL: How do you yourself define public relations?

JW: The way that I describe it to my parents or to people who don't understand PR is, we help get our clients in the media. When you're reading a magazine and you see an editor talking about this really great new camera, a PR person—a publicist—probably helped get that camera written up.


QAjennawatson_PQ.jpgRL: Some small business owners might think that they don't need public relations because of their size. What would you say to that?

JW: PR is a great way for small businesses to gain exposure without the huge, multi-billion dollar budget for advertising that big business's have. A PR firm or an in-house publicist can talk to the media and get their clients on news segments or written about in magazines—which is actually more credible in the consumer's eyes because it's not a paid message.


RL: What should a small business look for in a PR agency?

JW: First, look at the size of the agency. If they're a global agency, a small business or start-up probably won't be able to afford a campaign with them—which can cost $10,000 a month. Second, look at what they specialize in. If you're a clothing company, you want to find someone who has experience in fashion and consumer PR. Third, talk to people. Ask your peers or colleagues for referrals.


RL: What are some of the dangers of a small business owner who sees the value of PR, but wants to do it himself?

JW: The biggest danger is, they probably don't know how to do it. It's a trade, just like hiring an accountant to do your taxes. It really is a full-time job. There's a lot of writing and pitching and following up and building relationships. As a small business owner, you're already wearing a lot of hats. Adding PR to the mix can be a huge challenge. Without the proper expertise, a small business might not see the results they were hoping for.


RL: What can a business do if they're just starting out and there's no budget for PR?

JW: One thing is to use social media, but you need to know how to use it before you jump right in. I would suggest researching social media trends and seeing what other companies have done that have generated a following. Another thing is writing and issuing your own press releases about new products or services. There are different press release distribution services—such as PR Newswire and PRWeb—that make issuing a press release easy and less time consuming. A third thing is to target blogs. Receiving coverage or a review on a blog that gets a lot of traffic can sometimes be more effective than receiving coverage in a newspaper or magazine. Bloggers are looked at as regular consumers who are writing about things that interest them and they believe in.


RL: How should you reach out to a blogger?

JW: The easiest way to get coverage on a blog is to send them a product and say, "I'd love to hear your

review on it." And the blogger will usually put a little disclaimer saying, "I was sent a product, but all the thoughts and words are my own."


RL: Can you give an example of a PR strategy or campaign for a small business that you were involved with?

JW: One of my clients is Angela Lee, a woman in Omaha, who invented a brand new product called SHOLDIT, which is a scarf with pockets. It's hard to get big magazines and big press outlets to write or cover a product. So we started out targeting blogs, specifically "mom" blogs. Got some great reviews. Then we started targeting local news and some of the bigger magazines, [culminating in coverage on the Today show in late October]. It's about building the momentum, starting from the ground, and working your way up. It's my job to find what makes it different, what makes it interesting, and what's going to make an editor want to write about it.


RL: What does Visionary5 charge for a PR campaign?

JW: Our campaigns will cost anywhere between $1,000 to $4,000 per month. Obviously if the client wants all of our services, the campaign's probably going to be at the higher end. If they're just looking for press, that would be at the lower end. It comes down to hours. It's not that one thing is worth more than the other. It's the amount of hours it takes to accomplish each goal.


RL: What's the typical timeframe for a campaign?

JW: I always try to do a six-month campaign. Also, it's important that the agency learns everything about the small business—their product, their history, any background information. The first month is usually spent laying the groundwork and getting PR materials together, writing the general press release, writing any [ancillary] material, like a fact sheet, or getting together a press kit. Then, month two is usually when we start reaching out to editors and trying to generate press on an ongoing basis. By the end of six months, you can see the results that have been generated.


RL: Final advice for working with an outside agency like yours?
JW: PR is really based on relationships, such as the relationships we've been able to build with editors. A lot of times, when small businesses try to do their own PR, it falls to the bottom of the list. If you're only sending out a press release to a couple of people every other month, you're not really going to see results. Hiring someone who knows PR and knows what it takes to get your business to the next level is always going to be your best bet.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

NicheMarket_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.


Targeting your niche market is almost as perplexing as figuring out how to correctly pronounce the word “niche.” And depending on which business expert you ask, there is a myriad of “correct” ways to reach a niche market. Thinking beyond Twitter, Facebook ads, and old-school paid advertising spots, we found six innovative ways to reach your niche customer base. All are worth a try, regardless of how you say it.


1. Put it in writing—with the right words

Laurie Morse-Dell, founder of Pup’s Place, a company offering eco-friendly products for dogs, writes blog posts and articles about topics related to her business. “[I write] blog posts with tailored topics and key words, such as ‘best eco-friendly toys for playing fetch’,” says Morse-Dell. Being aware of those specific key words drives search traffic to her site, increasing online discovery of her company and bumping her sales.


2. Consider all of the places you can find your customers

Mike van den Abbeel, co-owner of Mosaic Hair Studio, a boutique hair salon and blowout bar in Orlando, Florida, uses targeted marketing techniques to create buzz for his business with great results. “Free of charge, we place our blow dryers in personal fitness training gyms and yoga studios around our area,” says van den Abbeel. “Next to the dryer is a sign that reads ‘If you have to do your own hair, might as well use the best. These dryers provided by Mosaic Hair Studio and Blowout Bar.’ The dryers we provide are very high-end and are much better quality than the usual dryer most gym owners put in their changing rooms.” The word-of-mouth from that non-linear “product placement” translated to heighten awareness of the salon. By thinking of every area you can reach your key customers, not just the obvious ones, you may find a better way to grab their attention and get their business.


NicheMarket_PQ.jpg3. Team up with a “sister company”

Hunter Phoenix, a certified Life and Success coach who works with executives, business owners, and professionals in a variety of industries, suggests her clients find “sister companies,” those businesses also in your niche market world, but who may not be your direct competition. “[Think about] who you can partner with and offer cross promotions or bonuses,” she says. “Some great examples are a fitness trainer and a nutritionist, a wedding photographer and a make-up artist, or a business marketing coach and a graphics designer. Get creative, and find inspiring people to work with.” By partnering with and promoting a “sister company,” you can double or triple your niche customer reach—and also help a fellow small business owner.


4. Give away your product in a smart way

You may think that giving away products for free will hurt your bottom line, but, to make inroads toward that niche customer, it may be well worth the outlay. Steve Caradano of Vero Linens, a manufacturer of Italian luxury bed linens that is sold 
exclusively on the web, contacts high-end interior design bloggers to do giveaways. “It gives the blogger something to write about—these bloggers 
occasionally get writers block, so a new story
idea is frequently welcome. Also, the blogger provides a testimonial of my product and tells my story more effectively than I could do in a commercial or
advertisement. I get instant creditability of my product,” says Caradano, who notes that giveaways result in some of the highest 
response rates bloggers have had to their articles. “Their readers love it. The cost [of the giveaway] is small in comparison to some of the advertising that I
have done, and it generates business,” he says.


5. Get to the influencers

In every niche market, there are influencers: those people that are in the position to spread the word and connect others to products, businesses, and information. Jon Tucker is a senior strategist at Compete Marketing Group, an online marketing agency, and he suggests small business owners find those key folks— and influence them. “[For example], a restaurant that focuses on organic food
 should identify all the local foodie bloggers (especially organic-focused
 bloggers) and gradually form relationships with them,” he says. Others go one step further and sponsor events to bring those movers and shakers together. This is a key marketing tool used by Katie Hughes, the CEO and founder of 
Slip-On Dancers, a product that allows you to turn your exercise shoes into dance shoes, preventing injuries and knee pain. “I found that the connectors
in a market have regular meetings or conventions. It is worth the money to 
be at these conventions where the connectors are. I sponsor the Zumba convention that gets my product in front of 7,000
 Zumba instructors—who can then take my product back and sing its praises 
to all their participants,” says Hughes. Spending a bit of your marketing budget in this way can lead to a wave of word-of-mouth momentum that ultimately translates to sales.


6. Get out of your office

Meeting the customers in your niche market is perhaps the best way to build your business, especially if you are what you’re selling. Tina Marinaccio, a registered dietitian and personal trainer whose company is called Health Dynamics, agrees. “I find the best way to target my niche market is to
get out into the community and shake hands,” she says. “I join local groups, go to town festivals, attend 
wine tastings, and so on. Sometimes, I intentionally go solo because it forces 
me to meet people and discuss what I do. I’m not selling a tangible 
product. I am the product, so a face-to-face meeting speaks volumes over
 any other form of advertising.”

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngI saw a statistic recently that was pretty interesting: According to CNN, last year, despite all the bad news about the economy, Black Friday set a record with over $50 billion being spent with sales up 16% over the previous year. So that’s good news for small businesses this year, right?


  1. Wrong.


Here’s why: I recently saw some other statistics that are even more interesting, and for our purposes, far more relevant. According to the latest Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (click to download PDF),


  • The vast majority of small businesses see little to no benefit from Black Friday or Cyber Monday. In fact 91% of small business owners surveyed said that the two post-Thanksgiving shopping days had minor (or no) impact on their business.
  • As such, and not surprisingly, 81% said that they thought that Cyber Monday was overhyped.


At first blush, I was surprised at the results of the survey, but after thinking about it more it made sense. All of those post-Thanksgiving sales tend to revolve around big box stores. That’s who has the sales, that’s what the press focuses on and that’s where people put their attention.

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

But that does not mean that the holiday season may not be important to your business, for instance many retail stores still rely on holiday sales. But whether December is your busy season, or yours occurs in the summer or fall, the question remains: How do you get ready for your busiest time of year?


Here are 4 tips to help you along the way:


1. Get your store or website ready: When you know more people, and new people, will be coming into your business, you need to put on your best face. If the store needs some paint and repairs, get to it. If your site needs some new content, do it. If you do your job right, not only will you impress them, but you will sell to them too.


2. Get your staff ready: Businesses that succeed during a busy season get their staff on board. This means getting them to have the right attitude. If you expect them to work extended or odd hours, make sure you make it worth their time and show your appreciation. Small gestures of thanks can have long-term benefits.


3. Choose a loss leader: If you want to increase sales, then try the loss leader strategy. Pick an item that you know will be popular and put it on sale. Discount it to the extent possible and then get word out via your advertising and social media. This will do two things:


    1. It will get people in the shop: Having a super deal on a super item will draw people in.
    2. It will get people to buy other things: The purpose of a loss leader is that, while you may not make a profit on the sale item, it will lead to more sales of other items, items that you will make a dandy profit on.


4. Prepare your e-strategy: These days, as you well know, people often check you out online before coming into your business. So before your busy season starts, it would behoove you to put a social media schedule in order and have people sign up for your e-newsletter to get early-bird word on special offers and sales.


Nov 20 pull quote.pngFinally, a word of caution: The worst thing you can do is get your promotions and programs all revved up and not be ready if they do, in fact, pan out. I once worked with a local pizza restaurant that had great pizza but no customers. So we put together a promotion and PR plan and before long, the local food critic came in are tried the place out. He loved it and the next Friday wrote a rave review in the paper. That night, the place was packed.


And they lived happily ever after, right? Nope.


It turns out that the restaurant owner was not ready for the onslaught we created: The line to get in was two hours long at one point. The place ran out of dough on Saturday night. He didn’t have enough wait-staff scheduled. All in all, the event backfired for the most part because he wasn’t ready for all of the new business our work together generated.


So let that just be a word to the wise: Be prepared.

About Steve Strauss


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

To create a compelling value proposition, you have to know your three C's: competencies, customers, and competitors.


by Karl Stark and Bill Stewart


A new school year has arrived. As teachers and students wipe away the cobwebs that formed over the summer, so too should we return to the basics of business: creating a compelling value proposition. This is the first topic on the first day of Business 101, yet the news is consistently filled with the stories of companies that have fallen out of favor because they have lost sight of how they provide value.


A gripping value proposition is important to a business at any stage, but never more so than at the start. In any new business venture, you are trying to motivate the most apathetic type of person: the consumer. You are either convincing them to move from a competitor or to buy something they did not know they needed. In either case, you have to provide them a reason to buy.


To create a compelling value proposition, you have to know your three C's: competencies, customers, and competitors.


Know Your Competencies

The first step in creating a value proposition is knowing what you are good at (and what you are not). These core competencies serve as the building blocks for determining how your business creates value. What will you provide customers that they cannot get today, and how can you provide it in a way that uniquely differentiates your business?


These competencies are the foundation of your value proposition, and you should consistently work to further develop and improve them to maintain a compelling offering.


Know Your Customers

Having competencies that differentiate your firm from competitors is not enough. You also have to have a market, which means you have to understand your customers, their needs, and how best to serve them.


We recommend an activity from the Business 101 playbook: describe your first customer. To really know your customer, you have to have a deep understanding of their life, what drives them, and what keeps them up at night.  Take time to describe who your first customer is and how you can couple your competencies to better meet their needs. Designing a value proposition around your customers' needs will better prepare you to move the apathetic consumer.


Know Your Competition

The final piece of a truly effective value proposition is knowing your competition. Markets and competitors tend to gravitate to the areas with the most distinguished and developed customer needs. However, these strategies limit differentiation and often do not represent the future direction of the market. Know your competition, their strengths and weaknesses, and develop a value proposition that meets the needs they are unable or choose not to address.


Example: Video Rentals

Ten years ago there was essentially one business model in the video rental market: retail stores. Today there are several models, including Redbox, Netflix, and a host of others in the direct to TV market, including cable operators and technology giants.


Each has a unique and differentiated value proposition. Each has identified a market need based on deep knowledge of the customer. Each developed competencies that have allowed them to meet that customer need, and each has done so in a way that differentiates them from competitors. While the future direction of the market is unclear, the compelling value propositions of these entrants has allowed them to develop successful businesses. It's the key to any successful start-up.

Article provided by © Inc.

ThankYouGift_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.


Holiday commercials started hitting the airwaves even before the kids went trick-or-treating. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” has already been stuck in your head three times. There is no mistaking it—the hustle and bustle of the giving season is upon us. With one of the largest buying weekends right around the corner, consumers are thinking about where to spend their precious dollars, which means small business owners need to think about how to say thanks to those folks who choose them. To get you beyond that ubiquitous 10 percent-off coupon, we have “five golden rings” to consider as you create memorable thank you gifts for your customers this year.


1. Give your time and thoughts.

Though you may want to bulk order some flashlights with your logo on them, leave that for a summertime promotion. A refreshing gesture in this era of emails and texts is a simple, yet personal hand-written thank you note. Alexandra Mayzler, founder and director of Thinking Caps, an innovative tutoring company, says, ”I have found that hand-written thank you notes go a long way. Personalizing the note and actually taking time to thank our clients communicates our level of thanks and, I believe, resonates with those working with us.” 


2. Remember, it’s a thank you, not a marketing tool.

There is a fine line between a thank you gift and a promotional object, which is why Jeannie M. Bush, owner of Amenity Electrolysis, never gives a thank you gift with her business name on it. “My thank you is about my guest, not promoting myself. People have noticed that huge difference and commented,” says Bush. ”In the years before unlimited long distance calling, I gave each of my guests a pre-paid calling card, asking them to call someone from their past and tell them how they impacted their life, [or] mend a relationship, [or] say thank you. People told me at length about their special phone calls.” Bush says this gift choice makes a big impact. ”The last couple of years I have turned to a leather-cased post-it note set engraved with a message on the cover. Last year, it said ‘Note to self--you matter.’ It has a meaning so that my guests will remember they are valued each time they use it.”


ThankYouGift_PQ.jpg3. Go one step beyond the plain tin of goodies.

A box of cookies or a bottle of wine—both are lovely to receive, but not very personalized. Elle Kaplan, CEO of Lexion Capital Management, one of the only 100-percent women-owned investment firms in the nation, changes that by creating her own delectable gifts. “I infuse my own vodka and give small bottles out as gifts to my clients,” she says. Julia Labaton, President and Founder of RED PR, a boutique beauty, fashion, and lifestyle public relations firm, also puts a personal touch on her end-of-the-year gifts for clients. At the start of the holidays, Julia spends three days baking chocolate chip cookies from her own secret recipe in her Upper East Side kitchen. However, you don’t have to be a whiz in the kitchen to go this route. David Jacobson, the owner and producer of TrivWorks, a corporate entertainment and team building company that specializes in live trivia events in New York City, uses yummy treats from other great local businesses. “I send my most loyal clients a huge box of hot chocolate from The City Bakery—arguably the very best in the city and make sure it is delivered fresh and piping hot with the message, ‘Wishing you a warm and sweet holiday season!’ ” Customers notice these added personal or local touches that makes treat gifts more thoughtful.


4. Individualize the gifts.

For many businesses, customers don’t come in a “one size fits all” category, so why should the thank you gift you give them all be the same item? Jennifer Pottheiser, a commercial photographer who works primarily with corporate clients, spends time selecting specific gifts she knows her customers will appreciate. “Each November, I rack my brain looking for personalized gifts meant specifically for the recipient. I sent one young ad agency a ‘beer of the month’ membership so that they could be reminded of me each month while they were enjoying their custom brew,” says Pottheiser. “One client of mine is an ice cream fanatic, so I got her two beautiful ice cream bowls with sundae spoons and fancy ice cream toppings.” That type of individualized gift-giving, taking note of a client’s interests, makes a special impression.


5. Create a holiday memory.

Yeosh Bendayan, one of the owners of Push Button Productions, an Orlando, Florida-based company that provides audio for radio advertising, including jingles, came up with a unique way to say thanks. “Last year, we thought it would be fun to do some surprise workday caroling at local agencies and clients in Orlando. We visited about 12 agencies, took video of some of the surprised employees, and put it on YouTube,” says Bendayan. Not only was it an enjoyable and successful way to say thanks, it made a huge impact. “We got praise from our clients on Facebook and Twitter. This made way more of an impression than sending a box of chocolates or a holiday gift basket. Actually, we were in the middle of caroling, and another vendor showed up with a basket of treats as the whole agency was gathered in the lobby listening to [us sing]. I heard the other vendor say ’I can't give them this basket now...’ and walked out.”  Think about what you and your employees could do to create a memorable thank you holiday moment for your customers.

by Tim Donnelly

Sales forecasts are by nature imperfect. But experts say there are ways to squeeze more value out of the projections you're making.


Any good business will have a system of sales forecasting as part of its critical management strategy. But most sales forecasts are, by nature, inexact. The trick, experts say, is to know in which direction they're wrong, and turn that into a picture of how your business is doing.


"People think the forecast is good or bad depending on how accurate it is," says Tim Berry, president of Palo Alto Software, which creates business-planning software and is—despite its name—based in Eugene, Oregon. "What I think is it's how well it breaks into meaningful assumptions you can look at later."


For a small business—say, a restaurant—those assumptions could mean mapping activity in the dining room and keeping track of how many meals are sold at certain times of day. For a larger business, that could mean plotting all activity across departments to see how your products are matching up to industry standards. There's a few ways to test the your sales forecasting to know whether you're getting an accurate read or just dabbling in expensive soothsaying.


1. Use separate numbers. One of the biggest misconceptions about forecasting is that there's one set of numbers that represents the "truth" for your business. In reality, multiple forecasts are necessary in order to represent the needs of different constituencies, says David Stephens, director of sales for Right90, a sales forecasting company based in Austin, which has done forecasting for Sharp and Bivo Networks.


Your sales team might have a forecast designed to meet its number, but product management is interested in the forecast of a specific product, operations is interested in finding out what it needs to produce and when, and finance needs revenue figures, he says. Someone at the top of the ladder needs to be prepared to put all those together and form a cohesive picture.


"Senior management requires the forecast be vetted from all perspectives in order to develop the confidence to make critical decisions," he says.

2. Develop a flexible process. It's impossible to use a single test that will ensure you can track the exact terms, time, and context of every sale. Instead, you should focus on developing a process that can be managed, reevaluated, and modified as conditions change, Stephens says.


"This requires discipline, beginning with ensuring that sales forecasts are updated on a regular basis," he says. That means managers have to understand the sales system, customer history, product delivery, and even the history of the individual salesperson to assess with some certainty the forecast's accuracy.


Big companies often make the mistake of thinking forecasting is just looking at the sales history and taking an average over time. Instead, they need to look at many additional factors as well, says Glen Margolis, president and CEO of Steelwedge Software, which is based in Pleasanton, California, and has forecasted for GE, DirectTV and Sara Lee.


3. Set aside time. Your forecasts won't do you much good if you aren't constantly keeping tabs on them. Berr says it's crucial for companies to set aside a specific time every month (or however often you like) to review the forecasts.


Berry says his company does this every third Thursday of the month: managers bring in lunches, review the data together, and make any work on any high-level decisions that may be called for. It's all part of the broader decision making of the company.


"If there's a set time, everybody involved knows," he says. "You look at, compare and plan for actual results…you start to see management happening."


4. Use a consistent model. Margolis says he believes there's no one model of forecasting that works best for every company. But one efficient method is sometimes one used by restaurant owners: matching this year's sales to last year's and making a guess for the future.


"That to me is the best model," he says. "That empowers people who are actually running business."


But the key is, whatever model is used—whether it is a weighted average over a few months or bare numbers-tracking—needs to be consistently applied over time.


"One of the biggest barriers is people saying 'I'm not qualified to forecast, I didn't take statistics,'" he says. "Well, I do have the degree, and I did take statistics, and still the educated guesses are what really drive the forecast."


Consistent application of the same model standardizes the format, and makes it easier to review year after year.


5. Don't get too complicated. Your business forecasting doesn't have to be a hyper-complicated process that involves high-level mathematics and projections.


"Most businesses are not necessarily very sophisticated," Margolis says. "They don't have a team of statisticians. It's someone with other day-to-day activities who also keeps an eye on forecasting."


Stephens says simple, specific software and applications are available for sales forecasting that provide an audit trail, a history of the forecast, and the ability to align the data with customer relations management. The programs also allow you to note changes to any perspective such as product, territory, customer, or salesperson, he says—much more so than just keeping a spreadsheet on your laptop.


6. Be democratic. If you aren't including all elements of the business in the forecasting process, you are likely to end up with skewed numbers. Margolis says that if people aren't involved in the process, they won't believe the numbers and won't use them, or will fudge the data to fit their personal expectations. A purchasing department, for instance, may up certain numbers so it doesn't run out of stock.


Margolis advocates making forecasting a collaborative process, as much as possible.


"There's ways to manage the collaboration so you're getting the benefit not the downside of it," he says. "Because everyone's participating and they feel like their voice has been heard, they trust it. They're more likely to trust it than to game it."


7. Focus on exceptions. You can tweak the details of the forecast to death, but your main focus should be looking at the exceptions: where the forecast line diverges from actual sales data.


"Don't loose track of the forest for the trees," Margolis says. "You're just constantly trying to improve." Improving forecasting doesn't happen overnight: analysts expect forecasts to include monthly data for about the next 12 months, Berry says, as well as annual data for year two and three. Anything more specific than that is "basically an academic exercise," he says.


Experts say it sometimes takes months of tweaking, adjusting and learning before you can have an accurate guess at how the forecasting will look in the future.


"There's constant elements and dimensions you can refine all the time," Margolis says. "It has to be a core competency, especially in the world we're in today that's very unpredictable."


Article provided by © Inc.

BlackFriday_Body.jpgby Susan Caminiti.


Black Friday is quickly approaching and that means big box retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Toys “R” Us are ready to unleash a tsunami of sales, opening their doors, in many cases, before the Thanksgiving leftovers are even put away. With those hefty discounts and pre-dawn hours—not to mention multi-million dollar advertising campaigns to herald this shopping event—how can small businesses compete with their bigger rivals?


The key, say retailing experts—and small businesses alike—is to highlight different strengths, not go head to head with the big guys. “Trying to play the price game on Black Friday is a losing proposition for any small business,” says Jim Blasingame, host of The Small Business Advocate, a nationally syndicated radio program dedicated to small business issues. A better strategy for smaller retailers, he suggests, is to let customers know via emails and Facebook in the weeks leading up to the big day why they can have a better and less stressful shopping experience in your store. “Focus on what you sell and the better customer service you can deliver on Black Friday,” he says. That’s something the big guys can’t offer their customers on a day that’s become a “feeding frenzy,” Blasingame adds.


Indeed, in 2011, sales on Black Friday alone reached a record-breaking $11.4 billion, according to ShopperTrak. And this year, the National Retail Federation is forecasting even better numbers for the entire holiday season, with sales estimated to increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion. That’s higher than the 10-year average holiday sales increase of 3.5 percent. So, here are some tips to help your small business share in all that holiday retail cheer:


Do your own thing

Yes, it’s true: there is a significant segment of the population that enjoys getting up in the dark, waiting on line with strangers, and then blasting through the doors of their favorite big retailer at 5 a.m. with all the finesse of an NFL linebacker. Then there are other shoppers who don’t. That’s where your business comes in. Think about what attracts customers to your store in the first place, what keeps them loyal—and then offer that on Black Friday.


BlackFriday_PQ.jpgMark Edge, owner of the Soccer Post in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, says he’ll use Black Friday to reinforce his store’s long-standing reputation with customers as the destination shop for all things soccer. “All the local clubs know we have the items they need so there’s no rush about getting here on one particular day,” he says. While he may email a coupon to customers, offering a small discount on certain apparel items, he’s convinced that Black Friday is far more important to the big box retailers than to small businesses. “For us, it marks the beginning of the holiday selling season, not a day where we see a significant spike in sales,” he acknowledges. By focusing on great customer service, a deep selection of soccer gear and apparel, and a knowledgeable sales staff, Edge believes he keeps customers loyal all year—not just for one day.


Offer a nicer experience

Is a deeply discounted plasma TV as enjoyable if you’ve had to wait on line for an hour in an over-heated store stocked with sleep-deprived salespeople? Blasingame says smaller retailers have the opportunity to offer an attractive alternative on Black Friday by creating a welcoming and less frenzied shopping experience.


At Green Gates Gifts in Hampton, Virginia, Joseph Dusewicz offers customers coffee and donuts when the store opens its doors at 5 a.m. Because it’s located in the Hampton Towne Center, an outdoor mall that also features Macy’s and J.C. Penney, Dusewicz says the landlord requires that all tenants be open by at least 6 a.m. on Black Friday. “The folks who come in at 5 a.m. are more geared towards getting the best deals,” he says, noting that Green Gates emails coupons to loyal customers in the weeks leading up to Black Friday and posts them on its Facebook page. “By 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. we start to see more of our regular customers.” And unlike many of the door-buster sales at the bigger retailers that are in effect only for those early morning hours, Dusewicz says Green Gates deals are typically good throughout the day. “Our customers don’t have to stress out about getting to us by a certain time,” he says. “We try to make the day as enjoyable as possible.”


Celebrate Black Friday the whole week, the whole year

There’s no rule that says Black Friday deals have to happen only on the day after Thanksgiving. Ed Veneziano, second-generation owner of Cato’s Army & Navy Store in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, says his family’s goal since opening the store in 1975 is to offer reasonable prices every day. “We’re not in a mall and about 90 percent of our business is from local customers so we’ve never wanted them to think they had to hit a sale on a certain day or they would be out of luck,” he says. “We’ve built this business by offering fair prices every day.”


On Black Friday, Veneziano says he’ll offer a few give-aways, such as free baseball hats provided by some of his larger vendors, but beyond that he plans to steer clear of gimmicks and special one-day discounts. “We’ve been in business for over 35 years,” Veneziano says. “And like most smaller retailers, we attract customers because we offer something they can’t get in the mall and we provide good customer service.” As most small businesses will discover this Black Friday, that selling strategy works every day of the year.

Twitter_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

There’s a big world of social-media chatter out there with ideas for your small business—but are you listening in on the conversation?


This is the beauty of Twitter: You can curate those voices, adding just the essentials with the information that might benefit you most. Here, a look at eight Twitter streams that contain some wisdom to benefit your small business.




Brian Clark

He’s the Dalai Lama of online marketing techniques, and a must-read for small business owners who care about their digital presence. (He’s No. 5 on Ad Age’s influential Power 150 ranking.) His tutorials on everything from making your Web copy sing to SEO strategies to how to structure your site’s landing page are comprehensive, providing step-by-step guidance on engaging your audience. If you can admit that you have a problem with your marketing, here is the place to start.




Twitter_PQ.jpgClayton Christensen

Hearing the word “disruption” a lot lately? Christensen, a management guru, Harvard Business School teacher, and bestselling author of the watershed books Innovator’s Dilemma and How Will You Measure Your Life?, is likely the reason why. The rise of online education, new payment systems, and digital publishing all feed into his “disruptive technologies” theory that’s been the talk of Silicon Valley. His tweets are a barometer for industry changes that may be coming your way.



Melinda Emerson

This onetime TV-news producer struck out on her own to launch her own company, and became a pioneer of social-media marketing for small businesses. The Philly-based entrepreneur is a prolific tweeter, author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, and hosts the weekly #smallbizchat on Twitter. She’s also a New York Times columnist and is especially known for addressing the challenges female entrepreneurs face.



Tony Wagner

If you’re concerned about the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators, consider following Tony Wagner (here’s his recent TEDTalk.). His new bestseller, Creating Innovators, focuses on what skills today’s kids will need to succeed in a fast-moving, changing economy. His tweets look at developing the capacities of the young people who’ll be starting the businesses of tomorrow.



Lara Galloway

If you’re a mother and an entrepreneur, you might have two of the most demanding jobs you’ll ever love. This business coach (and Michigan mom of three) encourages females to pursue their passions and, above all, “find enough time to ‘do it all.’” Her work/life balance advice is practical and has a large following among “mompreneurs.”







The Kauffman Foundation

It’s the largest philanthropic nonprofit in the country dedicated to entrepreneurship. The Kauffman Foundation’s Twitter stream invokes news, research, educational outreach, and workshops for startups, with an eye on issues both global and local. Founded by pharmaceutical pioneer Ewing Kauffman (who also begat the Kansas City Royals), the organization’s tweets reflect the ups and downs of modern capitalism, with a focus on internal scholarship. 


Are you constantly trying to look around the corner at what’s coming next? The folks at might be of interest. Their job is to put the pieces together about what’s brewing among the pace-setters. An annual peek at their official prognostications will set you back $2,000. But through Twitter, you can check out their stream of the newest developments for free, including their fascinating monthly looks at mini-trends.




The Wall Street Journal’s Small Business department

One of the best-kept secrets about following news publications on Twitter: It often gets you around those pesky paywalls. And while you’re (ahem!) surely subscribing to The Wall Street Journal anyway, their Web-only Must-Reads daily feature is a handy shortcut to the best small business-related news and features from top magazines and newspapers around the world. Don’t have the time to scan the headlines at the sites you trust? Let these folks do it for you.


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