Offer Free Resources the Right Way – a #smallbiz post by @BeckyMcCray

Every small business owner runs into people asking for free help. They play twenty questions, trying to figure out how to do it themselves without hiring you. Handling them the right way can mean more paying customers. Handling them the wrong way will drive you crazy and hurt your bottom line.

You need ways to offer them something helpful, without cutting into your paid work time. Invest a little in educating them, because some will ultimately choose to hire you, or they may refer others to you in the future.

So how can you educate in a way that respects your time? Here are three ideas you can use.

Look through your blog archives. Create a single post with links and resources that can act as your educational tool. Then you can send people to it with a short, standard email, or you could even print it on business cards to hand out in person.

Publish yourself on paper. If you have an in-person business, paper makes more sense than electronic. Put together a simple handout or a booklet of information that you can give away. This could be the same information you’d put in the resource blog post.

Set up a regular workshop or seminar, maybe created with a local career and technical center. When the next person asks for free help, hand them the flyer for the upcoming workshop.

For example, I get lots of requests from local people wanting to start nonprofits. (Many times they are hoping I can get them some of that magical “grant money” they’ve heard about.) I created a list of links to non-profit startup resources that I can share with them. I keep it in Evernote, so I can paste it in emails or refer to it during phone calls. It gives these new non-profits some help, and it lets me get on with the business at hand.

Key point: Keep the focus on education, not selling. Let your great information do the talking in this case.

The bonus to this technique is that you don’t have to turn non-paying clients away empty handed. You can give them some assistance, without giving away your sanity at the same time.

Becky McCray is a small business owner from rural Oklahoma. She recently developed a toolkit with more instruction on how to draw the line between free and paid, with six steps to draw the line, worksheets to complete and a short audio demonstration.  She runs a liquor store and cattle ranch, and she does consulting with small town governments on special projects. She and Sheila Scarborough co-founded Tourism Currents to help tourism professionals learn to market more effectively online. She also publishes the popular blog, Small Biz Survival, about small town business.

         

10 Things That Just Make Me Mad – by @barrymoltz

Are you a small business owner, employee or thinking about starting your own business? Then we’ve got just the solution for you. join.me free screen sharing can help make the most of your time and money. Being in small business, you know it’s your personal touches that are key ingredients to your success. To help support you in whatever stage you’re in your small business, we’ve gathered some experts in the field, right on this blog, to share their stories, lessons and wisdom about small business.

Being an entrepreneur can be an exhilarating experience, but then there are other days where I wish I had a job. Having your own business is not for the faint of heart. In this economy, it’s tough out there. Sometimes what can help is a good old fashioned rant.

Here are the things that make me angry in small business.

1.    People I have met that don’t respond to my emails and return phone calls….ever.

Just say no! If you don’t want to talk to me, send me an email to buzz off or call me late at night to leave a message that you never want to hear from me again. This way, I know that you aren’t stuck under a bus somewhere and I can move on to other people that I can help.

2.    Customers that don’t tell you they can’t pay their bill.

If you can’t afford my product or service, don’t buy it. If circumstances have changed since your purchase, tell me. Don’t have me keep calling you with no reply looking for the money you owe me.

3.    People that are always late for meetings (greater than 15 minutes).

If you are not a physician or the cable guy, you need to respect my time. Use your cell phone and let me know you are going to be late so I don’t wonder if I got the date wrong or I should start lunch without you.

4.    People that cancel a meeting less than an hour before that meeting is suppose to start and I have already left to meet them.

In this fast-paced world, schedules can change quickly, but don’t change your mind about meeting me an hour before the meeting. Look ahead at your schedule and cancel me the day before if you are not interested.

5.    Banks that reduce my line of credit even though my business is profitable and I have never missed a payment.

It is no secret that banks are less than excited to lend money to small businesses these days, but don’t cancel my line of credit just because I fall into the wrong industry sector that has a high default rate. Treat me as an individual customer and look at the merits of this loan.

6.    “Customers” that say they will buy my product “next month” but then never do.

If you really don’t want to do business with me, I would appreciate a quick “no.” You won’t hurt my feelings by saying you are not interested. I appreciate a quick no more than a yes that never quite comes.

7.    All the government taxes and regulations it takes to run a business.

All I want to do is sell my products and services to other people. The myriad of laws to be followed and taxes to be paid by a business owner is mind-boggling.

8.    Insurance costs that go up 20% every year while the benefits go down 50% every year.

I dream about a business like health insurance where I can raise my prices 20% a year and offer 50% less for it. This cost is now the second largest cost for small business owners and is being pushed out to employees.

9.    Employees that quit with no notice…or just don’t show up.

If you no longer want the job, please show up politely and quit. Please give me a week or two notice so you can take advantage of your new opportunity and the people left at the company don’t suffer in your absence.

10.   Business people that make boat loads of money out of sheer luck with no skill.

Lottery winners I can cheer for. Dumb people in business with a bad idea and even poorer execution that strike it rich just makes me cry. But as Jean Couteau says, “We must believe in luck, for how else can explain the success of those we don’t like.”

Ah, I feel better now.

Ok, your turn. What makes you mad (as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore?) Let me know in the comments.

Barry Moltz gets business owners growing again by unlocking their long forgotten potential.  With decades of entrepreneurial experience in his own businesses ventures as well as consulting countless other entrepreneurs, Barry has discovered the formula to get stuck business owners out of their funk and marching forward.  Barry applies simple, strategic steps to facilitate change for entrepreneurs, and get’s them growing their business once again. Barry Moltz has founded and run small businesses with a great deal of success and failure for more than 15 years.


         

5 Small-Business Employee Practices Guaranteed to Grow Your Bottom Line – by Mark Harbeke

Are you a small business owner, employee or thinking about starting your own business? Then we’ve got just the solution for you. join.me free screen sharing can help make the most of your time and money. Being in small business, you know it’s your personal touches that are key ingredients to your success. To help support you in whatever stage you’re in your small business, we’ve gathered some experts in the field, right on this blog, to share their stories, lessons and wisdom about small business.

5 Small-Business Employee Practices Guaranteed to Grow Your Bottom Line

– Mark Harbeke

It may be unusual to hear the word “guarantee” when it comes to financially sound employee practices – particularly in small businesses in which the workplaces are typically highly tailored to the owner or leader’s management style and the marketplace in which the company competes.

Yet, based on the organizational development research my organization, Winning Workplaces, has done since 2003 via our national small workplace award, there is such a thing as a set of practices for which investment in them, if fully endorsed and nurtured by leadership and given the time to take hold in the firm, can dramatically increase your top line revenue and bottom line profitability.

Below are five such practices, along with the results they’ve yielded for several 2010 applicants for our Top Small Company Workplaces award. Use these as is, or as templates to improve the existing workplace culture practices of your organization.

Use core values to best manage employees and customers. The most popular core value at a California-based advertising firm founded in 2002 is “100% Jerk Free Environment.” The company reports it has been a powerful tool in maintaining their culture, stability and profitability. In one recent circumstance, their executive team made the decision to stop working with a client whose account made up a significant portion of their revenue because they felt they were violating their “Jerk Free” value. While painful in the short term because of lost revenue, the firm calculated a net gain in the long term because they were able to retain four key employees whom they sensed would have left if they had continued this particular client relationship.

Ask your employees to answer, on a weekly basis, questions that directly influence how your company should proceed. A Maryland-based health and wellness services provider uses questions like: How did I improve myself and add value to my client, my team, and the company? How did I deliver more value to our client base? How did I increase sales while keeping quality consistent? How did I reduce operating expenses by utilizing technology? How did I become more effective personally? Amidst a saturated market, this firm, founded in 2005, linked this practice with outstanding growth of 2000% through 2009.

Give your employees, at all levels, the autonomy to help design your people practices. At a Massachusetts-based consulting business founded in 1994, leadership tasks employees with forming committees to redefine the benefits structure, and administers employee surveys twice a year to gauge effectiveness of current benefits. Leadership claims this practice helped reduced turnover – which is especially costly to small firms – from 40% in the late 1990s to the low single digits in recent years.

Embrace “fast failure.” This means giving employees the freedom to make mistakes, admit them quickly, be proactive in correcting them, and allowing everyone move on. This practice has enabled a Pennsylvania-based Internet and data processing services provider founded in 1981 to refine their development process in an iterative manner across all functional teams. As a result, their project profitability has increased an average of 20% for each of the past two years.

Use technology to remove the “gray areas” of each employee’s role. If you run a small business, you no doubt know how powerful technology can be when it comes to functions like marketing to help level the playing field with big competitors. Technology can do the same for your internal employee processes. At a Michigan-based law firm, founded in 1989, their staff input data into a “hot-doc” system that produces documents quickly and efficiently, greatly reducing human error. As the firm implemented this program they saw a direct decrease in payroll costs, as they reduced data-entry time, and, in turn, increased work volume.

Mark Harbeke is Director of Content Development for Winning Workplaces, a nonprofit based near Chicago whose mission is to help small and midsized businesses create better work environments. In addition to writing content for their website and newsletter, he serves as technology advisor for the online application for Winning Workplaces and Inc. Magazine‘s annual Top Small Company Workplaces award.



         

join.me and your small business

Picture this: You are about to massacre your computer because, for the umpteenth time, your Outlook is rejecting your emails/your Internet won’t connect/Word is constantly crashing -along with every other horrible thing that your computer does just to spite you. For some people, the solution is to take a deep breath, dial IT’s extension and hope that you won’t blow your lid before they get there.

But if you work for a small business – or heck, if you’re running your own business – who’s the hero then?

Now picture this: You own a small business, and every day is spent trying to make the most of your time. You’re running in a circle today – you’re on the phone while looking at the clock  (you need to prepare for a webinar), and while you know you need to deliver exceptional customer service, you would love to scream on the phone “what’s wrong with you!” Somehow, you get off the phone and turn to your next thing – presenting a webinar in-between playing IT and sales guy or gal. You’ve got under five minutes till go time and every technical glitch that exists hits you.

Sound like a typical day?

Did you know your client meetings and webinars can be made better and stress-free with free screen sharing and instant online meeting software?

We don’t know, and that’s what we’ll be trying to find out from you. For the next couple of weeks, join.me will be all about you and your small business. We want to know how free screen sharing and online meetings can fit in to your everyday small business life – hopefully in ways we can’t even imagine.

So let’s start simple. Anyone out there work for or started your own small business? How did you decide to take the leap? What, if you can pinpoint it, was the main reason working for a small business was right for you? What passion drove you to live your dream? Let me know in the comments.