Networking: It’s A Mistake For Small Businesses To Overlook This Marketing Tool

It’s been said, “It’s not about what you know, but who you know.” This phrase applies especially to those who want to master the art of brown-nosing as they climb up the corporate ladder in a large, multi-billion dollar company.

But this article isn’t for those people. This article is for the entrepreneurs and small business owners out there who are wondering:

a.) “How can I get the word out about my company?”

b) “Where can I get more leads and sales?”

c.) “Where can I meet other like-minded business owners and employees to learn and exchange ideas?

There are many ways to market a business. The obvious one is direct marketing such as newspaper ads, flyers, brochures, TV commercials, and radio spots. All of these are great when done correctly. But first, you have to decide which medium is right for you, and then you have to design or pay someone to develop your message. Once that’s done, you sit and wait for a response. Direct marketing works, but it has to be done correctly to get a good return on investment. You probably won’t get it right on the first try and fine-tuning your strategy is the only way to go about get profitable results.

Networking as a Marketing Tool

There is another way to market your business with a lot of extra benefits that you just can’t get with direct marketing. It’s called Networking. Most small business owners and new business owners either don’t do it, or don’t do it enough. Those who are doing it know that it works. There are many ways to network and this article will go into detail on many of them. And no, we’re not talking about “networking” with the stranger at the gas station and telling him all about your business.

My business, a graphic and web design studio, was only a few months old when I realized it was time to start meeting new leads face to face. Yes, I was initially keeping busy as I exhausted the “friends, family and their referrals” resource, but I knew that my business needed something else if I was going to be in it for the long haul. I started with one networking event which I dreaded going to because I did not like meeting new people. I’m great around people when I know them, but I had a hard time talking to complete strangers, especially business professionals.

The first event was a Chamber of Commerce lunch. From then on, my desire to meet other business owners hit the ceiling. I was shy at first, but you just have to throw yourself in with the sharks, so to speak. I quickly got over my fear of talking to new people as well as my fear of public speaking. If you love talking to new people, than you can just skip the whole “getting used to it” step. Some small business owners are very good at running their business, but contact with other people may not be their strong point. That is why you either have to force yourself to network, or have another, more gregarious person in the business do it for you.
Networking is great because there are a lot of things happening at once. You are meeting driven people like yourself. You are talking about your business and learning about other small businesses. You are exchanging ideas that will benefit everybody in the group. Eventually, once people know and trust you, you will start getting leads and sales.

You have to put in the work and time to get results from networking. Networking is about developing relationships and that doesn’t always happen on the first try. There is a lot of commerce going on in our capitalistic society, so when you are producing a high ticket item like a custom website, home remodeling or financial services, people will be much more inclined to buy from you if they trust you. The same principal applies to pretty much anything you are selling. Once people learn that you are a legitimate business owner, then they will have no problem buying from you or referring someone who will.

OK, enough about networking in theory. Let’s explore some groups, organizations, and other ways to actually network.

Open Networking Groups

Chamber of Commerce – Almost every city has one. Some are invaluable while others can be a complete bummer. It really depends on where you are and who is running the organization. Our local chamber of commerce has been great for kick starting my networking bug. Although I met other people in my industry that may be competition, I have actually formed alliances and a referral system for exchanging business with them. In addition, you’re meeting a ton of people in other industries that you can learn from. There are some common factors that apply to all businesses, so its beneficial for you to learn how other people are running their business so you can borrow or innovate upon their ideas.

Just search Google for “Your city: chamber of commerce.”

Small Business Alliances – I know my town has one and it’s incredibly beneficial because they focus on the growth side of running a business. They help with all the questions a small business owner could have like: What do I need to know about my lease, do I want a 401K plan for employees, or who can help me find a good insurance? Anything in regards to the growing pains of a small business! Try this site and see if there’s a local chapter http://amiba.net/. Keep in mind, there are a bunch of other small business alliances that don’t have to do with American Independent Business Alliance. My SBA is actually a local one that is not associated with the AMIBA.

Meetup.com – Yes, there’s actually a site out there that networks people and brings them together in real life. I have yet to go Meetup.com event, but that’s only because I found out about the site a few weeks ago. It looks very promising. The “Meet-ups” are usually free, and if they cost money then it is usually going to pay for food, drinks, and the space.

Meetup.com has every kind of group imaginable, from single mother meet-ups to Dungeons & Dragons meet-ups. If you look hard enough, you’ll find the golden nuggets that relate directly to small businesses, entrepreneurs, or even your industry. The good thing about Meetup.com is that you can start your own group if they don’t have what you’re looking for!

Rotary Clubs – We are not part of a Rotary club yet, but it is a well established business networking organization that helps out the community. Being part of a Rotary can add extra credibility to your business. From their site: “Rotary is the world’s oldest service club organization. It’s made up of more than 32,000 Rotary clubs in nearly 170 countries. The members of these autonomous clubs are called Rotarians, and they form a global network of 1.2 million business and professional leaders, all volunteering their time and talents to serve their communities and the world. Individual Rotary clubs, in turn, belong to the global association Rotary International”

Leads Groups – These groups have one goal in mind: networking. Some are national and others have one chapter. Some are open and others are closed. You have to look hard to find these groups, but they can be some of the best resources out there.

Search Google for “Leads Groups: Your City”

Closed Groups
LeTip – This is a networking group that only allows one company from each industry, hence the closed group title. The exclusivity of closed groups is great if you can get in with a good group that has every intention of getting bigger. That means you will have all of the members acting as your salespeople, which is far more cost-effective than hiring a sales team of 20+ individuals.

This group has a greater sense of trust among the members than say a “Chamber of Commerce,” because you are with them every week and you get to know each member and their business individually. There are a ton of chapters throughout the US so check it out at http://www.letip.com

BNI – Very similar to LeTip. One company per industry. Both BNI and LeTip have training programs that help you learn how to market yourself to other people quickly and effectively. The one catch is that closed groups usually do not let you be a part of other closed groups, so you have to pick one you like and stick with it. Loyalty is important. If you have more than one person in your company, divide yourselves among the different closed groups. Visit http://www.bni.com for more information.

Networking is essential for small business growth.

I’m sure I missed a lot of groups in the list because I don’t know what they all are. Some heavy searching on the internet or communication with other business owners can yield some great results for your area.

I’m fairly new to the networking game. I can’t imagine what it will be like a year or two down the road but I promise you it will be exciting. There is no other way to grow a business like small business networking because you’re going to be face to face with like-minded people. They are either going to be your clients, allies, or in some cases both.

One thing is for sure though: if you stick with these like-minded individuals in the groups and organizations mentioned above, your business will grow faster than you could have imagined. If you’re sick of spending money on direct marketing or if you just sit around on your butt wondering why your business is not growing, get out there and meet new people. The worst case scenario is that you’ll make a friend and get a free meal.

Small Business Websites – Why A Small Business Website Does Not Produce Results

When a small business decides to take their business online there are usually several mistakes that they do. This is partially due to lack of experience and often lack of knowledge. There seems to be a trend that small businesses think of their website as an online business card instead of a marketing tool. That is where the majority of them go wrong. So let’s take a look at some of the most common mistakes done when a small business takes their business online.

1. Order of links

So many times you visit a small business website and they proudly flag the “about us” link as their first link. This is called the pride link because they often think that telling people about the company is the most important thing. The links should be in order of importance. Not in the order of the business owners EGO! If you use a website designer and he does consult you on the order of links, chances are you should be using someone else or at least make sure you educate yourself about online marketing because your website designer sure hasn’t!

2. No focus

Most small business websites lack focus. When you enter you are not sure where to go next which makes it hard for the user to understand exactly what he is supposed to do. The website should flow and the user should be able to make sense of the site within a few seconds of opening it up.

3. No sale / No lead setup

Many small businesses do not use their website to increase sales directly or capture leads. It is nothing more than an online brochure or business card. Sometimes the information is more confusing than it is helpful. If you competitors site is easier to navigate and captures either the sale or lead, you just lost a client. A small business websites needs to be even more on top of catching leads than a corporate website because every client lost counts more!

4. No analytics

Most small business websites have no clue what people do when they enter their site. No clue what users are really looking at and where they are losing their potential sale or lead. If customers just walked in and out of their place of work eyebrows would be raised and something would be done. Shouldn’t the same thought process apply to the site? You need to know what is going on with your small business website and what users are doing.

5. No marketing purpose

This is the biggest “Whammy” of them all. Small business websites tend to fail seeing the potential of using the website as a complete marketing tool. The fundamental reason to take a business online would be to do marketing. The lack of marketing vision explains the mistakes from above. If just this single piece was in place when a small business builds their website, many of the other things would be solved because they would educate themselves about what it means to have a marketing tool!

6. No results!

This is no surprise considering everything above. If there is no purpose, no focus, no vision and no marketing thought behind the site then there are probably no results from the site either. What is even worse is that most small business websites do not even measure results or understand how to measure results from their site. Once again it is a lack of understanding more than anything!

So what can a small business do when they are ready to take their business online and setup their small business website? The most important thing is to educate themselves in a few areas. The most important ones being, what you need to consider before building or having someone build your website. How to use the website as a marketing tool and it would be extremely beneficial to you if you at least had some understanding of what SEO is and how it works. What is the difference between a website designer, website developer and an online marketing company? All of them do different things and have a different understanding of how to use the internet; the question is what purpose is your website supposed to serve? For most it should be a marketing tool, because the internet is the most effective marketing tool available!

7 Things Successful Small Business Owners Do

If you’re stuck wondering how to be a successful small business owner, know this: running a small business often simply means making good use of successful small business ideas. Successful small business owners face many ups and downs throughout their work. They know that small business ideas cannot turn out successful unless they use the proper approach and strategies.

If you want to be one of the few successful small business owners, remember that having a good strategy is crucial. Without the right strategy and a proper approach, you are not likely to achieve your goal.

Some small business owners manage to overcome their everyday challenges, while others seem to give up after a while. So, let’s find out what successful small business owners do differently from the unsuccessful ones. Let’s turn their experience into your success through your small business ideas.

1. MAKE ANNUAL REVISIONS OF YOUR BUSINESS PLAN AND BUDGET

Every business goes through changes every now and then, including your small business. For this reason, your business plan and budget should be somewhat flexible to bear such changes along with your business goals. Without revising your business plan and budget, you shouldn’t expect your business to flourish and expand.

The flexibility of your business plan will help you avoid and overcome the eventual unpleasant surprises on the market. Also, such flexibility will give you some time to adjust to certain changes you may experience on your way.

Every business experiences both success and failure points each year. In order to detect and estimate these points, you should revise your budget and business plan every year. While revising, you should check if you are still going in the right direction. If not, you may need to make some changes and adjustments to achieve better results in the upcoming period.

Successful small business owners don’t hesitate to reallocate funds, if that is what it takes to achieve success. In order to increase profits, after they conduct a business revision, smart business owners define and implement the necessary changes immediately.

2. UPDATE YOUR OFFER AND ADD VALUE TO IT

People change, as do their needs and habits. As soon as you notice that you aren’t selling as much as you used to sell before, it is time to make changes. If people aren’t purchasing what you currently have to offer, that’s a clear hint that something needs to be done.

A simple price cut may be the first thing that comes to your mind. As much as lower prices may seem more appealing to your customers, they also point to a devaluation of what you offer. Devaluation of your products or services is never a good thing, so try doing just the opposite – add value to your offers.

The best way to update and add value to your products and services is by developing new offers. If possible, try to offer something completely new to your customers. You could offer product bundles, training programs and workshops, and so on.

3. DARE TO BE DIFFERENT

Most successful small business owners believe in daring to be different. They know their target consumers. Trying to target everyone and anyone as a consumer will get you nowhere fast. Instead of trying to make products for the masses, focus on a clearly targeted community and grow with it. Once you target your consumers, it is easy to understand their needs.

Understanding your consumers is the secret to a successful business. When you know their needs, you can modify your products and services in order to satisfy them. Satisfied consumers will not only become your regulars, but they will also spread the word about what you offer. This may become the best marketing strategy for your business.

Spreading the word about your products or services is called a referral marketing strategy. It’s been proven that most of the faster growing small businesses turn to this kind of marketing rather than relying on traditional advertising.

4. KNOW YOUR COMPETITION

Successful small business owners know their competition. They know that keeping an eye on the competitors and understanding their policy and pricing is crucial to the business. It is wise to consider your direct competitors in your area, as well as indirect competitors.

A direct competitor offers the same primary services to the same target group as you, and they are easy to follow on the market. However, an indirect competitor company offers the same or similar products as a segment of a wider product or service offering.

In some cases, the indirect competitor may offer a product that is an applicable substitute for the original product. Successful small business owners know how to position their company against the indirect competitors. They take both types of competing companies seriously and they account for them in their annual business plan.

5. HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE

Even though hiring the right people for your business sounds obvious, it can be a really tough job for small business owners. Also, not hiring the right people could be a huge downfall for a small company. People who don’t share the concept of your business approach and goals are not the type of people you want to engage in your business.

Candidates who don’t have the right temperament, skills, or talent for the job position that you offer can be too pricey for your company. Having the right people in the right job positions can make your company outstanding. Exceptional companies recruit exceptional people.

6. ACCEPT TECHNOLOGY CHANGES

Technology changes on a regular basis nowadays. Successful business owners are very well aware of that, so they change accordingly. Doing things the way they were done years ago will not provide the same success nowadays.

Accepting technological improvements can help your company become more effective and efficient. Keep yourself informed about the latest in new technology, and the improved solutions it brings. Choose the most appropriate ones for your business and adopt them. Your customers will be grateful and you’ll experience great benefits.

7. TRUST YOUR INTUITION

If you believe your intuition has been serving you well so far, listen to your inner voice carefully. Your instincts can lead you a long way. If you still feel strongly about something, regardless of the lack of facts or data – act on it. What seems right for other businesses doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for you as well.

Relying on intuition is often the first step out of your comfort zone, and the first step towards becoming a leading company on the market. While you watch your business grow and spread, remember that having faith in yourself and the business you are running is crucial. Being aware of your inner voice can lead you to making business decisions with more confidence and a greater success rate.

How To Get High Quality Sales Leads Fast For Your Small Business

September 2008 will forever be remembered in American history. That was the historic time frame when the Government of the United States began bailing out major banks and the Big 3 in the auto industry. That’s when the word recession creeped its way into Americans hearts and minds.

Ever since that dreadful month countless small businesses have closed down. Many entrepreneurs, business owners, sales people, really people from all walks of life have been affected by this recession. They have not been able to adapt to the drastic change in the short amount of time.

Those that have are rapidly chipping away at their golden goose egg that has kept them a float for the past few years. But once used to be a nest egg for retirement has turned into just a few months of money to live off of. Any person that is involved with their community will tell you that small businesses are the back bone of America.

That being the case how do we help solve this problem of so many of them closing down for good? Go into any small or large town and you will see small businesses that have been around for decades no longer open for business. In my observation and speaking with a handful of business owners I am convinced of the main reason they are not succeeding in this new economy.

They have failed to adapt to the new way that customers are doing business. Simply put these small business owners are not putting their product in front of the right customers. They are not marketing. And to be quite honest most can’t afford to spend a single dime on marketing efforts.They are too busy pinching pennies as it is.

So what is the solution to this epidemic? The answer is simple. Leads. Sales leads. But not just any sales leads, high quality sales leads. If you are a small business owner you may be thinking that you can’t afford to buy any sales leads. Trust me I understand.

What if there were a way you can leverage technology to produce targeted leads for your business in an instant?

I’m not suggesting you spend a single dime on these leads. I want to show you how you can possibly save your business from closing down and start generating positive cash flow again.

If you are already thinking that you can’t afford to pay someone to market your business and get these leads have no fear.