Good Karma For Your Small Business

I’ve written about the topic of strategic volunteerism on several occasions, most recently for national media personality, investment expert, and New York Helping handsTimes bestselling author Carol Roth’s Business Unplugged™ blog.

 

As a solopreneur or small business owner, choosing your volunteer activities carefully so you take something (other than feeling good about yourself) away from the experience can do wonders for your business.

 

By selecting volunteer gigs strategically, you can improve your leadership skills, connect with influencers in your community, learn new technology, and become more business savvy.

 

But Professional Development Isn’t The Only Potential “What’s In It For You?”

While giving your time and talents, you can also increase awareness of your products and services—and that can eventually help your business’s bottom line. I typically don’t mention that because directly promoting your business and seeking financial gain through volunteering is generally a no-no. But as you volunteer with others to work toward common goals for an organization, people naturally learn more about who you are and what you do—and they spread the word as you earn their trust and respect.

 

In 2015, I can attribute over $8,700 of my year-to-date writing revenue to the connections and exposure I’ve gained through past volunteerism efforts. No, that’s not enough to sustain my business. But it’s a decent chunk of change that’s helping me reach my income goals for the year.

 

What Goes Around Comes Around: Good Karma For Your Business

I don’t advise that making money be your motivation when embarking on a volunteer opportunity—but know that volunteering can present the potential for building your business revenue. The key, I believe, is in leveraging the connections you make—and staying on the radar. Keep in touch, be active and engaged on social media, and do your best to network face to face when possible.

 

Have your volunteer efforts paid off for your business? Tell me more!

 

Image courtesy of KiddaiKiddeeStudio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

What the 91% of Small Biz Owners Who Do Their Own Marketing Need to Think About in 2014

According to results from an AWeber survey, 91% of small business owners are also the primary marketers for their companies. Whoa! Marketing in itself is challenging and time-consuming, but even more stressful and daunting is when it’s one of many other business-critical responsibilities on your overflowing plate.

So much to do; so little time. Where should you put your efforts in the limited hours you have to market your business?

The marketing tactics small business owners say they will focus on in  this year:


Data and infographic by AWeber

There’s no such thing as “one-size-fits-all” marketing, but there are some universal considerations nearly every small business owner should make top of mind…

  • Make sure you have adequate time to plan and execute effectively. Not all social networks and tactics take the same amount of time and attention. If you don’t have the capacity to keep up with them, either look to do something different, or hire someone/outsource the responsibility.
  • Go where your audience is. As of December 31, 2013, Facebook had 1.23 billion monthly active users.* That’s a bunch, but if you’re a B2B consulting business targeting mid-size company CEOs you might be wasting your time with a business Facebook page.  Don’t squander your time on social media channels that won’t reach your target market.
  • Don’t treat online networking and face-to-face networking as two separate initiatives. If you do, you’ll miss out on opportunities to build relationships and trust. Nearly every professional you meet at an in-person networking event will have – at the very least – a Linkedin account. Connect so you’ll have an easy and noninvasive way to maintain contact long after the networking event is over. And don’t forget to find out which other social networks they – or their companies – have a presence on. Social media can help you stay on the radar and generate goodwill when you show support via your interaction. Likewise, seek to strengthen online networking with face-to-face conversations whenever possible. Reach out to local contacts to see if you can connect at an upcoming chamber mixer, industry trade show, seminar, etc. Those multiple touch points can result in strong business development outcomes.

 

Final note:

When you’re a solopreneur or small business owner who does it all in your business, it’s impossible to do it all in marketing. Be smart and selective when choosing where to devote your time, energy, and hard-earned money. You’ll find it’s better to do one or two things well than to spread yourself too thin and flounder while trying to do five or six.

 

Your turn: What marketing tactics are you focusing on most in 2014? Have you given any up since 2013? I’d love to hear from you!

 

By Dawn Mentzer

 

*According to the Facebook Newsroom – accessed January, 30, 2014

Building Professional Connections: No Riding of Coattails Allowed!

“We need to get together and discuss how I can get involved in your networking circle.”

Awhile back, someone posted this comment on one of my social media platforms in response to a photo that I shared of me with some colleagues at a networking event. While some people might have meant that in jest. I know this person did not.

There’s so much wrong with his statement…I’d call it a request, but really it wasn’t. He didn’t ask. He told me what we need to do so he can further his business in the local community.

Connecting in the local professional community – No riding of coattails allowed!

When building a network of professional connections to grow a business, there is no “we” where responsibility for reaching out and nurturing relationships is concerned. Yes, it’s fine to leverage existing connections and occasionally ask for introductions to people who you might have some synergy with.  (As professionals, it’s professional courtesy – and the right thing to do – to graciously introduce connections whenever appropriate), but it’s wrong to expect others to do all the work for you.  To anyone who hasn’t shown the initiative or effort to make inroads on their own in their community…get off our coattails!

There are no shortcuts for building meaningful business relationships.

Building relationships and awareness in the local community takes hard work, continuous effort, and a consistent presence. Sometimes you even have to dole out some cash to join groups and pay registration fees for events. Why would you share the fruits of your investment with anyone who is obviously looking for free ride and has nothing to offer in reciprocation?

While helping others professionally is admirable and often mutually beneficial, giving a pass to people who are too lazy to build relationships on their own could damage your reputation rather than strengthen it. If they’re that self-focused with you, you can bet they’ll be equally as self-serving with the people you connect them with. By introducing them, you might be misunderstood as endorsing them. And that could put your professional credibility at risk.

Back to the incident that prompted me to write this post…

I did respond graciously to his request. I didn’t offer to sit down to talk with him, but I did share what I believe are some helpful bits of insight to get him thinking about  how he might start to forge relationships on his own…

  • I listed the networking organizations  in our area for which I’ve paid to be member so he can consider them for his own business development – and so he would understand that networks don’t grow by accident. You have to put yourself where the people you want to connect with are.
  • I explained how important my ongoing and consistent use of social media has been for nurturing relationships and expanding my network.
  • I told  him there’s no secret formula. It takes getting involved and putting in time and effort. You get out of it what you put into it.

Hopefully it has made him think about what he (not we) needs to do to start making connections and building trust within the community.

If I seem a bit territorial about my network, it’s because I am. You should be, too. We’ve worked hard to start – and maintain- our networks of connections. Why should we feel obligated to help someone with a strong sense of entitlement but a weak desire to pay their dues? I’ll always be willing to give other professionals a hand up…but a handout is out of the question.

 

By Dawn Mentzer – Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post.

 

 

Big Influence Comes in Small Packages

As solopreneurs and small business owners, we all want to raise awareness of our businesses. We want to get noticed by the people who matter. That’s the same whether we’re networking in person or online via social media networks. Across social media, you’ll find no shortage of articles about “engaging with influencers.” We’re urged to seek them out to propel our brands to bigger and better things. Get the heavy hitters to take notice of you, and you’ll be golden, right? Maybe, but attempting to stand out in the crowd can be tough.

Caution: Don’t put all your eggs in the typical “influencer” basket.

It seems many small business owners think of influencers as the people who have tens of thousands of Twitter followers, a multitiude of Facebook fans, and gaggles of Google+ people following them. They hang on their every word, share their posts, and add their comments to the hundred or so that others left on the influencers’ status updates and blog posts. All in an attempt to get recognized by these ultimate authorities.

But how is that going to help your business? Sure, maybe you’ll get lucky and out of all the thousands of other people vying to get their attention, the A-listers will follow you and single out one of your blog posts down the road. But the chances aren’t really in your favor. I’m not being pessimistic. I’m being realistic. It’s not that they don’t care or that you’re not worthy; they’ve got so much interaction coming at them, they can’t possibly keep tabs and give time to everyone who engages with them.

Does that mean you shouldn’t read their blogs and share their content? I’m not implying that at all. Definitely do if you find them helpful and appropriate for your audience, but don’t put all your eggs in their baskets. There are people in your online network who have far fewer followers, but who stand to increase awareness of your brand far more than the heavy hitters.

Influence isn’t exclusively owned by the big guys.

Make it a priority to interact with professionals who have a lesser online following. Note that a lesser following doesn’t mean they aren’t influential, reputable, intelligent people. I follow a slew of less-widely-known people, marketing firms, and small brands who provide excellent content and insight. I believe it’s important – and ultimately more beneficial – for solopreneurs and small biz owners to put effort into cultivating those relationships online. Why? You won’t get lost in the shuffle.

When you interact with these people…

  • Your comments and input won’t get lost in the crowd.
  • You’ll find they’re more willing and able to reciprocate by sharing and commenting on your content.
  • You can become top of mind as an expert in your field to their followers if you’re consistent in providing value through your engagement with them.
  • You’ll have a better chance of gaining referrals because you’ve been able to escape the noise and build relationships.

Find the right mix.

So as you fine-tune your online M.O., aspire to find balance in your efforts. Follow not only the revered and famous, but also lesser know professionals who know their stuff and whom you find common ground with. By showing you’re in tune with what everyone is talking about AND demonstrating you’re capable of finding resources others may have overlooked, you’ll steadily build your own authority online.

 

By Dawn Mentzer

Inspiration & Motivation – Look for Them in the Most Unlikely Places

Have you ever experienced unexpected moments when someone or something – without effort or intention – has made youSunlight filtering through clouds want to do better or do more?

I had one of those last night at my local chamber’s business women’s networking mixer. While you might think that the accomplished professionals in attendance and their successes were what inspired me, my boost in mojo instead came from a rather unlikely source.

A Networking Experience Like No Other

During a timed networking exercise where we had precisely one-minute to share about our businesses and ourselves with the other women seated at our table, a petite, quiet 62-year-old lady originating from Thailand, Penny, introduced herself to the group.  This was Penny’s first interaction at a chamber event. She brought home-made, handwritten business cards made from cut up index cards. On them, she shared her name, email address, mobile phone number, and her professional specialties: Thai language, Art, and Culture.

When it was Penny’s turn with the timer, she shared that her skills include teaching the Thai language and culture to anyone who is interested. She’s also available to help prepare food for parties – and is skilled at transforming fruits and veggies into art by cutting them into the likeness of flowers. Penny will babysit for busy professionals who need a night out, too.

A Great First Impression – and an Inspiration

While I didn’t quite grasp Penny’s entire background because my ears and her accent didn’t cooperate with each other 100%, I couldn’t miss her courage, determination, and sweet character. Penny may not have been as polished as the other women in the room last night, but she was prepared. Prepared to put herself out there and make an effort. She demonstrated fearlessness even though I imagine she was to some degree nervous and unsure about the reception she’d receive.

Penny wowed me. Not because of her professional prowess, accomplishments, or particular skill-set, but because she dared to  face uncertainty and step outside of her comfort zone. From that brief encounter with Penny, she has inspired me to put a little extra effort into my “get up and go.”

Acceptance – and Pride 

Not only did Penny impress me last night, so did the other women at the event.  The warmth they showed Penny was genuine and heartfelt. Not that I expected anything less from them, but  to reflect on their encouragement of Penny brings a smile to my face. There was no judging, no superiority – only acceptance and encouragement. I’ve always had pride in being a part of the business community in Lancaster County, but I’m even more proud after last night.

Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open – Inspiration is All Around You

To forge forward as a solopreneur or small business owner, I believe it’s important to find people, events, and experiences that rejuvenate your entrepreneurial energy. Good news is, you’ve likely got them all around you right now. Be aware. Be appreciative. And you’ll surely be inspired.

Where have you found inspiration and motivation in an unlikely place?

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of Toa55 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 Reasons to Give Big Consideration to Joining a Small Town Chamber of Commerce

No matter where you’ve rooted your business, you’ve likely got at least one chamber of commerce in your vicinity. To join orJoin Us Concept not to join? It’s a question solopreneurs and small business owners face as they weigh the costs vs. the potential paybacks of membership. As a member of a larger regional chamber and my small town’s local area chamber, I believe chambers provide a lot of value to members via opportunities for professional development, networking, and (perhaps most important) new business.

Small Town Chamber Advantages

When I started my freelance career, I focused mostly on my membership with the regional chamber in my area, but didn’t give much thought to the smaller local chamber that has their office just 4 minutes away from my home.  After attending a few small chamber events as a representative of a non-profit (SCORE) which I volunteered with at the time, I began to recognize – and benefit from – several advantages my smaller chamber has over larger chambers.  So much so that immediately after I resigned from my volunteerism at SCORE in April of this year, I joined that small town chamber on my own.

What’s so great about membership to a small town chamber of commerce?

Small Town Chambers are Affordable.

Chambers typically have different classifications of memberships that carry different price tags. Rates will of course vary from chamber to chamber, but in my area, small local chamber memberships for businesses of all sizes are extremely cost-effective.  At my local small town chamber, my membership cost me just $120 this year, and small businesses with up to 5 employees can have a membership for only $170 annually. Another small town chamber in my area has fees of $135 for companies with up to 4 employees and $170 for businesses with 5 to 14 employees. And just for kicks, I checked out the fees in Port Isabel, TX, where my Dad has a small retail business; the local chamber there charges $150 annually for companies with up to 5 employees and $175 for up to 15. So it doesn’t take much new business to make a return on your investment. Heck, within two weeks after I joined the Ephrata Chamber to represent my own business, I gained a new client for whom I’m ghostwriting blog posts every month. My membership has already been paid off several times over.  I don’t think it’s far-fetched to believe you could have a similar experience.

Small Town Chambers are More Intimate.

At most small town chamber events you won’t find yourself at a venue walking into a sea of hundreds of people.  Generally, you’ll find yourself with the opportunity to mix and mingle in a more intimate environment where you can get to know people better. Smaller chamber events let you connect on a more personal level with other attendees. Events don’t have as many distractions and aren’t as overwhelming for less-extroverted solopreneurs and small business people.

Tip: The only potential downside to the intimate aspect is some people find it intimidating to be the new person breaking networking ground in what’s a typically tight-knit community. If that’s an issue for you, seek out a member who you know and ask to tag along with them. Or you could ask someone who works at or volunteers with the chamber to be your “date” for an the event. Many chambers have Ambassador committees whose participants are devoted to making new and existing members feel welcome and included.  

Small Town Chambers are More Accessible.

If the chamber you’re joining is in or near the town where you live, you’ll probably find most events and meetings won’t require much to and from commute time. That’s a plus if your busy schedule can’t accommodate a lot of time on the road. Chambers also try to accommodate diverse work schedules by planning some events in the mornings, some in the afternoons, and some after hours.  I still attend and enjoy my larger regional chamber’s events…but I sure do wish they’d have an under 15-minute round-trip commute like most events held by my small local chamber!

A Small Town Chamber Membership Can Boost Your Brand

Attending small town chamber events regularly and getting to know other members will – over time – increase awareness of your business through the best form of advertisement – word of mouth. Word of mouth wields wild power when broadcast through local professionals from whom you’ve earned trust.  One way to facilitate earning trust and establishing credibility is to join a chamber committee where you can contribute some time and talent and strengthen relationships with your local chamber’s leaders.  Of course, you’ll also find opportunities to sponsor events and advertise in chamber publications, but involvement as a  volunteer (to whatever degree your schedule and workload will allow) gives you an edge. People do business with people – and taking advantage of face-to-face opportunities to build relationships will generate good will – and referrals.

Before You Join a Chamber of Commerce…

Before joining any chamber or other networking/professional organization, talk with people who are members to find out what they like and dislike most about it. Consider attending an event as a guest so you can get a feel for who might typically participate – and the overall vibe of the group. Also, be sure to review the types of events and programs they offer – and when they’ve got them on the calendar.  Your membership won’t do you much good if the chamber doesn’t offer anything of interest or if you’ll be unable to attend events because of scheduling conflicts.

My final advice…after you given joining a small town chamber some thought and have decided to give it a go – give it a chance. Like any other networking opportunity, it takes time to form relationships. But I believe the small chamber environment enables professionals to build relationships more quickly – nurture them so they last.

Are you a member of the small local chamber in your area? I’d love to hear about your experience…has it been worth your membership dollars?

by Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of Hyena Reality / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Forget Them Not – 4+ Tips for Remembering a Person’s Name

We’ve all had those awkward moments. The time arrives at a networking function or other public gathering when we Question markbump into someone we’ve met before, but when faced with the need to introduce that person to someone else, we draw a big, fat blank on the name. We immediately feel awful for the person whose name we’ve forgotten! We immediately feel awful for ourselves as we deal with the embarrassment!

And yet, after posting a short and sweet poll on Facebook and talking offline with a few people, I’ve discovered it doesn’t bother most of us very much at all if someone forgets our names.

Of course acknowledging that we personally don’t take offense to when our names slip minds doesn’t seem to make us feel any less like heels when we’re doing the forgetting.

So how can you keep yourself out of that precarious position? Here are a few tips that might help…

  • Be present

Not just physically there, but also mentally checked in when someone introduces you to someone else. If you give that introduction your undivided attention, you’ll be more likely to recall the person’s name on a future occasion.

  • Say it out loud

When getting introduced, say the new acquaintance’s name out loud when you meet them. “Hello, Miranda. It’s very nice to meet you.” Saying the name and hearing the name from your own self can help reinforce it in your memory bank.

  • Look them up after the event

When meeting new people, ask for their business cards, and then look them up on Linkedin. By all means, connect with them if appropriate, too. Taking your offline networking online, will help you become familiar with a person’s face and name.

  • Run the alphabet through your head

I know. It sounds strange, but it works for me most of the time. When I’m in a situation where I’ve run into someone I’ve met before, but just can’t put a finger on the name, I start (silently) running through each letter of the alphabet in my head. Almost always, the letter of a person’s first name jumps out at me, and from there I can figure out the rest. Though it doesn’t always work, that little trick has saved the day on many occasions!

As always, I don’t have all the answers and my solutions might not be the best fit for you. So be sure to check out these other resources for tips and ideas, too…

How to Remember a Person’s Name (And What to Do When You Can’t) – “Have them spell it out,” is a keeper from this Art of Manliness post by Brett and Kate McKay.

How to Remember a Person’s Name – on WikiHow.com. “Write it down,” is one that I hadn’t thought of.

Three Simple Steps to Master Name Recall – “The more visual and interesting associations you create to recall a name, the easier it is to do so.” According to this article, putting your creative powers to use can help you remember a name down the road.

And I’ll bet you’ve got your own tips and tricks! I welcome you to share them here!

3 Reasons Far-Reaching Solopreneurs Should Hold Fast to Local Roots

Business technology is beautiful! It enables us to expand our reach far and wide as solopreneurs. We can network, Face-to-face networkingcommunicate, collaborate and complete projects across the cloud – and across the world – without ever talking on the phone or meeting in person. Without a doubt, we’re faster and more efficient than ever before.

But that doesn’t mean local relationships aren’t necessary to solo-professionals.

As unlimited as your potential may be to do business online and out of your geographical territory, building camaraderie with other professionals in your own back yard remains important. Even if you do the bulk of your business out of the area, strong local ties bring unique benefits.

Solopreneurial Support System

Chances are your local business community includes solopreneurs of all varieties who deal with the same challenges and issues that you do. Many of them are probably ready and willing to offer their insight over a cup of coffee to help you overcome the obstacles that they’ve encountered and persevered over. Nothing trumps advice from someone who has walked the walk and beaten the odds.

Targeted Referrals
Getting to know nearby professionals face to face allows the opportunity for you to establish trust more quickly and easily than you might be able to online or over the phone. When people take the time to meet you in person, they’re showing genuine interest in learning about you and what you offer – and that can increase the odds of you getting meaningful referrals. Just remember to be equally engaged in listening about the other person’s business, products and services so you can reciprocate by giving targeted referrals in return.

Sense of Belonging

Though the majority of your work might be untethered to a single space, having professional roots provides stability and identity. Being an active participant in your local business community also allows you to be involved in something larger than yourself. In short – It feels good. It’s motivating. It feels like home.

Share your thoughts! What perks have you discovered by developing relationships in your local business community? Any of you find that it hasn’t helped you very much?

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

United We Stand: Small Business Week and the Solopreneur

It’s Small Business Week! What better time to reflect on the many wonderful aspects of being a solopreneur and to offer insight to people who are just now setting out on their own?

Now in my third year of running my freelance writing business, when I look back on all that I’ve learned along the way, one particular fundamental jumps out as the #1 piece of advice to give to new solopreneurs:

Take the initiative, time and effort to build face-to-face relationships with other solopreneurs and small business professionals.

Although you’re running a solo business, you can’t afford to be a loner. Businesses are built on starting – and developing – relationships. As a solopreneur, it can be tempting (and maybe comforting) to hide away in your home office and interact with prospects and peers solely via electronic means. Resist that temptation! Put a face to your name, and whenever possible, seize opportunities to meet potential clients and colleagues in person.

Why?

  • Learn best practices from your peers. Believe it or not, you will probably find that even your competitors will be relatively open about sharing tips and brainstorming on how to overcome challenges.
  • Extend your referral network. The more business professionals who know and trust you, the better your chances will be to have prospective clients directed your way.
  • Discover new resources in your community. Through mixing and mingling, you might very well find other businesses that provide services to help you run your business more efficiently or that can add value to your offerings through partnering to provide complementary services to your clients.

How to get started

  • This week, there are special networking opportunities all over the nation celebrating Small Business Week. Why not find one local to you and break the ice with other solopreneurs and small business owners.
  • Reach out and invite a LinkedIn connection out for coffee.
  • Join your local chamber of commerce and become a regular at their networking events. Most are likely included in the price of your membership.
  • Volunteer your time and talents to a business-focused organization in your community. Main Street organizations, chambers of commerce, merchants’ associations, SCORE chapters and other local nonprofits provide connections with other business owners AND they offer opportunities for professional development as well.

During this Small Business Week, make an effort to meet face-to-face with other professionals in your locale. And, where geography doesn’t cooperate, take a few minutes to make a few phone calls to supportive connections whom you’ve had strong rapport with via email and social media. That little bit of time can generate a lot of good will – and you just might enjoy it more than you expect!

 

How do you build and strengthen connections with your peers and prospects? What Small Business Week networking events are you attending?