Deck the Halls – and Your Small Biz: Add Sparkle With These 3 Professional Touches

As the holidays approach, we put an exorbitant amount of time and effort into making the season bright for all around us. It’s as it should be….but don’t forget to look ahead and think about how you can make things a little brighter for your small business in the New Year.

NOW is the time to focus on the things you can do to propel your business forward in 2014. Whether your past year was one that didn’t quite make its mark or one in which you exceeded expectations, you can always find ways to improve and add some professional polish.

Some ideas for brightening your small business in 2014

Refresh your website.

How long have you had your existing website? It might be time for a re-do. Does your site look dated? Does the navigation not serve visitors as well as it should? Is it difficult for you to change content? If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, you might consider an update. Tip: Unless you’re a web designer/developer, don’t attempt on your own. If you think your audience can’t tell the difference between a self-created Weebly site and one that’s professionally done, think again. This is your brand we’re talking about. Your website will be the one place all your other online spaces, marketing material,s and messaging point to, so it pays to have one that’s well done and shows you mean business.

Pose for some professional photos.

As easy it is to spot  an amateur website, it’s also easy to spot a “selfie” profile pic. I’ve found professional pics to be one of the best investments I’ve made for my business. They put that finishing touch on your website and the social networks you use professionally. And if you’re invited to speak at an event or guest blog, you won’t look like an amateur when they ask you for a high-res head shot. Not all photographers will cost you an arm and leg.  Ask around and do some research to find one who will bring out your best without costing you a bundle.

Start your blog – FINALLY!

I’m secretly laughing to myself because I know at least four people personally who at this moment are saying, “Does she mean me?” Hmmm….maybe I do. I’ll never tell! But what I will say is if you have any doubt about how important blogging is for your business, read this article by Stephanie Frasco. Twice.

No complaining or whining about not having anything of interest to write about! You have a business. Your business has customers. Your customers find some value in what you offer them, so expand on that through your blog. What breaking news in your industry will help them live healthier lives or do business better? Have you launched a new service or expanded an existing service to enable them to save time by outsourcing an annoying task? What tips can you give them to extend the life of your products? What questions do customers most frequently ask about your services? Creating and sharing your own content via a blog is a powerful way to build authority, gain trust, and turn leads into sales.

 

Go ahead; deck the halls, but don’t stop there.

As you’re hanging mistletoe and stringing lights this month, remember to think ahead about how you can make your business sparkle and shine next year. What steps big or small would sprinkle some professional pixie dust over your small business?

 

By Dawn Mentzer

 

 

 

The One Thing ALL Small Businesses Need to Communicate

As a small business owner or solopreneur, your communications skills – or lack of – can directly affect your bottom line.Lady using tablet Professionals with a flair for engaging people and getting their message across clearly have more success in building relationships and converting leads to clients. Some people seem to be born with those interpersonal gifts,  but what if they don’t come quite as naturally to you?

Don’t be discouraged! You don’t have to be an accomplished writer, polished speaker or master networker to communicate effectively.  By ensuring that one single element is at the foundation of all your business interactions, you can set the stage for people wanting to learn more about your brand – and put the odds in your favor of gaining and retaining loyal clients.

Respect!

Whether you’re interacting with prospects by phone, in person, through email, via your blog, or on social media, demonstrate respect for your audience.

Put respect at the center of all you do when interacting with your prospects, clients and colleagues…

  • Respect their time.
    Be prepared.  Think things through. Be organized and have purpose so you communicate what your audience needs to know without going on tangents that waste their precious time.
  • Respect their intellect.
    Although you might know more about something than they do, check your tone and approach so you’re not perceived as condescending. Also, ask them for their insight, opinions, and feedback whenever appropriate.
  • Respect their need to take things slow.
    Never ever be pushy about selling your wares! While hard-sell/now-or-never tactics may have worked in the past when all we knew was one-way, push marketing, they’re now annoying and a turn-off to most people. Especially as a professional services business owner, you’ll find it can take months or sometimes years to nurture relationships that turn prospects into clients. Sometimes it’s because they view your offerings as more of a luxury than a need. Sometimes it’s because they have budget constraints. Sometimes they’re just so busy running their businesses they don’t have time to really think about working with you. Be patient. And stay top of mind (social media makes this so very easy!) so when they are ready or need the services you provide, you’ll be the one they call without hesitation.

Communicate with respect…and you’ll gain respect for you as a professional and for your brand.

 

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Solopreneur Squared: The Benefits and Challenges of Having 2 Solopreneurs Under the Same Roof

As a “solo” solopreneur, you might find those around you don’t always understand what you’re doing and why it Solopreneur2sometimes demands so much of your time and energy. While my family has always been extremely supportive, they don’t know first-hand the challenges and stresses of trying to do it all. How could they – except through what I tell them – and I’d rather be spending quality time with them than complaining. Still, wouldn’t doing business as a solopreneur be easier if those closest to you would know what it’s like to walk in your shoes?

Who better to ask that question than a pair of husband and wife solopreneurs? I reached out to Steve and Sherry Smith, who both operate as solopreneurs under the same roof in Lancaster, PA.  Steve runs both a marketing firm focused on helping business embrace new technology in their marketing efforts and a successful restaurant consulting business. Sherry owns and operates an interior design company that she started on the west coast, now pulling many of those design influences into her work for clients here in the east. Together, they juggle the responsibilities of their independent businesses and their family.

Check out this Q&A with Sherry and Steve to find out the behind the scenes of how they got started on the road to dual solopreneurship – and get a glimpse of what it’s like to have two solopreneurs in the same house. Plus, they share some good advice about balancing home and work life that’s relevant for all of us.

My Solopreneur² Q&A with the Smiths:

Who ventured into being a solopreneur first? Whoever did it second, what inspired you to follow?

Sherry: Ever since I met Steve he had always desired to be in business for himself, but honestly I believe both of us ventured into solopreneurship around the same time. I made my mind up to launch Design Elements, Ltd. in the spring of 2006 (after months of discussing with Steve and with his encouragement) and made it official in February 2007 after leaving a full-time position at the Tahoe Tribune….just 4 weeks after they awarded me ‘Sales Rep of the Year 2006’. Not good timing for them, but I had already laid a few months of ground work for the launch of Design Elements, Ltd. While we lived in Lake Tahoe, Ca., Steve had a few different experiences with solopreneurship, but the industry he kept coming back to was restaurant consulting.

What has been your primary motivation in being your own boss?

Sherry: Really lots of things: Passion for interior design and helping clients realize they can, with my help, create a space that reflects and enhances their lifestyle; being my own ‘boss’ and driving my own ship and all the good and bad that goes with that; also being able to create a team around me that allows me the opportunity to grow and guide accordingly.

Steve: I always have been a leader. From a young age as a competitive athlete, I seemed to naturally fit the role of team captain. In business, my mentors have been people like John Maxwell and Tony Dungy, both men of faith and excellent leaders. So this leadership has driven me to my charge which nowadays, at the age of 52, is the calling to help others succeed.

I imagine having two solopreneurs in the family allows you to share some resources; how does that help you in your independent businesses?

Sherry: I believe one of our major resources is our ability to collaborate on any type of project that each of us is working on. Because we have three businesses/brands under one roof (Restaurant Rescue Consulting, Local Mobile Apps and Design Elements, Ltd.), we are often bouncing ideas and strategies off of one another – and that ultimately benefits our clients.

Steve: I must agree with Sherry. For me, having her as a strategist is very powerful and enables me to better serve my/our clients!

Does sharing resources ever cause issues or problems? How so?

Sherry: Well…I would refer to the answer above about collaboration. Both of us have a tendency to interrupt the other with our ideas, questions, or general need for feedback. This “sense of urgency” on one person’s part isn’t always shared with the other :). It isn’t easy being married and being solopreneurs, and we do struggle with when to wear what “hat.” We are all in, and our efforts are 24/7, and there is sometimes a blurred line with being “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and being solopreneurs. We value each other’s skill set and experience and know that we have a synergy together that does help our clients.

What would you say challenges you most about having two solopreneurs in the family?

Sherry: In addition to knowing when to be “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and when to be solopreneurs, I would have to say the challenge of establishing quality family time with our daughter. I need to be better at telling myself to stop working and to focus on family. That is extremely hard for me because there is always a list of “to do” items that continually grows an evolves.

Steve: For me I’m not very patient sometimes and tend to want “my answers” immediately. So respecting each others space and time is paramount.

What would you say are the biggest benefits of having two solopreneurs in the family?

Sherry: Flexibility.

Steve: Amen… time for our daughter!

Do you find it difficult not to get overly involved in each other’s businesses? How do you draw the line and not step on each other’s toes?

Sherry: No, not difficult. I think Steve does his thing well with Restaurant Rescue Consulting, and I do my thing well with Design Elements, Ltd. We respect each other’s expertise in these distinctive industries and usually use each other as sounding boards on any variety of issues relating to leadership, coaching, marketing, sales within our respective projects.

Steve: Yep…what she said!

If you could give just one piece of advice to couples who are thinking about running two independent solo-businesses, what would it be?

Sherry: Know each other’s goals and plans for achieving success in each other’s respective businesses, and then be flexible, because plans never go exactly like they are on paper. Ideally, give each other more grace, patience and understanding….on both sides of the track – in your marriage and in your business.

Steve: Respect and patience!

Anything else you think is important to share?

Steve: Legacy..What can we give? Who can we serve? How can we teach our daughter? This is what matters most!

Sherry SmithAbout Sherry Smith
Sherry owns and operates Design Elements, Ltd., a Lancaster, PA-based interior decorating/design, home staging & redesign company focused on creating solutions to fit clients’ unique styles and preferences. She originally started her business in beautiful Lake Tahoe, CA, and has brought that West Coast influence to Central PA. From color consultations to complete remodels, Sherry has experience with space planning, style identification, furniture and fabric recommendations, lighting and fixtures selections, and case goods and accessory options for homes and businesses. 

About Steve Smith
Steve is a founding partner of Local-Mobile-Social Marketing, a Lancaster PA firm that helps businesses understand Steve Smithhow to market themselves effectively with new technology in this new world. He also runs a successful consulting business, Restaurant Rescue Consulting. Over the past 30 years, he has opened and operated more than a dozen start ups in the hospitality industry. His experience includes working with recognizable brands including Intrawest, Vail Resorts, and TGIFridays. His laser focus on aligning marketing strategy with business goals and objectives has enabled him to deliver his clients results that make a stronger bottom line.

How to Get Unstuck from a Rut

The Roller Coaster Ride of Being in Business

As fall fair season ramps up here in south central Pennsylvania, I can’t help but reflect on the parallels between being in business as a solopreneur and the thrills of amusement park rides and carnival games of chance. Starting your own businessRoller Coaster is exciting and invigorating. You meet twists and turns, and you often don’t know what’s around the corner waiting for you. It’s a rush!

But after a while, some of that adrenaline naturally subsides as you settle into the business of doing business. That doesn’t mean you no longer have passion for what you do; it means you’ve become more secure, confident and have a better handle on what to expect. Oddly, that positive sign of professional development can make you feel like stagnant and stalled.

Hitting “Refresh” To Regain Your Small Biz Mojo – Getting Out of the Rut

Recently, Carol Roth featured a post by Shanna Mallon that offers some great tips for giving the humdrum the heave ho and breathing new life into your entrepreneurial attitude.

https://plus.google.com/u/0/105256981924882031557/posts/8FMDu8vaaG5

My additions to the list:

  • Get out and learn something new in the name of professional development – There are all sorts of free and low-cost seminars and informative sessions out there that you can attend to stimulate your brain and broaden your knowledge. Check out programs at local chambers of commerce, SCORE chapters near you, public libraries, etc.
  • Experiment – Do you focus on a tight niche? Consider taking on a project that you’re confident you can ace, but that is outside of your normal realm of work. For example, a writer who specializes in blogs for business consultants might consider doing a feature article for a travel and tourism publication. Use your transferable skills to add some spice to your workload.

What about you? If you’ve found yourself in a rut, what have you done to beat the monotony and find the fascination again?

by Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of foto76 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

9 Ways Solopreneurs & Small Biz Owners Can Juice Up Their Marketing with Twitter’s Vine App

I really want it, but I can’t have it yet. – says this Android mobile user with dismay. But if you’ve got an iOS device (e.g.

As an Android user, I need to wait to harness the marketing potential of Vine.

As an Android user, I need to wait to harness the marketing potential of Vine.

iPad, iPhone), you can – and if I were you, I’d start experimenting with Vine.

What is Vine?
To bring you up to speed if you haven’t read about it yet, Vine is Twitter’s new app that gives you the capability to make short and sweet 6-second video clips (or shorter clips strung together to create a 6-second video) and share them via the Vine app, Twitter and – with some additional effort – Google Plus. (Note that in theory it should work with Facebook, but users have been experiencing some issues. No doubt they will resolved before too long.)

Though I don’t have access to it yet, it’s captured my attention because I believe it offers solopreneurs and small business owners a way to really spice up their marketing efforts. As you face the pressure to consistently create relevant content to engage – and keep the interest – of your audience, Vine offers a way to quickly generate short unedited blips of content and share them. From what I’ve read, Vine has some – what I’ll call – “technical bugaboos,” but surely those will be worked out and it will only get better.

How might you use Vine to add some pizazz to your marketing? Check out these ideas…

  • Share breaking news about your biz.
  • Show off new product packaging.
  • Announce a new client (with their OK first, of course!).
  • Announce a new project.
  • Demonstrate your [tasteful] sense of humor.
  • Generate buzz about an upcoming event.
  • Give quick tips to your audience.
  • Give a shout out to another professional or a business.
  • Make a call to action for folks to visit your blog or website.

What I’m excited most about is the down-and-dirty opportunity to mix things up. If you’ve primarily generated text content for your business and steered clear from doing video because you found it cumbersome, Vine provides a fast and easy way to do it.

Keep in mind that Vine videos are brief – the 6-second window doesn’t allow for anything very substantive – so depending on what you share, you might need to follow up with additional details via a blog post, newsletter, etc.

Want to learn more about Vine? Here are some helpful posts from various sources…

Vine for Twitter, and what it means for you on Android by Phil Nickinson via AdroidCentral – A rundown of some quirks you might encounter with Vine.

How to Share Vine Videos to Google Plus by Mark Traphagen via Virante Orange Juice – A handy step-by-step for uploading your Vine videos to Google+.

Watch as Vine becomes the next great news-gathering tool by Daniel Terdiman via CNET.

Why Vine’s Going to Grow Into Something Huge by Mat Honan via Wired Gadget Lab.

Have you tried Vine yet? I’d love to hear about your experience! What ways are you using it to enhance your marketing efforts?

Don’t Give Up! – Fortune Cookie Friday Post

It wasn’t too long ago that one of my Fortune Cookie Friday posts focused on persistence as a key characteristic of solopreneurs and small business owners. This week’s nugget of wisdom from within my fortune cookie centers on a similar quality…

“It is not in your character to give up.”

If anyone tells you it’s a breeze to be an entrepreneur, they’re flat out lying to you. It can be fulfilling beyond anything else you’ve ever done professionally, but it’s hard work. Times get tough and there will be moments when you think – if only for a fleeting moment – of throwing in the towel. But as a solopreneur, “It is not in your character to give up.”

So many variables can plant the seed of self-doubt when you’re building a business.

  • Competition
  • Long hours
  • Clients with unreasonable expectations
  • Marketing challenges
  • Financial constraints
  • Prohibitive regulations

All challenges deserve your time in evaluating how they’ll shape your business’s future, but don’t ever enter into assessing them with the thought that you might give up. Instead, view obstacles as hurdles, not road blocks.

Hurdles can be jumped over.

Road blocks stop you short.

After doing due diligence, the possibility exists that a challenge will be deemed insurmountable. But don’t ever adopt an attitude of expecting that to happen. When up against adversity, tell yourself: “It is not in your character to give up,” before you research to find if  you’re faced with a hurdle or a road block.

What small business hurdles challenge your positivity? Have any obstacles ever shaken your confidence as an entrepreneur?