June 30, 2006

What Should Be In Your Business Plan?


Many people quake in fear at the idea of writing a business plan. They imagine in their mind a 100-page document full of charts and financial figures. While it's possible to create a business plan of that magnitude when trying to get capital for your business, a typical business plan for self-employed people should be less than 10 pages.

The purpose of a business plan, for a self-employed person who is financing his own business, is to have a central repository for all strategic thinking about the business for the coming year or two. Here's what should be included:

  • Your business idea in three sentences.
  • Your target audience.
  • The challenges that your target audience faces.
  • The benefits of using your products and services to meet those challenges.
  • Your company brand and image.
  • Your projected revenue and expenses for a year.
  • If you project more expenses than revenue for the first year, a statement about where the money will come from to pay for those expenses.
  • A list of your major competitors, and how you are different from them.
  • At least six markting techniques you're planning to use over the coming year, when you plan to implement them, and what results do you expect from them.
  • A list of people who you will need to hire to implement your business plan or marketing plan (unless you have the business skills and time, yourself, to do all the work).
You should review your business plan, and update it, annually. I recommend reviewing the marketing section of your business plan quarterly, so that you can gauge the success of your marketing campaigns.

June 26, 2006

Is Earthlink Dropping Your Members?

In this great article by Christopher Knight, "Is EarthLink Dropping Your Permission-Based List Members?" you can learn more about the recently problems you may have been having with Earthlink email addresses suddenly bouncing from your mailing list.

When you see a lot of bounces from a certain ISP (like Earthlink, Comcast, or others), it's a good idea to do a little manual research to find out what error message is really coming back from those ISPs. In Christopher's case, the automated message he was receiving back was a request that HE fill out a request for the recipient to receive his email. What looked like "hard bounces" (email addresses that were no longer valid) were actually being captured by Earthlink's challenge/response system.

This article is well worth reading if you send out email newsletters or other email marketing.

June 24, 2006

Practice Pay Solutions Education Director


Good news to report!

I've been selected by Practice Pay Solutions to act as their National Education Director beginning July 1. I'm taking this position over from C.J. Hayden (author of "Get Clients Now"), who had been acting as Education Director for the past six months. I've been using Practice Pay Solutions as my merchant account and shopping cart for years, as have many coaches, and I can attest to both the quality of their services and the excellent customer service they provide.

My role will be to create and give free classes and teleclasses to PPS members, member associations, and the general public, on e-commerce, creating passive income, and automating your business by accepting credit cards for your services, workshops and information products. I'll also be writing a lot of how-to articles for the PPS newsletter as well as some member association websites.

You'll be seeing quite a lot of me all over the place! I hope you'll be able to make the classes. They're free! :)

I'll be doing this new role a few hours a week, and still devoting the majority of my time to Passion For Business in my small business coaching role.

June 23, 2006

Susan Klein's "Stress Makes Us Stupid" Class - Free Audio


Recently, Susan Klein gave a teleclass to Passion For Business subscribers entitled, "Stress Makes Us Stupid." Wow! What a great class!

Not only did she tell us why stress makes us stupid (biologically-speaking), but she tells us what to do about it. Great advice, good tips and wonderful stories...listen for free here:

http://www.passionforbusiness.com/teleclass/susan-klein.htm

June 20, 2006

Dealing With Overwhelm


As I sit here writing my "to do" list for the upcoming months, I can feel that weird little tingle in the pit of my stomach: Overwhelm. There's so much to do! How will I get it all done?

Then I remember all the tricks and tips I've learned over the years of how to manage entrepreneurial overwhelm:

1. Breathe. Stop whatever you're doing, and take several deep breaths. Close your eyes and take a visual and emotional break from the craziness.

2. Get Organized. Write down your "to do" list all in one place (instead of having all those little Post-It notes all over your desk). Next, write a priority next to each item on your list. Is it urgent ("U")? Is it Important But Not Urgent ("I")? Is it something that has to be done this month, or can it wait until next month?

3. Get Help. Look at your list and determine if everything on it must be done by you. Don't fall into the trap of "Oh, it will take me longer to explain it to someone than to just do it myself." Instead, think of the "explaining time" as an investment: once you explain it one time, the other person can document the procedure and repeat it over and over again.

4. Action Alleviates Anxiety. Pick one high-priority task on your "to do" list and do it. Nothing relieves stress better than getting off your butt and taking action. Don't fall in the trap of picking a low-priority task just because it's easy. Do the things that matter.

5. Just Say No. Look at your "to do" list and ask yourself if you can simply say No to any of these tasks? Remember, you are in control of your task list and your calendar. Only you can overbook yourself, so only you can say No to requests for your time.

6. Focus. Avoid the temptation to multi-task and choose instead to focus solely on the task in front of you. If you have to, set a kitchen timer and tell yourself you'll work on the task for 15 or 30 minutes without taking a break or doing other work.

I think I'll start by taking a nice long breath...


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June 17, 2006

Entrepreneurship in America - Wow!


According to this report, sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, over 464,000 new businesses were created each month in 2005. That's over 5 million new businesses!

The highest increases were in the Northeast and Midwest, while the South and West actually decreased in numbers. I find this interesting, because it does not correlate to population growth and declines in those same areas.

In another report (PDF), North Carolina is increasing its entrepreneurial activity, especially among rural areas. The report also gives some “lessons learned” for effective rural entrepreneurship strategies.

June 15, 2006

Happy Estimated Tax Day

A quick reminder for all of you in the USA who pay estimated self-employment tax on your Schedule C: Happy Tax Day! Today is the day you need to send in your quarterly estimated taxes.

Gee, what fun!

June 14, 2006

Passion For Stealing


As many of you may remember, I had a lovely time a few months ago with people stealing text from my website. Now, someone has upped the anty by stealing the layout and logo design of my website.

I contacted the life coach who's logo and banner layout was extraordinarily similar to mine, and within two days, she modified her logo and banner.

(Thanks to Barry for notifying me about this one. You're a gem, Barry! I owe ya...)

In another instance, the entire text from my home page was on another coach's website. Within three days, she had removed it and replaced it with her own text. In both these cases, they said it was their website designer who had stolen my ideas. Can we not trust website designers? Can we not have clauses in our contracts with them, stating plainly that they are creating original websites for us and any damages for copyright infrigment will be fully upon the website designer?

And why should I have to pay an attorney to get these modifications made, or to take people to court?

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June 13, 2006

Your Voice Tells Your Story


Katherine Scott was the guest speaker in the June 2006 "Self Employed Success" teleclass, a series of free teleclasses that Passion For Business sponsors each month.

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Your Voice Tells Your Story with guest Katherine Scott

Every person’s life is a rich history of stories and your voice tells your story each time you speak. The sound of your voice is influenced by the perceptions you have about yourself and they, in turn, influence how listeners perceive you. The source of your perceptions comes from all the experiences that make up your life story.

To fully access the authenticity of your voice, the sound by which you communicate your story to the outside world must come from your inner being.

In this seminar we explored your voice on two different levels: the actual sound of your voice, and the compelling story or purpose you express with it. We investigated what you can do to integrate those two levels.

During the teleclass, we examined the following questions:

  • What is your voice story?
  • What is a voice field and how do you find yours?
  • What’s in the gap between your thoughts and your spoken words?
  • How do you authentically align your voice with your self?
  • How do you achieve both power speaking and power listening?
  • How do you build confidence and deal with performance anxiety?


Listen to the recording of the teleclass and pick up the notes here

June 8, 2006

Making Prospective Customers Feel Welcome


I know you've heard it a thousand times: make your prospective customer feel welcome and safe while they're learning about your products and services, and they'll buy from you.

But when you actually see this in action, it's a miracle to behold.

This afternoon, with several hours to spare before I had to appear at a speaking engagement in New York City, I wandered into Macy's Herald Square. It's one of the busiest department stores in New York, and it didn't help that it was pouring rain and everyone wanted to get inside to dry off a bit.

So how does Macy's welcome it's customers? With the most brilliant -- and inexpensive -- solution that can be handed out at the door on a rainy day: Umbrella Bags. A very nice man in a very nice business suit stood at the door for hours, offering people plastic bags (with the Macy's logo on it, naturally!) so that they could tuck their wet umbrellas away while they shopped.

You might think this is no big deal, but if you've ever shopped in a crowded store, trying to figure out what to do with your web umbrella is a real distraction.

Macy's made every person who walked through the door feel welcomed and cared for. Net result: less distracted people who could focus on buying.

Now apply this to your business.

If you have an office or a place where you meet customers, how welcoming is it? What color is the decor? Do you see to their basic and common needs, like bathrooms, water, etc.?

If your business has a website, do you give them the information they're looking for, in a simple and speedy way? Are your text, graphics and colors friendly and welcoming?

When you answer the phone, how is your voice modulated? When you answer emails, what type of reply comes off your keyboard?

Make your customers feel welcomed and cared for, and they'll return again and again.

June 6, 2006

Want to Turn Off Website Visitors? Don't Include Your Prices


According to Jakob Nielson, a website usability expert, one of the most important things that prospective customers are looking for on your website is pricing. Yet so many service businesses do not include their pricing on their site. This is understandable if your service is customized for each client and there's a proposal process to bid on a client's project, but if you have "packages" that you offer at a fixed rate, why not include them?

Nielson says, "The most user-hostile element of most B2B sites is a complete lack of pricing information. And yet, when we asked users to prioritize which of twenty-eight types of B2B site information mattered most to them, prices scored the highest by far (29% higher than product availability, which ranked second)."

I've heard many people say that their prices are flexible. I interpret that to mean: if I'm really hungry, I'll lower my price for you. I believe in fair pricing: everyone is charged the same price for the same service. I also believe in pro bono (free) work if you really want to help out those who can't afford your services.

Nielson goes on to say, "Sites have many excuses for not wanting to display prices, but they are just that: excuses. Users expect to get a basic understanding of products and services during their initial research, and they can't do that without some idea of what it's going to cost. Even if your company can't list exact prices, there are several ways to indicate price level, which is really all people need initially."

If you think that your prospective clients are going to call you to get your prices, think again. Not having prices on your website makes people feel uncomfortable and intimidated, and they'll find another website where they know what things cost. Either give prospective customers the information they're looking for, or they'll go to your competitors site where they can get their questions answered. (Do you really want to come across as saying, "If you have to ask the price, you can't afford me?")

Read his survey results here; while this particular survey is testing business-to-business (B2B) websites, the same holds true to business-to-consumer (B2C) website usability:

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/b2b.html

(And, yes, I list my prices for coaching and consulting on the Passion For Business website.)

June 5, 2006

Interviews with Entrepreneurs Can Give You Insight

I had an interesting email from Nathan Kaiser last week, who runs nPost.com. Here's his description of his site:

"I run nPost.com, which features interviews with CEOs and entrepreneurs. The interviews focus on their insights, experiences, competitive environment, hiring practices and much more. They provide wonderful windows into life in a start-up and the minds of entrepreneurs."

It's actually a great site, with interviews that will give you insight into how large-scale entrepreneurs (like Bob Parsons from GoDaddy.com and Reed Hastings from NetFlix) think about things. They have surprising comments about the benefits of the dot-com bust, a new perspective on a large happening that affected many small business owners.

Check out the interviews; they're "good reading."

June 1, 2006

What a Five Hour Hike Can Teach You About Business


It was intended to just be a short hike, as the afternoon temperatures were predicted to be in the mid-90s.

This past weekend, my husband suggested we maintain the stamina we achieved by hiking in Yosemite, and go on a short hike through our local State Park. Because the afternoon was supposed to turn hot and humid, we set out at 9:00 AM and figured we'd be back home by 11:00. We had hiked in this park before, so we pulled out the trail map and chose a new trail that we hadn't discovered yet. Here's where it went wrong:

  • The plan was to walk for only 90 minutes, so we didn't bring water.
  • We had a map from the Park Office, so we thought we knew the route.
  • We figured we'd be hungry in a few hours and our stomachs would tell us when it was time to turn back, so we didn't wear watches.
  • We had walked in this park before and had a sense of how long the route was, so even though there was a distance meter on the map, we ignored it.

We started off at 9:30, and found the trail easily. It was a beautiful, sunny morning and the trail was level and easy through the forest. Occasionally, we'd catch glimpses of the lake and the sailboats merrily skipping across the surface. A few times, horses and riders came past us on the trail. When we got tired, we rested on a log or rock. Overall, it was a lovely walk.

What felt like an hour later, we started to get a little thirsty, but nothing to worry about. The map showed that the trail looped back to its starting point, so if we just kept moving forward, we'd eventually make it back to the car where we had bottles of water. A little while later, we came to a fork in the path that was not on the map, and we became unsure which way to go. Should we go forward? Or back?

Forward seemed like a good idea.

It wasn't.

Now we were starting to get worried. We'd only seen one other hiker on the trail who wittingly called out to us, "Stay under the trees, it's cooler!" We began to worry. So we sat down to figure it out. Forward? Back? Forward? Back?

Forward.

Again, bad choice. Forward was a bog that no human could get through. Back became the obvious choice.

By this time, the temperature had risen, along with the humidity, and we were both sweating like little piglets. Once in a while, we'd come across a stream where we could rise our faces, but not drink the water because it probably had pesticide and herbicide run-off in it.

Eventually, we made it back to the car. It was 2:30 in the afternoon and the temperature was 94 degrees. We'd been walking for five hours, without water, without watches, without cell phones. The whole time, we never felt hungry, so our "internal timepiece" never was able to tell us that it really was time to turn back.

I'm pretty sure we won the "Idiot of the Day" award that day.

So what did I learn that I could apply to my business?

  • First, when you're enjoying what you're doing, time flies. That part was good.
  • Second, even if you have a plan and a map, you must have a way to measure it, and you must take regular stock of your progress.
  • Third, going forward isn't always the best choice.
  • Fourth, being prepared for emergencies and contingencies, even if you don't expect to have them, is helpful.
  • Fifth, don't rely only on your internal timepiece, or your gut instinct, to tell you what to do. Study your options and carefully plan for your future.

And when the sun gets hot, stay in the trees where it's cooler!