Starting a Business

Have you considered starting a business?

With the way the world is going these days, employment is flexible. You may consider starting a business.

Nine years ago now I was happily working. I was working as the Marketing Department for a workforce development agency that put people back to work after lay-offs. I got laid off!! The irony of it.

So I took that opportunity to do some informal polling with my, at the time, 1000 connections on LinkedIn. I got a good response. Of those that responded about 70% start your own business. That was a scary thought because my husband was already running a business and that would mean both of us were dependent upon contracts to meet our family obligations.

That was nine years ago. I haven’t looked back except to offer advice to those that ask me. Here is what I would suggest if it is something that you are willing to do.

  1. Do some labor market research – use your state department that provides the Labor Market Information (LMI). Check out the growth of the position you are considering. Would a consultant in that area be a good opportunity?
  2. Find an SBDC – Small Business Development Center in your area. These are typically federally/state funded offices that provide free business guidance and support to businesses in the area.
  3. Speak with your accountant about which business model option might be best for your particular business.
  4. Speak with the SBDC about the proper steps to setting up your business as a sole proprietor, partnership, limited liability partnership, or a corporation.
  5.  Speak with an attorney about the legal documents you need. An attorney isn’t the only person that can help you. I worked with Laura Wilcox of Corporate Minutes Inc. to help me square away some of the things I had bungled up with my DIY approach.
  6. Accounting – while you are still drawing unemployment and trying to decide whether or not you should take the plunge, track your expenses in Excel. Income and expenses is as simple as it gets. File everything. Once you actually incorporate open a separate checking account and set-up a Quickbooks account (or other accounting software) to do the accounting properly. I didn’t do this properly and it cost me headaches for a long time until I paid a Quickbooks expert to help me sort it out.
  7. Healthcare – if your spouse is still working and carries the insurance you are golden. If not, we investigated a Healthshare plan. Many of them are faith based, but if you are healthy, this is a much lower cost option than going with one of the health care giants or even Cobra insurance.
  8. Networking – get out and do it! Join a chamber or industry organization. If it works for you, offer to give a free 30-45 minute presentation. I almost always get at least one client from an event that I speak at for free.  The Elgin Area Chamber of which I am a member even offers a Small Business Academy for people thinking about starting a business or are just getting on their feet.
  9. Website and email  – this is super important. An email address at the domain name of your website gives you better credibility than joeswelding @ gmail . com. Let me know if you need help with any of your marketing needs.
  10. Read the book – The E Myth Revisited. Let me give you a synopsis – hire someone to do what you are not good at. The best thing I ever did was hire someone to do my monthly bookkeeping. I was spending way to  much sweat and heartache to get it done. I would put it off until I had hours of work to do. Now I still write checks and pay bills but the bookkeeper does the reconciliations, enters the things I pay through billpay, and files all the paperwork. If I have to help her figure something out, I don’t get all frustrated. If you need help with marketing, I can help YOU with that!
  11. Another great resource to use is Illinois workNet BizHub. Once you are up and running, you may need additional resources to keep you moving forward. Things you can use like human resources suggestions and filing quarterly taxes and more are located in one convenient space.

I am sure that there is all sorts of advice out there. But take it from someone who tried the DIY approach and lived to talk about it, there is all kinds of help out there for you. Take advantage where you can!

 

Customer Service and Social Media

How does social media impact your Customer Service?

Recently, I ordered carry-out from a local Mexican restaurant. The customer service wasn’t the best. I want to show you the impact of social media as a result of my poor experience.

I have written about customer service before, as it relates to my life and social media. You can read one post here that is a great example of how it can be done. Another article is here.

Before the days of social media, if you were happy with what happened at an establishment, you might tell 2 people. If you were unhappy, you might tell 10 people. Your circle of influence wasn’t that large. If you were really unhappy, the time frame of your sharing might be longer, so the number might rise to 20 or 30 people who heard about your bad experience. Once social media came around, that number that you reach is as broad as your knowledge of how to post a review about a business on the variety of social outlets where they can be found, or haven’t found yet.

Let’s go back to my sad story. Early this year I chose to go gluten free on the advice of my wheat-995055_1280homeopath. That means that I avoid wheat, barley and rye. I have found that I do react negatively if I ingest one of those. There is this thing called cross-contamination where even if I don’t actually eat it, if it touches the food I do eat, it can cause me distress as well.

All of that back story to say this – I ordered enchiladas to go (corn doesn’t affect me). I got to the restaurant. I gave them my order number. The lady checked my ticket. There was only one order waiting. She grabbed it and bagged up my chilies, chips and salsa, and my dinners. I paid my bill and left. (Notice I did not check inside the container.)

When I got home, 20 minutes later, I unpacked my order, opened the container and saw burritos. (Made with flour tortillas – flour is bad for me!) I called the restaurant. They immediately knew who I was because I got another persons order that was very similar – two meals, chips and salsa. They told me I was welcome to come back to get my order. I said, I would prefer not to drive round trip another 40 minutes. I asked if they would provide a credit the next time I was in. The young man told me “We can’t give you a credit, because you would get free food.” I told the young man, I would probably not come back – EVER.

I posted in a Facebook group called What’s Happening in Elgin. I gave them a negative review on Yelp and Google. I am writing about it here on my blog and will share this on Pinterest, Facebook, G+, and LinkedIn.

Now, here are my observations.

  1. People can be rude and crude. You may use foul language in person, FB cs 2but it should not be used to make a point in a public forum. You never know who is going to read your post. If you don’t care how you sound to others, that is fine, but it can come back to bite you in the behind. Would you want your grandmother to read what you wrote?
  2. People stick up for the underdog – not always seeing both sides of a story.
  3. Arguing on social media never usually works out. If someone complains in a public forum and you are the business, you should always take it off-line as soon as possible. You can respond by saying, please call me at xx number at your earliest convenience, I would like to resolve this matter.
  4. There may be a cultural difference or a generational difference between how people perceive good customer service or good will. Many of the people in the Facebook thread thought that it was totally my fault for not checking my bag before I left OR the offer to come back and get my original meal was dealing with the situation properly. The fact that I should have been overjoyed at the chance to drive back to pick up my meal was what they considered good customer. Would they have made me a fresh meal or would I have been given the original meal (which by the time I got back home the second time would have been over an hour old).
  5. If you “react”, wait before you post. Apparently the owner’s wife posted a negative FB cscomment in the thread, changed her mind and deleted it, but not before someone got a screen shot and reposted it. AND refer to point #3.
  6. Sometimes,FB cs 5 apologizing is all that it takes to right a wrong. While the owner of the business never actually apologized, the owner of the sister business sent me a private message. Refer to #3 above. I responded to her as soon as I saw the message, assuring her, that her facility was not in question. While this did not make up for the fact that I never heard from the business itself, it gives me faith that some people do pay attention to social media and what it can do to their business. Perhaps if I hear from the actual business owner, I might go in and take down my reviews.
  7. Posting an opinion on social media does not mean you are trying to close a business down. Remember my comment from earlier about telling 10 people if you are upset? Now, posting to social media about your experiences is the norm. Peer recommendations fuel whether you are going to use a product or service. Peer recommendations get you FB cs3everything from a new dog groomer to a Mexican restaurant. Many people ask how to do things, where to find things, sell items, or buy items. This is evidenced in the decline of classified advertising in newspapers. When was the last time you bought an item because of a commercial you saw? When was the last time you ate at a restaurant because you saw that a friend of yours had checked-in. The power of social media to drive people to a business is growing exponentially.
  8. People care. One person made the comment that this isn’t Chicago, no one cares aboutFB cs4 my reviews. I advise people all the time to check their reviews. If they have a negative review about their business, they need to work on getting others to add positive reviews. If you are not concerned about what is showing up on the internet, then you aren’t concerned about your business. Google reviews show up in Google searches and Facebook reviews show up in Bing searches. Yelp has a growing following. Reviews on platforms like Urban Spoon or other new platforms, may be out there and you don’t know what people are saying about you.  My answer to that particular poster that no one cares about my review is – you don’t know who I know. You don’t know my level of influence – my Klout. You don’t know who might see my comment and change their mind based upon my words or someone else’s opinion of a business you are about to frequent. Just because the place is a small local establishment, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t care about what people are saying. “They don’t need you” as one poster says, may be right, but if enough of me’s get treated improperly, it will have an effect upon that business.
  9. One comment can go viral – be ready for damage control. Again, refer to #3 above. SM commentsThere was an incident a few years ago where a singer’s guitar was damaged by an airline. He wrote a song and posted it to YouTube. Over 15 million views later, this is a great example of what can happen if you don’t care of business. Now my small local post only garnered a fraction of that kind of response, but it is still a relatively significant number compared to when something goes right.

Does what people might say about your business on social media impact your customer service?

Overall, this was a good exercise to see how social media and customer service work together. As some of you know, I speak publicly. I tell a story about my experience with a “utility” provider. I tell this story at least once a month for the last 3 years. This story is going into my repertoire as an example of how to control your reputation. A little positive public relations can go a long way!

Stay Connected, no matter who it is

How do you stay connected with your acquaintances?Connected to some new folks at my Alton High Redbirds reunion

A few weeks back I attended a high school class reunion. It has been about 15 years since the last one I attended.

I arrived after having looked through my high school yearbook, checking on a directory to see who from my class lived near or far. Needless to say, I didn’t recognize everyone. What did help is Facebook. I was able to be in contact with several of my classmates over the past few years, so recognition of those people came pretty easily.

After the reunion, I looked up a few people with whom I was able to spend a few minutes speaking on LinkedIn to connect there.  I am sure I will eventually look for others as time permits.

The whole point of this article is this:

  • Social media did not exist when I was in school. For that matter, neither did the internet, and computers were in their infancy.
  • Networking meant shaking a lot of hands and making a bunch of phone calls.
  • Your network is broader than you think.

How will you stay connected with all of those people, especially some with whom you may have lost contact? Using social media is probably one of the easiest answers. If you are trying to reach a particular person, look at your network to see how you might be connected to them. When I teach LinkedIn my adage is;

“It’s not about who you know, but who they know.”

Being able to leverage your network to your advantage is, what I feel, the entire purpose of social media. Get connected, build relationships, share useful information, pay it forward, and don’t over-sell.

Six degrees of separation 01Remember the theory of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? It was originally created in 1929 and popularized in 1990 and has spurred things like the Bacon foundation at sixdegrees.org and the six degrees of the Dali Lama. If you aren’t familar, the theory says that you are connected by six steps to every person in the world. I think that with social media, the gap will decrease tremendously. If you need to learn how to close the gap on social media, give me a jingle.

Entrepreneur, Manager, Technician

Which one are you an Entrepreneur, Manager, Technician?eMyth

In the book by Michael Gerber, the E-Myth Revisited, he talks about what type of business owner you are. There are three key roles each business person:

  • The Entrepreneur
  • The Manager
  • The Technician

70% of people who start their own business are considered the technician. They are the one who lives in the present, sees the work to be done, and requires a methodology.

If you the technician in your business, there is a good possibility that you will not find time to work “on” your business because you are always working “in” your business.

Some of the items to consider to help your business grow include culture, marketing, procedures, financial, and transitioning your business up or out.

Let’s look at one item in particular – KPI or Key Performance Indicators. For me personally, my KPI are billable hours. I need to bill a certain number of hours per day, week and month to be able to show improvement. I can look at my schedule to see how many hours I will bill, then I can offer other times to market or network, or work on my business. In another situation, one might have an ice cream business. Their KPI may be scoops per hour or day sold. If they are making more than their goal, they may need to call more staff in, or send someone home if they aren’t selling enough.

If you, as the technician, are always busy working “in” your business and not considering some of these other items, you may be working yourself “out” of business.

Thanks to Sybil Ege of the Elgin Small Business Development Center for hosting valuable workshops that inspire me as a business person and help me grow.

LinkedIn – Warm up Cold Calls

What is your process to warm up cold calls?

With 30% of the over 300 million users in the United States, isn’t giving LinkedIn worth a try? This 2013 Harvard Business review looked at some of the statistics with salespeople and LinkedIn.  With that many people at your disposal, you would be foolish not to at least give LinkedIn a look.Warm up your cold calls.

My suggestion is to make use of every part of LinkedIn to warm up cold calls. Back in the day when LinkedIn was just getting it’s legs, users were advised to have a minimum of 150 users. That minimum has now been boosted to 500 or more. The average salesperson has more people than that in the contacts on their phone!

Take a look at your connections connections. This will give you a good idea of who might be able to help you in your pursuit to warm up the cold call. There are two tactics you can use after you find the contact that you wish to reach:

  1. Ask your contact to make the introduction, either through LinkedIn or in an off-line method. This puts much of the work on the other person. With busy schedules, many people may balk at the thought of doing that much for someone else.
  2. Send your contact a message, either through LinkedIn or in an off-line method, asking them if it would be acceptable for you to mention their name in a communication you will be sending to the sought after contact. If there are a number of their contacts you would like to reach, you could send the list in one email. Using this method requires your contact to send you a yes or no response. Easy peasy!

Afterward, all you have to do is send a message or make the phone call to the desired communicant, mention the mutual connection, and give them a moment to recognize the name.  Share a LinkedIn profile

Another very useful method is to share a profile. I often do this when I want to make an introduction between my contacts. Use this as a “pay it forward” tactic. If users know this option, it is an easy way to share your skills and talents with the person to whom you want to connect. CAUTION: Make sure that your profile is something that you want shared!

Last but not least, you can follow the company that you need to reach. Check the people in the list of how you are connected. This is especially beneficial if you have an appointment scheduled. Find the people from the company and do a bit of research before you show up for your appointment.

If your profile leaves something to be desired, or you would like some one-on-one tutoring on how to use LinkedIn better so that you can warm up cold calls, I am available to help you. Just send me a message.