All posts in Perspectives
On most Thursdays we ask our Facebook community a small business related question that we post up for Micro Business Tips Thursday. This week, we are breaking that tradition due to the overwhelming response to why our fans started their business, below is a word cloud from everyone’s answers along with some of our favorites. It’s not too late to have your voice heard, tell us why you started your business in the comments below.
Be sure to check our Facebook page next Thursday for your chance to be featured in Micro Business Tips Thursday.
When it comes to finding innovative items for your small business, it can be difficult to pinpoint what’s hot and what’s, well, really not. Fortunately, you have us! From paint that helps you explore your creativity to a super-rugged tablet, we’ve compiled our five favorite products and services we think are worth investigating in 2012.
The Writing’s On the Wall — Literally
Playing Picasso on a freshly painted wall at your office, or at home, typically isn’t a good move, right? Well, the folks at IdeaPaint might beg to differ. The Massachusetts-based company has come up with an innovative product for businesses and consumers alike that can transform any smooth surface into a dry-erase board. Why is this cool-list worthy? As their website points out, “When you’re confined to the space of a typical whiteboard, your ideas are destined to be small.” We couldn’t have written it better ourselves. Another reason we like it: IdeaPaint does more than just reinvent your home office, work space or storefront — it can save you some serious cash. Stocking up on traditional whiteboards can get pricey, and IdeaPaint runs just under $200 per kit (the number of kits you need is based on the square footage you have to cover).
Hip To Be Square
If you’re limited to only accepting cash and checks at your small business, you might want to Tweet a quick “Thanks!” to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey for creating Square, an alternative to traditional payment methods. It accepts all major credit cards, is easy to use (sign up, and receive a free card reader), and has one small, universal rate for all swipes. But the big reason it made this list and why we think it’s a neat asset for small businesses is its versatility. Traditional payment methods can make it difficult to generate revenue unless you have a static location to collect it. Square however is mobile and totally paperless, which means you can do business and easily accept credit card payments from virtually anywhere. The device has been getting some press lately too and not just from us. Business Insider reported that one out of every eight merchants that accept credit cards now uses Square; MSNBC credits it and other mobile payment methods with transforming business. And according to a recent piece in the New York Times it’s popping up where you least expect it.
Whether you’re always on the move, work in an extreme environment or just tend to drop stuff, there is a soon-to-be-on-the-market tablet we think you might like: the Panasonic Toughpad. The Android-powered biz tablet is, according to Panasonic, the “perfect melding of mind and muscle.” Based on the provided specs we might be inclined to agree. Designed to survive most of what’s thrown at (or on) it, the uber-rugged tablet also boasts embedded hardware security and a super-fast broadband connection. Plus it looks pretty cool too. But you’ll have to wait a bit to get your hands on one — the Toughpad A1 isn’t due out until the spring.
…Or Hang Out
You could say Google+ generated a bit of buzz when it launched…you could also call that a big understatement. Let’s face it, it was hard to click on anything news-related without running into an article or three about the great or not-so-great Google+. Whether you’re currently a fan of the platform or not, Google+ does have a feature we think is relevant to you: Hangouts. If you have a webcam, hosting a hangout makes it easy to connect virtually with clients while still being able to talk face-to-face, brainstorm with employees or business partners and conduct long-distance meetings. Plus, it’s free, you can include nine individual participants at a time, and even Kermit loves it.
Think we missed a must-have? Give us your recommendations in the comments section!
Happy Global Entrepreneurship Week (GLE) all! For those who may not know what the GLE is or what it is all about, this week is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators, who launch startups that bring their ideas to life while driving economic growth. The goal of this week is to inspire people all over the world to explore their potential as entrepreneurs. Activities are created to connect participants to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors. Now in its third year, GLE was launched by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Carl Schramm, the president and CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The celebratory week has grown to 115 countries with nearly 24,000 partner organizations planning more than 37,000 activities that directly engage more than 7 million people.
GLE got us thinking about how great it is to be an entrepreneur in this day in age. To think that your micro business, likely started in your home, can reach to the corners of Earth via technology, specifically speaking, the internet. A well crafted business website set-up correctly with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and strategic marketing push behind it can potentially reach not only those in your surrounding town or state, but across the globe!
If your micro business has a product that can be shipped, here are a few tips and tools to help maximize your website capabilities to help reach a wider audience:
- PayPal – If you’re a micro business who sells their products online already, you are likely familiar with the popular online payment tool PayPal. Given PayPal is most widely used platform for online payments, we’ll showcase them. PayPal’s website touts a network of more than 190 countries and regions with multiple currencies that can give your micro business a flexible way to receive payments from customers from afar. Here is some more information about PayPal’s worldwide reach.
- Website Translator – While English is considered by many to be the third largest language by number of native speakers, there are still two larger groups: Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Given your website is likely geared towards English speaking customers; you are missing two larger groups of potential customers in the global economy (among other sizeable groups after English). While there are tools out there that will allow you to create buttons to easily translate your website, these can be expensive. A more cost-effective (free) method would be adding a Google Translate Tool to your website.
- Shipping Your Product – Getting products to the customers in the United States in a timely fashion while keeping costs affordable is always a priority of a micro business owner. Shipping internationally is no different, but additional hurdles to jump over can make logistics tough. Luckily different shipping carriers have set-up special portals for small businesses to help make the process easier. Sites that offer small business options include United Postal Service, FedEx, and the United States Postal Service among others.
Have you thought about taking your small, micro business to a global level? Would you be excited to take your business to this level or would you be happy keeping your business at the level it’s currently at?
If you are reader of this site with any frequency, you probably know that we’re passionate about small and micro businesses. We’re constantly looking for the latest information on the
space — from perusing articles and research data to conducting our own research. Earlier this month, we stumbled across a copy of Brewing up a Business, by Sam Calagione, the CEO of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. The book is a tale of how a micro business grew into a leader in the craft beer space. Caglalione grew his business from a few people to well over 100 employees in just over a decade. Throughout the book a number of underlying themes offer insight into the challenges that the team at Dogfish Head faced while growing the business. Many of you have probably faced similar challenges in your business:
Numbers matter – In the early days of the company, Calagione was more fluent in the brewing side of the business than the financial ledger. After years of scraping by and coming close to profitability, members of the company’s board hammered home the importance of the statement “cash is king” to him. Since then he took a more vested view of that side of the business, despite hiring a team that manages that area of the business. This understanding has allowed Calagione to see past the here and now to get a better understanding of how the company is doing financially for both the short and long-term.
Generating your own buzz (or advertising or marketing or PR) – The beer industry is dominated by mega conglomerates and Calagione knew that he did not have the budget to compete on their level. Instead of buying advertising, the company used their product and their consumer base to generate buzz. Calagione sent samples of their beer to influential publications within the beer industry as well as lifestyle publications, in lieu of traditional press releases. While this does not always generate coverage, it landed the company some notoriety among some of the country’s largest media outlets. They have also used festivals and tradeshows as a platform to expand their customer base via personal interactions in an informal setting. This helped generate word of mouth buzz and also pushed stores to ask distributors for the beer to meet the needs of their customers.
Cultivate a brand identity from the inside out – Do you know what the janitor, the waitstaff, head brewer and receptionist at Dogfish Head have in common outside of their place of employment?
They’re all shepherds of the company’s brand. Calagione believes that all employees need to live and breathe the company culture. They are all given an indoctrination and education when they begin their employment. This ensures that anyone that may come in contact with a customer is knowledgeable about the product and can answer questions that they may have.
Values over VALUE – At the end of the day, businesses do not survive without a profit. With that said, your company should have a set of values that are essential to your business. These give customers something to associate with and may even drive in a certain clientele. This can be anything from value to quality to using only sustainable materials. In the case of Dogfish Head, it is producing flavorful full bodied beers.
In a meeting with the company’s board, discussions turned to maximizing profits. There was talk about producing a more traditional beer with less expensive ingredients. Calagione was vehemently against this as it was against the company’s mission statement and would dilute their brand. He mixed this notion along with business metrics to show that sticking to their business plan would yield a profit despite appealing to a smaller group of clientele.
Local love – Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the growth of Dogfish Head (and the book) was their commitment to the local community. Throughout the evolution of the company, Calagione made it a point to be an active member of the local business community. This meant everything from partnering with other local businesses to help send reciprocal business to participating in local chamber of commerce events. These relationships also served as sounding boards for business advice when things were going both good and bad.
There are tons of other great lessons and anecdotes in the book that are great for business owners, entrepreneurs and beer lovers alike. If you are interested in the book, you can pick up a copy new or used here.
Has your business employed similar principles? Is so, we’d love to hear your story in the comments below.
We hope everyone is having a great week! We certainly are, as last night we hosted the 21st Century Marketing Forum with the Lexington Chamber of Commerce. We had a ton of great conversations with many micro business owners and we’re excited to share the content with you in the coming weeks. We hope you have a great weekend – Enjoy this week’s edition of the Micro Business Roundup.
8 Great Ways Your Small Business Can Save Money – As a micro business owner, we’re constantly looking to save money while not taking away from the business. Small business expert Carol Tice produces a great blog post on Entrepreneur.com about how owners can help save money in different areas of their business. What’s your number one tip for saving money?
Small Businesses Plan to Embrace Online Video in a Huge Way – Does your micro business website or blog host videos created by you and your staff? If it doesn’t, then perhaps it’s something you may want to consider as 2011 kicks off. According to a new study from Ad-ology, 45% of small businesses are planning to increase their companies’ resources for online video in the coming year (nearly double the number from last year’s similar survey). So what do you think? Is this a resource that would prove valuable for your business?
Entrepreneurs, toot your own horn to keep customers coming – Many entrepreneurs know that the key to generating more sales is tied to your marketing efforts. Looking for the next great marketing idea to help push revenue is on the minds of every micro business owner. This recent USA Today article highlights eleven great tips that every owner should try leveraging to help move their marketing efforts forward. Are you utilizing these efforts, or are you engaged in other methods?
Local small businesses may hire workers; give raises – Within the midst of slow economic times, our local paper The Boston Globe reported this week that many local small and mid-size businesses are considering hiring new workers or giving increasing wages. Encouraging statistics include 93 percent of companies planning to retain staff levels and add new hires and 38 percent of companies plan to offer base-pay raises. How would describe the micro business climate in your area?
This Week in Small Business: Feeling Bullish – In case you are looking to read about more about different small business issues, take a look at Small Business Columnist Gene Marks weekly roundup on The New York Times. Marks takes a look at several different economic issues, as well as dissecting the link between Kim Kardashian and his growing technology business.
Today’s Micro Business Perspectives guest post comes from Cathlyn Driscoll, owner of Best Business Mastery.
Our micro-business is mostly consulting and runs mostly online and on the telephone. What resonated with me at Best Business Mastery with Vista Print’s Micro Business Survey was online direct marketing and social media adoption. Both are economical forms of reaching out customers and potential customers.
I disagree with the survey that they are time intensive. Managed properly – with templates, resourceful writers and a consistent schedule of newsletters, email campaigns and posts – I find it much less expensive than other forms of advertising for our niche business. Eventually though, customers will want face to face interaction and some type of printed materials in their hands, whether that is a full out 8-12 page booklet or a simple trifold brochure.
Know your audience. There is a huge difference between the way a 62 year old business owner might get his information in the morning than the 27 year old female junior executive. Deliver your message with the right vehicle for your business.
One of the changes that I see our customers making is insisting on more face-to-face meetings with their marketing team to review goals and strategies to ensure implementation and targets are on point.
In the past, there seemed to be a concern but also a “laissez-faire’ type of attitude when it came to marketing their business. They knew they needed marketing and ventured into it, but now seem to take it more seriously. I believe they are watching their spending dollars more and making sure they are putting their monies to the best possible use- creating exposure to a tighter, more targeted audience.
The face-to-face meetings being stepped up is markedly significant for those of us who work on the web and who for years have worked with clients without ever actually having face-to-face meetings. The ephemeral, intangible web now seems to be made more tangible through these meetings and they seem to have a greater need for more understanding of these technologies and how they can benefit their businesses.
Education, more phone calls and face-to-face meetings, texting, emails – reassurance of marketing goals will take more time out of actual work time for these clients, but they will ultimately perceive a greater comfort with technologies and the personnel that carry out their plans and projects to their ultimate goals; greater sales, exposure, and brand recognition for their businesses.
As a business owner, this will require more time dedicated to staying in touch and in tune with clients and will create a more ‘team like’ working relationship with them which ultimately works out better for us as service providers. Businesses are about relationships with their clients, and the more contact we have with them the better.