Helpful Advice From An Outstanding Expert

“What is the most helpful small business book you’ve read?”

Recently, somebody asked me this question- and I had a hard time picking only one,  but I chose Small Time Operator: How to Start Your Own Business, Keep Your Books, Pay Your Taxes, and Stay Out of Trouble by Bernard B. Kamaroff, C.P.A., Taylor Trade Publishing, November 2016.

With a subtitle like that, what’s not to love? Honestly, whether you are just starting a home-based business or your retail store is doing well, you will find plenty of great resources here.

First published in 1976, now in its 14th edition, it’s still the best overall book on the ‘business’ of business, that I’ve read. And I had that first edition.

If You’re Not an Accountant, You Need This Book

Mr. Kamaroff covers the basics and many of the intricacies involved in deciding to start a business and grow it. From choosing a business structure to paying your taxes, he covers complicated subjects in a readable and understandable style.

Failing to understand accounting, taxes, and cash flow is a problem common to many entrepreneurs.

Read and carry out the recommendations in this book, you will make sound decisions and put money in the bank.

I recommend studying the whole book and then keeping it on hand for a ready reference, it may become your favorite, too. 

Be Inspired With True Stories Of Success

Are Small Businesses Doomed to Fail?

As an entrepreneur, business is usually at least in the back of the mind, and most of us spend time thinking about plans for the new year. I’ve been thinking about how I can help meet the needs of the business owners I work with this year; what can I write about that would be helpful?

Actually, 80% of Small Businesses Succeed (at least for a while).

How often do you read articles about the high rate of failure in small business? Personally, I’m tired of it. When I want to do something better I always find it much more informative and helpful to see how people succeed at what I want to learn.

It is often easier to focus on failure than success. Kind of sad isn’t it, but we are more likely to see what we’re doing wrong than right.

Let’s Focus On What Business Does Well

 

So, I decided to talk about some of the issues we all face as we pursue the work we love but also what positive things can we learn from those who succeed. And to do that, I get to do one of my favorite things- talk to folks who are passionate about what they do and love to share it.

I’m off this morning to talk to the owners of  Tough Cookie Bakery here in Bastrop, Texas.

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Have you ever had pretzel bread? I hadn’t until I met these folks when they were selling at the Farmer’s Market – if you love soft pretzels as much as I do, you’ve got to try it!  Now six years later they have a successful bakery/cafe.

 

Yes, I said SIX years. They have stuck it out through adversity, continued pursuing their passion with a great attitude and people love them.

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I love this story of grit which they posted on Facebook. Read their story, it will inspire you, and I’ll be back tomorrow with more of their story.

In the meantime, I’m heading to the bakery.No automatic alt text available.

Number One Thing You Need To Know About Your Business

The #1 Thing: Your Business is Not About You

Your business doesn’t revolve around you and mine does not exist because of me.

Yes, we put the work, money, sweat, and tears into it- and it’s easy to feel that it’s centered around us.

“What’s in it for me?” is what the customer wants to know. If we forget that, we will be in trouble.

I Want to Share a Personal Story With You

Years ago, pursuing a lifelong dream, I started a dog kennel- raising top quality German Shepherd Dogs for pets and service dogs.

I had amazing dogs whose bloodlines hearkened back to the foundations of the breed- some arrived directly from Germany, Belgium, and Czechoslovakia. All of them had the best training, conformation, and health.

On my website, I had their pedigrees and photos.

But, I was struggling to sell my pups, and with 22 dogs- they were eating a lot!

Five Things You Want to Know Before You Buy a Puppy

I had a picture in my mind of who might buy my dogs but, I wasn’t answering her questions when she thought of buying a new puppy.

  1. “What are his parents like?”
  2. “How likely is my dog to have a long and healthy life?”
  3. “Will this pup fit in my home?”
  4. “What if he doesn’t have the temperament I want?”
  5. “If this dog doesn’t work out, can I get my money back?”

Give the Customer What He Wants

A talented website designer convinced me to invest in a high-quality site. I put an incredible amount of time into writing content that detailed how I raised and socialized each puppy according to the most up-to-date canine behavior information available.

There were lots of photos illustrating the pups’ daily lives- socializing at the airport, playing with kittens and kids, chasing balls.

I included copies of their parents’ hip x-rays and other health information and explained their carefully formatted diet

Each pup received multiple photo sessions, accenting their best characteristics. They were so cute- who could resist?

Especially with my 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Lastly, I invested in some paid Google pay-per-click advertising.

One of My Most Amazing Experiences

Now I had a waiting list of people wanting puppies at three times the price!

It was a lesson I try never to forget. My dogs and their care hadn’t changed. I put myself in my customer’s place and provided the information they needed.

My website looked more professional and as my designer told me, “People actually are more confident when they feel they are paying more and getting the best.”

 You Should Think Like Your Customer

Even though I’ve been an entrepreneur for a long time, I still need to keep this statement in mind.

Studying target customers and developing a persona is crucial, however, don’t stop there.

  • What questions do your clients have?
  • Are you highlighting how you meet their needs?
  • Why is your business their best choice?

Content writing can illustrate the best things your business is doing. Whether you do it yourself or hire some help, don’t miss this chance to connect with your customer. 

According to this recent article, 70% of businesses who sell to other businesses (B2B), are planning to increase the amount of content they are posting in 2018.

Answer questions, demonstrate your competence, entertain and inspire-great writing can do all this and more.

Contact me to discuss how content can boost your bottom line in the new year.

 

How to Identify Authentic, Unique Strengths and Boost Your Confidence

Copyright: natalia0103 / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Have you ever shown a two-year-old how to build a tower of blocks?

First, you began with the biggest blocks.Then, balance subsequent blocks on those below, ending with the smallest ones on the top. Once kids get the concept, it’s easy!

However, many adults don’t know how to use similar steps to build a career or life. They don’t know what their biggest blocks are; how to answer the question, “What am I good at?”

Find the essential pieces to building a durable foundation using the Strengthsfinder Assessment.

Take this easy test to identify which five, of 34 possible themes, are your top strengths. It assesses talents in four areas; strategic thinking, executing, influencing, and relationship building.

Many people who have taken this test, remark in surprise, “I’ve been doing that since I was a kid, and never understood why,”  followed by, “I never realized this trait could be a positive thing!”

Recognize that You are One in a 259 Undecillion

The odds that someone has your same order of the 34 Strengthfinder themes are roughly 1 in 259,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.  If you’re curious, that number would be 259 undecillion, and it’s a real number!

You are of one a kind, but so is everyone else.

Your co-worker, who is has a high Activator trait, snaps at you because a project is taking too long. It may not be you she’s mad at, but the cumbersome processes that slow down progress.  Activators can’t wait to turn thoughts into action and may become impatient.

Since you are a Thinker who loves to accumulate information, you know together you can come up with a plan.  

Once you understand your innate traits; you will communicate with confidence.

Dare to Use Your Greatest Strength for More Success at Work

For example, Becky had a job in a merchandise sorting warehouse. She has a high Achiever strength, with stamina and drive; happiest when she can work fast and challenge herself.

Unfortunately, her coworkers complained she was raising the standards of performance to a level they couldn’t or wouldn’t match.

She said, “They’re lazy!” while they told each other, “She’s just trying to make us look bad.”  It got hostile, and she was unhappy. Becky did not stay there long!

Once you understand your strengths, you can look at your workplace and decide if it’s the right fit.

Becky needs a challenge and would thrive at a job that rewarded productivity.

Yes, Each Strength Has Its Challenge

Hardworking, self-motivated, reliable- excellent traits, but maybe not if a person is working 80 hours a week. And cleaning the house and the yard on the weekends; not so good.

Becky’s tower of blocks can come crashing down, resulting in failed relationships and poor health if she doesn’t recognize a healthy life also requires balance. Luckily, she also has a high Learner trait and enjoys reading and the pleasure of mastering a new hobby or sport.

Warning: This Test That Won’t Solve All Your Problems (but it will help!)

We all spend too much time focusing on what we and others, don’t do well. This assessment will help you do the opposite. Learn to focus on what’s positive in yourself and others and I can guarantee you will be happier.

If you want additional insight, try taking the free 16 Personality Test. It focuses on more of your innate personality though it correlates remarkably with the Strengthfinders test.

Combine the results, and you will have new tools with which to construct an authentic, meaningful life.

Live an authentic life. … Being authentic means coming from a real place within. It is when our actions and words are congruent with our beliefs and values. It is being ourselves, not an imitation of what we think we should be or have been told we should be.

By Diane Motl, MSW

How to Boost Your Creativity (for free!) With Mind Mapping

Help! Writer’s block? Can’t focus or concentrate? Is your brain cluttered?

A technique called mind mapping may be what you need.  It will help you generate ideas, connect thoughts, and organize information.

For example, last week I was working on a project with pages and pages of writing, but I could not seem to put it in the order I had in mind.

Desperately, I checked out my bookshelf and found a book I hadn’t read yet.  I picked up  Book Blueprint: How Any Entrepreneur Can Write an Awesome Book, by Jacqui Pretty. In chapter two she suggests using mind mapping to clarify your thoughts.  Since I was finding her writing helpful, I figured I might as well try it. In fact, I organized my article quickly and even gained insight into a complicated section. 

Ms. Pretty summarizes the process, “Unlike the linear structure of lists or tables, the radiant structure of mind maps mimics the natural function of our brains. This allows you to see connections and relationships that wouldn’t be as obvious in linear lists, which then triggers more related ideas and enables you to organize these ideas more easily.”

How Does Mind Mapping Work?

There is no question that people have used mind mapping techniques for centuries, probably before the written word. Evidence exists to show that early philosophers and thinkers such as Leonardo da Vinci used the technique.

While there is disagreement about the origins of the modern use of the concept ranging from Dr. Roger Sperry, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1981 for his research into brain hemispheres to Tony Buzan who popularized the word with his T.V. show and books, there is widespread consensus it works.

As humans evolved, we relied more and more on our cerebral cortex for speech, decision making, and processing information from the five senses.

The exercise of mind mapping includes various innate skills such as; logic, rhythm, lines, color, lists, daydreaming, numbers, imagination; enhancing the Gestalt or whole picture.

The visual experience of using lines, color, images, and words not in a linear progression enhances clarity, structure, and organization; which includes input from the entire brain. Even the eye movement required by looking in a circular motion triggers a different thought process, and since we all recall information by association, it stimulates new ideas.

Five Simple Steps for Easier Brainstorming

  1. Write an idea, problem, or concept in the middle of a large sheet of unlined paper, poster board,  or even an old piece of cardboard.
  2. Radiating out from the original idea like spokes of a wheel add curved or straight lines and all the other relevant words that come to you. Use symbols, sketches, or words– let the ideas flow. Use a pen or colored markers.
  3. Next, under each of your second-tier ideas add more spokes and any concepts related to the earlier one.  
  4. Notice subheadings which have longer lists showing you know more about those items.  Observe connections the ideas. Draw connecting lines, cross things out, and continue brainstorming.
  5. Finally; on a separate piece of paper, write your main idea with the subsidiary ones underneath, the essence of an outline.

Use Mind Mapping to Collaborate

This technique is useful for individuals and fantastic for groups. Each person can feel confident that their contribution is valuable to the process.

While there is software that allows you to do the whole exercise, I prefer the free-flow of paper. If coworkers are connecting, these programs could be invaluable in enabling collaboration.  I tried the free access version of this program https://coggle.it/, and it was easy to use and intuitive.

In brief, next time you are struggling with ‘brain block,’ try this technique. It’s easy and free!

Whether you are a writer, brainstorming, or need to organize a complicated problem; I suggest you try it.

If you’re interested in learning more about this valuable tool, here are two sites to check out.

Read about the history and theory of mind mapping

Mind Maps for business

 

Use Plain Language to Quickly Improve Your Message

How often have you read something like this? Does it make you want to visit the library?

MISSION STATEMENT 

The Anytown Public Library provides residents of any age opportunities to find and use information in many formats as they pursue personal growth and education throughout their lives. It helps them develop their ability to find and evaluate information used daily and all life long. It provides materials and programs relevant to contemporary issues and interests that enlighten, inform, and entertain.

One of my favorite tips comes from William Zinsser’s book, On Writing Well, in which he says, “Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.”

The challenge is to actually think clearly and here are some basic tips.

Don’t Forget the Rules of Writing for the Public!

If people don’t understand what you’re saying what’s the point? There’s a campaign to change the way the government writes and even the I.R.S. site showed improvement when I checked recently!

President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act in 2010 which requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use”.

Can’t argue with that. It further explains that:

     Plain language (also called Plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Language plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others.

    Written material is in plain language if your audience can

     Find what they need;

     Understand what they find; and

     Use what they find to meet their needs.    (from PlainLanguage.gov)

Tips to Improve Your Message With Plain Language

  1. Know your audience- if you are writing an academic paper, dissertation or an article for The Atlantic Monthly; your style will differ from a memo, website, or blog post.
  2. Use a conversational style and common, everyday words.
  3.  Imagine yourself speaking to one real person.
  4.  Write short sentences and use an easy-to-read format.
  5.  Avoid jargon prevalent in your industry such as: core competencies, scalable, or other corporate gibberish. Say what you mean.
  6.  Use an active voice. Your writing will be more interesting.

If you are an avid reader and word geek, you may find the ubiquitous presence of a plethora of complicated words invading your prose. (hint: don’t write like this).

Can We Improve the Library Mission Statement?

The Anytown Public Library has books, movies, music, computers and more for your education and entertainment.

You can learn a lot at the library, and we can help. 

Enjoy our programs for the whole family.

Make writing plainly part of your mission.  Your readers will thank you.

I have been working with my local Bastrop Public Library as they update their mission statement and evaluate how they can better meet the needs of the community.

The staff has chosen this great tagline, “Connect, Learn, Enjoy”, which incorporates all the products and services that they provide and is short, clear, and memorable. It meets the suggestion of Peter F. Drucker who stated in this essential book, “The effective mission statement is short and sharply focused. It should fit on a T-shirt.”

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” David McCullough

Tested Methods to Create Your Unique Value Proposition

I think you’ll agree with me: it’s difficult to brag about ourselves; whether it’s the ‘About’ page on our website or crafting a Unique Value Proposition, it can be super-hard.

However, if we can’t define what’s special about ourselves and our business, how will we convince customers to spend their money with us?

Unique Value Proposition/ Unique Selling Proposition, It’s the Same Thing

The tricky word in these statements is Unique, so take a look at the definition in the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language:

Being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else. Belonging or connected to (one particular person, place, or thing). Particularly remarkable, special, or unusual.

What Makes Your Business Unique?

Remarkable? Special? Unusual? Not easy, but take a look at what Seth Godin said about it.   He can take a complicated concept and make it clear like nobody else. To quote him, “What do you do that’s worth talking about?” It’s what he calls, “The Purple Cow,” and it gets attention.

Your Purple Cow can be hard to come up with, so keep reading for a couple of tips.

 Why are you doing what you’re doing? (if you didn’t need the money, why would you do it? What do you love about it?)

  •          Your answer to this question often reveals your passion. Without question, loving your work is not too common, and it differentiates your business.

For instance, if you own a bookstore and are a raging bibliophile, you will be able to recommend titles better than a clerk who had worked at only a hardware store! Amazon still doesn’t talk to you and share their favorite book as you do.

Look at what The Strand Bookstore in New York City did to emphasize the level of knowledge required to work there! And it just so happened they got a write-up in the NY Times, too.

 What one thing do you do better or different than your competition?

  •  Without a doubt, you better come up with something here, or your business will be in trouble! For instance, you may not be the biggest or cheapest, but you can be more experienced or friendly.

So, brag about yourself!  If you run a pizzeria, talk about how you use Grandmama’s recipe, organic fresh-picked San Marzano tomatoes, and cook every pie in a wood-fired oven for taste ‘just like you’re in Italy.’ And nobody else in town does all these things just like you do, especially the franchise on the corner.

  What do your customers like about you, your product or service?

  •   Actually, you can ask them! Conduct a brief survey of existing customers and find out why they choose you.

Ask things such as: What do you like most about my service or product? Why have you kept returning for five years? If you were to encourage your best friend to come here- why?

You may be surprised at the answers, but it will give you an insight into what your customers like about you.

The Unique Value Proposition of Bob’s Auto Repair

Let’s go back to the example I used in the Mission Statement article.

Bob’s Auto Repair is an auto-service business serving Central Texas. Our passion is providing honest, efficient service and repair at a fair price.

Here’s Bob’s answer to question one about why he loves his business. It gives us  a clue about how his business is Unique:

“I  love diagnosing broken autos and figuring out how to repair them. I am restoring an old Bronco at home in my  garage. It makes me happy to see people excited to get their car back, running again.”

He believes his Unique Advantage is, “I am crazy about what I do, and I love having satisfied customers. They know my shop is honest, reliable, and efficient.”

His response to questions two and three shows us how it provides the Value Proposition:

“Customers tell me over-and-over they trust me and my honest mechanics. My shop almost always gets their vehicles back when promised. If there are unexpected delays in getting a part, I keep them updated. I often hear other shops suggest unnecessary repairs and pad their bills with extra charges.”

Bob describes his Unique Advantage as “I am passionate about what I do and about having satisfied customers. People realize we are honest, reliable, and efficient.”

Put all these elements together, and he might come up with a Unique Value Proposition like this:

You love your car- so do we! Fixed right, on time, every time;  no hidden charges.

Or, he could go with a headline and a few bullet points:

You know what you need. So do we. Every time, all the time.

  • Fast service
  • Expertly done
  • Honest prices

Remember, You Have to Sell Yourself Before You Sell Your Product

The upshot of all this is, start considering your Unique Advantage. I guarantee it will be useful to you as we discuss how these three things will make your marketing more efficient:

Know Your Target Audience.

Define Your Mission Statement.

Nail Your Unique Value Proposition.

Let me know if you get stuck or if you need help with these essential business elements; I love to talk business!

 

 

 

 

      

 

 

How to Craft an Easy, Meaningful Mission Statement

You hear it all the time- you need a Mission Statement to focus your marketing.

Yet, your eyes cross and your brain screams, “Overload! Overload!”, every time you try to figure it out.

Without a doubt, you need a Mission Statement.  It not only defines your company’s purpose,  it provides a framework on which to build your marketing strategy.

In every business I’ve owned, I tried to come up with a clear, though simple, statement and never got it right. All I ended up with was a bunch of meaningless buzz words strung together or a vague sentence that meant nothing.

Awhile ago, I came upon an excellent article by Kathryn Aragon.  Immediately the process came into focus.

In brief, we struggle because we don’t know the answers to three easy questions that will give a clear message to our customers. Specifically, we need these answers:

  1. I am a _________________ (what you sell or do).
  2. I provide this service or sell ____________to_____________________ (target customer).
  3. So that ______________________________ (key benefits).

Okay- What Goes in My Mission Statement?

To complete this exercise, you need to:

  • Summarize your target market in one sentence.
  • List the three biggest and most important problems these customers face, relevant to your product/service.
  • Describe how you solve their problem with real solutions.
  • Show the actual results they will get.
  • Reveal the deeper core, emotional benefits they will receive.

For example,  Bob  owns an auto repair business and his target market is:

Auto owners within 50 miles of the shop, including those who are using their warranty.

The customer’s problems are likely:

  1. “My vehicle is broken or needs routine service.”
  2. “I need to get it quickly repaired at a fair price.”
  3. “I worry about being taken advantage of by a dishonest mechanic who tries to sell me unnecessary repairs.”

You can solve her problems when you:

  • Provide quality repair services done by well-trained, experienced mechanics.
  • Run a professional shop, so she retrieves her car quickly at a reasonable price.
  • Display your Better Business Bureau and satisfied customer testimonials and offer a  guarantee on all repairs.

She will get the results of:

A repaired vehicle.

Picking it up when promised, fixed by the expert, honest mechanics.

The customer gets the added emotional benefits of:

Confidence that her vehicle will be fixed quickly by qualified technicians.

Peace-of-mind knowing you will not be suggesting unneeded additional repairs.

 Now we can use these statements to fill in our three Elements of a Mission Statement:

Bob’s Auto Repair is an auto-service business serving Central Texas. Our passion is (2) providing honest, efficient service and repair at reasonable prices so (3) customers are confident in trusting us with their vehicles.

Now you have your Mission Statement and you can shape all of your statements to reinforce the main benefits to your customer.

For example, your website content and blog post can highlight the ongoing training that your technicians receive, customer testimonials that reinforce how satisfied they are with your service and informative articles that illustrate your expertise.

Try the three-step method I have outlined and see if it helps you crystallize the goals and marketing for your business; I’m sure it will.

When you need writing to communicate your business message and reinforce your company’s identity, send me an email and let me know how we can work together to build your successful and profitable business.

 

 

 

 

The Truth About Finding the Job You Want

Preparing for a job interview

Good communication, including reading, writing, and speaking, is the number one skill that employers want.  

Understanding what others are saying and responding appropriately is essential in every job. The ability to express yourself clearly and confidently was the number one skill employers were looking for, according to a recent report.  

Other communication skills are important, as well. For example,  I interviewed a  manager who told me,

“An applicant’s initial response to a job posting is their chance to make a good impression.  Did they follow the basic instructions by answering via email as requested,  and including a resume? Did they spell correctly and include their contact information? If they can’t follow directions up to this point I hit the ‘delete’ key because it doesn’t look promising for their future with my business.”

Continue reading “The Truth About Finding the Job You Want”