Grow Any Small Business by Paying Attention to Critical Activities

Do you start your day at the workplace at full steam? When you get to your workplace do you have a dozen phone calls and emails to reply to? If you do, how many of those correspondences are business related that generate revenue? How many are new sales leads? Are most of your daily correspondences sales related or are they personal in nature? In other words, how much of your time is spent on critical core business activities?

Before I go on, let me tell you about my self and where I’m coming from that I can talk about this subject. I own and operate an executive office suite. My company rents office spaces and private workspaces (desks). We also provide virtual office services to clients ranging from individual professionals to multi-billion dollar companies and everyone in between. I get to talk to a lot of people in a lot of different business. This broad exposure to many businesses let me see how they operate and see what their daily activities are like. From this, I came to realize that every business has the same core activities that are critically important but not everyone pays attention to those activities.

Every business, regardless of the industry and profession, has common core activities that are critical to the success of the business. The core activities are Product Development, Marketing, Sales, Closing, Delivery and Follow up (repeat sales). Whether you are a large corporation, a consulting professional or a sole proprietor selling widgets, you must maintain ongoing effort on all of these activities to ensure your business growth. If you are a startup company, you may be initially focused on product development and marketing. But eventually, you have to sell it.

Product Development

Whether you have widgets to sell or intangible services to sell, if you are selling some thing, you have a product. Successful businesses continuously spend time and energy improving their products. As a business owner and professional, how much time do you spend improving your product? For example, we have several products / services in my executive office suite business. We provide functional office spaces and workspaces and manage everything related to running an office for our clients. This includes making sure that internet connection and telephone services are working properly, maintaining appropriate level of staffing such as receptionists and cleaning crews, making sure that the copier, printer and fax machines are serviced and that we have enough toners and papers for the machines. The list goes on and on. As part of my product development process, I’m always looking for product improvement ideas. I ask my self, what else can I do to make my serviced office space a better place for my customers to conduct their business? I try to continuously improve my product to ensure that my products are up to date. For example, when I realized that many businesses and people need part-time office space with a permanent business address, we started our virtual office service.

Marketing and Advertisement

If you have the best widgets in the world to sell, would you keep it a secret? That is effectively what you are doing if you are not actively engaged in regular marketing activity – you are effectively keeping your product a secret from your potential buyers. If your potential customers don’t know about your product, how would they buy it from you? Marketing is a critical activity for your business. You must get the word out to your potential customers. There are so many creative and cost effective marketing ideas out there. Just search for the term “Marketing Ideas” on Google or Yahoo and you will get a long list of websites and free articles. Taking my Executive Office Suite business as an example, I conduct a daily ritual of marketing activities both online and offline. I advertise to newspapers and online classifieds every day. There are many free classifieds websites on the internet and I try to take advantage of it as much as I possibly can. Why not? It’s free. When I advertise, I try to be as direct as possible so that my readers will know exactly what they are getting when they call. I avoid any vagueness so that when a person responds to my ad, there’s no mistake about what they are responding to.

For example, my ads may read like this: NYC Virtual Office – 212 phone, voicemail, prestigious business address, desk space use, conference room use included. For more information call 212-300-2000 or visit our website There’s no mistaking that the ad is for virtual office space. If the reader calls me, that person is a qualified lead looking for a virtual office space – just the person I wanted to hear from.

Selling your product

If you’ve done a good job of marketing your product, you should receive a constant stream of sales leads. But the process doesn’t stop there. You now have to sell your product to your potential customer – your qualified lead. Selling involves calling and talking to people to find out if your product is a right fit. A word about selling – selling is not trying to make your prospect buy. Selling is explaining your product so that the prospect can decide if your product is right for them. If you’re shy about talking to people, overcome your shyness fast. It’s amazing how often a sales lead is not pursued because the sales person has a good excuse why they shouldn’t follow up on a lead. My personal favorite excuse for not calling on a sales lead is “I sent an email. They’ll call me if they are interested in my virtual office service.” An email message is a great way to keep in touch with people and send lengthy information. However, it is not a replacement for a live phone conversation. You must get on that phone and make the call if you want to sell. In my sales process, I’ve established a simple rule for may self – when I get a qualified lead about my virtual office services , I send an email containing details of my product. It’s a great way to communicate the specifications of my product but I don’t consider that email to be an act of selling. It’s just a product brochure. It’s not a sales effort. To sell, I follow up on the email with a phone call. Think about the last time you bought something. Did you want to talk to someone before you bought it? You have to get on the phone and talk to your prospect if you want to have a successful sale.

Closing on your sale

Informing a prospect about the features and benefits of your product is NOT the same thing as asking them to buy the product. You eventually have to ask your prospect to buy. A sales lead that keeps on leading but not buying is not a lead at all. At some point you have to close the deal by either selling or dropping the lead. Being in the executive office suite business, I get many calls from sales people who want to sell me widgets. The widget may be a phone service, or internet connection or paper supplies or copier toners. An experienced sales person will spend the necessary time to explain why their widget is better and answer any questions I might have. But eventually sales person will ask me to buy his or her widget and move on I tell them that I am not in the market for a widget. An inexperienced sales person however will just keep on telling me more about product features hoping that they will stumble onto some magic words that will cause me to buy. They are afraid of closing the sales process because I might say no. But they need to realize that the magic words are “Will you buy my widget?” and if my answer is no, just move on to the next lead. But they don’t ask and when I say that I am not interested in the widget, they keep repeating how great their widget is. In my business, my prospects rarely make decisions on the spot after seeing the features and benefits of my virtual office service. They need time to think things over and see other offerings before making a decision. They are trying to make an informed decision. Knowing this, I ask when we can talk again to see whether our virtual office service will work for the prospect. When I call them at the agreed on time, I should know whether I should prepare a service agreement or move the lead to my “follow up in the future” folder. I try to help my prospects to objectively sort out their options without being biased. What ever their decision is, I should have closure on my sales lead and move on to my next qualified lead. There’s nothing worse than pushing people to make decisions when they are not ready.

Deliver your product as promised

Once the sale is made, make sure the product is delivered as promised and on time. Buyers often get “buyer’s remorse”. Buyer’s remorse is a period of time when buyers question the purchase for what ever reason. They may feel that they bought the wrong widget or paid too much for the widget or what ever else a buyer’s thought process takes them. During this period, if they experience any snags in product delivery, the “buyer’s remorse” factor will become stronger. The snag could be anything, late delivery, defective product, or not what the buyer ordered. The result could be a bad impression or worse, a refund. Don’t let this happen to you after putting in so much effort in your sales process. Deliver the product on time, on budget and in the quality and specification promised. In my business, this is even more critical since I deal with people’s business identity and operation. If I don’t have the office space ready on time it’s more than an inconvenience for my client. They can’t get their work done. So I do everything I can to make sure that every aspect of their virtual office is ready on-time. I make sure that the telephone service is turned up correctly, the telephone number and their business address have been sent to them along with instructions on how to use the services, the internet connection is working properly, the workspace is cleaned, company sign is posted and spelled correctly, etc. When I deliver my product I want my customers to know that they have made the right choice in selecting our virtual office service. I try to not to leave anything to chance.

Follow up service

Delivering your product is not the end. Even after your product has been delivered and you have been paid, your product is under constant evaluation until the buyer becomes comfortable with it. After a few days or weeks of delivery (whichever is appropriate your product), give your new customer a call to see if they are still happy with your product. If they are not, offer to fix the problem right away. This kind of willingness to go the extra mile will leave a long lasting impression that you are not just about taking their money and moving on. Your customers will appreciate the fact that you care even after you have been paid. It might even lead to additional sales in the future or a referral to a new qualified lead. In my executive office suites business following up on a sale is unavoidable since my product is my office suite space where I also work out of. I see my customers every day. I always leave my door open so that my customers can walk in a talk to me about anything. If something is wrong I want to know about it right away so I can fix it.


Running a business involves many tasks and activities. It is easy to fall in the trap of the daily grind and neglect what’s really important for your business. No matter how busy you are, don’t neglect your product development, marketing, sales, closing, delivery and customer service. These are critical activities for your business. Take a step back and look at your daily routine. How much time have you spent lately on the critical things that matter for your business? Neglecting even one of these activities can have a crippling effect on your business. Incorporate them in to your daily routines and see how fast your business grow.

What’s a Widget?

A widget is a small utility working in the background, looking for specific information for you on the Internet and aggregating it in a specific location. For example, the weather forecast for the next week in your city, currency exchange, digital clock, your favorite stocks ticker, TV broadcasting and so on. Almost everything that you need to have current. In technical language, widgets are small JavaScripts applications running a widget engine on a user computer under MS Windows or Mac operating systems. Originally called Konfabulator, they were recently acquired by Yahoo! and now widgets are commonly known as Yahoo! Widgets.

How Do You Use It?

First of all, you need to download a widget engine from Yahoo and install it on your computer. This will allow you to access more than 3,000 different widgets created for this engine. There are several designed specifically for photographers, and particularly for those who are actively selling photos to stock and microstock agencies.

There are several widgets for iStockPhoto such us iStockWatcher, iStockDash and iStockphoto-PC Widget. All of them are free. iStockWatcher works under the Yahoo! Widget engine only and has an iStockwatch Lite version with some limitations. This watcher gathers information such as last selling, statistics, personal message notifications, new forum and blog topics, news and so on.

iStockDash is Dashboard Widget for the Mac operating system only. There are no big differences in functionalities from the one mentioned above.

In contrast, iStockphoto-PC Widget is an MS Windows version that contains everything you need to work autonomously. In other words, you do not need to install the Yahoo! Widget engine first, but rather everything is inside this widget package, so you just download and install it, and it is ready to work.

There is another one that covers all of the above and more. I’m talking about MicroStock Watcher. This widget keeps you up to date on iStockPhoto, Dreamstime, Fotolia, Shutterstock, Stockxpert, and LuckyOliver. And the list of microstocks is growing. But, this widget is shareware with a trial period.

For those who are only interesting in photos themselves, there are several widgets working with photo sharing Web-sites like Flickr. They’ll show you recent photos in selected categories, travelers’ stories and so on. To find out more try to make a search both in the Internet and Yahoo widgets page.

How to Develop a Public Relations Campaign for A Small Business

A St. Louis Public Relations professional, I am often asked if public relations can work for a small business.

The answer is “yes”.

Even on a lesser scale, the basics of creating a PR campaign for a small business are virtually the same as creating one for a large corporation.

It involves analyzing your business goals and determining what type of objective you would like to achieve.

Is your goal to increase hits on your web site, build greater trust with your customers and prospects, develop community awareness, or to simply let the marketplace know what products and services you are selling?

Once your goal is established then identify which audiences you need to reach. These should be in line with your objective.

Are your trying to reach other small business owners, presidents of larger corporations, a very select business to business audience, selected consumers, or the public at large?

After you identify these target markets the next step is to develop a strategy and the tactics necessary to reach them.

This is accomplished by creating a mini-campaign for each audience within the overall PR plan.

For example, let’s say your overall PR goal is to influence 30 new prospective customers to engage with you and your sales staff with the hope of turning them into clients.

One of your target audiences could be widget makers. Your objective with widget makers is to create 10 of those 30 prospective engagements.

Your tactics would then include developing a myriad of activities to build relationships with 10 widget makers.

Those activities could include hosting seminars for widget makers, manning a booth at widget trade shows, speaking at widget conferences, securing articles about your firm in widget publications, emailing newsletters to widget makers, developing a blog about widgets, connecting with widget makers through LinkedIn, etc.

Once the campaign is launched it needs to be analyzed and adjusted.

Focus on those tactics that work the best and provide the greatest return on investment. This is especially important for small companies who are usually on a limited budget.

Remember to keep it measurable. This is where a number of small business PR campaigns run out of steam.

If you plan to hit the 10 widget maker mark in six months, you will need to create 5 engagements within the first 90 days. Should you hit or exceed the 5 mark after 90 days you will feel confident that your campaign is on track.

Connect only with one or two widget makers in the first three months and you might have to adjust your strategy.

Whether your PR budget is $5,000 or $5 million the basic strategies of a public relations campaign remain the same.

It works for small companies as well as large ones. The first step is to create a goal and get started.