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 http://www.corporatepark.net. 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.

Conclusion

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 is a Widget?

A widget (also known as a gadget) is a small program that runs on your desktop all the time, which replaces the need to constantly visit a website in order to get common information. A Gmail widget on someone’s desktop that shows “10 unread messages” will make that user click and go back to the Gmail website. Microsoft (Charts), AOL (Charts), Yahoo (Charts), and even Nokia (Charts) also are some famous brands that offer widgets.

If we look back the age of Widgets, they actually began with an application called Konfabulator. Designed for Mac users, it would pull information from across the Web – weather, stock quotes, headlines – and place them on the desktop as tiny floating windows. The idea was so successful that Apple decided to build widget support right into its operating system. Yahoo bought Konfabulator’s creator, Pixoria, in July 2005 for an undisclosed amount that was rumored to be decent – big enough, anyway, to get a lot of developer attention. And suddenly everyone was going mad for widgets.

Of course, the main reason widgets are hot is that users love them. The reason for the same is because it makes the Web user-programmable. If My Yahoo spread it all over, Netvibes took this idea even further by offering the users more than 250 widgets to build a wholly personalized homepage.

I don’t see it ending either. As companies like Salesforce.com (Charts) and Google (Charts) are pushing the use of widgets inside businesses. We can see the opportunities and business models around widgets are emerging and will go a long way.

How can Widgets help expand your Online Business?

Today’s Internet web space is extremely competitive, as vendors and users demand efficient use of desktop. With websites being more proactive in nature, they want to drive more targeted traffic and develop more incoming links. Widgets seem to be the answer to assist in doing this. These Internet “widgets or gadgets” are an excellent way to market your product or service and make it easily stand out. If you place a widget on your blog or webpage, visitors will instantly be able to download your specialized widget onto their desktop or add them on their blog via small html codes. One of the biggest advantages of using widgets is that they are viral in nature. They allow anyone who has your widget on their website to to share and download your widget directly through their site.

FaceBook, the gigantic social networking site for example, revolutionized their interactivity and popularity by recently introducing and adding the Facebook Platform in May/07. Now Facebook widgets are the rage. You will find everything from entertainment and sporting campaigns to different political groups based all on widgets. Because of the popularization of widgets, Facebook has managed to exponentially attract millions of new members and a lot more advertisers. Other sites that have used widgets to promote and viralize themselves include: MySpace, Revver, PhotoBucket and Blogrush. Savvy internet marketer are increasingly jumping on the widget bandwagon and using it for their benefit.

After a lot of buzz about OpenSocial, Netvibes decided to include all their existing Social APIs as plugins for UWA, their Universal Widget API. They intend to share 2 cool videos demonstrating some of the social features in their next release called “Ginger”. The videos provide examples of how Netvibes allows users to follow content and widgets that their friends want to share with them. One can also see some examples of social widgets created using the Social APIs.

Honda’s Acura RDX uses the Yahoo! Widgets application to deliver real-time traffic updates directly to drivers’ desktops in more than 30 cities. Honda promoted the feature to users who checked traffic on Yahoo! Maps and Yahoo! Widgets (where users can download existing widgets or create their own.) A key benefit was the traffic widget tying into RDX’s navigation system, which includes traffic data. The widget has been downloaded more than 30,000 times in three months.

These mini Web application downloaded onto a desktop or transported into personal Web pages, blogs or social-network profiles are a source of constantly updated information, from weather and sports scores to personal photos, which can eliminate the need to visit multiple Web sites.

So as long as you keep your widget informative, useful and simple to understand, they will virally drive traffic to your sites and work as a secret ninja to promote your products or services. Widgets are inexpensive and are an extremely effective way to promote your site through direct response marketing and social networking sites.

Widgets are certainly making a rise from desktop to webpages, blogs and social networks giving them a platform. They are now much, much more, and it seems every company has one. The hope is to embed their widget on the millions of blogs, MySpace and Facebook pages, and thus create cheap marketing while giving the users some value.

It’s a great strategy, at least when the widget is cool and people adopt it. The only question is, is your marketing firm aware of it. Do they know how to add value to the users and build an army of brand evangelists in promoting your product? Do they make effective use of Widgets?

The Guppy Tank – Assessment of the Real Small Business

I must admit that I proudly proclaim that I don’t watch reality shows. However, that’s not really true. I am an avid follower of ABC’s “Shark Tank” series. The question is why, and what do I learn from that show that can be applied to my business?

While we all strive for the multi-million dollar or even billion dollar business, the truth is that most of us would be happy to have a small business that satisfies our needs – both in terms of income and satisfaction. We will likely not develop a business in which Mark Cuban would want to invest. So let’s take a look at our business interests as they might be evaluated by smaller investors in the “Guppy Tank”.

A small business, by my definition, is a business that often starts from scratch, employs the owners, perhaps some family members, and a few others. Initially, at least, the business struggles with sales and is faced with at least some periods of negative cash flow. This, of course, differs from the definition of a small business that might include 50 workers and have five million dollars in sales. With this definition in mind, let’s follow a hypothetical business into the “Guppy Tank”.

Our show opens with the introduction of three possible investors. Each has had some level of small business success of his/her own. They represent hard work, good planning, and the recognition that not all small business owners will get to this point.

Next, in comes the owner of business “X” which designs, manufactures, markets, and sells widgets. The widgets could be a consumer product or service. It really doesn’t matter. The owner of business “X” introduces his or her widgets with some fanfare. He or she explains why business “X’s” widget is so much better than any other widget out there and why it occupies a unique niche in the developing market. Everyone is properly impressed at this point.

Our guppies, however, know nothing about the widget or business “X” or the person or persons behind it. The questions begin.

Guppy 1 asks how business “X’s” founder and owner, whom we’ll call Sandy, got into this business. The question, of course, is intended to find out more about Sandy. What is Sandy’s background? Does Sandy have prior business experience? Is Sandy committed to this business? Where did the idea for the widget come from?

Guppy 2 asks questions about the widget and its current acceptance in the market. Is the item selling now? What is the market? What do we really know about the market? How did Sandy form her projections?

Guppy 3’s inquiry is focused on the financial needs of business “X”. What is needed now? What will those dollars accomplish? What will future needs be? And, of course, what’s in it for the guppy that invests.

In our show, the guppies get their answers, are impressed with the widget, with Sandy, and with the future prospects. They fight over investing in business “X” and Sandy. Sandy has succeeded. But how?

Sandy demonstrated by her answers to Guppy 1 that she is passionate about her small business. She has always been willing to work long and sometimes stressful hours because she enjoys the enterprise. She sacrifices for her business. Her widget came about from a combination of prior experience and a love for the product or service. The business provides Sandy with more than a job. It is her vocation and hobby rolled into one. Hard work – yes. Time consuming – yes. She says “Bring it on!!”

To Guppy 2 Sandy presents some data about the product and market. The guppies and Sandy know that the data was less than stellar since there was no practical way to do a full-blown analysis. But it was clear that Sandy had thought this through. She had tested the market as best she could. The results were more than encouraging. Sandy is the expert when it comes to her widget and it shows.

And as for Guppy 3’s focus, Sandy presented a picture in sufficient detail as to how the funds would be used, how they would increase sales, and how profits would benefit. Sandy had done her homework.

As the show comes to an end, we are very happy for Sandy’s success and can’t help but wonder “how would I have done” in the Guppy Tank.

The lessons from the tank are simple. In order to achieve success, we have to be passionate about our business. We must understand our market. The ultimate bases for decision making in any business, cash flow and profit, must be no strangers to our thinking. Planning is essential. And we have to understand and keep within our available resources.

But we knew all of that, didn’t we?