Category Archives: Cash Flow

Stitching Up a Niche

I am a great admirer of businesses that serve and market to one or a small number of niches. It’s such a great business model and one of the fastest ways to grow a business. I know one marketer who develops websites exclusively for life coaches, another business that develops marketing programs for the spa and pool industry, and another business that specializes in providing tax services for clergy. And they’re all busy!

 Benefits of Specializing in a Niche

When business owners who specialize in a niche develop their marketing materials, services, and products, they are able to speak to a very specific segment of the population. Specializing in a niche allows them to “go deep” into the needs and problems of one particular profession or demographic.
For example, clergy have very specific tax situations with their pay, housing allowances, and Social Security taxes. A tax preparer specializing in this niche can market to a very specific segment of the population (members of the clergy) with a specific set of challenges (specialized tax rules applying only to clergy). I have also seen a similar service for truck drivers who have specialized tax rules.

Example of a Profitable Niche

Recently, I discovered a new medium aimed at one of my favorite niches: quilters. I have a confession to make. When I’m not helping my customers grow their businesses, I can usually be found stitching away on my sewing machine. (Hi, my name is Caroline, and I’m a quilt-a-holic.)

The new medium is an online Quilters News Network. A 24/7, internet-based, television network of quilting shows, tips, and, of course, advertisements for all the things quilters love. I heard about it from another quilter, and as soon as I discovered it, my productivity dropped like a rock off the top of the Empire State Building. Did I mention it’s all quilting, all day, right on my computer screen? What’s a quilter to do?

The quilting community is a great example of a profitable niche. Whenever I go to my quilting group or participate in a quilting event, I pick up a new tip, learn about a new tool or pattern, or meet a new quilter. And we talk. A lot. “Have you been to the new quilt store?” “Have you seen this new tool?” “Have you tried this pattern?” Word spreads like a wild fire through the quilting community when we find something new that we like.

The quilting niche is made up of 22 million happy quilters. It’s subdivided into any number of smaller niches: traditional appliqué, machine quilting, hand quilting, trapunto, redwork. It is a hungry market — we can’t get enough fabric, tools, and patterns.

What hungry markets can you tap into to build your business to the next level? Serving a niche is the difference between trying to find a needle in a haystack or walking into a room full of quilters and offering them a good deal on sewing machine needles. Which one will give the greatest return on your investment?

If you’re looking for a confidential, trusted advisor to give you apply-it-now practical advice, learn more about my consulting service and choose the consulting package that fits your business and budget at http://cashflowrollercoaster.com/consulting-packages/

Lessons from the Wedding Mafia

As a business owner, you’ve undoubtedly heard of BNI®, the largest business networking organization in the world. BNI®, helps business owners work together to get referrals for each other.

Ivan Misner, the creator of BNI®, talks about what he calls “contact spheres.” He says that a contact sphere is a group of business professionals who have a symbiotic relationship. They are in compatible, noncompetitive professions, such as a lawyer, a CPA, a financial planner and a banker. If you put those four people in a room for an hour, they’re going to do business together. Each one is working with clients that have similar needs but require different services.

Here are some of Misner’s examples of contact spheres:

  • Business services: printers, graphic artists, specialty advertising agents and marketing consultants
  • Real estate services: residential and commercial agents, escrow companies, title companies and mortgage brokers
  • Contractors: painters, carpenters, plumbers, landscapers, electricians and interior designers
  • Healthcare: chiropractors, physical therapists, acupuncturists and nutritionists
  • Weddings: the caterer, the florist, the photographer and the travel agent

One of my clients, who is a member of a BNI® group, shared a story with me about the last contact sphere, which has been dubbed “The Wedding Mafia.” When one gets new wedding business, the whole group gets new wedding business. It’s a tremendous business builder.

So, my client and I were joking around about me developing a “Small Business Mafia” — a small business consultant, an insurance agent, a financial planner, a printing company, an office supply company, a tax preparer, etc. The more we joked about it, the more powerful an idea I realized it was. And since I do business both locally and nationally, I could form numerous branches of my Small Business Mafia and then (insert evil laughter) I could CONQUER THE WORLD!

Whooooaaaaa! Hold on. You can’t just refer clients to anyone unless you want your name and reputation to get dragged into the ditch. So before you go out and conquer the world, implement these tips to create your own referral program:

  • Find good people. The business owners you work with have to be people you feel completely comfortable in referring your valued clients to.
  • Be sure they’re very familiar with your business and the types of clients you’re looking for.
  • Give the group as much or as little structure as needed to ensure that referrals are flowing both ways.

Now, go out and conquer as much of the world as you want!

To get more business building secrets, download my free PDF ebook 7 Cash-Boosting Secrets Every Business Owner Should Know today, and as a bonus, you’ll be subscribed to my blog.

The Deception Perception: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Without a doubt, people would rather do business with someone they know, like, and trust. Credibility is critical. This is especially true conducting business on the internet where people never actually meet face to face. Building a sense of trust with your customers takes time. And, it’s one of your most valuable assets.

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain.

I recently had the opportunity to hear a well known internet marketer speak. It was a great presentation, chock full of all sorts of useful tips. I was very impressed with all he had to say, so I went to his website and signed up for his newsletter.

He sent me an email (by autoresponder, of course) saying he had set up a special call for his newest subscribers to give us more great tips. All we had to do was dial in at a certain time for a teleseminar. He sent me a follow-up email reminding me and saying again how much he appreciated having me on his list. He looked forward to having me on the call.

So Far, So Good.

Last night, I dialed in at the scheduled time (after rearranging my schedule to do so). The gentleman came on and said he’d be with us in just a few moments, he was gathering up his notes. Then, he came back on, told us because of the number of people on the call he had us all muted, and there wouldn’t be time for any questions. He went on to deliver some great information followed by a sales pitch.

The Problem.

One small, tiny, little problem. He wasn’t really there. It was a recording. Now, if I had known it would be a recording, it wouldn’t have bothered me a bit because the information was good. But, being led to believe it was live, being given a bit of a smoke-and-mirror show changed my perception of the man and his products. If this teleseminar was smoke and mirrors, are his products smoke and mirrors, too? Is it all just a slick manipulation to sell products that don’t work?

I certainly don’t want to spend money on a product that teaches me how to be slick and deceptive.

The Moral of the Story.

Seemingly harmless deceptions create a lack of trust for customers who are quick to look elsewhere for more trustworthy solutions.

If you’re looking for a confidential, trusted advisor (without any smoke and mirrors) to give you apply-it-now practical advice, learn more about my consulting service and choose the consulting package that fits your business and budget at http://cashflowrollercoaster.com/consulting-packages/.

 

Learn Something New Every Day

Your grandfather probably told you to “learn something new every day.” Your grandfather was giving you advice that works for your small business as well as your own education.

One of my clients reminded me, this week, of the importance of learning something new every day. He has a piece of his business that is very time consuming and cumbersome. He’s been working to find technology that will help to alleviate the problem. He thinks he’s found a solution that will save him two days of work per week. Not two hours—TWO DAYS! For a small business owner, that’s a huge chunk of “found” time.

I was reading a biography this week in which the subject talks of going to “finishing school.” For anyone who hasn’t run into the term before, finishing schools were designed for young women of the Victorian era to “finish” their education. They learned skills to make them marriageable, able to discuss world events in the drawing room, better communicators with people from all walks of life, superior speakers of foreign languages, better at playing music, etc. Finishing school usually lasted for one year, and then, voila, your education was finished!

For small business owners, there is no such thing as “finishing school.” Our education process never ends. The best business owners I know are always learning something new. Always looking for ways to make their businesses run better. Always striving to become better, smarter business owners.

So take your grandfather’s advice, learn something new today that will move your business forward.

Want to learn cash-boosting secrets? Download my free PDF eBook 7 Cash-Boosting Secrets Every Business Owner Should Know today, and as a bonus, you’ll be subscribed to my blog.

Another Commercial? Don’t Touch That Dial! Watch and Learn

When commercials come on the television do you get up and head for the kitchen to get a snack? Do you tune out the radio when commercials start? Do you skip over advertisements in newspapers and magazines?

If you do, you’re missing a golden opportunity for increasing your business.

When you pay attention to ads, you can very quickly pick out ads that are effective. How do you know if they’re effective?

  • Do you understand from the ad “what’s in it for you?”
  • Does the ad make you want to find out more?
  • Does the ad touch your emotions?

When you start to notice ads, and more importantly notice the effective ones, you can use those ads as a basis for your next ad campaign. When I see an ad in a newspaper or a magazine that I think really does a good job, I tear it out and put it into what marketers call a “swipe file.” Now, that’s not to say that you take someone else’s ad, paste your name over theirs, and use it as though it’s your own. Study it and try to define what it is that makes it a good ad. Then find a way to introduce similar aspects into your own advertising.

Here are a couple of examples from my local market…

A CPA firm ran an ad that said, “Your Profit is Our Business.”

Okay, I understood where they were going with this. But, it made me feel uncomfortable—my profit isn’t anybody’s business but my own. Maybe that’s just me and others took it in the spirit in which it was meant, but for me it didn’t work.

A jeweler’s ad says over and over “We really want to be your jeweler.”

This is brilliant. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Stan Pollack really wants to be my jeweler. Actually, it’s not me he wants as a customer—if he had me for a customer he’d starve. What Stan wants is to develop lifelong relationships with people who make multiple jewelry purchases. He does a great job of articulating that and repeating it over and over.

Now, if the CPA firm had said to me “Small Business Owners, Do You Want to Keep More of What You Make?” they would have been speaking my language.

Stop and check out the ads, watch a few commercials, tune into a late night infomercial and study the techniques they’re using to attract their market. Which tactics could you apply in your own business? What message do your customers want to hear from you?

A Business Tail: Veterinarian Foams at Mouth, Chases Tail, Learns New Tricks—A Case Study

Many self-employed professionals find themselves overwhelmed, frustrated, and confused when it comes to running their businesses. The deep skills they have in their professional field do little to prepare them for the dog-eat-dog world of running a business. The following is a case study from my client files detailing a typical professional’s experience trying to run a business without foaming at the mouth.

The Best Doggone Veterinarian in Town
One of my clients, I’ll call him John, is everything you could ever wish for in a veterinarian. He’s kind, concerned, competent, and willing to call in a specialist for cases he doesn’t feel comfortable handling. His office is busy, his staff pleasant, and service is good. But John has a problem. He’s exhausted. From the time he started his practice 12 years ago, he’s been doing all the accounting, tax preparing, human resources, insurance company filing, banking, labor surveys, building maintenance, and sales people call management while trying to work full time as a veterinarian. As such, his accounting is a mess, his tax returns haven’t been filed for five years, and office policies and procedures allow unproductive employees to continue receiving a paycheck.

The Hair Loss Isn’t Mange—It’s Stress!
Meanwhile, John is pulling his hair out all day long. He’s starting to look like a dog with mange. His staff is continually asking him routine questions, he’s taking one unnecessary phone call after another, and chaos hangs like a storm cloud over his head every day. John hires an accountant to straighten out years’ worth of problems with his books but still keeps his hands in the process. He has the accountant take care of his books but still insists on being the one to cut the checks and sometimes he enters credit card charges and sometimes he doesn’t. The accountant spends hours each month trying to figure out what John has done and fix his errors. He shies away from having a CPA handle his tax problem because he is determined to fix the problem on his own. Because he’s already overwhelmed with his practice, the tax problem doesn’t get fixed. Even worse, John drags the problem around with him every day, feeling the pressure, the stress, knowing that with every tick of the clock the problem is getting worse.

John decides to rent a second office so he can get away from his office to get his taxes done. And still John is exhausted and overwhelmed. His tax problem continues to drag on. The problems in his office still all land on his desk. And he continues to handle them feeling stressed, frustrated, and helpless.

Chasing Your Own Tail
Are John’s problems unusual? Are his actions that of a business owner whose mind has finally become unhinged? Not at all. John is making the mistake that many small business owners make: Instead of focusing on what he does best and improving on those skills that he has a strong aptitude for, John wants to do it all.

If he worked and studied for years, he would at the very best be a poor accountant. He just doesn’t have the aptitude for it. He can continue to spend money on subscriptions to newsletters on how to get organized and he can continue to purchase organizing tools, bins, baskets, and totes (most of them still empty) but he will never be organized because he does not have an aptitude for organizing.

A Prescription for Dr. John
So what can we do for poor John? We can’t leave him hanging in the storm, tempest tossed and headed for the rocks.

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Take all the tax mess, put it in one of the empty organizing totes, drive to the CPA’s office, say “Call me if you have any questions.” Go fishing.
  2. Tell the accountant handling the day-to-day books that she’s in charge of making sure things get done right. Keep your hands out of it. Request the data that you need to run your business: sales numbers and trends, monthly financials, delinquent customer accounts, a regular report of bills that need to be paid, etc. Go sailing.
  3. Tell the office manager that she needs to come up with an operations manual of how routine things in the office and clinic need to be done. Give her a deadline and the time to do that by having her assign some of her routine tasks to staff members. Take your wife out to dinner.
  4. Hire an outside consultant to clean up the back office clutter—not a friend or family member, someone who is able to deal with the emotions of a clutter bug without backing down or getting discouraged. Learn the new system and follow it. This will involve discipline and teaching an old dog new tricks.
  5. Assign a staff member to maintain the new system — someone who isn’t afraid to ride herd on you and the paper. Have them train with the consultant so they know how to keep it up.
  6. Keep track of all questions you are asked during the day. Create a Frequently Asked Questions list and give it to the office manager for inclusion in the operations manual.
  7. Limit the times of day when you can be disturbed—this includes phone calls, questions, email, sales people, etc. Define what constitutes an emergency or a critical situation and instruct your staff (or yourself if you work alone) to use their judgment before disturbing you.

Just these few actions will save John between 20-30 hours EACH WEEK!

Need help figuring out what to do with all the time you’ll save each week when you put these ideas into practice? Read my blog post New Tricks for an Old Dog.

Why Bears Make Bad Customers

Every business owner should have a picture of his or her ideal customer. When I picture my ideal customer, I see a business owner struggling to find time for all that needs to be done; someone passionate about what they do; someone striving to find answers to make their business run better. By picturing this person in my mind, I am able to develop products and services that I know will benefit that customer. But what happens when a not-so-ideal customer enters the mix?

Recently, I moved from a suburban location to a very woodsy location. One of my first orders of business was to set up my bird feeders. In my mind, I saw my ideal customers as cheerful, little songbirds. I also knew that I would get my share of chipmunks, squirrels, and field mice. I knew the products I was providing (sunflower seeds and suet) would satisfy all those customers.

And then, along came the bear.

And with the bear came trouble. Feeders emptied, poles knocked askew, and a suet feeder missing in action.

Now, I have nothing against bears on a personal level. They’re really delightful creatures. They are also, however, dangerous and can cause a great deal of property damage. In short, the bear is NOT my ideal customer.

So, what do you do when you attract a customer who is too much trouble, too much work, and costs you far too much time and expense? For the health of your business and for your own sanity, you need to discourage those customers from using your services or buying your products.

That’s a tough thing for most business owners to do, especially when money is tight and you feel like you have to accept every sale. But the cost of trying to satisfy a customer who isn’t the right fit will, in the long and short run, do more harm than good.

Suppose I decided to take on my bear as a customer. I would spend so much time, money, and energy trying to feed my bear that my other customers—the ones I wanted to attract in the first place—would get no product or service. The bear would take up all of my resources and cause much damage along the way. He would become that exhausting, irritating, no fun to work with customer that we all end up with at one point or another.

Bears are easy customers to discourage. The birdfeeders come inside in the evening now, removing the primary attraction. If he still comes sniffing around, we’ll progress to loud noises and other tactics that bears find obnoxious.

So, if you have a customer, like my bear, who is taking up all your resources without contributing to the success of your business, find ways to discourage him: Raise your prices, refer him to a competitor, or set clearer boundaries on your time. Doing so will allow you to take care of the customers who are the best fit for your business.

If you’re looking for a confidential, trusted advisor to give you apply-it-now practical advice, learn more about my consulting service and choose the consulting package that fits your business and budget at http://cashflowrollercoaster.com/consulting-packages/

In the Villa of the Sick Cat—A Lesson in Customer Care

If you’re a pet owner, you know the stress of having a sick pet, and you know that having a great veterinarian is a wonderful thing. My cat, Zoe, came down with a nasty infection that had me racing off to the vet’s office last week with an unhappy, howling kitty in tow. (She’s doing much better now.)

This was my first visit to this vet’s office, having just moved here last year. When I arrived, the building was under construction. Lots of hammering, sawing, and loud noises—not exactly the controlled, calm atmosphere preferred by a sick pet. But, fortunately, Zoe lives in the House of Perpetual Construction Projects, so she did okay.

But, what really struck me was the construction project itself. The waiting room has been transformed into an Italian Villa with high ceilings, a graceful figure-eight-shaped pool in the center of the room, a decorative fountain, and “faux” plants. It is gorgeous and would make a great setting for a romantic Italian meal complete with fine wine and a strolling violinist.

My first reaction on walking in was “This is beautiful; I wonder how high my vet bill will be.” As Zoe and I sat waiting (and waiting and waiting and waiting), I watched all the other customers coming through the door. Each one looked around at the beautiful setting and said “I wonder how much this is going to cost me.”

The newly designed waiting rooms and exam rooms were not designed for the customers—dogs and cats. They weren’t designed for the humans bringing in their pets for medical care. It’s a total ego design. Impressive. Elegant. Grand.

And instead of all the customers (animal and human) being wowed by the design, they reacted negatively. You see, sick cats and dogs want quiet, dark spaces and they want their visit to the vet’s office to be over quickly. Instead, the new design with its concrete floor (fashionably treated to look like a sun kissed rock patio) and its soaring ceilings means that every time the phone rings, the noise reverberates throughout the waiting area. The poor scheduling means that a sick pet has to stay in that waiting room for what must seem an eternity. And, of course, the humans immediately understand that the money to pay for this project has to come from somewhere…namely their wallets.

Fortunately, our new vet turned out to be competent and caring and Zoe is recovering nicely. But, the business lesson remains. Focus on what your customers care about and you’ll never go wrong.

If you’re looking for a confidential, trusted advisor to give you apply-it-now practical advice, learn more about my consulting service and choose the consulting package that fits your business and budget at http://cashflowrollercoaster.com/consulting-packages/.

New Tricks for an Old Dog

One of the toughest transitions a business owner has to make is moving from being a technician (a deck swabber) to being The Captain (the one who steers the ship and charts the course). And for business owners who operate alone, this switch is even more difficult when there doesn’t seem to be anyone to delegate to. But by doing those things that you have an aptitude for and hiring out the other tasks, your business moves ahead much more quickly.

There are consultants and coaches available to handle every aspect of your business from planning to operations to finances to marketing. Find results-oriented people you can trust who complement your strengths and help you move your business forward. The alternative is living with the stress, frustration, and confusion that come from trying to play all the roles in your business.

The second toughest transition business owners face is figuring out what to do with the extra time they have once they’ve successfully delegated tasks. Often, the first response is “What will I do with all that time?” It’s a very uncomfortable feeling. They may start wondering, “Does that mean I’m no longer necessary? I won’t be as important as I was when I had to do everything.” They immediately start trying to fill that vacuum with the tasks that used to fill that time, and before you know it, they’re right back where they started—overwhelmed, confused, and frustrated. But added to that is a sense of failure because they had it in their grasp and lost it.

So what can you, as a business owner who has gotten organized and efficient, do with your new found time?

  1. Use the time to think and plan for the future. Where do you want your business to be in one year and five years? How will you get there? Remember, as a business owner your real job is to steer the ship and chart the course. Swabbing the deck and repairing the nets is a job others can do.
  2. Build your reputation by writing articles for professional journals or speaking to associations.
  3. Build your business by writing tip sheets or articles for yours customers. Speak at local organizations or visit schools with your favorite dog to teach children the proper care of pets.
  4. Spend more time providing your service to raise your revenues.
  5. Work 60 hours instead of 80.
  6. Catch up on that stack of professional journals.
  7. Attend a seminar on marketing or Spanish dancing.
  8. Take that vacation your spouse has been bugging you about for years.
  9. Spend more time with your family and friends.
  10. Go fishing. Or sailing. Or golfing. Or lie in a hammock with a good book. Life doesn’t have to be so hard.
  11. Drive down the road with your head out the window.

If you’re looking for a confidential, trusted advisor to give you apply-it-now practical advice, learn more about my consulting service and choose the consulting package that fits your business and budget at http://cashflowrollercoaster.com/consulting-packages/.

The Simplest Business Plan Ever

If you’re a self-employed professional like I am, you know how tough it is to find time to do any business planning. Doing a full business plan is a must if you’re planning to seek financing or investors, but most solo-professionals don’t need anything that complicated.

Don’t get me wrong, business planning is one of the most important things you need to do to succeed in your one-man or one-woman show. Without planning, you’ll drift aimlessly from one crisis to the next and one idea to the next, never really getting anything done.

So, what’s a solo-pro to do? Here’s what I do in my own business:

Produce a One-Page Business Plan

My business plan consists of one page with very little on it. It simply lists the three goals that I must achieve this year. Then, I list a statement for each goal: To achieve Goal #1 I need to…. This is followed by two to five activities or action items I need to do to make that happen.

That’s it. That’s the whole plan. The beauty is the simplicity. I simply cannot handle more than that. I don’t have a staff. I don’t have “people.” Everything has to be structured so that I can get it done simply and systematically.

Create an Action Plan

So, let’s say one of my goals is to increase sales by a certain number, like $25,000. I then ask myself, “What do you need to do to make that happen?” Maybe I want to develop an ebook or add a new service. How many potential or current customers will I need to reach? How much time will I need to develop the book or service? How will I market it?

Develop a Schedule

From those answers, I develop my schedule. What do I need to do monthly, weekly, daily? I break it up into small pieces that take an hour or less. For example, if I decide I need to send out 100 marketing postcards in a month, I break it into 25 cards a week. Then, I put it on my schedule each week, just as I do my appointments with clients.

To keep myself on track, I place my mini-plan in front of my keyboard so every morning it’s the first thing I see. I also include a note to myself. It reminds me that “Nothing Else Matters.” I follow it with: Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.

Complex plans take tons of time to develop and many (if not most) end up gathering dust on a shelf. Using a simple plan improves your focus and helps you to achieve great results.

If you’re looking for a confidential, trusted advisor to give you apply-it-now practical advice, learn more about my consulting service and choose the consulting package that fits your business and budget at http://cashflowrollercoaster.com/consulting-packages/.