Now that all the hype and hoopla over Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are past, how are you keeping your small business in the forefront of your ideal customer’s shopping psyche?
Discounting your products or services is not going to gain you loyal customers. Markdowns will simply put you in a space to compete with Big Box and you can’t do that. Why would you even want to? The elements that make your small business special have nothing to do with price and everything to do with creating an experience.
Even if you don’t have a brick and mortar business, you can create a unique shopping experience for your customers so that they keep returning and referring friends to your site. Let’s say, for example, you sell handmade candles, soap or jewelry online. You can stand out from big business in a number of ways.
- Offer the best darn customer service on the planet.
- Address the customer by name in all communications.
- Include a card with your bio, your story.
- Use packaging unique to your store.
- Include a poem, quote or inspirational message with each piece.
- Show your clients appreciation for their patronage with a brief handwritten thank you note.
What are you doing to make your own small business stand out from the crowd? What special experiences are you creating to keep your customers coming back? As always, you’re invited to share in the comments below.
What do Bill Gates, Plato, Harvey Firestone, Andrew Carnegie, Ben and Jerry (ice cream), Aristotle, Thomas Edison and Socrates all have in common?
What do Bill Gates, Plato, Harvey Firestone (tires), Andrew Carnegie, Ben and Jerry (ice cream), Aristotle, Thomas Edison and Socrates all have in common?
None of them did it alone. They all were part of a group that met regularly with the purpose of helping one another attain their goals. They were each involved in a Mastermind.
In fact, I don’t know of a single person who has been super successful without the help of a mastermind.
Just as you’re more likely to drag yourself out of bed if you’re running buddy is counting on you and you’re less likely to stray from your diet if you have to weigh in weekly with the group at Weight Watchers, having an accountability group keeps you on task.
Accountability is only one of many reasons entrepreneurs need to be part of a mastermind.
The beauty of a mastermind group lies in it’s ability to defy mathematics. You see, when you put 8 entrepreneurs in a room together, the resulting brain power is much more than the sum of 4+4. I can’t tell you why but I believe it has something to do with the way entrepreneurs thrive on challenge and problem solving. We love to share what we’ve learned to help others achieve success.
If you haven’t been successful in launching or growing your small business, it’s likely because you don’t have a group of other entrepreneurs to brainstorm with, network on your behalf and challenge you to work towards and meet your goals.
An effective mastermind group will give you the benefit of different perspectives and share resources, tactics and connections. You’ll inspire each other and offer valuable feedback that your friends, family or employees can’t give because they just don’t understand the way an entrepreneur thinks. You need people who can relate to and give input on your unique challenges because they’ve been there.
When you occasionally spin off course, get sidelined or distracted by too many ideas or you lose momentum because of a let-down, your mastermind will help you get back on track and regain focus.
A well-functioning mastermind will help you overcome your stumbling blocks because they are looking at your obstacles through varying lenses, bringing different skill sets from diverse backgrounds.
If you’re a solo-entrepreneur, you can’t go it alone. You need the mutual support, advice and counsel of other entrepreneurs and the guidance of those who’ve climbed the mountain before you.
Because we believe that being part of an effective mastermind group is like having your own board of directors, Barbara Winter and I have put together something you’ll want to be a part of. Get the scoop HERE.
Whether you’re just starting out or have been in business awhile, you probably realize you can’t go it alone. As author Barbara Sher says, “Isolation is the great dream killer.” Even if your ideal business vision is spending your days alone in your home office, your likelihood for success is greatly increased if you have a tribe of other entrepreneurs to bounce ideas around with, help you problem solve, share resources and celebrate triumphs. But how do you find those people?
If you attend networking meetings or join a philanthropic business leader club, you’ve probably noticed that there’s not a lot of exposing vulnerability. The goal of those meetings is often to promote your business so the friends you make in that type of setting aren’t likely the friends you share challenges with.
The best way I know to stay motivated and continue to move your business forward is to join a mastermind group but where do you find the right group for you and your business?
A great way to find your tribe, those whose values you share and will benefit from masterminding with is to connect with people who attend workshops facilitated by the same mentors you follow. For example, if you enjoy small, interactive workshops, it’s not in your best interest to mastermind with people who like to attend glitzy speaker seminars with thousands of attendees. I learned this when I went to one of those seminars to learn about internet marketing and formed a mastermind with friends I met there. They were lovely, smart women who I like and respect but have very different goals from mine. They wanted to be like that speaker. I have no interest in glamour and spotlight. I’d have done better masterminding with entrepreneurs who admired the same mentors as I did.
Four years ago, I was searching around online for someone whose philosophies, values and ideas about entrepreneurship were similar to my own. I don’t think I was looking for a mentor as much as a tribe. On a fluke, (there are no coincidences, right?) I found Barbara Winter. She was going to be speaking in Lexington, Ky the next day and I happened to be flying out of a Northern Ky airport the following night. It is through Barbara’s network that I met many of my current “tribe” of entrepreneurs who believe small is still smart and crave connection not fame.
Consider whose blogs you enjoy reading, in whose company you would like to spend a weekend. Then look at who else communicates with those mentors. Find out if those mentors offer a mastermind group and if not, see what type of events they facilitate. You’re more likely to get to know other entrepreneurs at small group events than large seminar where the speaker stands at the front of the room. Most likely the people you meet at your mentors’ events will be like-minded people who you’ll benefit from masterminding with.
Because Barbara and I recognize how much entrepreneurs benefit from in-person workshops and ongoing support, we’ve put together an intimate event in a place where people go to realize their dreams. HERE’S THE SCOOP
We’re now into the second work week of the new year. Are you on schedule to reach your goals for 2012?
If you’re like many aspiring entrepreneurs, you have great ideas but find it difficult to take action on them. Or do you get it rolling but have difficulty staying on task because you know what you want the end result to be but the sequence of necessary steps is unclear? Sometimes, it feels overwhelming. Other times, an idea that seemed brilliant at first begins to feel unattainable or you lose confidence in your own ability to make it happen.
Particularly if your friends and family member are not entrepreneurs, you can lose momentum when you don’t have anyone to run your ideas by or be accountable to. Dreams wither in isolation and if you share them with the wrong people, the seeds are squashed before they’ve had a chance to take root.
That’s why I am an enthusiastic advocate of mastermind groups. Being part of an entrepreneurs mastermind is like having an advisory board for your business and a support group for your dreams. In his book “Think and Grow Rich”, author Napoleon Hill defined the mastermind as a “coordination of knowledge and effort, in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.” My experience has been that while having one other person is helpful, having a group of 4 to 6 feels more like putting 8 or 10 heads together.
If you tend to lose confidence, procrastinate or have trouble staying motivated, the accountability of a mastermind will keep you moving in the right direction. Participants brainstorm ideas, share resources, challenge each other to create and implement goals, give honest input and feedback and fresh perspective.
There is nothing like being in a circle of other entrepreneurs to create forward momentum so that you achieve your goals. That’s why Barbara Winter and I are offering an opportunity for a select group of creative entrepreneurs to join us for a mastermind weekend in Las Vegas. You’ll bring your dream to the circle and get the benefit of our combined 7 decades of self-employment plus the feedback and ongoing support of your tribe. You’ll arrive with questions and leave with answers. HERE’S THE SCOOP.
Should you form a free mastermind or join one you pay to be part of? Should there be a facilitator at the helm of the mastermind or can you just get together with a group of like-minded entrepreneurs and be self-guided?
I have facilitated and been a participant in several masterminds and each was a little different. The first mastermind I participated in was an international group of 8 female entrepreneurs at different stages of growth. We met when we all attended a huge, pricey seminar led by a well-known internet guru. The facilitator (actually more of a speaker), offered a follow-up year of masterminding. The $20,000 annual mastermind membership fee did not include the cost of travel and accommodations for the in-person meetings held 3 times a year in a group of about 20 other entrepreneurs. Nor did the price include any one-to-one coaching which she charges $30,000 a day for. So, one night over dinner, the eight of us decided to form our own mastermind. We were all somewhat established in our businesses and were mainly there to learn the online marketing piece. We decided to meet in person quarterly and speak weekly to support one-another in growing our businesses online. We were all savvy business women but we had very different agendas and without leadership, our mastermind eventually fizzled.
I participated in another mastermind with 3 other female entrepreneurs and concluded that a self-guided mastermind rarely works.
I also formed my own masterminds with students who attended my workshops. They paid a (reasonable, not excessive) monthly fee to be part of the mastermind. What they were paying for was guidance and leadership. I also formed an unpaid mastermind to support a group of fledgling entrepreneurs after a workshop.
Here’s what I found: Even with my leadership, the group in the “free” mastermind did not grow their business as quickly or efficiently as those who paid an ongoing fee to be part of the group. They were supportive of and somewhat accountable to one another but most did not make their business a priority. The paid group, however, reported progress with each meeting and their businesses grew. My conclusions:
- Groups with a facilitator at the helm are more successful at staying on track and developing their businesses.
- If you see a charge on your credit card statement each month, you are more likely to follow through because you don’t want to feel like you wasted the money. We just tend to take things more seriously when they involve an investment.
So, how do you find the right mastermind group for your business and your style? GO HERE to read, “How do I find my entrepreneurial tribe to help me grow my business?” Or HERE to see what Barbara Winter and I have cooking for 2013.
Do your friends and family discourage you from starting your dream business “in this economy.”? Is their reasoning that you’d be unwise to “leave the security of your job in a recession?” I’d find that humorous if it weren’t so sad because,most likely, these naysayers have never been self employed and haven’t yet been victim to the mass layoffs of “valued employees”. In the present economy, the only secure job is the one YOU CREATE for yourself.
Yes, I do listen to the news. I know people are losing jobs and retailers are shutting their doors. And I also know that most of my self employed friends with small businesses are reporting record breaking sales. Because when you’re self employed, you create your own economy. When something isn’t working , you can make changes quickly without the bureaucracy of a board of directors. On the corporate level, by the time reports are generated and changes approved, it is frequently too late. Too much has been lost. Not so in Read more
In a recent edition of eWomen eMagazine, Sandra Yancey, CEO of eWomenNetwork says, “The fact is, for small business owners, nothing has really changed that much from what we normally encounter day-in and day-out. Entrepreneurs already know that in good or challenging times we have to expend lots of energy and invest the time to cultivate new relationships, network and transact deals. To survive and thrive, successful businesswomen are not allowing negative news to permeate their thinking,”
The February 2009 Women’s Economic Business study is based on an U.S. (85%) and Canadian (15%) representative sample of 3,964 women business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals of companies with fewer than 100 employees. This was an online survey that represents over 600 different business categories in North America. The survey was conducted from February 16 – 24, 2009 by eWomenNetwork, Inc., an organization recognized as one of the premier women’s business networks with more than 500,000 businesswomen connected to the network in 113 chapters across North America. The article states that when asked how businesswomen are feeling about the current economic situation, 72.5% replied that they are “charging ahead and keeping a positive outlook and 73.8% of the women surveyed felt this isa good time to grow their businesses. These are highly successful women who didn’t get where they are by being “Pollyanas.” This isn’t about denial. It IS about staying positive and focussed and flexible.
I’ve found the same attitude among my self-employed friends. Many are not just surviving but are thriving. Yes, in a time when people are losing their jobs and homes, small business owners are having to get more creative. I think of an economic downturn as a colander in which the complacent will slip through the holes and those who embrace change and re-align rise to the top.
Now, I’m not saying this is strictly a female entrepreneur attitude. I have met men in some of the hardest hit segments who are facing on the challenge head-on. While the construction of new homes is down, some ambitious contractors can do very well by marketing themselves as re-model experts, and while many realtors have thrown in the towel because they have to work so much harder to make a sale, those who are willing to do the work can connect with prospective buyers who weren’t willing to pay inflated prices and present them with a portfolio of “great deals” right now. Even with the mortgage industry in such a mess, a broker who’s willing to work harder can have a hay day with refinance now that rates are low. I believe in any small business, it comes down to observing the problems and finding creative solutions that people will pay you for.
According to Sandra Yancey, ” Now is the time to re-tool, re-think, re-design and re-align your business.”
Taking advantage of the lower interest rates, I am refinancing my home. Although being self employed has never kept me from qualifying for mortgages, I am aware that in the current market, “stated income” is a thing of the past. Despite my excellent FICO score and significant equity, I held my breath after answering that I am an entrepreneur. Rather than the self employment bias I expected, the young woman taking my phone application, on hearing what I do for a living was so enthusiastic. She started telling me how she always wanted to start her own business and her supportive husband kept telling her to go for it, but the time just never seemed right. She was afraid to give up the security of her job -particularly in this economy! I had to laugh. Can you imagine how hard it was for me not to remind her that her industry was the catalyst for the present economic problems and that she probably had the least secure job of all. I wanted so much to rescue this woman from her JOB and show her all the ways she could make a living doing what she loves, but, keeping in mind the reason for our call, I brought her back to the topic of approving my “Fast Track” refi.
After we hung up, I just couldn’t get this woman off my mind. I find it so sad that someone will stay in an unsatisfying job when the economy is good because they don’t want to give up the money, and when things are slow, they are afraid to start something new.
The truth is, right now is the best time to begin taking the steps to financial freedom that having your own business provides. I hear all my corporate friends worrying about layoffs-but they say they don’t want to leave the “security” of a job. How can they feel “safe” in a position that could be eliminated anytime? In all my years of self employment, it never occurred to me that I might be found to be ”redundant”. I never worried that if the economy slows down, I would have no income. On the contrary, I had a boss who had my best interest in mind and whose goal was to keep me “employed.” As an entrepreneur, I have ridden a number of downturns in the economy and felt secure n the knowledge that I had control of my own income. I had the freedom to tailor the business and change with the times to keep myself and my family fed, clothed and sheltered regardless of the state of the economy.
If you are thinking now is too risky a time to start your own business, consider the risk you are taking by putting your livelihood in someone else’s control. Now is actually the smartest time to be planning your escape. IT’s not frivolous -it’s practical to have your back up plan in place. Most successful businesses start small and many entrepreneurs begin building their business while they are still employed. If you start now, you will at least have a plan in place if you are found to be “superfluous”. Should your job prove to be one that weathers this economic downturn, you will still be ready with your dream plan when you choose to pursue your passion full time. Give yourself the gift of job security. Start thinking about what you love to do and who needs what it is you have to give. The only truly secure job is the one you create and there is only one boss to whom you are #1. YOU!
Admit it -you do this too. You know how regardless of which deliciously described menu item you order in a restaurant, whatever the server sets in front of your dinner partner always looks more tempting? Well, I have this issue with reading material as well. I can be sitting on an airplane completely engrossed in my favorite publication and still, someone across the aisle always pulls out a book, magazine, something that looks more interesting. I snoop, stretch my neck, block the aisle, I just can’t help it. I have to read that article before they turn the page. So,the other day, a man at the next table in Starbucks was reading USA Today and I saw the headline, “Recession creates openings for upstarts”. I saw the words “layoffs” and “spending cuts” and then before I could read the rest, he turned the page. Of course, this got the cogs rolling and I started thinking about how so many big businesses are closing their doors and that this does open up opportunities for the smaller mom and pop operations who couldn’t compete when the big boxes were going strong. True, they don’t have the buying power to compete price-wise, but if the big guys are pulling out, they don’t have competition.
Frequently, the mega stores get into trouble because of rapid growth and an overextending of resources. This is the perfect opportunity for a small startup to build slowly and strategically, and this not only true for retail but a boutique service business in almost any sector can take advantage of this opportunity to jump in and gain market share. It was hours after my coffee-neighbor left with his paper before I was able to search for the article, which gave me plenty of time to appreciate the uncharacteristically optimistic journalism. How hopeful ,this headline “Recessions Create Openings.” When I finally got my hands on the newspaper,I couldn’t find the article in the business section. Tossing the sports section aside (yes, I’m one of those) I spotted the headline. The article was referring to Nascar teams cutting spending and I don’t really know, or honestly care, how that would make openings for new Nascar teams. I don’t even understand what all the fuss is about Nascar. But what I do know is that snooping to read the paper over a strangers’ shoulder confirmed my belief that small business can not only survive but thrive in this tough economy, even if that wasn’t what the article was about.