Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's Official: I Have Low Standards

The process of positioning myself as an "expert" has begun, but I can't say that it's taking off quite as planned.

Those media mentions I was expecting from the big name magazines for women - "Bitch" and "Parenting" - haven't happened. Whether the stories were "killed," haven't appeared yet, or I just didn't make the cut, I don't know.

I did, however, manage to be included by name with a reference to one of my businesses in an article about succeeding in the work-life balance as a mother working from home. The article, entitled, "How She Does It: 75 Multitasking Moms Weigh In," was apparently posted in July at Stay at Home Mom Answers, an online community to support stay-at-home moms.

Here's the mention:


After email threads and discussions with these 75 women, one recurrent piece of
advice rings through repeatedly:“Lower your Standards.” For some, like Tara
Bloom, a divorced mom of an 11-year-old daughter who manages online maternity
and baby business Maternitique.com, those “standards” apply to the definition of
“clean home.”
To read the full article, click here.

Okay then. I'll point out that I offered advice in the interview, too, but apparently the most newsworthy thing that I have to contribute to the discussion of how to balance work and life is that I can't do it and maintain a clean house at the same time.

Which is true...and why my writing clients are never invited to meet me at my office.

Tune in next time when I'm quoted in Entrepreneur magazine admitting to working for days on end in my pajamas without bathing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Marketing Messages That Sell: Using Puns

Small business owners need marketing genius.

We’re not able to compete with the big boys and their big advertising budgets. Those of us who advertise in newspapers or magazines usually have smaller sized ads that can easily get lost on the page. We need to stand out.

One way to do this: pun.

A pun, or a play on words, can be effective as a marketing message because it gets people’s attention—and the first challenge of creating marketing messages that sell is to succeed in getting people’s attention.

When skimming over the newspaper, glancing at billboards, or digesting the chatter of the radio that’s on in the background, a play on words makes people stop and think.

What was that?! Did I read/see/hear that right?

A recent ad in my neighborhood newspaper made me do just that.

It’s a very small ad—only 1.75” x 2”—but it made me stop on the page, smile, and read it in detail. It also made me think about what was being advertised and whether it would benefit me.

The ad is by a business called The Cycling Salon. Their logo (pictured above) is awesome; it’s playful and sets the tone for the pun to come. You see, The Cycling Salon is in the business of offering (drum roll please) Pedal Cures for Women! Here’s the text of the ad:


Pedal Cures for Women
AND EVERYONE ELSE TOO!

Bike fittings for all!
GET $10 OFFA BIKE FITTING WITH THIS AD

Want to start bicycling again? Don’t know where to start? See us for bike fitting, bike shopping, or basic repairs!

CALL US FOR A CONSULTATION 503.231.0949

http://www.cyclingsalon.com/

That’s a TON of information to fit into a tiny ad smaller than 2” x 2”. Nevertheless, The Cycling Salon effectively communicated who they are, what they do, who their target market is, what the benefit is of acting on the ad, and two ways to get in contact.

It's a marketing message punned to perfection, I might say.

Read some additional ways to incorporate puns into marketing messages that sell on Copyblogger at this post, Let’s Hear It for the Lowly Pun! by Maeve Maddox.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Weekly Affirmations for the Self-Employed

I am flexible enough to meet obstacles and change my goals when needed.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Small Business Marketing Tips: Collect Best Practices

As you undertake developing marketing materials for your small business, you will inevitably consider the question: “What do I envision for my ___________ (ad, logo, brochure, web site, fill in the blank with the name of your project)?”

Whether you work with freelance creative professionals to design and produce your marketing materials, contract with a firm, or—despite my advice to the contrary—do things yourself, it helps to have plenty of examples of material you like.

For this reason, small business owners should keep numerous files of “best practices” or “best ideas.”

Including samples of clever ways to market using exterior envelopes, small business ads from local newspapers and magazines, and effective post card campaign pieces, I have a file of printed marketing samples that all make me say, “Wow!” As in, “Wow! That’s clever!” or “Wow! I wish I’d thought of that!” or “Wow! That’s really effective!”

In your “Best Practices” hard file, you should collect those types of marketing tools that spark ideas for how to market your own business, or that simply grab your attention and strike you as really well done. Even if the advertisement is for a furniture store and you sell fishing gear, keep the ad if it contains imagery, style elements, a unique offer or some other clever marketing technique that you could repurpose for your own needs.

Suggestions for what to collect in your “Best Practices” hard file:
Newspaper ads
Magazine ads
Direct mail letters
Post cards
Catalogs
Packaging
Press kits
Press releases
Brochures

Most, if not every, small business can benefit from electronic marketing of some kind. When it comes time to redesign your website, ramp up your e-mail marketing program, or advertise your business online, you’ll increase the chances of developing effective online marketing messages if you refer to best practices that you’ve stored electronically.

In your email management tool, create a folder as part of your in-box and call it: “Best Newsletters,” or “Newsletters I Like.” As you receive e-marketing campaigns that strike you as effective, file them in that folder for future reference.

To store websites and advertisements as best practices, use your Internet browser to create a folder of bookmarks or favorites—whichever you prefer. Create a folder to name “Best Websites” or “Websites I Like.” As you’re surfing the ’net and encounter those you like, add them to the folder.

In this way, you can easily create folders to also keep track of “Competitors Websites,” “Online Ads I Like,” “Website Designs I Hate,” and so on.

Suggestions for what to collect in your “Best Practices” electronic files:
Electronic newslettersBlogs
Websites you like
Websites you don’t like
Competitors’ websites
Banner ads

Most small business owners aren’t fluent in creative vocabularies. We may not be able to describe to graphic designers that the brochure we’ve commissioned should use a sans serif font in order to convey a contemporary, modern and airy feel. We may not know how to say that we want a comfortable, conversational tone to our website content. We may not understand how to balance visual style elements with copywriting to create a direct marketing piece that’s effective.

But like everyone, small business owners know what we like and don’t like. By having examples of what you like on hand when you’re beginning to create your own marketing materials, you jump-start the process and provide valuable guidance to the professionals you’ve hired to help you. It’s a cost-effective use of your time, too—providing examples improves your chances of getting the materials you want in a shorter amount of time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

E-Mail as a Marketing Tool: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

I love photography. I want to be a photographer. And so it’s not surprising that every once in a while, I receive e-mail invitations to photography exhibits. What does baffle me, however, is that they seem to come from this one particular photographer—let’s call him Mr. B.

Every time I receive the occasional e-mail from Mr. B, I’m curious anew as to why he’s sending them to me.

“Who is this guy?” I ask myself when I open them. “Why am I on his mailing list?”

I haven’t written to him to unsubscribe because I *am* a photography fan…but I’ve been noodling over whether these messages from him are coincidental or accidental or both.

This morning, I was vacuuming in the hallway and gazed up the wall to examine my collection of French doorway photographs for dust. As I did, a little light bulb turned on in my mind.

"Hey," I thought, "What was this photographer’s name again?"

I looked at the five signed pieces that I had bought many years ago at an art show.

Yes, you guessed it. They’re by Mr. B.

I’m a customer of Mr. B’s Photography. I like his work and support his business. I volunteered to let him keep in contact with me.

Yet, Mr. B’s bewildering e-mail marketing is ineffective at best, and confusing, bordering on irritating, at worst. Let’s take a look at the mistakes Mr. B makes in using e-mail as a marketing tool.

Mistake #1: Not acknowledging the sign up

When people volunteer their personal information and invite you to solicit them, you should thank them. If you regularly add numerous people to your list, develop a welcome template that thanks them for signing up. If you add people only at occasional events, then send a quick e-mail to them as you’re entering their information into your e-mail system. Let them know you appreciate their willingness to hear from you and that they’re now scheduled to receive updates.

Mistake #2: Not contextualizing the sign up

As you add people to your list in batches, note in the acknowledgement to them where and when they signed up. Contextualize the relationship for them. Dozens of people signed the clipboard at Mr. B’s art show to receive e-newsletters from him. His first e-mail to us could have simply said:

“Thank you for signing up at my recent art show at [insert location] to receive
updates from Mr. B Photography. I’m glad you enjoyed the artwork I featured last
weekend and I look forward to seeing you again at future shows.”

Mistake #3: Not having a call to action, or ask

How hard would it be to turn that acknowledgement note into a more effective marketing message that sells? Not hard at all. As above, the marketing message serves to reinforce the recipients’ positive feelings about Mr. B and his beautiful photography. But with just three extra sentences, it turns into an effective soft-sell.


“While most of my pieces sold at the show, there’s a chance that the one you
were admiring is still available. Visit my website, www.URL.com, to order your
favorite photograph. Mention the art show at checkout to receive free shipping
on orders placed by the end of the month [in real life, you should use a
specific date].”
Mistake #4: Inconsistent messaging

The e-newsletters I receive from Mr. B are inconsistent in their appearance: sometimes they mention just his show; sometimes they announce a group exhibit in which he’s participating; sometimes they’re formatted beautifully in HTML; sometimes they’re text only.

Because they look and sound so different, each time I receive one I'm just as confused about who is sending me this e-mail and why.

Inconsistent appearance combined with inconsistent messages makes it more difficult to answer that question, and thus, increases the chances that the e-mail will be deleted immediately.

Mistake #5: Irregularity

As if all of those mistakes weren’t enough to confuse newsletter subscribers, Mr. B compounds the problem by writing infrequently. It was two to three YEARS after I first subscribed to his list before I ever heard from him again! Then I received a couple of e-mails in a row for a few months, then nothing for another YEAR. Those large gaps, combined with the lack of context and different appearance of each e-mail combined to utterly confuse me.

Many business owners complain that e-mail isn’t an effective marketing tool. If you’ve been disappointed with your e-mailing results, ask yourself: are you confusing your subscribers with these mistakes? If so, take action to correct your e-mail program right away. You’ll be surprised at how much more effective your marketing campaigns can be when you add an effective e-mail component.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

Change In Which We Can Believe

I passionately *despise* Barack Obama’s grammatically incorrect campaign message—even though my editing stylebooks no longer declare ending a sentence or phrase with a preposition as grammatically incorrect. I can’t help it. It’s how I was taught. I cringe every time I see one of those placards in someone’s window and have to correct it—out loud—every time.

The fact that we so often read, hear and use sentences that end in prepositions has made the practice acceptable. It is no longer incorrect. Our definition of intelligent grammar has changed.

And if there’s anything we can believe in, it’s change. (Cringe.)

Change is inevitable. Seasons change. Economic circumstances change. Consumer demands change. There is no such thing as static. Everything changes.

As a small business owner, how you handle change is a critical factor in your success or failure.

Proactively planning for change can open up new opportunities and lead your business into new directions. Embracing change as it comes can position your business for successful growth.

Allowing for change by being reasonably flexible, responding to external forces or events and keeping an eye out for ways to modify your business can prevent you from being left behind. When you are open to change, your business can stay current, fresh and continue deliver what customers want.

But in the day-to-day aspects of managing a small business, change can be an annoying time-suck.

Every year software programs require upgrades—many of which upset your delicately balanced electronic equilibrium. Why doesn’t the latest version of Ad-Aware work like the last one did? Now that I have the latest, fastest high-speed wireless Internet connection, my fax won’t answer calls. And let’s not even get started about upgrades to Windows operating systems and the problems those cause. Suffice to say I know a great many people who solved their Windows Vista troubles with a new Mac.

You can spend months researching, negotiating and securing terms for vendor accounts only to have your star performers suddenly discontinue your best-selling product line. Or change their names. And so you have to begin again to research replacements, negotiate new terms and update your materials with the new information.

Suppliers raise their prices. Dependable employees leave. Office Depot discontinues the specialty paper you use for your in-store promotions.

Yes, everything changes.

Dealing with those regular (sometimes it feels like daily) changes is part of a small business owner’s life. After more than a year of being self-employed, I have finally learned to build into my schedule some flex-time each week so I have room for those inevitable annoyances. Expect the unexpected, as the saying goes.

What techniques or tips do you have for dealing with change? Share with us your strategies for coping with change.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Beijing 8/8/08 at 8:08

As I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on Friday night, I was awed not only by the extensiveness of China’s history and culture, but by the size and scope of everything--the display, the number of performers, the number of people watching (news reports the following day suggest more than 4 billion people watched them on TV or online).

There are so many people in the world.

Did anyone else have a moment of feeling completely teeny-tiny, too?

And was I the only one recalling all the seminars and workshops I’ve skipped about exporting to China?

If you sell your products or services to China, let me know. A guest blog post could be yours.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Important Questions to Ask Before Buying a Business

(Note from Tara: This guest post is from Bizymoms.com who support and encourage work-at-home moms and women business owners with a wealth of resources, tips and free e-courses. They graciously agreed to write on this topic for you, my Dusty Widget readers, and to let me add my own two cents into it. Thank you Nina and Susan!)

Buying a business can be one the greatest decisions of your life. Unless you plan it well, however, your acquisition may not yield the income and lifestyle you’re hoping for. To help guide you through your decision-making, here are some important questions to ask before buying a business or becoming a partner in one.

What business is right for me?

Before you start looking at businesses, you have to evaluate yourself. Take stock of what you know, who you are and what’s driving you to be a business owner—is it money? Control? Independence? Honestly identify your weaknesses, recognize the tasks you don’t enjoy, and determine ways in which you can deal with them. Consider the industry you know best, and look for business opportunities that will benefit from your strengths and not be affected by your weaknesses. Take the time to establish expectations that are achievable and realistic.

What types of businesses are available?

Avoid speeding into the business-buying process. Take time to think about the different types of businesses that exist and what kind would be most appropriately suited to your goals, personality, strengths and lifestyle. Review the financial requirements of business ownership with a qualified professional resource. Counselors at organizations such as SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) can help you find the type of business that’s right for you.

Okay, now that you’re looking…

Does this business fit my goals?

You’ve considered why you want to buy a business and what you’re hoping to accomplish as a business owner, so be honest as you look at the business opportunity and consider its potential to meet those objectives. If your hope in being a business owner is to have more flexibility in your schedule, then running a retail store may not be the best choice. Your goals should drive the decision-making and help you determine the type, size and even location of the business.

Why is this business up for sale?

Perhaps the owner has to move, accommodate a health issue or is ready to retire. But maybe the business owner sees a market trend or neighborhood shift on the horizon that threatens the business. Have sales been decreasing? Have customers been lured away to a competing business? Do your research! If you buy the business, you buy its problems as well as its potential.

What technical knowledge is required for this business?

Do you posses this knowledge to manage the business? Are you familiar with the systems needed to run this business operation? Is the seller willing to dedicate the time to train you, if required? Is it worth the time to be spent on training? Will it take a long time for you to get familiar with the trade? Will this turn-around time be worth the wait? Every new business owner has a learning curve—take time to figure out how much expertise is needed to succeed with this business.

What is this business’s cash flow?

Verify with your accountant all financial information provided by the seller. Have your accountant determine whether the cash flow of the business is sufficient to make payments on your new debt, cover your living expenses and provide a reasonable return on your investment. Find out how much operating capital you’ll have to invest after the purchase.

What will happen to the business’s relationships as a result of the change of ownership?

Will clients stay loyal to the business if you take over? How about vendors? What suppliers have special accounts or terms? Will they keep those terms or require renegotiation? Are customers drawn to the business because of the owner’s personality or presence? Do you see a new market for this business?

How will I handle the business’s employees?

As you are aware, employees are the building blocks of a business. Would the existing employees be continuing their service? If so, would you be able to establish and win the trust of the existing employees?

What legal considerations are involved with this transaction?

Will the seller agree not to compete within the same location for a considerable period of time? Are there any court cases pending against this business? If yes, are they favorable or potentially harmful to the business?

Be wise, ask questions, and think twice before buying a business. The opportunities you consider could get you ahead or leave you farther behind than when you started—the difference is in how much you know!

Summary: This article outlines important questions you should ask yourself before buying a business.

Bizymoms.com has been helping moms work from home for over 10 years. Visit today to enjoy free resources including live chats, interactive message boards, informative articles, and of course, the best home based business ideas on the Internet! Bizymoms also offers complete home business packages that get your business started right away!

Contributions to this article were provided by Tara M. Bloom, author of "Ditch the Dusty Widget," a blog that contains big advice for the little guy—tips, resources and tales to help you start, run, market and grow your small business.

©2008 Bizymoms.com. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Little Extra Inspiration for This Week

It's easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you're a winner, when you're number one. What you've got to have is faith and discipline when you're not yet a winner.

--Vince Lombardi

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Introducing Your Business: The Elevator Pitch

(Note from Tara: This guest post is by MJ Petroni, Causeit, Inc. Principal. I asked him to contribute to "Ditch the Dusty Widget" on the topic of networking and the elevator pitch because he's so darn good at it! Used with the author's permission.)

If you have only a couple of seconds to introduce your business—standing in line, in a group networking meeting, or, you guessed it, in an elevator—what will you say? The brief moment afforded you by a senior exec or a networking group is intended to give you a chance to demonstrate why your listener(s) should be interested and ask you for more information. Keep it short—and try following these steps.

Introduce who you are first.
Who are you? What are you committed to? What is the core product of your business (safety, innovation, partnership, etc.)?


My name’s MJ Petroni of Causeit, Inc. and we partner with businesses &
individuals to help them translate their intentions & visions into reality.

Most people only listen to the very beginning and very end of what you say—the times when they have to check in to manage a transition into or out of a conversation. Leave them with the essence of you, your business and your brand. Don’t go into the specifics yet; that’s the next step.

Explain briefly the tangible elements of what you do—in lay terms.
How do you deliver on the promise of what you just introduced?


We help you discover the core intention and vision of your business and then
translate it into plans and tools you can use now—drawing on proven business
methodologies and marketing techniques.
Hopefully we didn’t lose them—if they were interested, they stuck around and are about to hear a real example of what we do. If not, we’ll close the conversation with a brief reminder. If for some reason you do want to lose ‘em, just dive into describing the features of your business with all the details. Go ahead, toss in the jargon! If, however, you do want to keep their attention, use simple language and common concepts, and keep it short. I would love to explain our coaching process, our business development process, and our web & branding partners, but there isn’t time.

If you have time, and they look interested, give an interesting, brief example of a recent project or showcase client.
Demonstrate the fun, exciting, engaging and unique portions of your business.

Recently, we’ve been working a great company called Fliptography to showcase
their product. Rather than explain the booth that makes flipbooks from people
dancing in front of a camera, we coordinated with local trend-setters, and
helped them secure an article in The Mercury in less than two weeks after
launch.


Make your work tangible, real, and interesting—but only if there’s
time.

Tell them what to do to take action—or continue the conversation
if it’s one-on-one.
Do they need to call you to set up a meeting? Is there a promotion for them to take advantage of? Will you take them to lunch? Should they go to your website?

Check out our website for more useful, fun articles, workshops and business
development resources at
www.causeit.org.

Have you asked for their business? Make sure that if you have only a few seconds to speak with them, you provide an opportunity for them to take action and find out all of the information you were aching to tell them. A simple, appropriate invitation to meet up for lunch can work, as can a referral to a source of more information.

For more information about how to introduce your business, meet new clients and build on existing relationships, contact Causeit, Inc., a business development firm committed to the success of love, work and life.

©2008 MJ Petroni and Causeit, Inc. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Heeeeeere Fishy Fishy Fishy

One of my favorite classic Sesame Street moments (and I'm not too mature to admit that I have them) is the episode when Ernie and Bert are fishing.

Bert, as usual, is frustrated. He's been fishing for an hour to no avail. So he complains that there must not be any fish.

Ernie, as usual, is chipper and optimistic. There are fish, he insists, and he can catch them just by calling to them.

This episode used to make me laugh as a kid, it made me laugh as a new parent when my toddler watched it, and even now, it makes me laugh out loud.

Today, it seems as if this comic moment captures what I often encounter as a marketing consultant.

Business owners are frustrated that their marketing efforts don't yield what they want. The chipper consultant (that's me) shows up to say that their marketing messages may not be the right ones, or they may not be "heard."

And in the contract of consultant-and-client that ensues, there is a "teaching how to fish," experience.

In real life, however, it's just not as funny.

What is just as funny in real life is the news that hit the Internet this week about a salon in Washington, D.C. that gives fish pedicures: instead of razors, miniature carp eat dead skin and calluses from clients' feet.

Wow.

We marketers are forever advising businesses to be unique, but this just leaves me speechless, except to say "Heeeere fishy, fishy, fishy!"

Do-It-Yourself PR: A Simpler Press Release Template

In case you missed the "anatomy of a news release" from PR Newswire that I wrote about last month, here's another resource. Learn the basic outline of what goes where in a press release courtesy of Bizymoms.com: press release template.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Weekly Affirmations for the Self-Employed

All aspects of my business are under my jurisdiction, not only the parts I like and enjoy the most.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Oh No! When E-Mail Marketing Goes Wrong

Earlier this month, one of my favorite local businesses experienced a major e-mail marketing mishap. I cringed as I watched it all go down, and though it pains me to recreate for you what happened, it’s an important object lesson for small businesses using e-mail marketing.

Company X uses e-mail to announce special events and promote new products. That’s the good news. E-mail marketing is a great thing for Company X—and for you—to do.

The bad news is that they do it “the old-fashioned way,” by keeping newsletter subscribers in their address book instead of an opt-in database. When they e-mail their subscribers, Company X either blind-copies them or sets up some sort of association between newsletter@companyx.com and all of the individual addresses. As I said, there's no “opt-in” function. No unsubscribe function. Just an informal e-mail from Company Owner to Customers, with newsletter@companyx.com appearing in the “To” field.

If this is the way you handle your e-mail newsletter campaign, may this story persuade you to change that ASAP.

Guess what happens when someone on the newsletter list hits “Reply All?”

Every single one of the newsletter list members gets a weird note from someone we don’t know that says, “Hey, Company X, I’ll definitely be coming to that event, it sounds great! Signed, Not-So-Savvy Customer at Company ABC, online at www.companyabc.com.”

Giving Not-So-Savvy Customer the benefit of the doubt, I’ll presume that she hit “Reply All” to send her message to companyowner@companyx.com as well as newsletter@companyx.com because she really thought that was the best way to make sure her email got through to an actual person. But I sort of suspect that it was an intentional guerilla marketing stunt by someone who knew what she was doing and who replied to everyone on the list as a way of promoting her own company to the e-mail list of Company X.

Either way, she deserves the title of Not-So-Savvy, because not only does she look stupid, but her single action prompted a cascade of additional e-mails, ranging from the helpful to the confused to the angry.

“I’ll be there, too!”

“Sounds good, but I’m out of town that weekend.”

“Hey, Company X, you have a problem with your email. I’m getting emails that are meant for you.”

“Why am I getting e-mails from people about this event?”

“How did you get my e-mail address? Why are you e-mailing me?”

“Take me off your e-mail list.”

“Everyone stop hitting reply all and these messages will stop!”

“I asked to be taken off your e-mail list a year ago. I don’t even live in Portland anymore.”

“This is ridiculous. I don’t have time to manage your business as well as my own. Take me off your list.”

And so on.

By the end of the day, I had dozens of angry e-mails in my in-box and spam folder.

Ugh.

What a way to piss off your customers.

Don’t let something like that happen to you.

If your customers are willing to give you their e-mail address and receive contact from you, respect their privacy and protect it! It’s easy and inexpensive to do with an e-mail marketing service partner.

There are lots of companies to choose from for e-mail marketing services, to name a few:
Emma
Constant Contact
Vertical Response
FireDrum

CoolerEmail
iContact

Any of the above companies enable you to create your e-mail newsletters and store your subscribers’ e-mail addresses and information in a safe, secure database. Each of these services offers your subscribers privacy protection and a quick, easy, one-step unsubscribe function. For you, they also help ensure delivery of your e-mails and to track opens, click-throughs and forwards (you have always wanted to know if anyone actually READS your e-mails, right?).

The products above are quite inexpensive, easy to set up and maintain, and many can be customized to fit your business needs. For really tight budgets, use one of the templates provided by the service. If your business's brand is important enough to spend, say $250-$450 for a one-time design fee, you can have the e-mail marketing company custom create a template that matches your business image, allowing you to easily insert your news and content.

Whether you have a service business, a retail store, manufacture or distribute products, are business-to-consumer or B2B, you should use an e-mail marketing service for your electronic newsletters. The small fee you pay to send the e-mail is worth every cent for protecting your customers’ privacy and showing them your respect for their personal information.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Do-It-Yourself PR: The Overview

Just stumbled across a PDF someone posted of an interview on Marketing Sherpa with a public relations expert: "How to Do Your Own PR Campaign: 8 Steps & 3 Mistakes to Avoid."

Written for the start-up and for the business owner who wants to announce his/her new endeavor to the world, it presents messaging suggestions, such as honing in on what makes you unique and figuring out how to describe your company in layman's terms.

If you're wondering whether you should hire a publicist or a writer to assist you with your press release, this article might help you make the decision. At the end, you should have a good sense of whether you can manage all eight steps on your own or whether it just sounds overwhelming!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Follow Up: 5 Steps to Closing the Deal

An entrepreneur I know recently asked me for assistance with his marketing messages. Frustrated after months of meeting with key corporate decision-makers in the effort to sell his service, he contacted me in hopes that I could craft the magic words that would close the deal.

“They understand what I’m offering,” he told me. “And they don’t disagree with the numbers I have that show the ROI they’ll get after bringing on my services. But where the rubber should be hitting the road, it’s not. When it comes time to find the money to contract with me, nothing happens.”

“How do you follow up with them after you meet?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t really,” he admitted.

Therein lies the problem, I told him.

This entrepreneur doesn’t need me or any other marketing firm to help communicate the value of his services or how they work. He’s been out doing that all along, and, by his own admission, he’s able to speak with, reach and obtain agreement from his audience.

What’s missing isn’t a positioning statement or magic marketing slogan. What’s missing is the close.

Every business owner has to be a salesperson. No matter how groundbreaking your idea, how unique your product or how valuable your service, it’s a dangerous fallacy to wish or believe that it will sell itself.

It’s not enough to advertise your business and hope people will buy from you.

It’s not enough to meet with prospects and then wait for them to pick up the phone and volunteer to pay you.

It’s not enough to call potential new partners and expect that they will team up with you.

To make things happen—really make things happen—you have to follow up and make them happen.

5 Steps to Closing the Deal

1. Contact the decision-makers you’ve met with and ask if they’re ready to _____ (fill in the blank to close the deal).

1a. If they say yes, great! Ask them how you can help, thank them and now you can watch it happen!

1b. But if they say no—which is usually the case—you have more work to do.

2. Ask them what they need to be able to take the next step. Make them answer you specifically. Press them for the name of the person who has to approve the next step, ask them to tell you when you can expect them to be ready to take the next step, and ask if there’s any information or assistance you can provide in helping them take the next step.

3. Mark their responses in your calendar or contact management system. Following your conversations, follow up with a thank you and a summary of what they said they would do and by what date.

4. Schedule a trigger in your electronic calendar or contact management system so you remember to follow up on the date when they said they’d be ready for the next step.

5. Then begin at Step 1 again.

If, at that date, they continue to be unable to take the next step, repeat the process.

Sometimes, it can take months to years to push through a new contract, depending on the size and scope of your product or service. Don’t be afraid to keep in touch in between those milestones. Personal notes of congratulations if you see your contact or their company in the news, and invitations to events or networking opportunities make a genuine positive impression to your prospect. Be present. Be visible. Be non-pushy but clear in what you want.

Wishing for new contracts or new clients isn’t going to make it so. And being nice and polite isn’t enough to make people want to do business with you. You have to show them the benefit you provide, coax them along the process, and make the ask to land the deal.

Monday, July 14, 2008

More Make Your Own Marketing Materials

Find affordable templates for a range of businesses, including tanning salons, nail salons, spas, plumbers, heating and cooling contractors, dental offices, banks, child care, churches and more at StockLayouts. There's an incredible variety of templates available, from ads and flyers to menus and newsletters. For the just-starting-out-and-I-don't-need-or-have-a-brand-identity sole proprietor or small business owner, this could be your dream come true.

I haven't used the services of this company, but I know they've been recommended by John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing.

Template marketing is better than no marketing. So if you've been stuck with your promotional efforts because of a lack of materials, business cards, stationery, flyers, or postcards, you don't have any more excuses. Get out and market!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Make Your Own Marketing Materials

Against my better judgment, I'm passing this resource along as well: the Marketing Impressions resource center at HP.

From a free logo maker, a free class about how to build your first website, and a step-by-step guide to create a direct marketing program, this website has enough information to make any small business owner a total danger to himself and others.

For those of you who are hell-bent on refusing to pay for the expert talents of graphic designers, copywriters, web site designers, public relations professionals, and branding developers to ensure that you have a top-quality business identity, go knock yourselves out!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Kauffman's Entrepreneur Resource Center

In addition to eating flaxseed meal, another juicy tidbit about me that will have you undoubtedly screaming "nerd" is that I listen to public radio and watch public television. In fact, I am one of the 10 people in Portland who don't have cable, digital, streaming or satellite TV. I have rabbit ears and four TV channels—five on a clear day with the rabbit ears rigged over the front door—one of which is Oregon Public Broadcasting.

And in my listening to public radio and watching public television, I frequently hear sponsorship credit for my valued programming given to the Kauffman Foundation, supporting entrepreneurship.

I've thought to myself that I should learn more about how the foundation supports entrepreneurs but never remembered to follow through with it. Today, while cleaning out my e-mail (because that's what *I* do for fun on a Saturday; yes: "nerd"), I found a link I'd saved to a Daily Cash Flow Forecasting Spreadsheet for entrepreneurs. As I clicked on it and explored, I discovered that it's a resource from the Kauffman Foundation's eVenturing Entrepreneur's Resource Center. In their own words:
The Trusted, independent source for high-growth entrepreneurs.
Welcome to the eVenturing Entrepreneur's Resource Center. This site is geared toward entrepreneurs on the path to high growth, who are building companies that innovate and create jobs. You'll find this site provides a wealth of original articles, written by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, and aggregates "the best of the best" content on the Web related to starting and running high-impact companies.

A brief visit to the Marketing tab reveals so many high-quality, in-depth, utterly useful links to experts who tackle the very issues that have been plaguing me lately (How do I engage in social networking for my business in a way that's not insincere? How do I get more out of Google Analytics? How do I create the advertising messages for my business that will really convert?) that I think I just discovered how I'll spend my Saturday night.

*Sigh*. I know. "Nerd."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Do-It-Yourself PR: Submit the Press Release

So you have the timely, relevant, well-written, factual press release written about your newsworthy business announcement.

Now what?

If you’re a natural networking pro, you already have established relationships with editors, journalists, bloggers, and other influencers to whom you can send a personalized note with the attached press release.

But if you’re like the rest of us overworked, understaffed and overwhelmed small business owners, you don’t.

First things first: decide if your news is of interest to a primarily local audience, or if it might be relevant to a broad, national conversation.

Unless you have a celebrity endorsement to announce, you’ve added a national expert to your board of directors, or your business has just made a breakthrough into a trend or channel that’s part of a national or industry conversation, you probably just want to reach those media in your city, state or region.

Quick Internet searches will turn up the websites for your local newspapers and media outlets. Nearly every single newspaper, magazine, TV or radio station you want to contact will have a link on their site with instructions for how to send news releases. So just follow the instructions. Really. It won’t take more than a few hours for the computer-user who’s comfortable with the Internet.

If your news has a wider reach, you want to enlist the assistance of a newswire to distribute your announcement.

Internet-based newswires usually have a per-submission fee, and the size of the fee depends on a number of factors:

  • which wires will be reached

  • how targeted it will be (industry-specific, for example)

  • whether you add on various other services such as search engine optimization of your news release, embedded links back to your website, video, photos, etc.


The two most reputable and effective online fee-for-submission services that have been recommended to me are PRWeb.com and PRNewswire.com.

There are some free press release submission sites that will blast your post all across the Internet, too. Posting your news release via these portals will get your name “out there,” but the likelihood of getting any relevant traffic is slim. Personally, I believe you can even damage your reputation using these kinds of services because you place your content (and business and brand) alongside a teeming cesspool of poorly written, amateurish crap. To see what I mean, just visit any of the following free press release sites and look at what’s posted.

www.free-press-release.com
www.1888pressrelease.com
www.24-7pressrelease.com
www.express-press-release.net
www.prbuzz.com

For a more extensive list, along with an experienced PR gal’s blunt perspective about what you can and cannot expect from free services, visit Naked PR’s “Big List of Free Press Release Distribution Sites.”

She also has a fantastic post called “Effective Free Press Release Distribution in 5 Easy Steps” that has basically the same information that I just wrote above, with some added detail and curse words.

Regardless of how you proceed with distributing your press release, don’t overlook the value of having a well-written, relevant news release in the first place! Even paying a $350 submission fee to get your announcement to The Associated Press wire isn’t going to do you any good if the material isn’t newsworthy, timely or fact-based.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Shopping and Advertising Small Businesses on Craigslist

A very smart, very professional, very successful woman I know recently told me that when she went to hire a lawn care service this spring, she went to Craigslist to find one. She contacted several advertisers, spoke with a few, and hired the guy(s) who made her feel most at ease.

Craigslist, as you may or may not know, is *THE* place to find whatever you need—be it a job, a girlfriend, a new house, or a babysitter. It’s also *THE* free place to advertise your services or products or anything else you have that other people might want.

Recent headlines in the newspaper remind us that it’s also *THE* place to find stolen goods being sold for cheap, prostitutes posing as bored co-eds, and a whole assortment of other arrangements that you may not even have known existed.

Some of the advertisements on Craigslist and discussions in the forums are shocking and graphic, so it should come as no surprise that some of the people who regularly use Craigslist to find or advertise services may not be…shall we say, top-tier individuals?

I advertise my copywriting services on Craigslist and it’s a choice I made with the understanding that there would be some risks involved (i.e., spammers, scammers, lower budget clients, portraying my business image as low-cost and therefore less professional).

As a new business, I simply wanted to see what I could get for free. Does it work? Yes.

I have found some fantastic clients through Craigslist and I’m confident that I can control my business image and communicate the quality of my work by the type of ads I write. That said, I’ve also received some unwelcome and/or strange e-mails, and had the occasional not-so-fantastic client—including the one who taught me the lesson that I really need to be paid up front for projects.

If you’re considering advertising on Craigslist, keep in mind the disadvantages and seek to maximize the advantages as fully as you can.

And if you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur looking for services on Craigslist, be smart! Remember that you get what you pay for. Don’t take advertisers’ claims at face value. Ask for references and investigate potential service providers a little more than you might feel is necessary.

Last week, I saw a guy marketing to small businesses on Craigslist who said he had extensive experience in search engine optimization, web development and web design. In his ad, he listed 12 websites as examples of his work. I clicked on them. One of them had expired and wasn’t even active. Another was a local business specializing in custom paint and body work. Since the guy claimed to know SEO, I went to Google and searched for “Portland custom paint body work.” The website didn’t come up anywhere on the top three pages! And when the business’s name and URL includes the word “custom” and the tagline of the business is “custom paint and body work,” there’s no reason that site shouldn’t rank top page from a local search. Is this a guy I’d want to recommend to my clients? No way.

What are your Craigslist business experiences? Met a great designer or hired a fantastic employee from Craigslist? Do you use CL to get new business? Post your CL stories in comments.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Don’t Sneer. Do.

Sneering at something is an admission of failure. You are claiming superior talent or insight…but declining to use it. The best way to sneer at something, if you must, is to improve it or outdo it.
--Spider Robinson, science fiction author

Many would-be entrepreneurs get stuck in our own fears of presumed failure and sneer at the successes of those for whom we work instead of having the courage to see if we really CAN do better.

Friday, July 4, 2008

If They Can Do It, So Can You

I eat flaxseed.

Mixed with plain yogurt, a few shakes of cinnamon and a handful of raw nuts (when I’m feeling particularly indulgent, I add some organic blueberries and a teaspoon of honey), flaxseed meal provides a nutritious, low-carb snack that’s surprisingly yummy.

And that flaxseed meal comes from Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods in Milwaukie, Oregon.

In this month’s issue of Oregon Business magazine, there’s a short profile of Bob Moore, the founder and owner of Bob’s Red Mill.

According to the profile, Moore stumbled upon the milling idea after owning, operating and losing his shirt in the business of service stations. Following his financial ruin, Moore discovered a book that changed his life: John Goffe’s Mill by George Woodbury. The memoir told the story of Woodbury’s successful restoration and operation of the grain mill that had been in his family’s possession since the Revolutionary War. In the article, Moore says of Woodbury's undertaking:
“I thought this guy didn’t know beans about milling when he started, and if he did it, I can do it.”

And so he has. After nearly 30 years, his mill has recently doubled its manufacturing capacity to keep up with 25% annual growth.

That one phrase—“If she can do it, I can”—repeated in my head for years while worked for my last employer. As I watched how my boss ran her company, I kept looking for some mysterious characteristic she possessed that was the reason for her success. What was it that she had that I didn’t? After more than four years of searching, I realized there wasn’t anything. The only difference is that she took the risk to begin.

When I asked another entrepreneur I know how she came to start her own day spa, she told a similar story. While she worked for a spa owner, she constantly bumped up against the limitations of being an employee, especially as she peppered her boss with ideas. Tired of hearing the young upstart’s suggestions about how to improve spa services, her employer said, “If you think you can do a better job, go start your own spa.” So she did. This month, she celebrates five years of owning her own successful business.

Have you ever had an idea for a business or product and looked at others who have taken theirs to market and wondered, “How did they do that? How can they do it, and I can’t?”

You can. But you have to be willing to take the first step.

For inspiration, go have an amazingly delicous, whole grain breakfast at the Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Store and Visitors Center at 5000 SE International Way, Portland, OR 97222.

And in the meantime, Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Learn Everyday: Buy More Books

As I mentioned in "How Do You Define Success?", I learn everyday.

Building two companies requires me to improve my skills, challenge my assumptions and keep abreast of new developments in the worlds of technology, business and marketing. In personal development terms, I'm learning how to negotiate better, manage money better, compensate for my weaknesses, achieve work-life balance as an entrepreneur and mother, capitalize on my strengths, and ask for help.

In practical terms, I'm learning systems, software, invoicing, setting rates, managing cash flow, trademark registration requirements and processes, tax laws, the legal duties of an S-corp, and more.

While I read LOTS of articles online, subscribe to Entrepreneur, read The Portland Business Journal and Oregon Business, pick up the occasional issue of Fast Company, receive e-mail newsletters from The New York Times and The Financial Post (Canadian) as well as others, I also find books—and increasingly, ebooks—to be an invaluable source for the information I need.

If an entrepreneur I admire recommends a book to me, I go get it. No questions asked.

Because if there's anything I've learned so far, it's that other entrepreneurs and business owners have all encountered the same questions, problems and anxieties that I have. If they tell me of a resource that can make my life better, easier or help me solve an issue that they struggled with, too, then I get it.

So far, they've always been right.

And that, my friends, is why I started my own online Dusty Widget Bookshelf at Powell's Bookstore.

The books that have helped me can help you, too.

And, the books that help me to help you help me even more when you buy them from here. Yes, I do make a generous commission on the sale of each and every book (even the latest by Stephenie Meyer), CD, DVD, ebook, magazine and journal that you buy from Powell's when you link to the online store from "Ditch the Dusty Widget."

It's my favorite kind of relationship: a win-win-win. You benefit with knowledge, the best bookstore on Earth gets a sale, and I get a commission.

So, please do us all a favor and grab yourself some summer reading material here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

Do-It-Yourself PR: The All-Important Press Release

I *was* going to go through the trouble of breaking down for you how to write your own press releases. In fact "Anatomy of the Press Release" as a post title has been on my editorial calendar for several months now.

BUT...in following up on a NYT story this morning—"Need Press? Repeat: 'Green,' 'Sex,' 'Cancer,' 'Secret,' 'Fat'"—I ended up at the website for PR Newswire and discovered that my brilliant idea has not only already been done, albeit named as "Anatomy of a News Release," but also done in a full-color PDF with actual diagramming, no less.

I'm sure I can still add more value to this topic, especially in how to how to use keywords in the body of your release and why to keep your quotes short and to-the-point, but I'll attempt it at a future date when I'm done licking the wounds of my bruised ego.

In the meantime, get started generating ideas for your business's press releases on your own. Each of the words on this list was cited in the NYT article as useful in getting editors' attention, so brainstorm headlines and subheads with the following:
toxic
long-term health risks
safe
easy
trick
breaking
green
environment
foreclosure
breakthrough

And, in addition to subscribing to "Ditch the Dusty Widget" and getting small business advice, stories, resources and inspiration via email, you can also sign up for PR Newswire's "Small Biz PR 101" newsletter.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

How Do You Define Success?

A headline in this morning’s NY Times caught my eye: “Why Some Succeed Wildly.”

The article is about the book Outliers: Why Some People Succeed and Some Don’t by Malcom Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink. In an excerpted paragraph quoted in 800ceoread.com, he says, “I want to convince you that the way we think about success is all wrong.”

Instead of looking at only the people themselves, he suggests, we need to consider their backgrounds and circumstances, as well as the contexts from which they emerged. As suggested the by NYT article’s author, Gladwell hints that it’s not so much the people who create success, as it is the necessity of the idea itself. If the timing is right, the wildly successful maverick is merely the most adept opportunist, able to take the ripe idea to its fullest potential.

As the book isn’t due out until November, the details of what Mr. Gladwell suggests will have to wait until later. But for now, the premise of the book and its title alone are enough to generate questions and thoughts from me about success.

Why do some of us reach for success and others find contentment where they are? What is it that makes some of us so damned dissatisfied with what we have and what we’re doing? Why is it that some of us always want more?

How do we know when we get THERE? Where exactly is success located? How is it that no matter where you set the bar for your own success—when you get there, or even come close to getting there, it always seems to move?

What exactly is success? How do I define my own success? What do I need to say I’m successful?

With just more than one year of self-employment to my credit, I still own my home. With no second income, no partner or husband or pick up the slack from my lost salary and no public assistance, I’m still afloat. I pay my bills on-time (at least as on-time as I ever did) and put healthy food on the table for me and my daughter.

I help small business owners reach more customers, convert more sales and lay the foundation on which they’ll grow and build their businesses. I earn money for my talents, skills and experience—and my ability to connect those with people who need them. My own belief in my value enables me to create mutually rewarding relationships and transactions.

I have friends who love me and help me. When I need a shoulder to cry on, when I’m scared, confused or not sure what to do next, I have a number of amazing women and men who are there to lift me and bolster me with their care and support. Whether they take me to lunch and listen to me vent, come help me work, or show up with wine and chocolates to just laugh together, they are the roaring, cheering fans who energize and excite me to push ahead.

I have a life that I share with my child. I am able to be both physically and emotionally present with her, creating and enjoying shared experiences—even the mundane ones such as making dinner together. I am also exposing her to the lessons of incremental success. When I reach my monetary goals and I’m taking her on trips around the world, she will know how it happened.

My daughter is not growing up with a mom who says “I wish I had done…” or "If only..." I’m teaching her that if you want something, you have to work hard and focus to get it. She watched me first try and fail to buy the business I wanted, then hang out my shingle as a copywriter, then work for my first clients, then form an S-corp and open an online store, then figure out how to juggle all of those endeavors. And she saw me do it all while still being there to pick her up at school on time (more or less). She knows that even as important as my own dreams and goals are to me, she is the most important part of my life. While together we may set a course for bigger, better things, the unit of “she & me” is the orbit around which those dreams revolve.

My skills are improving. I learn every day.

I am getting better at trusting myself. I am getting better at trusting other people, and knowing how to protect myself.

I have dreams to which I aspire and in which I believe.

No, I cannot afford a new car; I can barely afford the one I have. No, I cannot afford to landscape my yard or hire a full-time assistant. I cannot afford to begin my travels yet.

But that is not how I define success.

By my definition, I am already wildly successful.

How about you?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Power of Humor, or, Goodbye Mr. Carlin

I laugh at myself every day. I usually try to laugh at other people just as often.

And as I've ventured into so much unfamiliar territory over the last year—new business relationships, new responsibilities, new mistakes, new opportunities, new situations—humor has been essential to keeping me sane through it all.

Some situations, like the time I spent almost $6,000 on a customer acquisition campaign that was poorly conceived and yielded nothing, have been so painful and tough to swallow that it was hard to know whether I should laugh or cry. But given the choice, I almost always prefer laughing.

And when it comes to healing my self-doubt and rebuilding trust in my own decision-making, humor is a magical balm. Taking myself less seriously is a necessary step to forgiving myself when I screw up.

Humor is also a fantastic antidote to fear. Consider the moment in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when Professor Lupin shows the students how to disable the Boggart, a dark creature that appears to each victim as her greatest fear. The spell that defeats the Boggart turns it into something comical. By putting roller skates on a giant, blood-thirsty spider, you can laugh at it. The thing of which you were most afraid loses its power; you regain control.

Starting up a business is a journey rife with moments of stark terror. I use humor often to shore up my courage so I may conquer my fear.

The news yesterday of George Carlin's death made me pause to consider how much I value humor in my life. Knowing he isn't here anymore to skewer hypocrisy, play with language, mock our sacred cows and dismantle the power of obscenity makes me sad. But that he left us to much to laugh about is a rich legacy indeed.

Mr. Carlin, you will be missed.

Following are some of George Carlin's jokes to help you keep laughing along your entrepreneurial journey:

If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?


Some people see things that are and ask, Why?
Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not?
Some people have to go to work and don't have time for all that shit.


Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.


Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.


The very existence of flame-throwers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I'm just not close enough to get the job done.

Weekly Affirmations for the Self-Employed

I am at the helm of my business. I am captain of this ship.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Google AdWords Instruction: Coming Soon to a City Near You

If you've thought about advertising your company, services or products in the sponsored search results of Google (the largest search engine in the world and source of the majority of Internet traffic), but weren't sure how to get started, consider attending an upcoming Beginner course in AdWords, presented by Google.

The Beginner & Intermediate course includes all the basics in the morning—opening an account, creating campaigns, selecting keywords, modifying settings—plus a full afternoon of optimization techniques and instruction on how to track ad performance.

If you already know the ropes, the Advanced course might be for you.

The advance seminar explores more complex ways to manage and optimize your sponsored search advertising programs, including:
  • Introductions to My Client Center and the AdWords API
  • Sorting and viewing statistics
  • Copying or moving between campaigns, ad groups, and accounts
  • Location targeting
    Demographic bidding
  • Using the Website Optimizer
  • Dynamic Keyword Insertion
  • Goal setting and analyzing reports with Google Analytics
At $249, the seminar will pay for itself. Registration entitles you to a $50 credit to your AdWords account. For a net cost of $200, this is an affordable way to get yourself quickly oriented to AdWords if you've never used it before. AdWords novices can easily waste more than $200 in the first few days of online advertising. Don't be one of them!

Click here to view the calendar and registration information for Google's AdWords and Analytics Seminars for Success.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Amazing Women, Amazing Businesses, Amazing Kids: Who Says You Can't Have It All?

This winter, I became a member of Mamapreneurs, Inc. (formerly Portland Mamas Inc.), a business networking and support organization for entrepreneurs who share a common trait: first and foremost, we're mothers.

How I failed, until now, to mention this fantastic organization, encourage Portland-area mamapreneurs to join, and pass on any of the opportunities presented by PMI is a mystery to me. To my fellow PMI members: I'm sorry to have neglected to mention you. To those of you Portland-area mothers who have your own businesses, are thinking of starting your own business, or who are looking to work for a mother-owned business...check us out.

There are lots of active, vibrant business groups in Portland, and plenty of strong, quality associations for women both here and nationally. But PMI has some of the most engaged, creative, attention-getting, talented, smart, ambitious women I've had the pleasure to meet. That so many of the members can achieve so much, work so hard, and still have so much fun—while also raising our kids, being pregnant, and fitting it all in between school hours—amazes and inspires me.

It's been an honor to be welcomed so warmly into the group and to be supported by other members.

Visit the PMI website and check out upcoming events, read the articles that range from tips to launch a product to believing in yourself as a mother, and support the mama-owned businesses listed in the membership directory.

And if you're a mamapreneur with five years experience or less in running your business, check out the upcoming two-day conference just for you: "The Makings of a Mamapreneur." It runs September 23 & 24 from 8:30 am - 12 pm (we *do* have kids after all) at Design Within Reach, located in Bridgeport Village, Tigard.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

Finding Free Stuff for Your Business

I will let you in on a little secret I've learned as a boot-strapping entrepreneur and small business owner: the Internet is a wealth of special deals and free stuff.

Sure, you already know you could search on eBay or Amazon for great prices on name-brand merchandise. And maybe you've learned from my previous posts about how much free advertising you can get on Craigslist and how many free ways there are to promote your business online.

But did you know that you can find discounts, coupons, promotional codes and giveaways on many products and services that you use for your small business?

Bloggers like more successful than me, for example, arrange deals from the likes of Yahoo! and MSN to provide discount offers for new advertisers in their sponsored search programs. Don't believe me? Type "Yahoo advertising promotional code $75" in Google search to find some. When I opened my advertising accounts with Google, Yahoo and MSN, I loaded them up with more than $200 in advertising credits.

Similarly, I was able to refer a friend of mine to a partner website that offered a coupon code for 20% off all services for new e-newsletter account sign-ups. My friend saved a bunch on her custom designed e-newsletter and account management services.

I recently found another resource on John Jantsch's DuctTapeMarketing blog: free magazines. Makes sense. After all, publishers are always looking for ways to reach new subscribers. It doesn't cost them much to give away samples or subscriptions of their magazines—they print and mail by the tens of thousands; what's one more?! Sign up to receive free Business Week, Creativity and other business rags.

Free pens from promotional imprinting companies, free shipping boxes from the USPS, discount digital printing of postcards and business cards, advertising special offers...everybody wants your business, so every price is negotiable.

What are your favorite scores or resources for free stuff? Share!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Beta Test Opportunity for Retail Stores

I received an invitation today that I thought I'd pass along to the rest of you.

Intuit, the maker of QuickBooks, is beta-testing a smaller-scale version of their Point of Sale module. Bearing the straightforward name of QuickBooks Point of Sale Simple v1, the program is designed for owners of retail stores with one location (note: you can probably use this if your retail store is online, too). The module replaces your cash register and credit card terminal, combining the tools you need into one streamlined system for processing purchases and transmitting the banking information electronically.

I presume that other value-add of this service is that it will simultaneously track the customer information, if obtained, sales receipts and inventory changes into your QuickBooks records as well.

Interested retailers have to apply online to be considered for beta testing. If selected, you will be asked to:

  • Start testing in the next few weeks

  • Provide data files and logs when requested

  • Install the product (desktop products) or access the product (web-based products) and use it

  • Submit bug reports at the tester website

  • Complete specific testing tasks through Fall 2008

To apply, submit your online application by Sunday, June 29, 2008. Apply here: http://beta.intuit.com/signup/testapp.cfm?id=260&refsrc=I285

If you're selected and allowed to share the experience, let me know!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Yet Another Resource for Do-It-Yourself PR

I expect be adding quite a few more resources for small business owners who want to dip a toe into the waters of PR. Like many things related to having my own company or two, I'm enjoying a steep learning curve when it comes to figuring out the ins and outs of successful public relations.

I still have some foibles to share with you from my earlier mistakes experiences, but there have been some good finds, too. One new resource I just discovered is the free Small Business News press release repository from the Small Business Trends blog.

Okay, okay, so submitting your business news to the source above won't really get your release picked up by anyone who's not a reader of Small Biz Trends...but you never know. Link building. 'Nuf said.

Got news? Send your next press release here: http://www.smallbiztrends.com/2008/06/submit-small-business-news.html/

Sunday, June 8, 2008

And I Thought Persuading Businesses to Use a Copywriter Was Tough

Meet Jeff.

Jeff Deck isn't the type of guy you really *want* to meet in person, though. Because if he's showing up at your doorstep, he's probably there to tell you that you've made a mistake.

Searching for a way to give back to the world, Jeff chose as his mission to bring national attention to the pervasiveness of typographical errors, misspellings and poor grammar. Earlier this year, he founded The Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL), dedicated "to a more perfectly spelling union."

Together with like-minded public editors armed with black markers and White-Out, Jeff traveled around America from March through May, correcting misplaced apostrophes and misspellings found in signage everywhere.

A man after my own heart, Jeff spent months approaching managers, owners and clerks with his helpful attempts to make them look smarter.

A night in Las Vegas summarizes Jeff's uphill battle. Look what happens inside Circus Circus when Jeff finds a giant typo surrounded in lights:


GREASTEST! GREASTEST! An abomination against all that is right and true. We
needed to inform someone in charge. It was our only hope for seeing this
perversity wiped from the land. The problem was, we couldn’t actually find
anyone in charge… everyone in the garb of Circus Circus was trying to sell us
something. We wandered around until, finally, someone directed us to a
thick-necked man scowling at some register tape. His reaction to our crucial
piece of intelligence?

A blank look, then: “I’ll… uh… have to tell someone
about this.”

Which you can recognize by now, cherished readers, as a synonym
for thudding indifference. We tried to help you, Circus Circus. We wanted to end
the era of you looking like a fool. But it seems that era will go on into the
foreseeable future.


I want you to meet Jeff because you probably have typos in your business material, too.

As a copyeditor and copywriter, I find mistakes, misspellings and flagrantly offensive grammar in all kinds of business material—from e-mails and letters to signage and advertisements.

I understand that not everyone is fluent in grammar. Not everyone can tell when a word is possessive or plural and which of those two distinctions warrants an apostrophe. Not everyone is a spelling champion and no spell-check program can completely prevent us from word misuse.

And if common mistakes like these plague all varieties of businesses in all parts of the country, why you should care?

People know what you mean, regardless of whether you promise to serve the most delicious mochas (correct) or mocha's (ick, incorrect), right?

The best case scenario is that no one notices your mistake. Then there's the possibility that some do notice and they laugh at you. You probably don't care about that either.

But in the worse case scenario, your poor grammar and misspellings can turn off potential customers and clients. Witnessing your gaffe, they may perceive you to be either careless or ignorant, and therefore, not trustworthy. I'm not going to try a dentist who offers free teeth whitening for new customer's.

Another possibility: your mistakes may change the actual meaning of your message, rendering your communication efforts less effective. Many years ago, my parents received an invitation to an educational event sponsored by a large public health agency. Imagine their shock when they showed up the event and its signage and brochures said they were at the city's pubic health event!

In that example, it was just embarassing for the agency and funny for the guests. But at worst, these types of errors can doom your marketing efforts and waste your money.

For these reasons, it's really worth the extra money to hire a professional writer to create your business materials. And if that's really out of the budget, then at least consider hiring one to proofread your most important materials. Rates can be as low as 10 cents per word.

With that little extra care and professional assistance, you won't have to meet in Jeff in person.*
*Good catch, Jeff. No, really, I was just testing you. ;-)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Extra! Extra! Do-It-Yourself PR Resources for Small Business Owners

What business owner doesn't want press coverage? More valuable than advertising because of the credibility that's implied, press coverage is a key ingredient to growing a business.

Yet not every business is ready for a full-on PR campaign or can afford to retain a professional PR firm to secure those mentions.

Sometimes, serendipity occurs and a reporter from Time magazine just happens across your website and thinks your company is the best one to feature in an article about your industry (this recently happened to a colleague of mine).

But to take matters into your own hands, take advantage of these two free, highly reputable opportunities to dialogue with the media.

Public Insight Journalism

First, there's the Public Insight Network from American Public Media. Sign up to be part of the network and receive opportunities to send your opinions, stories and news to some of the journalists of public broadcasting.

For example, Marketplace, the business show on public radio, is currently seeking entrepreneurs to respond to several queries, including one on unproven, untested business ventures ("Are you a bold entrepreneur?") and another to women business owners experiencing a tougher time securing funding due to SBA cutbacks ("How are women entrepreneurs getting funding?").

"An open door to our newsroom" at American Public Media? What's not to love about that. Sign up now.

Help a Reporter

Another great way to get direct access to reporters for some of the biggest TV, magazine and newspaper outlets nationwide is through Help a Reporter Out. By signing up to that e-mail list as a source, you receive three daily e-mails brimming with actual queries from actual reporters on a variety of topics.
Will your area of expertise be covered? No, not every day or even every week. But if you receive any opportunity—even if it's only once per month—to pitch a reporter from a major new outlet on a topic that's relevant to you or your business—SCORE!

Here's the caveat about HARO: if you're a PR novice, it's really, really easy to get yourself blacklisted from this source and to make a poor impression to the very reporters you want to impress.

There's a reason most people don't have direct access to reporters at The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal: it's because we do stupid things like annoy them with off-topic pitches, blatant self-promotion or useless emails that say things like "please call me, I can help you with this story."

If you do any of those things, or send attachments to your responses, fail to communicate why you're a relevant and trustworthy source, or otherwise act unprofessionally and disrespectfully to any of the reporters using HARO, you will be mocked and held up as an example of how not to interact with members of the press. Even worse, you'll be removed from the list and the reporter you contacted will also block your emails.

Then again, if you act appropriately, send on-target pitches and make a convincing statement as to your expert status on a given topic, you may just end up getting mention for your and/or your company in a national magazine, newspaper or online outlet.
Personally, I'm looking forward to letting you know when my interviews with the reporters from Parenting magazine and Bitch magazine get published and if the image consultant in Houston I spoke with mentions Maternitique's pregnancy-safe sunscreen to her TV show audience.

For important instruction on how NOT to use the HARO queries, start your orientation here: "How Not to use Helpareporter.com."
Have a success story? Let me know. Good luck!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Portland Women Entrepreneurs Event Tonight

PDX Ladies:

Head over to Aura tonight at 6:00 for the annual networking event of Entrepreneurial Women of Portland (EWOP).

The $25 entrance fee at the door gets you one drink and light appetizers for nosh. The real benefit, though, is in guided group discussions with some of Portland's most successful boutique, salon, and business owners.

You grow, girl!

(PS: I'm bummed I can't go this evening, but I have a previous commitment. So go and tell me how it is!)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Breaking Free from Employment

When I first heard Elvis's voice I just knew that I wasn't going to work for anybody and nobody was gonna be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.
~ Bob Dylan

How did you decide to become self-employed? Did you grow up in a family of entrepreneurs or did a dramatic event occur that turned you in another professional direction?
My moment happened last April.
I had worked for four and a half years at a small business and loved it, despite having some severely unhealthy dynamics at play in the office. The work engaged my creativity, challenged me, and provided unending variety and nourishing interactions with customers and vendors. It also brought me a great deal of satisfying achievement: in three short years as sales manager, and then operations manager, I doubled the company's sales.

Record-breaking month after record-breaking month, I watched my boss, the owner, grow more and more wealthy.
"Hmmm..." I thought, "I've been doing sales and marketing for more than a decade and everywhere I go, I make other people lots of money. What's wrong with this picture?" It became clear to me that if I wanted to be the one who benefitted from my talents, I'd have to be making much better commissions or be the person who ultimately owned the whole organization.

I spoke to my boss about her plans for passing on ownership of the company and she assured me that she wanted to sell it to me. In 5-10 years.

No good.

So I began looking into other businesses to buy and applying for commission-based sales jobs. Finally, after nearly a year of searching, I found a sales position I was excited to try. I gave notice to the boss and mentioned in my letter of resignation that I'd appreciate her keeping me in mind when she was ready to sell the company.

"I'm ready now," she said. "Let's do it. I really want you to have it."

We had our attorneys draft terms and I hired a team of advisors to investigate the legal and financial issues of the company. I withdrew from the sales job, explaining the surprising turn of events to the new company. Then, for two and a half months, I performed due diligence: getting the company's first ever accurate inventory count; reviewing the tax records and month-by-month financials; creating balance sheets, P&Ls, and pro forma cash flow projections for the next five years. I wrote a business plan, met with representatives from the SBA, and obtained two independent valuations on the company. I rounded up money—more than I ever thought I could ever get. With bank approval and the nod from my attorney and advisors, I made her a cash offer for what the SBA and my accountant had concurred was the full value of the company.
In the end, negotiations failed. The deal was off and I was out of a job. I picked up the phone to call the sales manager at the new company who had hired me, confident that she would still take me on if I asked.

But I couldn't do it.

I realized, with my hand on the phone, that I absolutely, undeniably never, ever wanted to work for another person again. The process of crafting my business plan and securing a large sum of money, being coached by advisors and encouraged by mentors...it all changed me. I had greater understanding of what others could do for me, and most importantly, what I could do for myself. And to be that close to holding it all in my hands...I couldn't walk away and not have it. I had to try again.

That was my moment.

What was yours?

Weekly Affirmations for the Self-Employed

I do not have to do everything on my list today.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Electronic To-Do List Tool

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about my own explorations in creating an on-screen to-do list.

As it turns out, that's been a very popular post. Well, let me clarify: people searching for to-do list widgets has been very popular search. (If that's how you got here, see this post for a link to one.)

But if you haven't yet tried moving your to-do list from your desk to your computer screen consider these benefits:

Get serious
On a scrap of paper or post-it, tasks on the list appear to be less important. Typing it up your list makes you give it the kind of attention that you would a letter or business outline. Doing so sends a message to your subconscious that this is serious business to attend to.

Editable
The things you first write down on your to-do list may not be the highest priority, but on paper, if they stay at the top, you are more likely to try to get those done first. You risk not taking care of your highest priorities if you don't re-arrange the list. Even putting numbers next to the items in order of importance doesn't change the visual impression of what's most important. If your list is on paper, you have to waste time rewriting. On-screen, you can cut and paste quickly.

Visible
Lists on paper have a way of disappearing. On your computer screen, you're able to keep your list open and up all day.

The folks at 37signals (makers of Basecamp, a popular project management web app, and Backpack, an online sharable notepad) have Ta-da List, an easy, free to-do list tool that you can share with others, if you choose.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Top Five Surprisingly Necessary Qualities For Small Business Owners

(Note from Tara: This post is by Mark Silver, and appears on his Heart of Business blog. Used with the author's permission.)

It’s no joke, many small businesses end at a young age. Their owners, burnt out, broke, or simply preoccupied, give them up for good.

It can be a long, winding, rough path to get a business going. I’ve heard the same stories you have about the overnight sensations. But, for the vast majority of small business owners, it can take a lot of elbow grease and a lot of time before there seems to be any solidity.

When someone does move the sewing machine back into their home office, dusts off the resume, and heads back out into the job market, sometimes my heart aches for the missed opportunity and broken dreams. Other times I just nod, thinking it’s the best choice.

When is it which? And, more personally, how do you know whether you should stick it out and keep pushing, or give up?

A baseline assumption before we begin.

There are obvious questions: Are you providing a quality product or service? Do people need, use, and pay for things similar to what you’re offering? I’m going to start with the assumption that these are already established.

The real issue is that business comes, but not easily. You’ve been working really hard at it, and you’re exhausted and wondering if you should give up.

What does it really take to raise a business?

It doesn’t take an MBA from Harvard, or anywhere else. It doesn’t take spiritual enlightenment (although a grounded spiritual practice helps tremendously). And, it certainly doesn’t take a once-in-a-era miracle.

But it does take certain qualities. Five of them, in fact.

The Top Five Qualities

Everyone I’ve seen who’s gone from struggling to successful in business has been able to access these qualities, perhaps imperfectly and inconsistently, but they’ve got ‘em, and they cultivated them. And it pays off.

1. Vulnerability.
It’s okay to take off that armor, Lancelot. It’s too heavy and hot, anyway. Vulnerability is when you are open to letting things in. Want more money? You need to be vulnerable. Need help from others? Vulnerability. Learning about your blind spots, or something new about marketing… yup, vulnerability.

It’s the ability to say “I don’t know.” It’s the willingness to risk falling in love, and opening your heart. It’s when you say: “I can’t do it on my own. Can you help me?”

On this entire list, I rate vulnerability as the single most important success indicator for small business owners. Without it, you’re alone in the world, and can’t receive what you need. And, it’s hard to access the other four qualities without it.

2. Creativity.
Here’s how I define creativity: the ability to see how unlike things go together. Kinda like Sufism and Business, right? Creativity isn’t the power to create something out of nothing- it’s the insight to see what odd, strange, unlike things can be combined to be useful.

This helps in creating unique offers. This helps in finding a place to fit your home office when there isn’t a spare bedroom. This helps in spotting opportunities and niches.

It’s actually a poetic quality- and successful business owners cultivate this ability to fit odd pieces together in (sometimes) useful ways.

3. Trust. (or Faith.)
The stereotype is working seven days a week, late into the night, getting it all done. Yet, you can’t work ten to twelve hours every day and be truly productive. Things start to break down. You miss opportunities, fall blind to miracles. You need spaciousness.

And to get that spaciousness, you have to have trust. Without the deep trust in your heart that you are going to be okay, you can’t wrestle your to-do list to the ground and leave things, sometimes important things, undone, so you can access your creativity and aliveness.

4. Sovereignty.
You are in charge. It’s important, with vulnerability, to get advice, to learn, to let other sources of wisdom and experience guide you. But, when it comes down to it, you set the course.

Your business is a precious being, a vehicle for hopes, dreams, and transformative work in the world. It can provide a living for you, and perhaps others, and can help many people with some problem that’s creating struggle for them.

Finding inside yourself the willingness to act, sometimes with less care and more boldness. To take actions and make decisions, even if they are at times messy and imperfect. To be the captain of your ship. Without Sovereignty, you don’t have a business, you have a job.

5. Patience.
Wait for it… wait for it… Actually, the quality of Patience isn’t about waiting for your ship to come in. Patience is described by Sufi author and scholar Neil Douglas Klotz, in his book The Sufi Book of Life, as a pathway:

“This pathway can also help us work with projects or relationships where
progress is likely to be slow, over a long period of time. The heat of patience
and discomfort may, like a cooking compost pile, produce amazing future effects,
ones we couldn’t dream of…”

You aren’t going to make (six figures, a million, insert your lofty goal here) by New Year’s. Or by next New Year’s. But maybe three or five New Year’s hence, you just might. If you have Patience.

Can you order these Qualities on Amazon?

Uh… no. You can’t. That’s the troubling thing with these kinds of intangibles, you can’t buy them, you can’t create them, you can’t quantify them.

So, how do you get them? Let’s do the quick one-two-three.

Finish reading this article at Mark’s blog...go.

Mark Silver is founder of Heart of Business, a business consulting and healing practice that incorporates the Divine into work. He’s a Sufi healer and successful independent business owner in Portland, Oregon. Read more about Mark at Heart of Business.