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Is Your Company a “Fluffer” for Other Businesses?

Fluffer
fluffer [fluhf-er] n, slang: An off-stage person hired to keep a male porn star in a state of erection.
~
Dictionary.com

Okay, provocative headlines aside, business is a contact sport. It can get rough. No doubt about it … but, are you doing all the work, yet you’re never the star?

Here’s how you know. If you’re saying one of these 3 things, you’re fluffing:

  • “Hey, gotta pay the bills and keep the lights on”.
  • “Well, it’s just for now. Until we get rolling”.
  • “They’re going to bring us some real opportunities down the road”.

Well, you DO have to pay the bills. You CAN cut a client loose later and there REALLY might be bigger opportunities with that customer down the road.

Continue Reading …

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Snap*start: Free Business Forms to Download for Office from Zoomstart

Snapstart Business Forms

Projecting a professional image is important in business. Especially for small businesses. The last thing you want to do is hand a client an invoice you scribbled out in pencil on a piece of lined paper you ripped out of a 3 ring binder.

If you have a small business, a good set of business forms can run your company without the costs of buying and managing an accounting package. And if you’re on the road frequently and find you can’t access your company system, cranking out an invoice or whatever on the go keeps the business rolling forward. 

Snap*start Business Forms

One of the first things I created when I started messing around online was a package of professional business forms. There are lots of free forms around the internet, but most of them are not very high quality. The Snap*start package is. These are real forms; the kind that million dollar businesses use every day and they’ve come in very handy for me.

And best of all, they’re free!

Continue Reading …

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“Look Before You Leap” Test Marketing

Taking the Leap

There’s something to be said for coming up with a great idea and just jumping in to it. In fact, there’s a lot to be said about it and I can sum it up in 3 words … just do it. Entrepreneurs are about taking risks. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But there is no reward without the risk.

At the same time, you have to be ready and willing to just cut a bad idea loose no matter how much time and money you’ve pumped into it. The key is to get back on the horse immediately and move on to your next idea without missing a beat.

Risk Flipping

The biggest risk in any entrepreneurial venture is that you don’t know whether you can sell it until after you build it, roll it out, and start marketing it. Then it either flies or flops.

But if you could be certain of at least some measure of success, would you be more willing to take more of a risk? Would you invest more in the idea? Well sure, why not.

And that’s where test marketing comes in. And the beauty of the internet is that you can test-market anything relatively cheaply. And more importantly, you can test-market an idea BEFORE you invest anything else in it. And if you do it right, it can cost you almost nothing.

Free (or almost free) CPC Test Marketing

The idea is really simple. Create a simple landing page based around an idea you have. Throw some Google ads up on the page … make sure they’re prominent, high on the page, and blend in well. These will help you get your advertising dollars back and minimize the cost of your testing.

Now start advertising and promoting your page using AdWords or whatever. This is basic arbitrage and you probably won’t make much if any money on it. But I’ve found it’s a great way to test-market an idea for … well, pretty much free.

This kind of test-marketing lets you see how well people respond to your idea by:

  • The amount of traffic you can get with your advertising. This comes from a combination of the keywords you choose to target your advertising, how compelling your ads are, and how big a market there is for your idea.
  • The type of ads that are shown on your page that people are compelled to click on. Because Google AdSense is contextual and shows ads related to your page text, this is a very powerful measure of how well you can match your landing page text (related to your idea) to writing compelling ads that draw in people who are interested in your idea.

Put 10 or 20 of your ideas to the test. When you find one that gets a great response across the board, that’s the one you start developing. That’s the one you want to take a risk on.

You might find that your big kick-butt idea won’t fly but your so-so idea is actually a huge winner. Only test marketing can tell you for sure.

Now jump.

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Future-Proof Your Business by Creating a Method from the Madness

Solutions

Nobody knows your business better than you do. And that’s the problem.

Every new successful venture is built on the back of key people with experience and know-how. But at some point, that’s just not a practical way to run a business. You can’t grow a business if you depend on key people alone.

The McDonalds Training Program

When I was a kid, everybody talked about McDonalds’ training program. It was revolutionary. They didn’t just hire people and teach them sorta-kinda how to flip a burger. They had a very specific training program for every job that needed to be done … here’s how you flip a burger. Here’s how you wash the floor. Everything.

That program is one of the things that’s often overlooked when people analyze the success of the company. The training programs they designed allowed the franchise to expand very quickly and maintain consistent service and quality at the same time.

Building Your Own Processes and Procedures

The key, is to keep it simple. And in the beginning it’s really important to keep everything flexible. That way you can build a huge amount of scalability into your business processes but still tweak them and evolve them as you learn better ways to do things.

Here’s a simple example …

Let’s say you send out dozens of packages everyday. And each of those packages needs to be wrapped up with 20 feet of string. The “experienced” person just pulls a length of string off the roll and knows instinctively that it’s the right length.

When it comes time to hire other people to do this, it’s going to take them time to get the hang of it. And some people will take quite a while before they do. You need a procedure. A simple one.

So you stretch your arms out and realize that’s about 5 feet. Pulling 4 lengths of string off the roll using the rough measurement of outstretched arms makes 20 feet. Suddenly, you have a simple process. Now you can literally teach someone in seconds how to pull 20 feet of string off the roll to wrap a package.

So The Big Question is “When”?

Eventually you WILL have to build processes and procedures to run your business effectively. And “How” is something you’ll figure out along the way. So the real question is when do you need to do it?

The answer is simple; when you have people to train. There’s no point in building your procedures until you have people to pass them on to. And you’ll get real-time feedback from the people you’re training as you design the processes as well. You’ll even get some great ideas from your trainees.

At the same time, you don’t want to wait too long. As soon as you start expanding and bringing in new people, it’s time to start designing some basic procedures for how to do whatever you do. Start with a few and add more as you need them.

And as always, keep it simple. Things have a way of getting complicated all by themselves.

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How to Hire the Superstars Your Company Needs

Crowd cheering superstar

A couple friends that used to work for me recently asked me to be a reference for jobs they’re applying to. They’re both top-notch. They’re the kind of people that are a huge asset to a team.

Which got me to thinking about how you find good people. People are a company’s most important asset. By far. You need  to choose good people … the right people, if you want to build a great company.

So here’s a tip or two to help you do that …

Checking References

I honestly never put a lot of stock in references. You need to check a person’s references, but seriously, how many people are gonna have you call up someone who has nothing good to say about them? Not too many.

In professional circles though, the more references you can get, the better. There is the odd time when you’ll run into someone who’s burned a lot of bridges and messed a lot of people over by doing shady business or shoddy work. And even the people that like them, their references, will give you the straight goods.

The best kind of reference is when you can see real examples of someone’s previous work.

Skills and Experience

The importance of skills and experience is completely dependent on what you’re hiring a person to do. And what kind of team you already have in place. Here are a couple things to consider:

  • Do you need to bring in some new expertise to tackle a certain area?
  • Do you have the expertise in house to train someone?
  • Will you need to un-train someone with experience and then train them to do things the way your company does them?

Just like with references, you don’t want to rely on someone’s skills or experience to carry your company into the future before you really know what they can do. There are career burger-flippers who can’t build a burger without making a total mess of it and there are trained surgeons who shouldn’t be allowed near a scalpel.

The Proof is in The Pudding

It takes time to build a great team. It takes time to find the right people. And it takes time to turn good people into great people. You can speed up that process by always keeping your eye on good people. But it takes working with great people on a previous venture to find a kick-butt team fast.

To do it from scratch, you’re gonna have to test-drive a few people. Maybe a lot of people. Good references are a step in the right direction. And bringing in people with strong skills and experience is a step in the right direction.

But at the end of the day, you’ll only know you hired a superstar after they give you consistent superstar performance.

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Bridging the Gap: Arbitrage, Online and Off

The Tower Bridge … bridging the gap

I’ve been playing around with some online arbitrage lately. It’s something that you can do online and off, and although the margins can be very tight, arbitrage is scalable and relatively low risk as long as you stay on top of it.

Online Arbitrage

Despite what you might have heard, it’s a perfectly legitimate business model, provided you’re not creating MFA or made for AdSense sites that offer no value to users. I don’t like them. I certainly don’t condone them. But good arbitrage helps bridge the gap between two different markets.

Legitimate arbitrage is tricky because your goal is to make money. That means you want to get traffic in and get it back out again as efficiently as possible. But if your site doesn’t add any value to the user experience, your quality score will go way down and it’ll be tough to turn a buck no matter how well you can turn over your traffic.

The real key to arbitrage is to add value to the user experience. Your primary goal has to be creating a quality site. You’re trading efficiency for quality, and even though the amount of traffic to your ads will go down, the cost per click will go up significantly and it’ll be much easier to turn a healthy profit.

The sites I’m working on right now are making a return of about 15%. In other words, I’m making about $15 for every hundred I spend on traffic. They should do much better, but I’ve just started developing them and the quality score is not on my side yet and won’t be until the sites are more fully developed.

On the one hand, 15% means I have to spend about $35k a month to get $40k for a profit of $5000 a month. Seems risky and capital intensive. But on the other hand, this is a monthly turnover, and simply annualizing this rate shows a return of 180%. Still about 20 times better than your average mutual fund. So it depends on how you look at it.

It is a scalable business, and the key is to start small and keep at it and keep scaling it upwards.

Offline Arbitrage

In the real world, many businesses practice arbitrage. And not just in the financial markets. Brokers that practice drop-shipping are doing a form of arbitrage. Basically they’re buying a good from the manufacturer and selling it to the customer but they don’t take possession of it themselves in between.

This means they don’t have the liability of inventory that might not sell. They don’t buy an item until the customer has bought it from them first. Relatively low risk.

Just like online arbitrage, the margins can be very slim if your service quality is lacking. Especially if you’re competing with another manufacturer who will sell directly to your customer. This is especially true in business-to-business transactions. There’s not a lot of margin there for you to be competitively priced as a middle-man and still take a profit.

But you can increase your profit with quality. By being a single-source specialist in your industry or by offering a wide array of goods that are used in a variety of industries, you can do very well. Focusing on a niche market allows you to cut volume-discount deals with manufacturers and ramp up your profits on every sale.

Arbitrage … online or offline, business is business.

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Beef Up Your Sales with a Signature Line of Products

Four cows not playing poker

I was watching Leno last night. Blue collar comedian Jeff Foxworthy was on and one of the things he was promoting was his new, signature barbecue sauce. He alluded that someone just approached him with the idea and he liked it.

This kind of joint venture happens a lot. And it’s a win-win-win deal …

The Celebrity Wins

They bring in a new income stream (Tiger Woods earned $12 million golfing and $100 million through endorsements last year). Signature products also help celebrities strengthen their own personal brand; they get their name out there in front of people; on shelves and in commercials and other promotions.

Consumers Win

It’s a trust thing. Celebrities already have a personal brand. The last thing they (or their managers) want to do is cheapen that brand with a lousy product. It happens, but generally signature products are somewhere in between good and great.

You Win

The hardest thing to do is approach a buyer at a major retail chain and present them with yet another “whatever”. They’ve already got 10 brands on the shelf and they’ll do everything they can to convince you that the market is saturated. If you can even get in the door, they’ll often just flat-out tell you “no”.

But buyers aren’t stupid. You’ll still have to buy shelf space at any large retailer (yep, that’s how it works), but they’ll make room for you if you have a signature product, a smart marketing plan, and the cash to get started. The best way to start without a ton of cash is to start getting your product into distributors and small retailers that won’t charge you for face-time with the consumer.

Whether the product is great or just good, you can get a higher price than your competitors can. This helps bankroll the product marketing in the beginning, and pay the extra cost of splitting the profit with your celebrity partner.

Think about these massive successes:

Simple Tips For Starting a Signature Line Joint Venure

Creating a signature line of products is more than just an endorsement. It’s a partnership. A joint venture. That makes it more lucrative and appealing to a potential celebrity partner. And more appealing to investors, retailers and consumers. It IS a brand, and it’s more powerful than just an endorsement of another brand.

Think “partnership” …

  1. Find a star who isn’t crazy. Outrageous can be good, but downright loony celebrities are bad for business. They can destroy themselves as well as your products appeal to consumers.
  2. The product has to fit the personality. You can get creative matching products with stars, but you don’t want to approach Paul McCartney with an idea for a signature line of seal-skin slippers.
  3. Build a better than average product. Consumers associate excellence with celebrities. And celebrities associate it with themselves. A new twist, innovative design, or a little something extra is gonna go a long way to locking in the partnership and selling the product.

Signature line ventures are about leveraging an existing brand. They’re about taking one success and rolling it into another and they can change the whole game for a product. Just like that …

Baby, you’re a star.

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Customer Loyalty is all about Making Unconditional Connections

Our four legged friends have much to teach us

Most dogs can teach anyone more about loyalty in 10 minutes than all the classes, workshops, books and gurus on the subject combined.

Dogs are intensely loyal. They’re good at it. They know the true secret; it’s unconditional. Because it’s not something you get. It’s something you give.

3 Quick Stories about Customer Loyalty

In business, you can connect with people whether you’re the buyer or the seller. I like to meet people and form a connection even when I’m doing something as simple as buying a pizza. These quick little stories are from my perspective as “the customer”. You’ll see why later.

1. Pop. No Snap, No Crackle

Everyone loves pizza. Half the time I get it delivered and half the time I’ll go out to a pub or something. The third half of the time, I order it and go pick it up. The reason I go pick it up is because I want to know the people there. And I want them to know me.

A couple weeks ago I went to pick up a pizza and the manager says “Hey, take a free pop”. I looked at him puzzled. He replies, “You’re in here all the time. You’re a really good customer”.

No big fanfare or expense. Just a simple gesture. Connection. Mission accomplished.

2. “Bin” There, Seen That

Everyone hates going to the video store only to find all the good movies are already out. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re still sitting in the return bin. Whenever I run into my local video store I like to chat with the people there. I like to get their opinions on different movies. And I let them know what I thought of this or that movie.

I see a lot of people ask for a particular movie only to be told “They’re all out”. But whenever I ask, I usually get a different answer; “Let me check the bin for you”. Connection.

3. Sock it to ‘Em

If you’ve read my About page, you know that I go out with friends just about every Sunday for a 3 hour power-breakfast. The girls at the Yucca Tree are as much a part of the “club” and the conversation as we are.

Just before last Christmas I called 10 minutes before they opened and thought they were closed. We were disappointed. They were disappointed. After the holidays they had gifts waiting for us. I got socks. I forget what we got them. But again … connection.

Unconditional Means You Go First

These are not big, amazing stories. That’s the point. Connections are small and simple and easy to make.

But someone has to start. Someone has to reach out. Whether you’re the buyer or the seller; for customer loyalty or any kind of loyalty to happen, someone has to go first. No strings attached.

Just ask your dog. He knows.

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Find your Deal-Breakers and Fix Them to Capture more Sales

Thumbs up vs thumbs down deals

A deal-breaker is something a customer just can’t get past to make the purchase. If your products and services have too many built-in deal breakers, it could hurt your business.

A Deal-Breaker Example

I’ve been looking at buying a new laptop recently. I really like the Lenovo T61p. I like as much power as you can cram into a laptop and in benchmark tests this bad box absolutely dominates any laptop in its class you can throw up against it.

Then there are the deal breakers … The T61p has a matt finish screen. I really like a bright glossy screen. Lenovo also doesn’t have any real retail distribution. I can order it off the internet easily enough but I’m touchy-feely. I gotta try it before I buy it.

I simply can’t get past these two points. They’re deal-breakers. And so the search goes on and I’ll wait a few months and see what other manufacturers come out with.

Finding and Fixing the Deal-Breakers in your Business

Sometimes it takes a creative solution to fix a deal-breaker. But most of the time, once you find it you know exactly how to fix it. So the real key here is finding it and there are 3 easy ways to do that:

  1. Look at past sales failures. Experience tells you everything you need to know about what sells and what doesn’t. Every sales failure is an opportunity to tweak or develop your offering.
  2. Look at what the competition is offering. It’s always good to keep your eye on the competiton. What’s working for them? What’s not? You can benefit from their experience too.
  3. Get customer feedback. Successful sales can tell you a lot as well. Talk to your customers. Survey them. If you get a lot of similar feedback on something they’d like to see or wish was different that’s a strong signal. Even though “the thing they didn’t like” wasn’t a deal-breaker for them, it might be for a lot of other potential customers.

Not every deal-breaker is worth fixing. If I’m the only person who wants a glossy laptop screen, and the only one who needs to get my greasy fingerprints all over it before I buy it, then it’s not worth the cost for Lenovo to add that option. Sometimes you just have to say no.

But routinely looking at your goods and services and finding deal-breakers you can fix will bring in more sales. It’s also a good way to keep your products in the evolutionary loop so they don’t get stale.

It’s your deal. If you can break it, you can fix it.

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Building Alliances Between Your Customers that Bring You Business

Slam dunk deals on the golf course

Good business is all about building relationships. You want to KNOW the people you’re doing business with. You want to know that they’re knowledgeable and dependable. You want to know they’re the right supplier for your business or a good customer who pays their bills. Your business is counting on it.

Building those relationships involves entertaining or “getting to know you” time. Most companies will entertain a potential customer to land the account. Some take it a step further and regularly entertain their best customers to maintain that good relationship.

And then there are some companies that really know how to build profitable alliances …

Networking Your Customers Together

One of the best things you can do for your customers is bring them new business because the more they’re selling, the more they’re buying. From you. Your businesses both grow together.

The easiest way for you to help them get more business is to introduce them to your other customers.

By putting on a customer appreciation event and entertaining a group of your customers together, you’re creating a networking event where your customers can make deals with each other. Their businesses flourish and grow as a result, and the amount of business they have to give you goes up.

The best part; you’re right there to work with them and supply whatever they need to make their new deal happen.

Good Networking Events

A simple networking event might involve bringing a few key customers together where you see potential for them to work together. A bigger event that brings most of your customers together in one spot offers a lot more potential because it offers each of them more opportunity to strike a deal that fits their business.

Here are a few key points to staging a networking event:

  1. Make it a schmoozing event. Save the game tickets for one-on-one customer appreciation. You want your customers to interact with each other rather than be a captive audience at a sporting event. Good events include golf tournaments, fishing trips, barbecues or dinner parties; give your customers a venue where they can mingle and get to know each other.
  2. Introduce opportunities. The last thing you want to do is jump into the middle and try to run your customer’s business for them. Don’t push your deal ideas on them. Introduce opportunities by making sure that you introduce as many people to each other as you can. Be the host. Introduce them and introduce their strengths to get the conversation rolling.
  3. Create a memorable event. A networking event is a great place to strengthen your branding. A great annual event is a great way to build a sense of membership. They give your customers something to look forward to and make them happy about being your customers and getting that invite. Think customer appreciation. If none of your customers strike a deal that brings you more business, you’ve still strengthened your relationship with each one of them.

Appreciating your customers is good for business.

Letting them appreciate each other is really good for business.

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