Friday, September 20, 2013

Get the Most From Your SCORE Counseling Session

imageThis article was written by Barry McKinley, SCORE Orange County Business Mentor

As a SCORE Counselor I have conducted more than 2,000 face to face counseling sessions. Through these experiences I have come away with a number of suggestions & observations. Successful people rarely reach the top without a lot of help along the way. The skill to ask for help and the willingness to accept suggestions is a key quality that stands out by those who are driven to succeed.

The function of your mentor is to give advice and share their wisdom. What problem(s) you may be facing for the first time your mentor may have experienced a very similar or same challenge in their career. They are able to help you to see the overall picture and solutions. Your mentor doesn’t need to have experience in your industry or be up on the latest trends and technology, there are other sources for that. In seeking counseling your goal should be help and direction in seeing the overall picture of what you are faced with and possible ideas and answers.

Steps for Success:

1. Be 10 minutes early for your appointment and prepared.

2. Google some of your questions and research your business ideas.

3. Keep in mind there is a big difference between a dream and reality.

4. Leave your ego in the waiting room. Never become defensive-sometimes the truth may hurt, but wouldn’t you rather hear it before you make a big investment?

5. Be brief but complete with your background, skills & expectations of counseling.

6. Learn to tell your story, clearly and to the point. Be sure to include any important information, i.e.: “the lease expires in two months, or I have two other partners!”

7. Be sure to clearly state your goals and what you would like the counseling session to help you with.

8. Know your mentors background or ask them for a brief resume review. This then provides a solid understanding of their opinions and knowledge.

9. Keep in mind your mentor is not a “Mind Reader”. They certainly can’t see the whole puzzle if you only give them some of the pieces and no picture.

10. Be prepared, have a list of questions that you want to ask. Be willing to accept other answers then what you expected or hoped for.

11. Be logical, do you really expect a bank to loan you money if you have poor credit, no assets or no business experience?

12. Be mindful of the time. Normally counseling sessions are for a period of time. If you waste time in your story, meaningless questions or small talk you will not have enough time to discuss your challenges.

13. Be willing to listen, the only time counseling becomes effective is when you are receiving input.

14. Take notes during your counseling session.

15. Be sure that you summarize what you have learned and clarify what the next step is.

Too many times in a counseling session the client, not hearing what they anticipated will try to defend their position. This is an effective way to force your mentor to offer no further options as it just creates arguments and tension. Over the years in business I asked for help 100’s of times. I learned to listen to the information and ask logical questions even if the answers did not agree with my beliefs or research. I then took all of the information I received and apply what made sense for me in my business situation.

It is critical to remember that a SCORE Counselor is doing this for FREE and they have absolutely nothing to gain by giving you certain information or seeing you multiple times. ‘For- Pay’ Mentors/Counselors and Life Coaches make their living by seeing clients, needless to say the more appointments they schedule the more fees they generate. So the smarter ‘For- Pay’ counselors give you just enough information to get you to return for your next paying appointment.

Your hour session with a SCORE Counselor could easily be an experience that you would pay $500+ per hour in the private sector. So be sure to get the most out of it.

Avoid Marketing Blunders When Starting Your Business

imageThis article was written by John Rau, SCORE Orange County Business Mentor

In developing your marketing strategy as part of your business plan, you need to be careful to avoid marketing blunders and related mistakes. These could occur in how you market yourself and your business as well as how you choose to name and advertise your products or services.

The potential for marketing blunders occurs very early in the start-up process. For example, one of your first steps would be to file a Doing Business As (DBA) or Fictitious Business Name Statement with the county in which you plan to operate. One reason for doing this is to avoid duplication of business names in the county. If you intend to incorporate your business, then the State Commissioner of Corporations may not allow you to use the same name as some other company already registered with the state. Your business name, product name(s) and related identifiers or logos may already be restricted for use by Trademark, Service Mark or even copyright constraints. You will need to check this with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as well as with the U.S. Copyright Office for any federal such restrictions. Checking with the state equivalent agencies will enable you to ascertain whether or not there are any state-level restrictions on the use of names or business identifiers you have selected. The “blunder” you are trying to avoid here is to be successful and make lots of money only to find out you have been selling a product with a name owned by someone else. They could easily sue you and demand some or all of the profits. Worse yet, if your product infringes on someone’s patent, you’ve got a real legal problem. These are all types of blunders that you can generally avoid early in the start-up process through working with your business attorney.

When coming up with creative ways to promote your business, you need to carefully think through your plans to avoid marketing blunders that might do more harm than good. A quick search of the Internet will reveal multiple articles regarding marketing no-no’s. A “non-attributable” summary of the “best-of-the-best” such examples by mistake category is as follows:

  • Market focus
    • Marketing to an audience that is too broad, that is, trying to sell your products and services to everyone and their brother, rather than directing your marketing message to a targeted audience. You have to clearly define your target market and narrow the groups of people your marketing is trying to reach.
  • Marketing budget
    • Your ad budget gets blown in a one-shot marketing gamble. If the first try doesn’t work (and often it doesn’t), there is no money left for a second or third try. Business owners who spend their entire marketing budget on a launch, set themselves up to fail in the long run.
    • Cutting marketing when the economy is bad. Marketing keeps you visible when the market is slow and helps generate leads, builds credibility and ensures that your prospects know that you are alive and well. Reduced spending and ensuring your marketing dollar is spent wisely is important, but cutting marketing is the biggest mistake small businesses can make in tough economic times.
  • Marketing message
    • Your approach to advertising is not consistent. You get consistent, long-term results by continuing your ad(s) over weeks and months.
    • Your marketing fails to tie different media together. Make your ads in different media all relate to each other. Don’t present mixed and confusing messages.
    • Your marketing gets lost in the crowd because of multiple marketing messages across many media that people receive daily. Separate your ad from the pack by making it talk directly to something the prospect really cares about. It should point out a problem your product or service can solve.
    • Ads are too passive in the sense that they do not have any “calls to action”. If your sales letters, flyers, brochures and ads are producing no results, the reason might be that they’re boring, poorly laid out, or offer the prospect no solid reason to take action. Some sales letters and ads don’t even tell the prospect specifically what they should do to respond to the offer such as call for more information, visit, e-mail or whatever. Tell them what you would like them to do.
    • Not having a clear marketing message. Marketing messages that are contrived, confusing, too subtle or too long can easily miss your target market entirely. The most ingenious marketing plan is wasted if no one gets it.
  • Social media and web use
    • Not using social media and your web site to your advantage. Social media has become the “top dog” in the overall marketing arena. Having a dormant social page is certainly not going to portray success, nor will it magically create a positive turnaround for any struggling business. Don’t believe the hype that the Internet is somehow dead or dying. Use your web site to give visitors all the information they need to understand and buy your product or service.
    • Ignoring the “out of sight, out of mind” principle. You need to be visible and keep your name before the public. Make sure that your web site can be found on the search engines via Search Engine Optimization.
  • Who are you and what are you selling
    • Lack of branding and/or inconsistent branding. Branding is an essential part of marketing. Launching an advertising campaign before identity has been established gives the impression that you’re not sure about your product or service either. Incorporate your logo, trademarks, service marks and any other identifiers on all of your literature so people will recognize who you are.
    • Marketing without a unique selling proposition. This is the one single statement that will single you out from amongst the competition. If you don’t offer customers and prospects one or more distinctive reasons to choose your company over the competition, you can be sure they won’t feel compelled to try your products and services.
  • Measuring results
    • Failure to measure which marketing campaigns actually benefit your business. You should establish metrics to enable you to assess what works, how well and what doesn’t.
  • Right team structure
    • Acting like a marketing expert when you’re not. Hire experts to help you do the marketing and promotion of your business thus enabling you to focus on what you do best, namely, running the business.
    • Not surrounding yourself with the right people. Don’t necessarily rely on friends and family unless they have a track record of successful business experience. Add experts and specialists to your team who have the proper success credentials.
  • Market research and testing
    • Lack of research and testing of your planned marketing efforts before implementing them. Conduct some “trial runs” with selected customers or focus groups to get their reactions before launching your marketing campaign.
  • Customer relationships
    • Failing to capture repeat customers. Don’t ignore your existing customer base at the expense of trying to capture new customers. Too often marketing campaigns focus heavily on attracting new customers and not building relationships with current ones. Remember that repeat customers can drum up new business for you.
    • Lack of focus on potential customer needs. You need to make sure that you really know what your potential customers need and want.
    • Giving up on your prospects after just one or two follow-ups. Effective marketers know that persistence and repetition are vital for success. By following up repeatedly, you will have a better chance of getting the sale if you are uppermost in their minds. You can only do that by consistently following up.
  • Market planning and strategy
    • Winging it—not doing proper planning. Set realistic goals for your business, assess how you will accomplish those goals, and then launch a marketing plan specifically designed to reach them.
    • Changing your marketing strategy too frequently. Just because you are tired of your marketing plan doesn’t mean it isn’t working. Too many businesses make changes because they think they have to. You should never stop using something that is still working. Try to use a slow, steady, gradual growth strategy because it takes time for marketing efforts to ramp up and gain traction.
    • Basing your marketing strategy on guesses, assumptions or advice from friends, relatives or business associates. The best way to develop a successful and profitable marketing strategy is to use the knowledge, experience and skills of those individuals who have already discovered the marketing approaches that do work as well as the approaches that don’t work. Add them to your team.
    • Starting too late. Time your marketing campaigns to coincide with new products, new services, seasonal sales or an upcoming event that will attract business. Seasonal marketing efforts should start well in advance of any holiday. If you wait too long, your competition may have already “beat you to the punch”.
    • Not focusing your activities. The value of developing a plan is to set the direction of your marketing activities so you can focus your efforts. Once you decide on your strategy, you need to stay focused on executing that strategy.
  • Competitive landscape
    • Ignoring what your competitors are doing and what they seem to be successful at. When a business owner loses market share to a competitor, there is a very specific reason why this is happening. There are only two logical answers, namely: either the competitor is doing something right or you are doing something wrong which your competition is capitalizing on. Always keep abreast of what your competitors are doing.
  • Company image
    • Focusing your marketing message on what a magnificent company you have, how many awards you have won and how you have grown over the last few years. This should be supportive information, not your primary marketing message. Your customers don’t care who you are or how great your company is. They only want to know how working with you is going to fulfill a need or a desire. The reality of the situation is that customers are really only interested in one thing, namely, “How is this product or service that you are offering is going to make their life better?” or “What’s in it for me?”

To put things in perspective, Martin Zwilling in his September 28, 2011 article in Entrepreneurs puts the above discussion in the proper context as follows. “The reality is that making mistakes is part of every successful growth effort. The one unforgivable mistake you should never make is to repeat a previous mistake. In the end, ask yourself this question: Is it better to try and fail, or never have tried at all? To grow in the business world, never trying is not an option.”

Building Bridges or Burning Them?

By John C. Maxwell, from his blog, February 3, 2013, reprinted by permission

I’ve been fascinated by bridges ever since I was a kid. I vividly remember a trip to Vermont one autumn with my parents. The orange and red leaves were spectacular, but what I remember most were the bridges. Vermont is a state full of beautiful wooden covered bridges.

I’m captivated by the bridges in Shanghai, too. They’re the opposite of Vermont’s—sleek suspension bridges that arch and loop and stretch to the sky. Each one is a work of art.

My last trip there got me to thinking about the bridges we have in our lives—the things connecting us to other people, our past and our future. I think, now that I’m in my 60s, I finally have a handle on which ones we need to burn, which to cross and which to build.

Burnin’ Love

Author and consultant Harvey Mackay says, “He who burns bridges better be a darn good swimmer.” I think that’s true—if you’re burning bridges to people. Those are not the kinds of bridges you want to destroy. Instead, incinerate the bridges that keep you stuck to past failures, self-doubt and the wrongs that have been done to you.

Let’s start with those “wrongs”—hurtful words, stabs in the back, your own lingering grudges. Stooping to other people’s pettiness only makes those sores bigger. The low road, moreover, is bad for the soul.

Forget the wrongs and the hurts. (It’s easy for me—I’m getting older and I forget stuff all the time). I like how writer and artist Elbert Hubbard puts it: “Successful people forget. They know the past is irrevocable.... Magnanimous people forget. They’re too big to let little things disturb them.” So get out your matchbook and burn, baby, burn.

Next you’ve got to stop hanging on to the useless feeling that life’s not fair. It’s not. Some people are bestowed the right gifts, the right talents, the right parents. Others aren’t. Some days we’re the pigeon and others we’re the statue. Grab your matchbook again.

A third bridge now stands between you and success. Examine your life and determine what is keeping you from reaching your potential. Now torch what I call those “growth inhibitors.” Is your workplace toxic rather than uplifting? Do something to fix it or move on. Are you clinging to bad habits? You know, in order to go up, you need to grow up. Break out the kerosene and feed your inner pyro-maniac as you let go of all the ways you hold yourself down.

You need to be realistic, of course, and look only at the inhibitors you can do something about. I’ll never be a musician, for example, because I don’t have the necessary gifts. But I can do something about the environment in which I choose to live and work, the people I surround myself with, the way I deal with hardships, and the tradeoffs I make to reach my goals.

VIP Crossing

Many people get caught up in the treadmill of their working lives. They wake up, go to the office, toil over their assigned task, go home and repeat. They work hard but don’t feel like they’re actually getting anywhere. How do you turn that around? Look for experiences that you can use as bridges to personal growth, and cross them.

One of my early mentors told me if you want to be great, you need to visit great places and meet great people. I took it to heart. When I go to a city I’ve never visited, I learn about its history and go to places where significant events have occurred. I make time to visit places associated with leaders who inspire me. Just a few weeks ago I was at John F. Kennedy’s presidential library. When I go to such a place, I absorb every scrap of material that might help me grow as a leader.

In 2011 I took a trip to Robben Island in South Africa and visited the cell where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner. He spent 18 years there, grinding rocks in a quarry by day and returning to his solitary cell by night. Here’s what I learned: You cannot lock up greatness. Our surroundings need not control our spirits. People who devalue us do not determine our value. And out of our brokenness we can be made whole and bring healing to others. I gleaned all that from crossing one bridge to see a place of inspiration and study one of my greatest role models.

People matter. “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out,” physician and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer once said. “It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

Find those people who light a fire under you and cross bridges to greet them. Who rekindles your spirit? Where do you find daily instruction? If you want your life to improve, you need to cross the bridge to personal growth every day.

Build to Last

If you have any success at all in your life, then there is a bridge you need to build—for those who follow.

I once had the opportunity to spend a few days with management expert Peter Drucker. He said that the No. 1 problem facing good leaders is their lack of a succession plan. Leaders don’t often enough raise up other good leaders and prepare a way for them.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once said, “Our nation needs bridges, and bridges are built by those who look to the future and dedicate themselves to helping others. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future: It is you.”

Your talent, skills, opportunities and experience have uniquely qualified you to do something in this world. Whatever that something is, you need to pass it on. You may do that with a single person or with thousands. The number is largely out of your control. What is in your control is whether you do it.

So if you haven’t already, start with one. I guarantee you, you’ll never regret it.

3 Ways to Determine Your Own Salary

By John D. Roth, September 18, 2013, reprinted by permission

Jason Bussanich runs Westlake Chiropractic in Lake Oswego, Ore. His wife, Kyra, owns Crave Bake Shop, a popular gluten-free bakery. They work hard, and their businesses do well, but you wouldn't know it from their meager paychecks.

"For the first two years I ran the business, I didn't take a dime," Kyra says. "Even now I take just enough to pay my household bills." Her accountant says she could pay herself more, but Kyra would rather reinvest in her business.

Jason faces similar issues. "I feel guilty if I don't put money back into the business," he says. "I'm in my second year now, and I've been paying myself less than my employees so I could afford a recent remodel and new equipment."

By the Numbers

• Base your monthly salary on the lowest monthly earnings from the previous 12 months, not the highest.
• The National Federation of Independent Business says that, as a general rule, owners of profitable small businesses don't take more than 50 percent of profits for themselves.
• Start an emergency fund. "Try to keep a minimum of one month of expenses in the business, just in case," says entrepreneur Jason Bussanich. "It keeps stress down. I usually won't pay myself if it means dipping into that one-month buffer."

If you're in the trenches of running your own business, this couple's predicament likely comes as no surprise. But here's the thing: Like them, you probably didn't launch a business to make less money than you did at your last job. The whole point is to follow your entrepreneurial dream to a better life, right?

I'm here to tell you that it's all right to think about funding that better life sooner rather than later. While there is no one correct answer as to how to pull this off, there are ways to put money in your pocket and grow your business. Consider these methods:

Pay yourself what you're worth

Make use of online resources such as Salary.com or Glassdoor.com to discover what others in your position and geographic region typically earn. Some business owners find that this method motivates them to succeed.

"I set a salary for myself," says Amanda K. Larrinaga, a serial entrepreneur based in Denver. "If I can't cover everything, I hold off on my salary but mark it as a debt the business owes. It's amazing how quickly I've adjusted [my costs] to be sure I get paid."

Make every month a bonus month

Many business owners pay themselves whatever's left at the end of the day. "I pay all of the business-related expenses each month, set aside funds for taxes, and then the rest is salary," says Debbie Dragon, co-owner of Valley View, Pa.-based Trifecta Online. "It's different every month because the earnings are different every month."

Pay yourself the absolute minimum

If your business is in growth mode (any new company's default), consider paying yourself just enough to cover your mortgage/rent, car and household expenses. The Bussaniches, for instance, draw enough income to put food on the table while funneling the rest of their earnings back into their companies. But be sure you're working toward a plan to pay yourself. If your business model doesn't include a line item for your salary that grows along with your company, it's not a realistic model.