A Creative Business Approach
Whether you're responsible for a one-man operation -- a writer or consultant for example -- or a multi-level company with thousands of employees, you'll find that it's easy to lose sight of where you're going and what you're trying to accomplish. With the pull of public perceptions, the demands of technology and the limited number of hours we each have to work with, it's not at all difficult to see how your business can lose perspective.
For this reason, Creative Options attempts to serve as a repository of insightful references and resources to help you get back to basics and regain some perspective.
We don't expect that all thoughts expressed here will be popular. Nor will every article fit every situation. But we do intend that the offerings here will give businesses and professionals food for thought...and clues that will provide answers to the most pressing issues facing businesses -- large and small.
Starting a new business can be an overwhelming undertaking. That is, it can be IF you don't have a firm purpose and a road map for how you intend to accomplish your goals.
When you decide that you're going to become self-employed, you make a decision that come-what-may you're going to rely on your own resources to support yourself and your family. This is one American dream that you can't afford to take lightly. It demands that you tap into a strong sense of Trust...trust in your ability, trust the validity of your decisions. It also requires that you understand that more than 90% of your success will come from your ability to find and work with people that you trust - and who trust you.
You'll want to get all the help you can right from the git'go. Here are some places for you to begin:
Jim Vale - Aspen Consulting
You may be working for yourself but you certainly aren't going to be alone -- not if you want to make a success of this endeavor. That's why we begin with managing people. You are going to be solely responsible for managing yourself and your activities (heaven forbid -- no one to look over your shoulder and keep statistical records on your accomplishments).
And, you're going to need to manage your family life and your friends. Yes, they are silent partners in your endeavors. Without their understanding and support you're going to fall on your face.
You're going to be managing relationships with other businesses and professionals. Networking with others who are actively pursuing similar goals will facilitate your success. Even working with your competition will help you in the long run. Yes, competition is a good thing....if you manage it well.
As you become more competent in managing your people relationships, you'll move into what the "big boys" call Public Relations which is a subset of Marketing. But that will come fairly naturally if you recognize, from the very beginning, that managing your relationships with each and every person in your sphere of influence is critical to your ultimate success as a mini-business -- no matter what you do.
And what does that mean, you ask. Well, let's start with communications. Writers recognize the basic principals of communications. And, they work diligently to shore up their skills. Public Speakers do, too.
The most difficult aspect of communications is recognizing that it's a two-way street. It does no good to be able to put all the right words in glitzy language if you don't speak the language of the person(s) you're communicating with. And it does even less good to create the very best communication packages (verbal or written) if you don't live what you say.
You'll learn that the people on the other end are very astute. They may listen and even follow through but if you have a hidden agenda -- or if you are just paying lip service hoping that you'll impress them -- forget it. It won't take long before the word gets around when you speak with forked tongue.
When evaluating your communications efforts, you'll want to get input from experts. Of course, you can write and speak -- everyone can. But without bouncing your communication efforts off an expert, you run the risk of failing to get your message across effectively. Worse, you may well offend those you are trying to communicate with.
Large and small companies alike frequently have a blind-spot when it comes to communications. They're so focused on themselves that they just don't pay attention to how their communications affect the customer. Or they're so concerned about protecting their proprietary business that they turn off their potential customers and clients, even before they make contact.
If you're going to do it yourself, spend time learning everything you can about how the pros communicate. What are the qualities of great communication -- communication that influences people? Honesty, consistency and mutuality are critical. But there's a whole lot more than that.
On the internet you'll find tools to help stay in touch on a regular basis. One example is Autoresponders. These enable you to set up messages and deliver them in a timed sequence. Just be careful. Autoresponders are easily abused. You want to stay in close touch with your target market on a personal level even while you use automation.
Money is important. It is the oil that greases your way to success. You'll need money to support yourself and your business. You'll want to arm yourself with some tools to do this. Of course, the first place to look is your own personal assets and resources. Nothing is better than money in the bank. A nest egg that will carry your for 6-12 months is ideal. But many of you are not anywhere near that. You could turn to friends and acquaintances for help. Frequently they will be glad to offer some support. But keep in mind that this is a good way to strain these relationships.
You also need to have a clear picture of what your rates are. Establishing your rates can be a challenging endeavor in itself. What you charge will position you among your competitors. It will also narrow your potential client base. Pricing products is relatively easy. You've got concrete guideposts everywhere. But trying to price services is much more difficult. Open discussions of rates for services is prohibited. Worse, you can't easily evaluate the services of one professional against those of another without being a client. Value is in the eye of the beholder here. But you can evaluate what your time is worth and, with a little judicious comparative shopping, determine what the market will bear. For help establishing a price for services, you might want to e-mail Joan-Marie Moss & Associates,Ltd.
You'll need to consider the money needs of your potential clients as well. If they can't buy from you, you need to find out why and determine whether you can find creative ways to help them afford your services or whether you need to search elsewhere for clients and customers.
In brick and mortar establishments, it's a relatively easy to get payment. You can accept, cash, checks, even credit cards. You generally know the person you're doing business with and deal with them face-to-face. There's still a certain amount of risk, but not nearly the risk inherent in dealing with people you don't know and may never be able to track. On the internet you run into all sorts of complications. Cash doesn't work. Checks are ok - if you and your customer are willing to wait for the mail. Most typically credit cards or online banking services like PayPal are the way to go. Most eCommerce and shopping cart programs offer a fairly substantial options, check points and security systems to minimize fraud. Today it's a fairly easy matter to set your business up to receive payment for goods and services. Most banks are set up now for online processing, you'll want to check with your own bank to learn about their own online programs and how they can help you.
When evaluating your financial status and how you will manage the costs of a fledgling business, consider carefully, how you can economize in your every day life. Creative people learn to manage very nicely by being creative in satisfying their everyday wants and needs. The lesson to learn is that wealth can be judged as much by how much you can do without as how much you need. The age old adage, "A penny saved.." still applies.
No discussion today of building and growing a business will be complete without considering Technology. In a few short years, we have become a world that revolves on technology. That's a good thing. Technology allows us to focus more completely on our other priorities. But today we're also seeing a trend to get so caught up in technology that other areas of our business are suffering.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges you'll face in the technology arena is just keeping up. Software and hardware updates are introduced so fast and furiously that only those who are financially strong can keep up. But you really don't need to have the latest and greatest bells and whistles to keep your business automated. If you're services require that you stay current with your clients' upgrades, by all means do so. But if you're working with equipment and software that is needed strictly to enhance your own business, think twice before making significant changes.
Let technology work for you. Incorporate it in maintaining the necessary data bases, researching your industry and market, staying in touch with your clients, maintaining records. But don't let it take control of your business.
Business is still a people-to-people activity. When you find computers and other high-tech toys getting in the way of your primary business, it's time to re-evaluate. You don't need the biggest, best, latest, greatest. You need only the equipment and software that will enhance your business. You will, of course, want to know enough to use the equipment you have and to judiciously select improvements. But when the equipment starts to infringe on your business, it's time to call in experts to operate it and to maintain it for you. Focus on the activities that are going to allow you to utilize your time most profitably.
If you're looking for quality information and resources to keep your business technology functioning effectively and efficiently with the least drain on your pocketbook, you might want to start by checking out elocin.net. I've dealt with hundreds of technicians over the past decade and a half and I can honestly say I've never found anyone more trustworthy and competent for dealing with the intricacies of technology-- AND at the same time more in tune with the needs of businesses in these areas. This is one company that won't lead you astray or sell you something you don't need.
And that leads us to a biggie: time management. If there's one principal that needs to be framed and posted above your work area, it's this: Always Do That Which Is Most Productive With Your Time. If you're a computer technician, of course, tweaking your computer is where you need to focus your energy. If you're a desktop publisher, focus on developing your skills. If sales are your forte, by all means, get out there and sell.
But don't forget that sometimes R&R is much more productive. And sometimes attending to the needs of your loved ones takes presidence.
Those who are most effective manage their time. They take time every day to plan carefully their activities. These are the people who carry around with them appointment books, and constantly make notes to themselves. These are the people who understand that time management is a skilled balancing act. The key is to be structured enough to attend to first things first, yet flexible enough to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
Marketing is a VERY broad topic. As you work through the growth of your business, you'll start to see that everything you do affects your marketing and relies on it. No business is complete without marketing. By the same token, marketing is perhaps the most difficult and time consuming aspect of any business.
The most challenging part of any business marketing plan is Sales. There's a reason that so many businesses spend so much time trying to find and keep good salespeople. It does take a strong personality to get out and sell...yet we all are salesmen. We sell every day -- we just don't realize that that's what we're doing.
Not everyone is cut out to be a salesperson. If you have difficulty with sales, consider taking courses in sales techniques or hiring someone who can can do the job for you. But remember, too, that there's a whole lot more to marketing than just sales. You owe it to yourself to study and pay close attention to your marketing efforts.
Some find that MLM programs -- now called Network Marketing -- can be very lucrative indeed. Others welcome the MLM concept because, handled properly, with hard work, sales savvy and stick-to-it-iveness a person can earn a supplemental income that can help to level out the often erratic income of mini-businesses and creative services. Network Marketing does lend itself well to the frequently upside-down work schedule of people who expend their energy on creative pursuits. Unfortunately not everyone is cut of the cloth that makes a great -- or even a good -- salesperson. which you must be to succeed in this arena. If you this might work for you, be sure to check out several companies before you settle into one. Look for one that handles products you enjoy working with and, even, would be using yourself. Look for a group that does sell products and doesn't just focus on recruiting. Remember it's very difficult to find an organization that truly does deliver the support and training you'll need to make this a success. Be careful!
Are you sure you have what it takes? Well, there are lots of theories about what's needed to be a successful business person. Surely seed money is important. But many have gone into their own businesses with little more than the shirts on their backs and a determination that nothing would keep them from success.
Above all, you need to have a rock solid belief that you will succeed. This implies that you know yourself very, very well. You know your strengths and your weaknesses. You recognize that you're going to have to be your own hardest task master. At the same time, you'll need to rely on others -- individuals and businesses to fill in the gaps. You can't do it all yourself.
It's critical that you develop a Business Plan and a Marketing/Public Relations Plan at the very least. Without these you're going to find yourself like a ship at sea during a typhoon. This has never been more important than when you're trying to build a business on the internet. There are just too many theories and too many "opportunities" out there. You'll want a goal in mind and a road map that will ultimately get you there. Of course, you want to keep an open mind so if a new opportunity occurs you will be able to capitalize on it...but most of the time you'll need to stay very focused.
Do-It-Yourself Marketing for Any Business
Marketing is a complex on-going process -- one that requires constant attention. No matter how great your business or product you will not have a business unless you market it. You do need to establish a budget for your marketing efforts. But, there's lots of mis-leading information out there. You CAN do much to market you business online with little or no money. Take a look at the resources that T. Stephen Anderson - "The Profit Doctor" offers in HOW TO MARKET YOUR BUSINESS WITH LITTLE OR NO MONEY!
Lorrie Walters Marsiglio offers a plethora of other suggestions and insights, that need to be considered because Marketing requires many skills and disciplines: communications, psychology, sociology, mathematical acuity... Lorrie approaches Marketing from the stand point of applied Psychology as applied primarily to radio. But the information she shares concerning Subliminal Marketing apply well to all kinds of businesses where you come in contact one-on-one with your customers and clients.
Do-It-Yourself Marketing Online
And how does this apply to New Media? Marketing your internet business adds a new dimension and many challenges. The internet is huge. It allows you to expand your reach far beyond anything you can imagine. But too much expansion can be death to some businesses. You need to be much clearer about who your market is. You need to find those specific customers amid the billion or so people who are surfing the internet and get their attention quickly. You need to find a way to earn the trust and loyalty of your potential customers - without the benefit of face-to-face interaction. Here are some ideas that may help you to maximize your efforts.
Marketing your business on the internet should follow the same basic strategies as those you follow offline although you'll find there are some very interesting twists. Without a storefront that's easily seen by potential clients. You may need to market much more heavily with the intent of "driving" your clients to your site. You may need to do much more personal relationship building via email and newsletters. You will need to be much more focused -- marketing in the areas where your potential customers "hang out". Here are some hints about how to stimulate traffic.
Whatever your approach to marketing, you need to arm yourself with the best possible tools if you hope to succeed in the vast Internet market.
Essential Resources for Mini Businesses
I do hope that this has tweaked your interest and whetted your appetite for more information on how you can successfully earn a living in the ever-challenging world of the self-employed. You haven't even scratched the surface here. If you do think that you want to pursue self-employment, I guarantee you're in for a very challenging life style.
Make it a point to get all the education you can. There are tons of places right on the internet where you can get valuable information in running a business as well as in upgrading your own personal skills. You might also want to check out some of the business schools that offer special training.
All Business Schools- A complete online guide to business education and careers. We strive to be the finest resource available, allowing students to compare schools, contact them, read common questions and answers, and ask questions.
Online MBA Program:
Small Business HQ A comprehensive source for classes and other resources available Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses.
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