Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Now That You're An Entrepreneur, Shouldn't You Be Rich and Famous?

So you're a business owner or entrepreneur or author or expert - whatever you want to call yourself. You've got clients, nice business cards, a few employees, and maybe even some office space. Maybe you've even been featured on TV and in a few magazines.

Colleagues see you as successful, but family and friends think that by now you should be rich and famous. They want to borrow money, and don't understand when you turn them down. Is that realistic though? Should all entrepreneurs be living like celebrities with money to give away? If you aren't living like this, does that mean you're doing something wrong?

Actually, the only people doing something wrong are the people who are thinking in that manner. Being a successful entrepreneur does not mean that you have to drive a Mercedes Benz and live in a million dollar home on the beach.

Rather, being a successful entrepreneur simply means that you have created a way of alternative income - aside from working for someone else. Whether you've created part-time income or full-time income for yourself, you have far surpassed the millions of individuals who will attempt to start a business - but won't generate any income at all.

You should celebrate the fact that you are even in the game, let alone in a country where there are business opportunities available for you. Don't be hard on yourself because you may not have reached celebrity status; the key is that you are still in business.

Anyone who has figured out a way (legal and ethical, of course) to get others to spend money with you, has done far more than any family member or friend may ever realize.

Business is not easy, and it is not straight-forward. If you create a company that does nothing more than allow you to eat and pay rent, you are a history maker and should be applauded.

Don't be mistaken though! I'm not discouraging you from reaching for the stars. If it's your goal to do so, do all you can to become the next Bob Johnson or Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey. But until then, give yourself credit where credit is due - and ignore those spectators who have no idea how business works.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Are You Placing Too Much Emphasis on the Wrong Things?

Your glossy colorful business cards are ready, and your new logo is looking fresh-to-def. You're wearing the right colors, your shoes are polished, and you're planning to do some really firm hand shakes looking people right in the eye.

Your shoes match your belt, and your belt matches your handbag or briefcase. You've even got your underwear matching your socks.

You're wearing your new Rolex and an Armani Suit, so that people can think you're rolling in the dough.

You attend your conference or business meeting or networking function, and you do everything just as you practiced. But at the end of the day, you got little to no results. What happened? You did everything right, didn't you?

Well, if you're like many people - you may have put too much emphasis on all the wrong things.

There's nothing wrong with glossy business cards and a colorful logo, but that's not what's going to sell your product or services. Looking nice and wearing "business" colors is a plus, but this too will not seal the deal.

What sells your products and services is...well, your products and services. What you have to offer should sell itself. That's where the emphasis needs to be placed - there and also on your sales presentation.

At the end of the day, people don't care about anything else other than whether or not they need or want what you're selling.

Think about it: When was the last time you bought something because you liked how firm the salesperson shook your hand? Or because you liked their logo? Or because you were impressed with the way he/she dresses?

You, like many other consumers, buy for one reason: Because you are impressed and are convinced that this product or service should be a part of your life. Whether you were sold through a sales presentation (one-on-one consultation, brochure, radio/TV ad, web site, etc) or whether the product sold itself - the emphasis was heavily placed on what was being sold.

Professionalism is extremely important in many aspects, but if you don't have a product or service that people want - you can forget it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How Do You Know When You Have A Good Business Idea?

Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, once said that he knows when he's on to a good idea when everyone in the room disagrees with him. He feels that if no one else can see the logic in his idea, then this proves how revolutionary and original his concepts must be.

Many entrepreneurs, however, are quite the opposite. They feel they've discovered a good business idea when everyone around them agrees with them. To them, when everyone can see the logic - this means that they are on to something.

In all actuality though, you will never know for sure if you have a good idea until you actually pursue it. It doesn't matter how many people agree or disagree with you. Only time will tell.

There are, however, some ways to determine whether or not your idea is realistic. Of course, if your idea is not realistic - then its not a good idea. Here are 3 intriguing questions to ask yourself:

1) Can my idea be easily duplicated? Understand that you can patent a product, but not a service. If you come up with a unique service, you have to consider whether or not people can steal that concept from you.

For instance, I remember having a conversation with a friend who had an idea about opening a unique store for women. She felt that whenever she went shopping for clothes, she could never find the right size - they would either be too small or too big. So she wanted to open a store with all half sizes (6 1/2, 7 1/2, and so on). Well, it wasn't a bad idea. However, if she pursued this and it became really successful - every clothing store nationwide would catch on and do the same thing.

Her idea was way too easy to be duplicated, and it would have backfired in her face if she went forward with it.

2) How will I market my idea? I know tons of people with great ideas, but when I ask how they will market it - they get extremely quiet. Promoting a unique invention nationally costs money. Do you have those funds? Do you know how to raise capital? What about distribution? How will you get it into the stores? Will you sell online? Do you even know how that works? Be cautious about making the very costly and common mistake of creating a product, with little or no knowledge on how to let people know it exists.

3) Will I be able to compete with bigger companies? Keep in mind that patent protection doesn't last forever. Eventually (usually after 10 years), your patent for your product will expire and you can not renew it. This means that other companies can come and take your idea. Will you be able to compete with them when this happens? Have you even considered this? If you don't think you can handle this, then your business idea is probably not a good one.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Promote, Promote, Promote

I was recently in Orlando, Florida at a diversity business conference chatting with a marketing director at Merrill Lynch. Just recently Merrill Lynch lost billions of dollars as a result of the national foreclosure crisis. I asked him if this would affect their advertising budgets. He told me "no", and that they were planning to increase their spending.

I did some research and found that in times of an economic slow down, many big businesses increase their advertising budgets. If this is the case, how much more important is it for small businesses to increase their promotional efforts as well?

Now is a great time to have a better presence at related conferences, to launch a postcard marketing campaign, and even to solicit speaking engagements at industry events. Now is the time to give away free t-shirts and other promotional items with your logo.

Promotion is so much more than just passing out flyers and business cards. It's so much more than just running a classified ad in the local newspaper, or even sticking a magnet on your car.

Effective promotion requires actual legwork. Become a hustler, get on your feet, and go get those clients. If you have a booth at an expo, don't just sit there. Engage people. Conquer the masses, and recruit them as long-term customers.

Don't use the bad economy as an excuse for why your business is slow. Things can easily speed back up when you take an active hands-on role in your company's advertising methods.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

$250,000 Business Plan Contest Open to All

The Central Valley Business Times (in Fresno, California) has announced a $250,000 business plan contest accepting nationwide entries. Finalists will compete in October. Entrants have to have a convincing business plan and be at least 18 years old. That’s it as far as entry requirements.

“Anyone who has an idea for an innovative new business, and a business plan to match–or who has already started and is growing a business with a promising business plan–is welcome to enter,” says the sponsor, the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The top 10 finalists will travel to Fresno, California for a two-day competition Oct. 2 - 3, where they will present their business plans to a panel of judges. On Oct. 4, the winner–and recipient of $100,000 in cash and $150,000 worth of in-kind services–is to be announced during halftime at the Fresno State Bulldog football game.

Entries will be accepted beginning June 1st, and again - everyone from any state can apply. For more details, visit:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Should You Mix Business With Politics?

It is typically recognized that business and politics don’t mix. But it is almost unreasonable to hold that as an unequivocal truth, given that politics can have everything to do with the life of your business.

I, personally, am a very neutral person when it comes to politics. I believe that the whole thing is crooked and corrupt. Despite this, I still try to pay close attention to what's going on in the political realm so that I can be prepared for whatever changes may influence my company.

The current economy in the United States is proof positive that politics can affect the way people spend or don't spend money. Even the simplest social issue can have far reaching effects on small and large businesses, including Fortune 500 companies.

For example, the decision to change the type of medical care in our nation inevitably trickles down the small private practice doctor. It equally affects pharmaceutical companies, companies that provide equipment for the medical industry, those who provide paper goods for the medical industry, and businesses we may not imagine are affected by decisions that on the surface, seem to have nothing to do with a small business owner.

Tax decisions, cuts, increases, etc., are a direct factor for businesses across the board. How the education system is handled is yet another of dozens of political discussions that affect businesses.

Likewise, politics can affect employees - those that depend on a corporation for their livelihood. Without workers, most companies cannot function. So it is incumbent on the corporation to pay attention to the world of politics - so they can plan accordingly.

The point is this: Whether you are a political person or not, you should at least pay attention to what's going on - because it can have an adverse effect on your business. Being aware and knowledgeable of potential political changes before they occur can keep you ahead of the competition.

What To Look For In A Business Partner

Finding a good business partner can be a very strategic move for your company. If you don't currently have a business partner, there may come a time when you have to look for one to share financial and administrative responsibilities. Of course, you also would have to share profits. Regardless, a business partnership that generates some revenue is better than a sole proprietorship that generates none at all.

Forbes Magazine recently outlined the following 5 things to look for in a business partner:

1) Complementary Skills
Having a lot in common with your business partner may feel right, but you don't want a clone of yourself. Partners with the same backgrounds and expertise may not bring anything new to the equation. Instead, look to fill gaps. If you're a nits-and-grits operations type, find someone who can sell ice to an Eskimo.

2) Ability To Listen, Strength To Disagree
A good business partner understands the importance of compromise--without being too compromising. Walking that fine line begins with developing mutual respect. The best partners also have the courage to address tough financial issues, and even personal matters that might impact the company. Try to establish that rapport up front. As Rhonda Abrams, president of the small-business-book publisher The Planning Shop in Palo Alto, Calif., puts it: "Date before you marry a business partner."

3) Clean Track Record
The last thing you want is a deadbeat for a business partner. Banks and other lending institutions will balk at funding your venture if one or both partners are in hock with creditors, so make sure you look under your partner's hood. Think of it this way: You wouldn't invest in a company without perusing its financial statements, right?

4) Solid Contacts
"People buy from who they know and trust," says Robert Moment, a small-business consultant in Arlington, Va. With that in mind, beef up your marketing muscle by snagging a partner who has solid contacts in your field and in the community--be it through local Parent-Teacher Associations or community planning boards.

5)Common Goals
Partners should be on the same page about where they see the company going. One side can't be girding for the long haul while the other courts strategic buyers in search of quick riches. Likewise, make sure your partner has a similar work ethic: If you're a believer in 16-hour work days but your partner expects to be home for dinner promptly at 6 p.m., prepare for some friction.

To read the full article, visit: