Getting People In the Door

customer relations

Photo (CC) by Ydubel, on Flickr

Business owners look for ways to get people in the door and then how to make the sale.

My work faces the same challenges. I am in the service industry. I provide nontraditional educational services to adults and youth. With a network of Extension colleagues across the country, we provide a variety of programs and materials to help people start and run successful businesses. Some business owners sell widgets, but others, like ours, provide services. Our service is helping business owners and the communities where they live achieve their dreams and goals.

Yet recently a friend asked me, as a recent workshop had to be cancelled due to low attendance, how can get people to use what we have? We have the product, in our case materials and seminars, online and in print. and even though much of it is provided at low cost or even no cost, we sometimes struggle, like any business owner, to get an audience in the door.

So what can we do? My immediate response is to shout it from the mountain top, “We exist.” Yet that message will probably just get caught up in the deluge of messages that assault our senses every day.

Like all business owners, we need to:

Listen, ask questions, and gather any additional information we can. It is not enough to know that a business owner needs help with finances. We need, and you need, to drill down. Are we talking revenue or expenses? Is it finding a loan or speeding up the accounts payable process? Is it a tax issue or an accounting issue? The list goes on.

Offer something of benefit. We can provide lots of information but does it help solve the problem (right back to the listening issue)?

Be recognized as trustworthy and authentic. Some call this building our brand. This comes from establishing relationships over time, being where the customer is at, and being there over time. It also involves staying in touch or at least knowing that the lines of communication are open. People get busy, people forget. What can you do to stay in touch and provide ongoing information. This blog is one tool that we have selected to use.

Be where our customer is at. And if we are not sure, check it out. It is important to remind ourselves that there may be several groups of customers each of whom choose different channels of communication. Track what happens. We encourage business owners to do that but it just doesn’t always get done.

Don’t stop the process. We need to continually look at how we are doing and make adjustments.

And we can’t forget to “shout it from the mountain.” We need to have a clear, concise marketing message and a strategy to get that message in front of our customer base. In that process, we need to have a call to action and a offer for doing so.

These practices are the same for all businesses including educational services such as Extension and even nonprofits. One final reminder is to remember that none of this happens overnight. Practice them one day at a time. You will forget and miss opportunities but if you are consistent it will become a habit and you will look back and see your success.

What would you add to the list? Give us your comments. We will add you to our monthly newsletter, Power of Business, for sharing your thoughts.

Home Based Architect Runs Business From Home

Home Business

Home Business

Guest Blogger – Richard Proffer, Business Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension

As more Americans try to fit work into their busy lifestyle, one solution is to work off-site if the company allows it. For many entrepreneurs, working off site is as common as a PBJ sandwich is to afterschool children wanting a snack. In fact, many entrepreneurs work from their home. Some love it and others find it trying sometimes with all the potential distractions.

Rebecca Ward is a home based entrepreneur who owns a historic preservation architectural firm in Jackson, MO. She has been self-employed for about five years now when her corporate job was moved out of town and she could not. Her interest in historic preservation is strong as she has worked on many projects in the area and across the state. She likes taking a building back to its roots and then making it “live” again in the modern day world. She has been a client of Richard Proffer’s for about three years. He is a business development counselor in the University of Missouri Extension’s Business Development Program where he operates a small business technology development center in Jackson.

Richard recently had an interview with Rebecca where she talked openly about her experiences as a home based entrepreneur.

Why did you want to work from home?

Prior to moving to Cape Girardeau County, I worked for a design-build construction firm where I traveled seventy miles to the office, two, sometimes three days a week. I worked at home the remaining days. It was the perfect mix for the job. I communicated and socialized with coworkers in weekly meetings in the office and had uninterrupted project time at home.

This last time around it was less a planned adventure. I was working as a corporate architect for a national chain, when the upper management made the decision to relocate the architectural department to St. Louis. The architects were offered moving expenses or a limited time contract to work at home until a replacement could be hired in the city. It was a bad time to move the family, so I began working at home, the corporation keeping me just as busy as I was prior to the office relocation. It was a great time to work at home, I knew when the kids arrived home, and it was no issue if I needed to run an errand or take a child to the dentist, I could work in the evening to make up the time.

What are the advantages of working at home?

It is so much cheaper! I don’t spend the half-an-hour driving in the morning and then again in the evening, and I don’t use the gas. Lunch is in the kitchen, I save the money I would have spent eating out. I also schedule my own time, so if I need to move work around so that I can help out with one of my volunteer obligations for example, it is not an issue.

There are no distractions, unless you choose to be distracted.

I make my own hours, if a client needs to meet at 7 am, 7 pm or on a Sunday afternoon it isn’t a problem, I can just move tasks around.

What are the disadvantages of working at home?

I miss teamwork. Projects are always better with an extra set of eyes. That is why I involve my clients so much in their projects. It is extremely important to me that my client understand that I am working for them, to do the best possible solution for their project, and that it meets their needs. I also miss the social aspect of the office. Although I am an introvert by nature, I do like company. I certainly don’t miss the politics of the corporation, the backstabbing, the maneuvering and the unprofessional mean-girl behavior that seemed to go along with how much a person feels undervalued.

What has changed in your work style while at working at home instead of the former corporate setting?

My time is spent much more efficiently. I spent countless hours listening to co-workers who had come into my office to complain while I tried to finish for a deadline, a by-product of being a good listener. Now, when I am done with a project, I don’t have to stay at my desk looking busy, as sometimes required when working for someone else.

What would you change in work from home?

Ideally, I would like a separate client area. While most of my work involves existing buildings, so I typically go to the building. But a few of my clients do new construction, and they feel more comfortable coming to me. Ideally, since I specialize in historic preservation/reuse architecture, my long term goal is to own a downtown building when I can live above my office.

What advice would you give people starting a home based business?

If you have an option, don’t quit your day job until you get your business established. Going out on my own after working for a corporation where I did no public work in my home area left me without a network and name recognition. I would also say not having an advertised location compounded the problem.

I also suggest you get good advice early. I was lucky enough to have a friend that works in the local MU Extension office. She suggested that I contact the new business development specialist that had just been hired for her office. That was the best advice I could have received at that point. I can’t say enough good things about him. Richard Proffer has been amazingly patient, extremely encouraging, great at hand-holding and extremely supportive. A great person to have on my side and someone I consider a good friend.

So readers, you can see there are pluses and minuses for the pitch of working at home. A bit of advice would be think it through and make sure it is what you want.

To learn more about Rebecca, check out her website at http://rebeccawardarchitect.wix.com/home.

It’s the Questions You Don’t Even Think About

Oil well site (CC) Glenn Muske

Oil well site (CC) Glenn Muske

Everyone who has considered starting or has started a business has probably received this piece of advice, you need to do your research and planning. This means finding the data that may influence the potential success of the business and then planning on how you will overcome that challenge.

Often times aspiring owners also find a somewhat standardized list of the information they need to gather such as market size, income levels, potential competitors and availability of suppliers.

What you won’t find on the lists, though, and you really can’t because each situation is different, are questions about the unusual factors that must also be considered (I suspect that every area has one and probably more unique items).

Currently in my role with the North Dakota Extension Service, I regularly get questions about starting a business in western North Dakota. Now if you have watched or listened to the news during the last couple of years, you probably know we are experiencing an oil boom. Many of the people contacting me are interested in how they can get involved in the boom. They have a business idea and are now trying to make the idea a reality. In general, their questions focus on the standard questions.

When I get the standard list of questions, however, I suspect that the aspiring owner has not taken the time to do a little more research or homework into some of the most important questions – those not asked.

When talking with a potential business owner looking to come into the western ND oil patch, other questions they need to consider include:
– where am I going to live and what will it cost?
– can I find a space to locate my business and what will it cost?
– if I need help, can I find it and what will it cost?
– if I am bringing a family, can we find daycare or what is the school situation like?

Those are questions I add to their list. Yet every area will have a set of unique issues that owners need to be aware of and take into account when planning. Many of these issues can be found with research – the Internet is a great tool for this. It may be development plans or zoning issues that may impact a community or a major employer who is growing or downsizing or new competitors who have announced their intentions. In a rural ag-dependent community, it may be commodity prices or what the weather has been.

The bottom line for the aspiring business owner is to do your research and then dig a little deeper. Consider what questions “you should have asked.” One place to get that information is with talking to other business owners.

Small Business Marketing Trends for 2013

I love reading SmallBusinessComputing.com – they have some great ideas and thoughts about helping Small Business Owners with their online marketing journey.  Sometimes due to so many other good reads I don’t always get to the best articles and ones I like to share – this one in particular emphasizes some things that we have been telling businesses in our educational workshops and so therefore I am going to take some time and go into some more detail about each of the trends!  The article Top 5 Small Business Marketing Trends for 2013 highlights 5 Trends:

  1. Mobile Marketing Is Here and Now
  2. Content and Content Promotions is the New SEO
  3. Email Marketing:  Focus on Mobile Optimized Messages
  4. Personalize and Customize Ecommerce Marketing
  5. Social Advertising is Hot

Tune if for more Mobile Marketing but in the meantime read the article – Top 5 Small Business Marketing Trends for 2013