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Small Business Success October 2012
Small Business Success
Fresh ideas for your Small Business  

    Contents
In this Issue

Social Media

Six Ways To Breathe New Life Into Your Business

When Bad Strategy Leads to Broken Eggs

Training - Classroom or Online?

Public Speaking Words of Wisdom

Small Business News:

Canada's Small Business Saturday - October 20 - Canadian small business owners are counting down the days until October 20th, the date set for Canada's first Small Business Saturday. It's a new campaign from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) sponsored by Interac® that aims to encourage consumers to shop at local, independent businesses and help entrepreneurs promote their businesses online. Read more...


Small business confidence posts fifth consecutive monthly decline in August - Optimism among Canada's small- and medium-size businesses continued to decline in August, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). The Business Barometer® index dropped from 60.9 in July to 60.0, a number that suggests very slow growth in the national economy. Read more...


Globe and Mail: One in five use social media for customer service - The move towards these channels is evident in Canada, where one in five consumers have used social media to get a customer service response in the past year, according to American Express Canada's annual Global Customer Service Barometer. Of those consumers who contacted their favourite brands through Twitter or Facebook, 28 per cent were more likely not to make an intended purchase if their customer experience was poor. Also worth noting from the study is that, in general, while 63 per cent of consumers tell others about a poor service experience, only 54 per cent will tell others about good experiences. Read more...


Calgary Herald: Cash flow and financing are keys to small business success - A new CIBC poll, conducted by Leger Marketing, reveals that while almost all business owners agree that attracting clients is key to their success, new business owners may be too focused on issues outside of their control such as the economy. This is in contrast to the advice of more established business owners that point to cash flow management and financing as the keys to getting through those first few challenging years, says CIBC. Read more...


 
    Social Media
 
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Just a few years ago I was telling new entrepreneurs attending a small business course I was delivering, that it was vital to have a website. I remember saying that the general public was beginning to expect that a "proper" business should have an online presence; that a business wasn't a "real" business if it didn't have at least a basic website. Many shook their heads and said that they really didn't need a website, that it was too expensive, and anyway their target audience wouldn't search for them online.

Today, that same public is more knowledgeable than we could ever have dreamed back in those halcyon days; now not only are our customers aware of our competition, they can buy online without even leaving their homes. Local shopping means a UPS delivery guy at the door, delivering what we ordered just a few days ago online.

My students back then talked about word-of-mouth marketing. If they provided a good product or service at a fair price, and offered great customer service, then the hope was that people would recommend them to their neighbours across the street, or at church. If someone wasn't happy then it was unfortunate, but at least it was contained to the local area, and hey people have short memories.

Fast-forward less than a decade and few businesses don't have a website, and those same customers are now searching out reviews online for everything from restaurants, hotels, cars, televisions and 1,001 other items. They're searching out what people have said about your company - but do you know what they're saying? Today there is nowhere to hide. It doesn't matter if you don't have a website, people can still talk about you for good or for bad. The problem is that if you don't have a web presence, you won't know it and you can't handle the fall out.

Just recently I was on a business trip; I stayed in a small town for a week and ate at restaurants, drank coffee, good and bad, at coffee shops, visited a few museums and stayed in a hotel. When I returned home, I went to my TripAdvisor account and wrote seven reviews. Some were good, some were average and a few were scathing. It doesn't matter where your business is, and it doesn't matter how big or small it is, your customers have the ability to talk about you behind your back.

The question is, do you want to hear what they are saying? Do you want to be able to defend yourself if they slag you publicly? Do you want to carry out some damage control, by offering to deal with their complaint? Do you want to build a positive online reputation BEFORE they start complaining so that their negativity is outweighed one-hundred to one by those with positive experiences? If the answer is yes, and I truly hope for the sake of your business it is, then this book will provide you with a fascinating and comprehensive introduction to the world of Tweets, LinkedIn, Facebook and dozens of other social media sites that will enable you to communicate directly with your customers, wherever they are in the world.

Social media is not just about dealing with what people say about you online though, it's about communicating with your customers and future customers, it's about building a community, being part of other communities; it's about educating people, listening to them, and letting them know all about you, your company, the people that work for you, your products, your services, your business philosophy, your integrity and your organizational culture.

There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child - perhaps today it takes a social media community to raise a business.


The comments above were taken from the introduction to the Small Business Success eBook, Introduction to Social Media for Small Business. Written several months ago, today it seems even more vital that business owners take social media seriously.

The top search word on Google in 2012 is "Facebook" with over 3 billion searches! Popular though it is "You Tube" came a distant second at a lowly 755 million. Oh, and that's per month!

If we widen the search to any social media search word, the total searches per month rises to 3.9 billion, far behind searches for "adult" sites at 687.4 million per month.

It's easy to dismiss

For many business people the whole social media world is a mystery and many of us try to ignore it in the hope that it might go away, but in reality that's not going to happen. Well over half of those Canadians online use social networks and some 35 per cent visit a social networking site everyday.

Here are some fascinating statistics from a website called The Social Skinny

  • 36% of social media users post brand-related content
  • 2 out of 3 social media users believe Twitter influences purchases
  • 50% of people follow brands in social media
  • 75% of companies now use Twitter as a marketing channel
  • 60% of employees would like help from employers to share relevant content
  • 40% of companies admit to having no training or governance of social media
  • 41% of the class of 2011 used social media in their job search
  • 38% of CEOs label social media a high priority, and 57% of businesses plan to hike their social media spend in 2012
  • One in three small businesses are now using social media

So, if you are not already social media savvy, now might be a good time to get up to speed and develop a social media strategy for your company.

 
   
Six Ways To Breathe New Life Into Your Business Top

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From time to time, and especially when business is slow for whatever reason, we as business owners have some choices to make; we can either hunker down and wait it out, or we can come up with creative ways to stimulate business. Well, I've never been one to sit on my backside and rely on hope to get me through, so I look at a quiet time as an opportunity to see what I can do better; perhaps build new product, change my marketing strategy or look to new markets.

Here are six things you could do to stimulate business right now.

Sell to New Markets - sometimes we can get too comfortable selling to the same old market and miss out on less obvious, but potentially just as valuable customer bases. Gather your team and carry out a brainstorming session asking the question, "Who else could buy what we sell?" For instance, if you only service commercial clients, could you expand to residential customers, or vice-versa?

Adapt your Product to New Markets - while you are brainstorming new markets consider how you might change what you sell to fit a new market. This might be as simple as marketing, or packaging what you sell in a different way.

Use the Perspective of New Employees - gather together anyone who has worked for you for less than six months and ask them what they think of your business. Encourage them to tell you honestly what they think of how the business operates, who it sells to and what they think of your products, services and pricing. This new perspective from people not completely entrenched in your corporate philosophy will provide stimulating new ideas and approaches for your business.

Adopt, Adapt, Innovate - when I'm short of ideas I start to look at what other businesses in my industry are doing; especially those in other countries. We can easily get trapped in our own industry and cultural stereotypes. Taking a look at what companies similar to us are doing in England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and others can provide you with new product ideas, new markets, and interesting promotional campaigns. While you should avoid copying other companies directly, if you adopt a concept, adapt it to your business and then give it an innovate twist, you may invigorate your business.

Get Excited by Other Peoples Great Ideas - often we go around in circles, trapped in our narrow view of the business and industry we operate in. Take a look at what innovative people are doing in completely different businesses and let their enthusiasm, excitement and innovative approaches rub off on you and your business. Check out www.springwise.com for the best of new business ideas. You may even discover new products that you could bring into your company.

Ride New Trends - being a trendsetter may be a dangerous strategy, but what about riding new trends that are already established or just becoming popular? Check out trendwatching.com and read up on what's happening globally. Understanding global trends can help you position your business at the leading edge rather than the bleeding edge.

 
   
When Bad Strategy Leads to Broken Eggs Top
 

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This is not an article on cooking, but rather on how we can use team-building exercises to improve creativity and strategic thinking.

People often turn to team-building to fix dysfunctional teams, or poor leadership. Many companies send their employees on expensive retreats and adventure weekends in an attempt to bring a bunch of people together who are not getting along, in the hope that giving them challenging exercises will somehow result in them all singing Kumbaya by the end of the day. Well, it's not going to happen - more than likely cliques will form and battle lines will be drawn. If your employees are not getting along, you need to discover the root cause of the malaise, not treat the symptoms.

Team-building type exercises can however, be an excellent way to strengthen teams that are already working well together. The right exercises can improve communication and creativity, and in turn lead to better strategic thinking.

Here are three simple exercises that you can use in either a full, or half-day, session to get your team, or teams thinking out of the box. They can be used in between real brainstorming sessions as food-for-thought breaks, or by themselves to stimulate lateral thinking.

The Rope Trick

This is a very simple warm-up exercise to demonstrate that we all, at times, think inside the box and attack a problem in the most obvious way rather than using simple creativity to overcome the problem. All you need for this exercise is a few pieces of rope.

Split your group into several teams. You are going to ask each team to attempt to fit all of their feet (with their shoes on) into the confines of a circle made from rope. Their whole feet should be inside the circle and not touching the rope.

The key to this exercise is to make the rope circle large enough that all the team's feet can just fit inside. The issue is that their bodies are attached to their feet; this makes it very difficult for them all to stand within the circle without falling out. You will see them trying to figure out all the different ways they can make it work; face-to-face, back-to-back, hugging, crouching, standing over each other and more.

What you are hoping to see is a team that realizes that the challenge was to fit their feet into the rope circle, not their entire body. All they needed to do is to spread out around the rope, and lay on their backs with their feet in the circle.

After everyone has had a lot of fun, discuss why most, if not all, jumped to the conclusion that they had to stand in the circle. Then, ask the winning team how they came up with their solution. This is a good example of how it is often better to study the parameters of a challenge, and then carry out some strategic planning to gain a new perspective before jumping in with both feet (pun intended!).

Spaghetti and Marshmallows

Simple and easy, this exercise can be completed in almost any amount of time from five minutes to an hour or more. The challenge is to build the tallest tower in the set amount of time.

You will need a packet of dry spaghetti and a large bag of marshmallows for each team. Ensure you have the same make and size for all teams. These are the only building materials they are allowed to use.

Suggest each team spends several minutes creating their strategy, and suggest they might want to elect a team leader. Teams will need to use the expertise of each individual to do well in this deceptively difficult exercise.

The winning team is the one with the tallest tower still standing 60-seconds after time runs out. Any structure that falls is disqualified.

Watch for how well teams work together and for the amount of time each took in planning before starting to build. Also look at the delegation of work - did the team leader play to individual strengths? Discuss what went right and what went wrong and why.

The Great Egg Drop

This exercise has been around awhile, but here we add a new dimension to it, to improve its value as a lesson in strategic planning. It can take anywhere from an hour to three hours depending on how much time you have available. The object of the game is for teams to create an egg catcher that can catch a raw egg dropped from a height of 20 feet (the exact height is not important). The egg catcher cannot be held by anyone, or supported by anything else. The team leader will drop the egg.

You will need the following: eggs; fake money (Monopoly banknotes work well for this); a mixture of household items including empty cereal boxes, elastic bands, small strips of masking tape and/or duct tape, scotch tape, tin foil, paper cups, bulldog clips, paper clips, Kleenex or other tissue paper, a Sharpie pen or two, a few lengths of string and whatever else you think might be useful in making an egg catcher. You may also need a ladder to get the height for the egg drop if you haven't got a handy staircase. A tarp, or plastic sheet might also be a good idea to catch the inevitable splatter!

All the household items should be placed on a table for the teams to see, as they are to be auctioned off. Be careful not to put too many of each item out. For instance, if you have four teams, there should only be two cereal boxes. Split the group into teams and get them to elect a captain. Hand each team captain $250 of egg catch auction money and give the teams five to ten minutes to come up with a strategy for building their egg catcher based on what they see on the table. Remind them they will have to bid on each item they need.

The facilitator then holds the auction with each item going to the highest bidder. When the auction is over the teams can barter, or sell and buy items from each other for three minutes.

Once this is complete, teams will need to reassess their building plan based on what they did or didn't manage to purchase. They are allowed to use only the items they purchased and nothing from their pockets, or their surroundings. If they have money left they can purchase items from other teams as their building project proceeds. This may lead to bartering and strategic decision-making, as the money is only of use if another team needs it to buy from yet another group.

Give each team a set time for building (this can be dependent on the time you have available); the longer the time the more complex the catchers will be.

Once time is up the catchers need to be transported to the drop site and placed on the ground. The egg is then dropped into the catcher. If it breaks, or the catcher falls apart, the team has five minutes to make repairs to its catcher for a second try.

The winning team will be the one whose creation catches the egg without breaking it. Teams get two chances, but if there is a draw and only one team's egg survived the first drop, they win. If there is still a draw, the winner will be decided by the level of fun, teamwork and creativity demonstrated.

So much can be learned from this fun exercise, including the value of strategic planning and the importance of a back-up plan.


These exercises backed up with a facilitator-lead discussion will not only help teams work together, but help them think strategically, while at the same time thinking out of the box. Both traits vital to small business success in today's highly competitive market.

 
   
Training - Classroom or Online? Top

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Training is, or should be an important part of your business strategy. Whether it is orientation to your company practices, technical training, or any of the soft skills, corporate training more than pays for itself in the long run. Employees, especially those dealing with your customers, need to be taught to handle any situation that might arise quickly and efficiently. Too often companies do little training which results in employees representing their company poorly. For instance, I was recently told by my wireless service provider's customer service agent that my frustrating problem was a technical issue not a customer service one - they even offered to put me through to their cancellations department; in fact, almost encouraging me to go to one of their competitors! This person quickly came to realize her mistake when I demanded to speak to her supervisor who solved my customer service problem relatively quickly and easily. Are you losing customers due to insufficient training? Do you know?

So, if we accept that training is important if we are to operate efficiently, the question is whether we take advantage of the many online training opportunities available on the worldwide web, or use classroom training. There are many schools of thought on this issue and many are defending their own product ranges.

SBS magazine, thought it might be a good idea to take a look at some of the pros and cons and let you decide which works best for your company.

In reality it is not a case of whether classroom, or online training is better than the other; it all depends on the type of training, the people being trained and the circumstances surrounding the training. For instance, if you are trying to get people to work better together, or problem solve specific issues relating to your company, then a classroom environment will probably work better. If however you need to upgrade an employee's computer skills, or teach them social media marketing then online tutorials is probably the better way to go.

Take into consideration whether you need to train a group of people who work in different locations. Bringing them to one place to train will be costly, meaning online training may be far more cost effective.

There is however, a lot to be said for the live interaction between an experienced facilitator and participants where the facilitator can share experiences and a participant can ask questions in real time. A good instructor can motivate people who might otherwise just go through the motions. Also in this environment, participants might learn as much from others in the class as they do from the facilitator. Classroom training allows for role-playing, which can be particularly useful in many soft-skills training programs.

Online training allows for training to be undertaken at anytime and at almost any location. It's flexible and convenient, but relies heavily on self-motivation; a double-edged sword as it can also encourage people to take responsibility for their learning.

One challenge of the online route is that it requires people to have adequate computer skills, so for some mature employees this type of training can be stressful, or impossible if they don't own a computer. In addition, online training has become very sophisticated in recent years and many people who have older, slower computers or smaller screens may find their equipment is not up to the job, even if they have adequate computer skills.

Once you decide to provide training for your employees, make your decision to go the classroom, or online route based on the subject matter you wish to impart, the people taking the program and your particular circumstances.

 
   
Public Speaking Words of Wisdom Top
 

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