Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why Isn't it Working Anymore?

Erica Marshall www.muddyboots.org
You've been going with the flow but pretty much working off of your original business plan. It's been working for you! Then something, or a series of somethings have happened. What's going on? You lay awake wondering if it's you or the economy or both. Does it matter? I mean, it's not working now.

One option is to do nothing and hope it passes, kind of like a bad cold. But maybe things are not working as well because something big has changed, like you've moved or you lost your business partner or perhaps your office manager. You feel adrift and the money is just not coming in.

If you were to take stock of exactly where you are, that would be a good place to start. Then:
  • Look at how things were when they were last "working"
  • What has changed within your business?
  • What has changed in your particular industry?
  • What has happened to your physical location is that's something that has been a benefit in the past.
Sometimes we, as business people will look at something and say, "It's a phase!" What if everything were a phase? Serial success? It's a half empty, half full kinda of thing. Every business will at some point (if it's around long enough) will be in a recession.

Planning for the best case scenario is what we tend to do. It's hard enough to write a business plan that succeeds, writing one that assumes some failure is a pretty tough order. At least think about it now. Think about how to identify the signs of faltering that could make or break you:
  • Having most of your income coming from one customer/client
  • Being spread across too many markets and not one of them is stable
  • Having no alternative sources for your raw goods
Watch for some of these warning signs and in another series I'll go through some things that can make your business more "recession proof."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Thanks Everyone!

The contest is over and we have a lucky winner, Elizabeth in Austin, Texas. Yahoo!
So...if this whole contest thing has made you think more seriously about having a mentor, drop me an email and let's talk!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog

I have a copy of this magazine here, Wearables published by ASI (Advertising Specialty Institute). This particular publication focuses on sellers and buyers of "wearables" that are customizable with advertising or corporate logos.

A couple of months ago I was contacted for an interview about the value of blogging for business. The interview went well and eventually I was notified that it had gone to press. The fella who interviewed my found me through my business blog. Interesting.

As you can see, if you click on the above image and view it full size you can read the full interview. You might also notice that there is no mention of my blog address, nor anyone else who was interviewed.

I went to the online version of the magazine and found a feature called "Business Toolkit". If you click on the web subject, up pops a window with an image of the print page using a application called "Flash Paper", which in not unlike a PDF. There you can read this same article, still with no live links.

So, a publication that is trying to educate their readers about the value of blogging for business is not actually using that technology or any other ability to "link" to resources outside it's actual print magazine. I was shocked!

I did not want to appear ungrateful but I had initially taken the time for this interview because I believed it would drive traffic to my blog. I interview people all the time and this is the exchange: You answer some questions to me and I'll put you out there! Yes, folks can find me easily if they google my name. In this case though, I wonder how you can talk about a technologies' worth and then not actually use it. Hmmm.

I contacted the editor via email and asked what has happened with this. The response I got was:

"Melissa,
You're right, it wouldn't have done much harm to include the links for the blogs. Just chalk it up to a simple oversight between writer and editor. Thanks for your help
C.J. Mittica"

Alrighty then!

What tells me is that there is a fear of technology in some business sectors and a sense of "self-protection" as well. A thought that perhaps if you like to someone else, you can giving them a change to leave your site. There are ways around that like a second browser window opening with the link so that you can easily go back if you wish. It's not rocket science but this example was simply astounding to me.

Blogging for business makes sense. If you actually read the above article, you'll get my take on it. (!)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Win a Session!!


This next week, Friday June 12- Friday June 19th 9PM PST. Make a comment on any post in this blog and I will randomly choose someone for a small business 50 minute consult, anywhere in the US by phone.
Comment now for your chance!

The fine print: This offer is for new clients only, I will call you on my dime and will only announce your winning if you choose. Your privacy is my concern.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Taking off

There are several metaphors that can used to describe the life-cycle of a business, but the two that come to mind involve "rebirth" as in a cat with nine lives, or reincarnation. But first, let's go through the stages that lead up to that rebirth:

A Sparkle in Someone's Eye
This is known as the "dream" state in which everything and nothing is possible. It's a thought. If you do something about it, you get to the next stage.

Pregnancy

All your ideas are "gestating" and it's the start of your business. You have taken some first steps, like writing a business plan or talking to people or maybe even thinking about a name.

Labor

This is when you know WHEN your business will start but you have very little idea of how it will all get done. It's "hurry up and wait", it's reading all the "what to expect" books but knowing that it's going to all be a surprise when you really start doing business.

Birth

Well, all the "heavy lifting" of the labor ends, the first day is over, the opening party is over and you have this small being that is now alive and needs to be cared for. It is your business. It cries your name in the night and is relentless in the attention needed to keep it alive.

Infancy

There's steady growth, things are changing everyday but your business still needs constant attention. Perhaps you've taken your first bit of time away from it since you started. Hired a "sitter" for your first night out. This is often the time when it becomes abundantly clear as to whether you can really work with a partner if you have one. Maybe you need to bring in more help?

Childhood

This is the somewhat predictable early growth stages that you've heard about. There are days when you love you business and days when you think you'll not come back from lunch. Ah, then you remember it's YOUR business.

Adolescence

A period of defiance in kids, in a business it could be the time when your vendors and customers and all that has been in place from the start, are not. The steadiness you got a little used to has ceased to be. You are now experiencing "growing pains" as you try and bring more folks into your business in some way. Perhaps you've outgrown your current technology? It seems like you need to throw a lot of money at the situation but it may not be the most responsible response.

Adulthood

Ah, you've seen most all of it. You've done most all of it. You have a confidence in what you're doing and how you're doing it. Sometimes you do get a run for your money from the new kids on the block. There's the re-education that you need to do to keep yourself on top of things.

Aging

Now the question is: Can you can truly keep up? You've been doing this a long time and your long range plans have not necessarily accounted for things like just being a bit tired of what you're doing. This time it's more than a "mid-life crisis". This time it's a matter of thinking about what's next: Passing the baton or calling it a day. Calling it a life and a business and moving to the next stage.

Death

You're done

Rebirth

Maybe not. Maybe there's a way to reinvent this thing. Ah, a spark in the eye!!!

I hope you all had as much fun reading this humorous take on the business life-cycle as I did in writing it. Of course, stages and come and go several times. I'd love to hear about yours.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Patterns of Success

I found Sarai though Neighborhood Notes and thought she'd be a great interview. Sure, this sort of thing is right up my alley, but I was particularly impressed with the quality of her product. How beautifully it's executed!

Sarai Mitnick is the founder of Colette Patterns, an independent sewing pattern company focused on beautiful and timeless styles for design-oriented sewers. Her background in User Experience and design has instilled a passion for simplicity, beauty, and ease of use that is reflected throughout her company and products. She resides in Portland, OR.

Q:What kind of market research did you do before starting your business? Was it just your experience as a consumer or something else?

I actually have a background in User Experience Research, which is something like a cousin to market research, so it was really important for me to understand my potential customers' needs and context. I spoke directly to a number of sewers, designed a small survey, and read through a lot of product reviews on the web. I also relied on more traditional forms of existing market research to determine things like market size, demographics, income.

I find it really helpful to combine quantitative and qualitative research because neither can give you a complete picture by themselves. For example, market stats told me that my target market was small but growing, and what they're demographics were. From there, it became easier to find people that matched that description and actually learn about their needs in a meaningful way, and what they found lacking or missing from current offerings.

Of course, if you're working on something you're passionate about, your own experience will always be a factor. I often find that's the best starting point for research! It's very powerful to start with a problem you have, then learn more about how it might also affect others and how you could meet those needs.

Q:What has been the easiest and alternately, the most challenging part of understanding how to start a business?

The easiest and most enjoyable for me has been adapting to working for myself. I love managing my own time and I'm very independent and self-motivated, so getting things done is never really a problem. I think I'm pretty good at the whole balancing act, although there's always room for improvement.

The most challenging for me was probably figuring out where to start. There is an almost unbelievable amount of work involved in starting a small business, so much that's not apparent from the outside!There are just a lot of aspects to manage. It really helped me to write a business plan to focus my energy and come up with a coherent plan and timetable.

Q:How extensive would you eventually like your pattern line to be and what kind of timeline do you imagine for your growth?

Eventually, I'd like it to be extensive enough to cover a range of categories.I love designing, and would really like to branch out into things like outerwear, lounge wear, etc.

I'm planning for slow and steady growth. This first year is all about investing in the business and making it sustainable. My goal is not to grow the business into something huge, but to have a wonderful company that supports me and that my customers love. Right now, I'm planning for another small line for the latter part of the year, investing in some infrastructure, and seeing where it goes from there!