Lowe’s for Pros

*This article was originally published in Lowe’s for Pros

A brand is a major differentiator among small business owners in the same industry—it’s a way consumers and even competitors identify a business. But creating a solid brand strategy is no easy feat. In part one of a three part series, learn how you can brand your business for success.

For many small business owners in the building industry, pondering the launch of a brand can seem like an abstract concept—like examining a piece of modern art for the first time and having no clue as to what it’s supposed to be.

Maybe it’s puzzling because it’s supposed to look simple, but still convey the essence of your company. An effective brand represents a tidy mini-portrait of what you want your business to be. It should instantly convey a clear image that resonates with customers. It should even project an engaging personality that draws repeat business because of positive, associated experiences with you and your crews. In the end, your brand-launching strategy will impact everything from the way you train your employees to your marketing/advertising methods and the visual images that are stamped on your trucks.

Here are five simple steps small business owners in the construction industry should take when launching a brand:

1. Define who you are—and what you want your business to be. It’s not enough to identify yourself as a residential or commercial builder or re modelerplumberelectricianproperty manager or landscaper. Nor is it enough to say that you “specialize in remodeling upscale homes” in a particular region. Potential customers need to know what you can do for them—right now.

“You need to target a very specific type of customer—not just a market, but a market niche,” says Yoon Cannon, a Philadelphia-based business consultant. “You need to find the subsets within the subsets.”

So if you use your marketing materials to focus on that upscale, local market, push a message that highlights a winning niche. Maybe you’ll provide homeowners with gorgeous lawns and gardens—and chemical free. Or you provide counter tops that represent the latest and most elegant designs of any local kitchen-remodeling business. Or you’re the plumber who can install fixtures that will turn a drab bathroom into a luxury spa worthy of a five-star hotel. Whatever your niche is, run with it.

2. Learn everything you can about your competitors—then brand yourself as something else. You can’t launch a brand without researching first what your competitors are selling. Are they fixated on price? If so, you need to latch upon something other than price, like value or service. One way to get a sense of this is to go online and seek public forums where the levels of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with completed projects are discussed.

“Learn everything you can about other builders and associated industry support companies that serve your area,” Cannon says. “Know their philosophies, approach, strengths, weaknesses, brand positioning and marketing plans.” (Look for more about distinguishing your brand from competitors in next month’s Branding for Success Part 2: Differentiating Yourself.)

3. Create marketing/promotional materials to constantly reinforce your niche. Once you determine who you are, then you need to align this focused message in all of your marketing efforts, whether online, print, radio or television. Keep the message clean and streamlined. Also, come up with a logo that’s simple and memorable. If you need to hire a brand or marketing consultant to advise you on your logo or messaging, do it. Since this brand is intended to last forever, it should be a one-time fee.

“Ultimately, you need to nail down a message that explains in a few words why your business is the smartest solution,” says Cannon, whose business, Paramount Business Coach, provides service companies with branding, business management and sales training. Then make sure all company materials—from printed materials to the shirts your crews wear—convey these words and images. This extends to everything that’s associated with your business, even your email address. So rather than use generic free accounts provided by Internet companies, provide your employees with email addresses that use your company name as the domain.

4. Come up with a story. A business isn’t simply a collection of tools, trucks and buildings—there are people behind it. Perhaps there’s a compelling story about how your company came together. The easiest way to engage customers is to share that story, whether in your promotional materials or your Web site’s blog.

“Every business has a different story, a history and background,” says Caitlin Sharp, a consultant at Design Management Company, a business management firm with offices in Los Angeles, New York City and London that works with residential/commercial development companies, among other clients. “Use that to make your company stand apart from all the others. Bring that story into your message.”

5. Get employees’ buy-in. Your staff needs to get on board too, so train them on the proper way to convey your brand identity. After all, the way they approach customers, perform jobs and follow up all speak to your brand.

“Your brand identity needs to stay the same and be conveyed effectively, no matter what form you’re talking about,” Cannon says.

AARP- Life Reimagined

*This article was originally published in AARP – Life ReImagined

Word of mouth is an unbeatable career and business builder. Here’s how to max it out.

As a business coach, Yoon Cannon relies on word of mouth referrals to grow her venture. But she faces a tricky challenge: The nature of her service makes it awkward for clients to tell their connections about her. “It’s an odd thing to say, `I think you should hire a business coach,’” she observes.

Cannon has found a way around that. To market her firm, Paramount Business Coach in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, she posts a blog that covers interesting topics, like inexpensive marketing techniques and the traits of successful entrepreneurs. When she adds a new post, she shares it on LinkedIn, making it easy for her followers to pass the links along without suggesting the recipient needs help. Similarly, she sends her contacts links to information on free webinars she holds, which they, in turn, can pass along to their network.

“Those are things that make it easy for people to refer me,” says Cannon. “They’re not referring me as, `Hire Yoon to be your personal business coach.’”

Whether you’re trying to stand out as a small business owner or in a traditional corporate career, enthusiastic professional referrals are an important way to get an edge. Doing so is a much better way to express ideas by word of mouth than in the cold formality of print. In a recent study by Manta, an online social network for business owners, more than half of recipients said that, compared to meeting people at events or participating in social networking sites, customer referrals provided the biggest boost for their business. At the same time, in corporate America, more companies are turning to their staff for referrals to prospective employees, instead of relying only on outside sources like ads on job boards.

But as Cannon’s experience shows, getting referrals doesn’t happen by accident. You’ve got to understand how to make it easy for people in your network to refer you. And your timing and approach need to take into account what’s at stake for those who might refer you.

“When you give a referral, you give a little bit of your reputation away,” says Ivan Misner, PhD, founder and chairman of the global business networking group BNI (Business Network International). “People give relationships to people they know and trust.” And she points to the downside when things don’t work out down the line. “They understand that giving a referral can hurt their relationship with the party they are giving the referral to.” Here are 5 strategies for making yourself more referable.

Nurture relationships with customers and colleagues. The people who report the most success from their networking efforts focus on building relationships first and on doing business second, according to research by BNI, which helps members build referral networks.

That doesn’t mean wining and dining everyone around you. It’s a matter of building trust—and that comes from giving every client your highest level of service, or, if you have a corporate job, making sure you meet and exceed the expectations of your boss and colleagues consistently. “Networking is more about farming than hunting,” says Ivan Misner, Ph.D, BNI’s founder and chairman. “It’s about cultivating relationships with other business professionals.”

See also: Over 50 & Unemployed: Finding Consulting Work

Those who are more “transactional” in their approach—trying to tap people they’ve just met for favors or new business–often find their approach less effective, according to BNI’s research. If you’ve ever had a great conversation with someone at a business conference and then gotten a phone call a couple of days later pressuring you to make a deal, you understand how off-putting it can be. That new acquaintance is suffering from what Misner calls the networking disconnect. “They try to sell before building a relationship,” he says.

Raise your profile. If you’ve just started a small business or recently made a career change, becoming visible and establishing credibility in your professional community are the first steps to getting referrals. “People have to know who you are and what you do—and know that you’re good at it,” Misner says. Contributing to industry publications or volunteering to serve on a committee or speak at a conference for your professional association are all good approaches. As well as promoting by word of mouth by putting signs and posters up.

This works for well-established pros, too. Cannon, who is in her forties, attends meetings of the local chapter of Le Tip International, a networking group where members make brief presentations about what they do. Instead of attempting to make deals with people she’s just met, she’s asked the group to consider her as a speaker or to pass along information about a seminar she is holding. “I’m giving them value as a thought leader in my area,” she says. In four or five years, the group has given her 32 referrals to people who eventually became clients.

Business News Daily

*This article was originally published in Business News Daily

Are there so many tasks on your to-do list that you barely have time to focus on your business? If so, it might be time to think about hiring a virtual assistant.

Whether it’s a single person dedicated to working with your business or a service that provides assistance on an as-needed basis, a virtual assistant (VA) can free you from administrative tasks and let you focus on what you do best. By hiring a remote worker, you can get the help you need without the expenses associated with a full-time, in-house employee.

If you’re thinking about utilizing a VA for your business, here are a few tips for successfully finding and working with one.

Know who they are

Business owners commonly hire VAs for tasks like public relations, social media and other customer-facing duties. If you’re going to entrust someone with your brand, the first step is to make sure you trust that person.

“Personality is important,” said Diana Ennen, founder of Virtual World Publishing. “You want a VA who you get along with and feel comfortable trusting with your business information. It’s OK to get testimonials and check references.”

If you’re hiring an assistant through a staffing firm or service provider, be sure to read his or her reviews and get samples of past work when applicable.

Make sure they understand your business

Every VA has a different background and skill set, so you’ll want to find one who is familiar with the type of work you do.

“You want to make sure that the VA understands your business and the way you work,” said Jennette Pokorny, chief operating officer of human resources service provider EverNext HR. “Having to train a VA in your business should not be your focus. Interview the VA or company you are hiring as you would an in-house employee. Ask yourself: ‘Do they fit my needs? Do they understand my industry? Do they have the experience in the areas I will use them in?’”

Work out payment options up front

A VA service provider will often have a set price for hiring their assistants, but if you’re working with a freelance VA, you’ll have to work out a payment system. Hourly rates may seem like the easiest solution, but because VAs work remotely, tracking exactly what they’re doing each hour can be difficult.

“Paying hourly is usually a downfall for everyone,” said Lis Dingjan, founder of branding and Web development firm The Identity. “It doesn’t encourage your VA to work efficiently, since some tasks only take a few minutes, and will create a frustrating work relationship. Package things up and [set a price] for batch tasks if possible.”

Regardless of your pay structure, make sure you’re getting the best service for the price. Ennen noted that cheaper isn’t always better.

“The more skilled VAs can be more expensive, but they are worth it,” she told Business News Daily. “Know what you can afford, and look for an assistant who meets your needs.”

Be mindful of their schedules

As with any remote employee, time-zone differences can impact the way you and your VA work together. Business coach Yoon Cannon noted that if an assistant lives in another time zone, you should verify that they’re able to respond to you during your working hours.

Another factor to keep in mind is that you are likely not the only business with which an assistant is working. It’s important to respect the fact that, like regular employees, your VA has other obligations outside of your tasks.

“Remember that VAs are not your employees,” said Jackie Gernaey, CEO of the New York chapter of business coaching service provider The Alternative Board. “They may have competing schedules with other clients.”

Communicate clearly

Communication is key to any successful business relationship, and this is especially true with VAs. Explaining yourself thoroughly via digital means of communication can sometimes be difficult, but it’s necessary to ensure that your assistant is carrying out his or her tasks properly.

“If a VA doesn’t complete your task successfully, it is often due to you not explaining the task clearly enough,” said entrepreneur and business consultant Nate Ginsburg.

“Your own delegation and communication skills play an important role in creating a successful outcome with your VAs,” Cannon added. “Take the few extra minutes to be super clear and specific in all your communications.”

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Chamber of Commerce Magazine

*This article was originally published in Chamber of Commerce Magazine

W4 Magazine, Chamber of Commerce – Budget Friendly Strategies to Grow Your Business

According to Bucks County.org, most Bucks County area businesses are small (less than 3 people). And while the economy is starting to gain traction, business owners are looking with cautious optimism toward the future. They’re not making any hurried decisions.

The turning economic climate, however, is not a time for staying in your comfort zone. It is still critical that businesses are careful to make wise, strategic business decisions that often require small business owners to get out of their comfort zones.

If you’re like most business owners, you are so busy focusing on the daily tasks of running the business that it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Yet, if you don’t take the time to work ON your business plan for future growth, it’s all too easy to go in circles rather than accomplishing the tasks that will get you to where you want to be.

Your business success depends on you to choose and apply the best advice and proven methods that will work for you. But it can be a minefield out there.

There’s so much information it can be overwhelming just knowing where to start. Yet, if you have the right blueprint, growing your business is really a matter of following a well-marked trail of other successful people.

Here are four strategies to grow your business without breaking the bank, and tips on how to overcome the common obstacle to these strategies. Once you start integrating them into your business, you will have laid the groundwork for your success blueprint!

Option 1: Increase your marketing! Roll out a series of strategic, multiple marketing campaigns (keyword: multiple). Whether you are trying to break your company’s first million dollar milestone or whether you’re looking to move into the $200 million dollar level both scenarios will require increasing your company’s current level of visibility and raising greater awareness of your company’s unique sales proposition in the marketplace. Whatever the scale, the goal of achieving greater output will first need to start with increasing greater input. In today’s economy the key challenge is the ever-decreasing budget shortage. There are a number of strategies to try to meet the budget challenge. Here are three:

a. Join forces. Many of your marketing projects can receive greater funding, thus achieve greater response rates when you team together with one or two other complementary businesses. Joining forces can be as simple as a joint direct mail campaign or as creative as an alliance of businesses sponsoring a special event. Plus, multiple businesses together will always add more value to the end customer who attends the event.

b. Carve out a market niche. Increasing your marketing does not have to equate to increasing your marketing budget. But, in order to do so you will have to squeeze more leverage from your existing marketing budget. Businesses will always get a better ROI if your marketing message is being directed to a highly targeted market segment. Choosing to be more selective on “who” receives your marketing dollars will impact 50% or more return. The remaining balance will impacted by this third strategy.

c. Differentiate your value proposition. Marketing dollars will quickly disintegrate and be forgotten when the message is directed to a broad audience and especially so when the unique sales proposition isn’t really all that unique (in comparison to your competitor’s offerings) Investing the time and energy to evaluate a truly unique and compelling message that sets your business apart is a smart strategy to meeting the challenge of limited marketing dollars.

Strategy 2: Hire higher talent. I meet a lot of new clients whose belief is that no one can do as good of a job as they could, so they would just rather not waste the money on paying someone else to do a poor job. So, what ends up happening is these same small business owners continue laboring on that hamster wheel year after year in a blur of putting out fires, chaotically multi-tasking and racing the clock every day to jam in all of their tasks on the overflowing to-do lists. Here is my response: if the fear of poor results are what keeps you from hiring talent, then hire better talent who can match your results, or surpass your results.

You can wear yourself out running the marathon to your destination (only to collapse when you get there) or you could use your car to drive you there. Not only will you arrive much faster, but you’ll be rested when you get there. Okay, so the challenge here again is having the cash flow to support the new hires. (Yes, that car needs gas and of course gas costs money.)

a. Apply for a bank loan. As simple as this may sound, many small businesses have not fully explored what their banks (and other banks) can offer to supply the needed cash flow to grow. The plan many small business owners have about their cash flow is to wait until an increase of revenues comes in to use that surplus to fund for growth. Except, when you are in a hurry to get to where you need to go, you just need to borrow that gas money so you can get going. For many small business owners the concept of borrowing money to fund business growth is a scary jump that they are simply not comfortable with. Ahhh, here it is. An opportunity to get out of your comfort zone!

b. Re-distribute the budget. Take a hard look at your monthly profit and loss statements. Engage an admin person on your team to price shop those expenses that are commodities. Evaluate your other expenses and run the numbers to find out what the true ROI (return on investment) has been in the last 6 months. Cut out or prune back from those categories that came in on the lowest 20% of ROI producing expenditures.

c. Investigate your county and state resources. There are many resources for different types of businesses. Here are two local ones to look into that may be a good fit for your business: Bucks County Economic Development Center and Pennsylvania Career Link.

d. Offer shares of stock. Finding higher talent can mean simply outsourcing your projects. But, for those business owners who are looking for key players to grow with your company consider offering shares of stock. This not only offsets the lower pay, but it also attracts a more results driven, long term oriented, high performer.

Strategy 3: Prune back. Growing your business to the next level often entails eliminating your bottom 20% of product or service offerings. Think of it as shedding the dead weight. Landscaping needs regular pruning to flourish and grow — so do businesses. You want to channel your time, energy, resources and focus to the products, services and projects that yield your greatest margins. If you’re a service business that means you need to consider firing your bottom 20% of clients (your level D clients) in order to deliver better services to your A and B level clients. Drop the products or projects whose profit margins fall in the bottom 20%.

Strategy 4: Add a new spin. Just as the weather is always changing, the needs of your market changes as well. Spend the extra time you have (from pruning back) to get to know the profile and needs of your ideal market at a deeper level. How can you deliver your services to them in a more meaningful way? What new product or service can you offer to your “A” clients?

If you’ve gotten to this final paragraph I want to congratulate you for doing more than 90% of today’s small business owners. You are among the top 10% for taking time to read this business growth article. Taking charge of your business however, reads easier than it is.

Now that you understand these 4 strategies what are you going to do about it today?

Statistics say that people forget 50% of what they just learned by end of day. Then they forget 50% of that by the end of the next day. At that rate, if you wait a few weeks to act on anything you just read you may only remember 5%. My final challenge to you is to implement these 4 tactics. Business growth doesn’t happen from wishing for it, complaining about it or thinking about it. Business growth happens from sound, strategic planning and then implementation.

Business growth expert Yoon Cannon helps entrepreneurs create thriving 6, 7, and 8 figure businesses. Yoon has started, developed and sold 3 businesses herself, and so understands the unique challenges today’s business owners face on a daily basis. She has also trained and coached thousands of professionals in the service industry on marketing, productivity, leadership development and business management. Ms. Cannon continues to speak and be published. o receive free resources visit: www.paramountbusinesscoach.com.

Training Magazine

*This article was originally published in Training Magazine

My interview with
No More Bored Meetings

It might be time for a training refresher on how to run, and participate in, an effective meeting.

Rob Bellmar sprinted for home, glancing over his shoulder to check for the throw. That’s when he stepped on the bat in the base path and blew out his right quadriceps leg muscle.He learned something, though. About meetings.

The softball injury last June meant that Bellmar, senior vice president at InterCall, had to phone in for a meeting a few days later, rather than attend in person.

So what? Virtual meetings are business as usual for the Chicago-based West Corp. subsidiary. InterCall helps clients conduct meetings via audio, video, and Web. But Bellmar’s injury gave him a fresh insight. Calling in on the phone, he missed all the body language. If everybody’s remote, that’s one thing, but if some are present physically and one or more are virtual, meeting leaders must adjust.

For example: Were people paying attention? In person, stern looks from the senior VP matter. “In virtual meetings,” says Bellmar, “you’re not there to give them the peer-pressure stare, the one that says, ‘Are you in this meeting or not?’”

For the original article: https://trainingmag.com/content/no-more-bored-meetings

American Express Magazine

*This article was originally published in American Express Magazine

* What does your LinkedIn summary say about you?

Though often overlooked or underutilized, the LinkedIn summary is a free-form, 2,000-character-rich section located at the top of every LinkedIn profile—the profile owner’s moment to shine.

But because writing a compelling summary is time-consuming, LinkedIn users often bypass the summary section, missing their opportunity to tell their unique story and connect with profile readers.

I spoke with a number of LinkedIn experts and professional copywriters to get their takes on how to master the LinkedIn summary. Time and time again, I heard 10 key tips for getting it right. How many are you abiding by?

1. Use keywords intelligently.

Many LinkedIn users falsely believe that the summary section is a fitting section to unload a word cloud of relevant keywords, as the section helps with SEO. A blob of words, though, is not the best method. “Avoid sounding like you are keyword stuffing,” says LinkedIn marketing consultant Yoon Cannon. “Include the keywords in your summary copy, but [do so] using language that flows like a normal conversation.”