Sunday, March 24, 2013

Handling the Not-So-Stealthy Competition

Collaboration within an industry is not new. Studies show that businesses can be strengthened by alliances…allowing them to gain greater access to a target market and at the same time provide their customers with a wider range of services. But these alliances are nearly always “complementary” arrangements based on mutual agreements. Whereas, providing information to companies that are in direct competition with no prior relationship is a little trickier. I’m less clear on the protocol and am wondering if you would help me with a recent dilemma.

Recently, a local competitor sent me an email asking me about my rates and whether my prospects and customers have been receptive to them…in other words, what are my current rates and have they been successful with my target market? The question caught me by surprise. If I shared this information, would I be revealing my own business strategies to the benefit of a competitor? If I didn’t share this information, would I be seen as harboring information that could be helpful to the industry as a whole? Or could I be jeopardizing a potential alliance that I may need in the future?

Yes, I believe in transparency. Yes, I believe in partnerships and collaboration within an industry. Yet I found myself hesitating to share this information with someone I do not know or have never met. At the end of the day, my business philosophy and values are unique.  There’s a great INC article  that states customers are choosing to buy from a company not just because it offers a product with a fair price, but also because that company has good values.

How would you handle this situation? What has been your experience? Or what are your thoughts about sharing business strategies with peers in your industry? I’m trying to figure out:
1.       How much information to share, and
2.       How to frame an appropriate response.

Many thanks in advance to your response!! Your feedback is valuable to me!!

Monday, March 4, 2013 Brings Value to Your New Business

GUEST BLOG by Sheryl Hunter, Hunter Law Tampa Bay

One of my favorite internet websites is While its focus is on technology start-ups, the content is of value to every kind of start-up. Go there for advice, solace from other start-up founders, and for pure educational entertainment. And here’s a link to a list of top start-up blogs on the web:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Every Business Owner Gets The Blues!

Do you remember how you felt when you first decided to open your own business? What an incredibly feeling of excitement! Did you keep a notepad at your bedside for those nights when you wake with a great idea or drive down the road trying to find a pen and something to write on? What about your energy? You start with so much energy, passion and drive in the early days.  You could hardly wait to start each new day. And then… the routine of day to day operations starts to linger and chip away at your excitement. This is NORMAL... for everyone! However, it’s how quickly you respond and what steps you take that matter most! 

Unfortunately, motivation is tricky and not always easy to sustain. And, on top of that, the influx of new customers (or an unhappy customer) can be erratic. You can forget that there are times when you forget that there is a natural ebb and flow in all businesses. It’s easy to become anxious and discouraged. Even if you have a steady flow of customers, routine begins to set in, and you may feel that you have lost your edge.

If you are currently in a “slump,” be reassured that there are ways to re-energize yourself. Below we have identified some suggestions, but we’d also like to hear how overcame this temporary state of slumpiness (my word)! 


  • Set specific goals that are achievable and can be tracked. For instance, as you create your long-term goals to direct the growth of your business, also set short-term goals to keep you moving forward. Write them down and revise them periodically if necessary. Staying on track gives you a feeling of accomplishment. It may not be the initial excitement like you felt at the beginning, but at least you know that you are not stagnating. And it does not hurt to enjoy rewards along the way. It can be as simple as having lunch with a special friend after meeting a goal or taking the afternoon off to go fishing!
  • Routinely network with other small business owners. Sharing ideas can help freshen business approaches and help you feel more confident in the path that you are taking. Don’t forget to attend social networking events for small business owners as well. A little fun can go a long way to minimize the effects of a temporary lag in motivation.
  • Take breaks during the day. If you are a type-A personality, you might work from sun-up to sun-down during a slump, not realizing that you are draining your own energy. Get some fresh air. If you don’t your days repeat themselves where you feel like Bill Murray in the movie “Groundhog Day.” (Great movie!) Take a walk or ride a bike for 30 minutes… even if you have to set a “reminder” on your list of daily tasks to give yourself permission to EAT, at least!  I can’t say enough about building leisure-time into your day. Some of my best inspirations come when I’m taking a long walk by myself…I call it “meditation in motion.”
  • Remember what you love about your business… what was your original inspiration? Think about all the benefits that go along with small business ownership. If you are independent by nature and you once worked for a highly structured company, you can probably remember the thrill of breaking away from some of the bureaucracy and constraints that often go hand in hand with large businesses. Do you remember those early feelings of freedom? How about the time gained from eliminating commuting to and from your job in traffic?... Priceless!
  • Be conscious of the difference between personal habits that create success and those sneaky habits that can sabotage success. For instance, stay organized and don’t procrastinate. Procrastination is a slippery slope and can lead toward an eventual feeling of incompetence. However, being organized doesn’t mean to never shake things up. Periodically take a fresh look at your standard processes to see if you can infuse new ways of thinking and approaches. Rely on trusted allies to offer new ideas and perspectives.
  • Get inspired! Think about offering a temporary “added-value” to your best customers for no cost as a thank-you for their business. It’s a nice customer service gesture, and your customers may find that they want to pay for it as a continued feature.  A grateful client who values your work and verbally praises your efforts can be a big boost to both your self-esteem and your level of motivation.
  • Consider mentoring someone who is just starting out as a small business owner. Sometimes focusing on someone else’s business helps you look at your own business in a fresh way. It’s also a great way to connect to peers in a very positive way.
  • Attend seminars that help support and encourage business owners, read or listen to motivational CDs (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is a great one!).
  • Journal your feelings, both positive and negative. The simple act of writing down how you feel and seeing the words in black and white is immensely powerful.
  • One last tip we recently learned is to start the year off with a jar of thanks. Place a small note of any accomplishment or kind words that made you happy in the jar and at the end of the year read them all. It can be as big as a new business venture or as small as seeing a rainbow in the sky that made you smile.

These are just some ideas, but if you have other ideas that have worked for you, please share them!! We would love to learn about your experiences…and other readers will as well!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Get on the right TAX Track for 2013

2012 IS OVER and many small businesses are still smell the fumes as they scurry to collect and organize their records in preparation for tax filing. You’re one of the lucky ones if you have maintained accurate records and tracked expenses all year long for a smooth 2012 filing!  If not, today you can begin anew by implementing procedures and practices to avoid this pain for 2013. While it may be too late for 2012, you can better plan NOW for 2013.

The IRS recently announced that in 2013 it intends to increase the number of audits conducted on small businesses in order to help close the $450 billion tax gap. So, keep that in mind when reviewing those questionable expenses that you think may cause doubt and critique. No need to bring Uncle Sam’s posse into a fray!  Understand the deductions to find out which ones you can qualify for or ask a tax professional for help (my preference and recommendation)!!

Small Businesses Audits Expected to Increase in 2013
  • The IRS intends to focus on small businesses that claim a total income of $1 million or more and will closely scrutinize noncompliance issues associated with international business transactions.
  • Small businesses that they have 25 or fewer employees and if their employees earn an average of $50K or less will be able to qualify for a tax credit. There is also a “qualifier” related to the portion of healthcare costs paid.
  • Small business owners who work from a home office will use a simple formula for 2013 tax returns. You will be able to write off $5 per square foot of home office space (up to 300 square feet and with a maximum deduction of $1,500). No more 43-line form to figure out this deductible. Yay!
  • The IRS will examine how small business owners classify the people who work for them. If you use independent contractors, you are not required to pay Medicare or Social Security taxes, healthcare or retirement benefits. Be careful! The IRS will be looking for those businesses that are not accurately classifying their staff in the attempt to reduce their taxes or avoid taxes by misrepresenting fringe benefits that they offer their employees.

Some Deductions That You Don’t Want to Overlook

---If you use your car for business, you can deduct some of the costs to maintain it. There are two ways to claim vehicle expenses.
  • actual expense method - you need to keep accurate records of your actual business-related expenses connected with maintaining your vehicle.
  • standard mileage rate method, you may deduct the standard mileage rate per business mile driven (2013 standard mileage rate increases to 56.5 cents per mile).

---If you are in the process of launching your business, you can write off up to $5,000 in startup costs and another $5,000 in “organizational spending” during the first year that your business is launched if you have less than $50,000 in expenses for either category.
---Books that you purchase to help you conduct business without the services of legal or tax professionals are fully deductible. Alternatively, services from lawyers, tax experts or other consultants are deductible.
---If you entertain current or potential customers, you may deduct 50% of what you spend as long as it is related to your business.
---If someone doesn’t pay you for a product he or she has purchased from you, the cost of product is deductible. However, if you provide a service and your client doesn’t pay, you can’t deduct the value of the time you spent on the client. Ouch!
---If you take out a personal loan for business purposes or use credit for business purchases, the interest and carrying costs are fully deductible.
---If you must move because of your business (or job), some of the moving costs may be deductible. However, the new workplace must be at least 50 miles away.
---If your business is an LLC or partnership, your business can make a charitable contribution, and you are allowed to claim it on your individual tax return. If your business is a corporation, your corporation deducts the contributions.

Best Practices
  • The best way to prepare for your taxes is to meticulously track your expenses and income all year long. To minimize the risk of an audit, use a professional tax software (like TurboTax, TaxCut, H & R Block) as a tracking tool and save all related documentation (receipts, mileage logs and repair tickets).
  • Consult with a qualified tax professional, especially complex returns!
  • Maintain your business records separate from your personal records.
  • File your returns on time.


Taxes are inevitable, and they can be a headache if you don’t take the time to track all expenses related to your business practices. If you feel that filing taxes is becoming too complicated for you, don’t hesitate to hire a professional to help you prepare them!! It’s well worth the investment to ensure that you are taking advantage of all tax benefits currently afforded to small businesses!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Kick start your list of New Year's RESOLUTIONS!

Here we are again at the start of a brand new year! And, once again I like many others have made New Year’s resolutions that are slow to implement! However, I have now decided that the best time (for me) to make resolutions is at least two weeks after the New Year has begun. It really helps to take Off the pressure that I put ON myself! Those first two weeks are really a period of transition coming down from the high of end of year wrap-ups, holiday festivities and reflection on the past year. Resolutions are made to be productive and achievable.

So, I recently sat down and created my list using a few of the suggestions shared below. Some items have specific end dates others have just a start date! For example, I want to start back up with Toastmasters so I have added ‘Attend Toastmasters’ to my list to attend at least one class. That first step can be the most challenging, but then hopefully will turn into a habitual. And since, realistically, I may not be able to accomplish everything on my list within a year’s time; I’ll prioritize them by ease to implement. I’ll place my list in a visible place and tackle one at a time – crossing out each accomplished task with a big red pen as a quick visual. Remember, resolutions are not necessarily about breaking bad habits, but instead consider them tools to aid in an actionable process about how to use time and talents more wisely. Hope that makes sense. It made sense in my head!
#1--Refrain from multitasking. It is so tempting, but multitasking is just not productive. In reality, your brain can only focus effectively on one thing at a time. Stop switching back and forth from one task to another. Choose one task at a time to work on and be sure to turn off any distractions. In the same vein of thought, don’t procrastinate. Decide on your daily priority and get right on it!

#2--Small business owners often stand the risk of “burn-out.” Hire extra staff if you are trying to do everything by yourself. Hire only the very best people and make sure that you pay them well. Even if you have a small team, delegate and refrain from micromanaging. If you have hired the right people, you can depend on them to do it right. This is absolutely worth the effort. If you don’t have the resources to hire someone, consider outsourcing. It could be less expensive than hiring an employee and the results can be just as useful. Here are some suggestions:

#3--Limit your emails to no more than 50 in your inbox. Read each one once and then either act on it immediately, delete it or put it in an appropriate file.

#4--Review your business plan weekly and make any adjustments that are necessary. Remember that the best business plans are“living” documents that are not stagnant. If one of your business approaches is not working, drop it and replace it with something more useful. But first make sure that your goals are broken down into manageable steps.

#5--Make promoting your business a high priority. Pay attention to your marketing plan and make sure that you are following it. Use social media for customer relations, not sales. Start to build prospect lists by utilizing your website. Invite your visitors to ask questions and develop a dialogue, or create a free special report in your field or an e-course that requires an email address so that it can be sent to interested parties. Visitors to your website have already shown an interest in your business by just stopping by!

#6--Learn something new that will add to your skills. For instance, even if you have outsourced your accounting, still learn everything that you can about bookkeeping so that you will understand the numbers and use those numbers for projections.

#7--Join a new networking group. Even if you already are a member of several, find a new one to replace one that hasn’t yielded the connections you had hoped for. You will be surprised how many fresh relationships will develop and how your visibility will be expanded.

#8--Find a cause in your community to support as a volunteer. It will enhance your professional image, connect you to your community, and bring you the satisfaction of helping others.

#9--Repair and update your office equipment environment. You work more productively if you are comfortable and you are not frustrated by equipment that is not in top condition… and if a client stops by unexpectedly, the orderly ambience will be a reflection of you and your business.

#10--Identify your financial leaks. Take an inventory of your spending habits. For instance, if you haven’t compared prices on your Internet and phone service recently, do it now.

My last thought is to consider keeping an informal journal of the steps that you are taking to keep your resolutions. It is a way of affirming that you are on track and a reminder that you are ultimately accountable to yourself!! As your business prospers, stress will be diminished and replaced by peace-of-mind.

Which suggestion above do you like? Please share.

FYI – Also, check out a recent Forbes article about 11 tools that you can use to help keep your resolutions... including apps. Love apps too!

Friday, November 30, 2012

As a professional speaker and coach, should you keep your personal opinion to yourself?

Have you ever been in a business setting where someone has made a remark that was inappropriate, controversial or offensive to you? Unfortunately, I have and I’m never quite sure how to respond because often the comment is unexpected. Like a slap in the face. I'm stunned, deaf and speechless... and then the moment passes. What in the world!

It’s even more difficult to address these comments if they have been delivered by a professional presenter in a conference. This happens to me on occasion and I am always caught off guard and in a daze for a few seconds. My first reaction is likely to be, “Did I really hear what I think I heard?” 

At a recent networking meeting, the presenter made some very clear remarks expressing strong personal political views. Her tone was disparaging and judgmental. I suddenly felt trapped…as if I were held hostage to the presenter’s political opinions. I imperceptibly scanned the room to see if anyone else noticed her unprofessional remarks, but no one seemed visibly fazed.

Ironically, the topic of her presentation was, “How to Project an Impressionable Image.” The speaker was an image consultant and I thought, “well isn't this interesting!” I was invited by an acquaintance to attend, and although the speaker was well-respected in the field and shared many helpful tips, I found myself shutting down and soon heard very little of what else she had to say.

After most conferences and workshops, I usually approach and thank the presenter, but in this case, I could not bring myself to do so. To add to the irony, I won her book in a drawing. Needless to say, I may never read it. I left feeling frustrated. Were my feelings justified? Or was I just being petty?

I’ve always believed that speakers should be nondiscriminatory and sensitive to all members of their audience in respect to their convictions, values and beliefs.

How best should this be handled? Here are some recommendations:
  • Don't immediately react. First gather your thoughts and remain calm.
  • Try to give the presenter the benefit of the doubt, if it’s possible that the comment was made inadvertently or in ignorance. 
  • If it seems to be intentional or if it happens more than once in a presentation, don’t hesitate to respond. Sometimes a small visual reaction such as a wince or nose wrinkle does the trick. 
  • Rather than making a condescending or passive aggressive comment to the presenter, try asking a genuinely concerned question such as, “What makes you believe that?” Or play Devil’s Advocate by saying something like, “A lot of people feel like you, but there are others who believe that ...” 
  • Consider addressing the remarks privately and let him or her know that you understand that he/she has a right to his/her opinions, but that you feel insulted and that the remarks are hurtful to you. Always do this in a calm manner. Never sacrifice your own personal dignity.
For me, I did regret that I didn’t address the issue in some manner. I still wonder how I will handle the situation in the future.

What would you do?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Six Effective Ideas to Market Your Business

Reaching your potential customers and creating a positive image for your business are two of the most important indicators of a successful marketing campaign. Sometimes associated with branding, establishing a positive business image is actually more than that; it involves the quality of your product or service, your commitment to customer satisfaction, your consistent customer outreach efforts and your involvement in the community. It also goes hand in hand with a solid marketing plan that not only guides your activities, but also indicates a certain level of professional sophistication to existing and potential customers.

Every day you should be paying attention to advancing your public image. Every day you should be proactive in your approach. In the process, don’t be afraid to experiment with new marketing tactics, but be careful it is not at the expense of your overall plan.

If you have already developed a marketing plan, you probably already know the answers to the following questions. If not, now is the time to do some important thinking and doing! 

·         Who are your customers and competitors?
·         What is your goal? Are you starting a new business or expanding an existing one?
·         Have you clearly defined your niche in the market?
·         What are your key messages…what makes you unique?
·         What are your key approaches?
·         What are your tactics within these approaches?
·         What is your timeline, and what are your benchmarks?

Once you have figured out the answers to these questions, you can begin to explore the different steps that you can take to reach your target customers. The steps below are a few of the most important ones to evaluate: 

1. Create online visibility
·         Make sure that you have a website. If you can’t hire someone to design it for you, use a company like; or
·         Set up a listing in local search engine directories using resources like;; and
·         Create a business profile on social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
·         Participate in online conversations and comment on blogs related to your product or service.
·         Write your own blogs about your area of expertise or share tips that can help your target audience.

2. Develop branding tools
·         Create a logo and company slogan.
·         Design and print professional business cards and stationary.
·         Give your friends and associates your cards so that they can distribute them to their contacts.

3. Reach out to your industry
·         Attend meetings held by groups like the Chamber of Commerce or other civic associations. Be attentive to the people you meet. Develop relationships.
·         Join and be active in several membership groups. These groups often list their members and contact information on their websites.
·         Offer to speak at industry conferences.
·         Place an ad in a conference brochure.

4. Reach out to your community
·         Create goodwill by volunteering for an annual cause.
·         Sponsoring a fundraising activity.
·         Offer your service or product to a non-profit to use in their fundraising events.

5. Satisfy customers’ expectations
·         Make sure that customer satisfaction is a business priority. Anticipate their needs. Meet deadlines. Exceed their expectations whenever possible. Word travels fast.
·         Offer two versions of your product or service – one that is “premium” and one that fits their budget.
·         Always deliver a high quality product or service.
·         Communicate often with your customers.
·         Perform quality assurance surveys (hire a third party to obtain honest feedback)
·         Follow up with them periodically even after your transaction has been completed.
·         Ask them for testimonials and referrals.

 6. Explore low and moderate cost advertising:
·         Send press releases to local newspapers, TV stations and radio stations. Explore online press-release services.
·         Consider using a magnetic sign on your car advertising your business.
·         Partner with businesses that complement your business. Share leads and mail lists. Experiment with cross promotional activities.
·         If your business is minority-owned or woman-owned, consider getting certified by private or government organizations.
·         Write letters of introduction to people who may be interested in your product or service. Follow up with postcards or phone calls.

The bottom line – be constantly attentive to your business and to your customers. Engage consistently. Look for opportunities to expand your client base while also retaining your existing one. Be positive; be ethical; be sincere. Your business is an expression of who you are. Treat it with care!!