What To Expect When You Are Starting Up Your Business

What are the paradigm shifts that happen throughout your first year of starting up your small business? We tracked our first year as a business and have followed thousands of others on this journey. We hope that knowing about this journey early on will help you on yours. The main paradigm shifts are:

  • The Fake Start
  • Small Business Realities
  • Getting to the Second Ring
  • Unlearning (Re-learning)
  • Asking for Help
  • Cash-o-la
  • Breath(ish)
  • Think Bigger
  • Graduate
  • Do Bigger
  • Sustain

You’ll also hear about the milestones you can expect to reach in your first few years.

The Fake Start paradigm shift occurs when you first jump into the idea of starting your own business. You’ll hear it broken down into four weeks. Get ready to do some serious talking and planning! You’re putting your business together during this first month and making sure that everyone around you knows it.

You’re making a paradigm shift to Small Business Realities thinking when you start to realize that small business is different than every other type of business. The approximately four weeks that you spend doing this sort of thinking are about testing things out and learning the rules of small business (“”Cash is King” and “Personal Brand is Small Business Brand”, for example.) You’ll concentrate on getting some cash into your business, assess how long you can wait for cash to start coming in if it’s not right away and determine what prices you’ll need to charge in the future to keep your business running.

In Week 8, at the tail end of the Small Business Realities paradigm shift, you may still be only selling to friends and family; that’s okay. But prepare for a paradigm shift during Weeks 9 to 12 as you think about Getting to the 2nd Ring: Can you can sell to strangers? Your focus will be on finding new ways to sell, assessing who you know outside of the circle of friends and family that could be potential customers, learning about networking, and getting business cards to carry so that you can have them handy to give out to people.

At Week 13, four months into your small business journey, the Unlearning (Relearning) paradigm shift begins. This is a time to go over your progress so far and tweak your plans and processes for the future to include what you’ve learned. Maybe you need to do more definitive goal-setting. Maybe you need to examine your revenue streams and determine whether they’re all working optimally for you. Maybe your marketing plan needs some changes. Maybe you need to consider a potential referral partner who take on work that people who want you to do that’s not a service you offer. This paradigm shift is about asking, “Is this real? Did what I try during the first 3 months work, or do I have to change things up?”

In Month 5 you’re going to start adding people to your team, shifting your small business paradigm from one where you work alone to one where Asking for Help is healthy and encouraged. Finding someone to talk to about your business (not family or a significant other – they’re sick of hearing about your business by now), who can offer a second opinion about issues you face and help you keep your energy up, will keep you from waking up at night with business concerns stuck in your head. Mentors are ideal for this.

Cash-O-La! Weeks 22-25 are about shifting paradigms around money – learning why “cash is king”, why reducing costs is important, how you may be able to benefit from bartering, and how attention to all of these things ups your profit margin.

Weeks 26-28 are called the Breath(ish) paradigm shift because at this point you’ve been going full-speed for six months and you need to slow down and make sure that you’re taking care of yourself as well as well as your business.

Put a self-care plan in place if you don’t have one, to avoid burn-out, because… You’re back at in Weeks 29-33, when you’re shifting your business paradigm to Think Bigger! You’re looking for an elephant. Not literally, of course, but an elephant of a new client that brings in a lot of money with consistency (or a current client to whom you can sell more services.) Reconnect with contacts you made when you launched and let them know that you’re still around and offering services and welcoming referrals. Consider making your business your full-time job if you haven’t already and give some thought as to how you’ll structure Accounts Receivable when the time comes.

The Graduate paradigm shift rolls around at Week 34, when you might feel to need to move on from your mentor – you’re having some success, you’re feeling confident, and you’d like to go at it alone. Take a couple of weeks to consider your decision, trying to stay humble and realistic as you evaluate where you are with your business and whether you can keep up the momentum on your own. At the end of Week 37, make the decision about whether to graduate from your mentor.

From Week 38-41 the business paradigm shifts to Do Bigger – you’ve thought about how you’d like to make your business grow, now what structure do you need to put in place to make it happen? You’ll think about action plans, scalability and processes, re-investment, and whether you need employees or partners.

In the Sustain paradigm shift, the last of the paradigm shifts for your first year, the focus first on strengthening your business through its customer service and its branding, and then on you – is this making you happy? Do you want to continue? Hopefully you do! Congratulate yourself for making it through your first year…you did it!

View What to Expect When You Are Starting to learn about the Small Business Solver modules that are the most useful for small businesses in each paradigm shift.

Make Money & Make A Difference

Make Money & Make a Difference is all about how you can do both in your organization! It’s a good business move to do so, because 60% of customers want to support companies with a sense of corporate social responsibility. How can you lose?

If you need more convincing, this webinar examines even more of the business advantages to operating as a social enterprise, including:

  • Improved public perception
  • Direct recognition for your efforts
  • Increased sales
  • More opportunities for partnerships
  • Increased employee satisfaction
  • Opportunities to team build
  • Increased opportunities to network Statistics show that almost all small business owners want to give back to their communities – over 99%.

There are many ways that companies can be social enterprises…check out these businesses that are making a difference.

Hungry Heart Cafe – “Hungry Heart Café is much more than a great place for food. We help vulnerable adults access careers in the food service industry so that they can achieve independence and realize their dreams.”

Virgin Unite Foundation – “non-profit foundation…to unite people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world.”

Tim Horton’s Smile Cookie Week – “Your full $1 goes to over 500 charities and organizations in communities across Canada ”

Making a difference feels good. It can make things a little more complicated for a small business, yes, but the webinar addresses these issues. You’ll learn about how to take a social idea and make it a social enterprise:

  • Start with the problem to find the solution
  • Validate your idea
  • Marketing your idea
  • Developing your team
  • Determining your financing options

Does the idea of social innovation and social enterprise appeal to you?

How to Give a Great Sales Presentation, Small Business-Style

Our live webinar series is motoring through summer, with the fast-paced and information-packed “How to Give a Great Sales Presentation, Small Business-Style!” This webinar focuses on 4 key areas of giving a presentation: Audience, Content, “The Nerves”, and Was It Good?

The Audience: Tailor Your Presentation’s Message for Different Groups You need to know who your audience is and what they care about so that you can present information to them that’s relevant and useful. If you don’t know about your audience and what’s relevant and useful for them…find out! You can learn this information by:

  • Attending the event yourself (if possible)
  • Asking the organizers about the people who will be attending and what they’re likely to want to hear about.
  • Showing up early talk to people prior to your presentation about why they’ve come and what they’d like to hear from you. A sales presentation should signal to your audience that you understand their core values and that your own core values align with theirs.

If you can’t connect with your audience on that emotional level, your audience is unlikely to buy from you. Remember – sales are emotional!

The Content: The Importance of the Beginning and the End. When you’re planning presentation content, pay special attention to the beginning and the end – they serve important functions! The beginning should contain the ” hook” that catches peoples’ interest.

A good hook has several characteristics:

  • It is very clear and simple
  • It has some sort of number or return on investment (investment being time spent watching the presentation.) 
  • It draws people in by asking a question or telling a story. Your hook may be your only chance to get peoples’ attention, so be sure it’s effective!

The end of your presentation is a chance to invite the audience to take a concrete, reasonable next step – nothing too big, but something that indicates their interest in what you have to offer.

  • Pick up your business card on the way out
  • Schedule a phone call or coffee date with you to chat about their needs
  • Stay after for a few moments to see a quick demo of your software or website.

Pro tip: You should never have to say “Thank you” to indicate that your presentation is over. It should be clear to the audience!  

The Content: Benefits versus Features

It’s natural to want to tell your audience all about the features that make your product or service is the best on the market. Instead, tell your audience why it *matters* that your product can do what it does, and why it’s important that a job be done just the way that your company can do it for them. Convince them to hire you by telling them the benefits of doing so!

Consider how you might use the following as you present benefits:

  •  Emotional words to further capitalize on the power of talking about benefit.
  • Vocal intonation and body movements to break up the conversation
  • Moments that “pop!” to emphasize points that you want your audience to remember.

You want to make an emotional appeal with your presentation because (say it with me!) sales are emotional!

The Nerves: No Big Deal

Everyone gets a little nervous about speaking in front of groups – don’t worry, there are ways to work through it! Use these techniques when your nerves start to get the better of you:

  • Be sure that you’ve practiced enough before the presentation – most people need to practice between 7 and 20 times. 
  • Show up first and be in the room as everyone arrives, and even talk to people a bit if that’s possible, so you can feel in control of the room and the audience can see you feeling confident and ready. 
  • Just before you start, exhale and force all the air out of your diaphragm and allow it to refill (the opposite of taking a deep breath, which may cause you to hyperventilate.) Then go in and own it! You’ve got this!

Was It Good? How You Can Tell

You don’t need a lot of training or a fancy post-presentation audience questionnaire to evaluate how your presentation went. There are standard indicators of audience interest and engagement that you can monitor even as you’re presenting:

  • People interrupt you to ask question as you’re presenting – Questions about implementation and logistics are an especially strong sign of interest. 
  • Body language – Engaged people will lean in, maintain eye contact, nod and smile (although body language in a business-to-business sales presentation can be trickier.
  • People take action (even small ones) after the presentation – Even if it’s just someone taking a business card from your display table, congratulate yourself – you caught the person’s interest!

Now you need to follow up and move them along your sales funnel! We have lots of information about presentations on our website, and all our resources are available to small business owners on a pay-what-you-can basis! Sign up for an account and check us out!

How To Get Your Customers To Trust You?

How to get your customers to trust you. Why is this so critical? Well, trust is very important, both in your personal relationships and in your relationships with your customers.

Business owners need to understand that:

1. All sales are emotional. Whether you run a small convenience store in a subway station selling snacks and magazines to busy commuters or a company worth millions that provides consulting services to other companies, you ultimately appeal to emotion, not logic, to make your sale.

2. Gaining credibility, or a customer’s trust that you know what you’re talking about and that you’re going to do what you say what you will, is one of the 3 Tenets of a Sale.

There is a difference between sensible trust, or the trust that develops between people in long-term relationships like those between family, old friends, and significant others, and sensitive trust, which you must develop with customers with whom there likely isn’t that personal history. The inevitable question arises of how to develop that sensitive trust quickly, so that customers will buy from you.

This is where the 3 Tenets of a Sale, or the Sales Funnel, comes in, as people buy from you when they:

1. Know you

2. Trust you

3. Like you.

Marketing is a great way to build sensitive trust and keep people buying from you.

You can use Small Business Solver’s Marketing Solver tool to find a whole list of simple-to-implement marketing strategies that can give you credibility in a flash:

1. Get business cards

2. Record a professional voice mail message

3. Develop a web presence (not necessarily a web site!)

4. Ask for referrals/testimonials

5. Use branded contracts/invoices

6. Rent a post office box

7. Get a 1-800 number

8. Look for media cover opportunities (press releases, articles, etc. – not paid ads)

9. Encourage customers to leave online ratings on sites like Google and Yelp

10. Do presentations (keynotes, panels, webinars)

11. Hire a virtual assistant or use a calling service to look bigger than you are

12. Make brochures to hand out to clients interested in larger or B2B sales

13. List your products in established online stores (Etsy, Yahoo, Alibaba) for better SEO rankings and streamlined customer experience

14. Respond to blogs, letters to the editor, related forums to raise awareness of your company

15. List awards your company has won – even small ones

16. Develop an online portfolio

17. Go to networking events

Building credibility is hard work, and it’s easy to be very hard on yourself if you inadvertently let a customer down. However, if you do, don’t throw up your hands – the situation is salvageable! Plus it is important to know how to rebuild trust in this situation. Remember, nobody’s perfect – you are not the first to do this, you won’t be the last. Handle it gracefully, to the best of your ability, and forgive yourself.

All the strategies in this 20-minute video are low-cost, can be implemented quickly, and do wonders for your credibility. Watch the webinar for details on how to implement each one, pick one or two to try this month, and let us know your results! We’d love to hear from you!

Thinking About Alternate Revenue Streams for Your Small Business

There are lots of reasons why you’d want to develop more revenue streams for your small business. Diversification and because your customers are asking for more services and products is just the beginning.  But you don’t want to do everything, so choose your revenue streams is super important.

Things you need to consider in order more revenue streams: 1) Your core competencies 2) Adjacencies to those competencies 3) Your existing customers 4) New customers 5) Standard types of alternative revenue streams

How to decide what your core competency is? This is your bread & butter! Your competitive advantage, what you are known for! This is something that you should be better than everyone at. And it is probably the reason why you went into business.

Now you have to figure out what a logical adjacency might be. These are new revenue streams that are strategically aligned to your core competency and that steer what you offer in a defined direction. Some different ways to pivot when you do adjacencies is if they are a new product or service for your existing customers or if you are doing the same product or service for a new target market. Both are a natural step in growing your revenue streams strategically.

Strategies that are for developing revenue streams that focus on the existing customer include increasing the average sale from a customer, increasing the frequency that people use your business, offering something new that they also need, or developing more effective retention strategies. Keeping a customer is worth even more than finding a new one!

There are lots of different ideas of revenue streams to consider. New products, services, intellectual property, events, memberships, intermediaries, programs, residual income, the sharing economy, government contracts and grants, or even crowdfunding. You can do one or more of them, blend them, have fun! Watch the video to hear more about all of this.

The Advantages of Joining a Credit Union

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a credit union and a bank? Are you curious about why you might choose one over the other?

Keith Taylor of DUCA Financial Services can tell you – and he does. You’ll learn about:

  • What DUCA is and how a credit union is different from a bank
  • The different programs that DUCA can offer as a credit union including the Profit-Sharing Program and Profits with Purpose.  There is also a Community Hero Mortgage with a profit donation program with in.
  • What B-Corp certification is and why DUCA works to maintain it including ensuring that they are paying all employees a living wage (including benefits) and were the first to do so.
  • What DUCA offers businesses from no or low-fee business banking and all of the other account options.
  • Plus there is business lending with lines of credit, loans and mortgages  just like you would expect from a bank. But the added advantage for small business owners is the relationship that they have including having a designated Small Business Advisor for all business members.
  • The DUCA Impact Lab – what if banking’s primary focus was on solving problems and creating opportunities for everyone and not on simply making a profit? 

How To Write An Awesome Email!

Email isn’t going anywhere! Take your email from “average” to “awesome” with Small Business Solver Marketing Manager Sarah Levis. In this webinar you’ll learn about:

  •  Whether An Email is Necessary
  • Deciding What Kind of Email is Necessary
  • The Importance of Tone
  • The Power of Good Editing
  • A Clear Call to Action
  • Tools of the Trade
  • Checking Your Work
  • Subjects – Write, Test, Revise
  • Before You Send – Writing Your Greeting, Pause Before You CC, Know the Laws

Links to check out to make your writing even better!

How to Start Selling NOW!

Get a pen and pencil and take notes, because the quicker you start selling, the quicker you start making money!

In this webinar you’ll learn:

  • Why the length of the average sales cycle means that you need that you need to start selling as soon as possible after opening your business.
  • Why the reasons people give for why we they’re not selling aren’t usually the real reasons
  • Why it’s good to “fail fast”
  • How you can quickly and cheaply create a web presence while you’re waiting for your website to be ready
  • How to create your first batch of business cards/brochures, and why they don’t have to be perfect
  • Why you don’t need inventory, or even a prototype, before you start selling
  • How to quickly draft a serviceable client contract
  • How to choose a business name and how long you should give yourself to do it
  • Why your business doesn’t need to be a corporation before you start selling
  • Why you need to talk about your business with other people

Everything that Carla talks about is an action step that could get you selling within 2 weeks. Which step are you going to take? Let us know in the video comments, on Twitter or Facebook, or at smallbusinesssolver@gmail.com…and don’t forget to come back and tell us how it goes!

Writing a Business Plan to Get What You Want!

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail – that’s why writing a solid business plan is the best first step you can take toward making your dream of owning a successful small business a reality.

In this recording of our “Writing a Business Plan to Get What You Want!” webinar you’ll learn about a Business Plan and its sections, including:

  1. The importance of deciding who the plan is for
  2. The Business Overview – Talking about The Opportunity and why what you offer is The Solution; defining the target market; describing the unique aspects of a business that give it a competitive advantage and how the business owner intends to keep that advantage
  3. Vision – Where the owner sees their company in 3 – 5 years, the ultimate goal for the business, and a description of the exit strategy
  4. What to include in the Marketing Research section – Industry trends, consumer trends, wider general trends (government, economic, technology) that may impact a product; a business’ main competitors and their potential impact.
  5. Sales Projections – How to calculate reasonable sales projections to include in a business plan
  6. Management Team – Why is the owner the best person to launch this business, given their support team and contacts?
  7. Marketing and Sales Strategy – The plan to get the word out about products given factors like prices, location, size of area to be covered, marketing budget, and projected sales
  8. Operations – Discussion of operational issues like processes and delivery; how processes will be tracked to ensure completion; who handles human resources issues like hiring, scheduling, etc., and how they will be handled. 
  9. Action Steps – The importance of showing the company’s goals for today, as well as its Short Term and Long Term goals.
  10. Financial Projections – Demonstration that the business is financially viable and sustainable over the long-term.
  11. Executive Summary – Written last, but first thing reader sees. Must entice reader to keep reading.

Cheap & Cheerful Marketing

At just 11 minutes in length, it’ll be one of our shorter webinars in the series, but it’s chock full of information for anyone who wants to master the art of marketing a small business effectively on a low budget.

The easiest marketing tool to adopt? A smile. Just smile, folks – even over the phone. Your customers can tell. The marketing tool you might not have thought of? Call Display. (You’ll have to watch to find out!)

Learn about Small Business Solver’s Marketing Solver Tool, which uses your responses to questions about your small business to make suggestions about which of the 300 marketing tools currently out there will work best for you. Each suggestion comes with an information sheet that you can view to learn about how to use the tool.