Bootstrap Business Development

Taking steps to build your business


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Market Data: The Short Story

Maybe you’re a small business owner who happens to be sweating out putting your business plan together.  Maybe you’re a small business owner and thinking of capturing a new market. Maybe you’re a small business owner who just wants to gain greater insight into the demographics or consumer trends in your existing market.

On the other hand, you may be a small business owner who thinks (hopes) their so small that any sort of market research outside of the occasional customer survey is over kill, simply a waste of time.  But that would be wrong.  Market research allows you to create effective business strategies.  “I think it might work” isn’t an effective success strategy. You can have the greatest idea in the world – but until you marry that idea with market data you don’t have a complete picture.   Market data helps you get from “I think it might work” to “This is the best strategy for success.”

However, when it comes to market research, many small business owners don’t pursue it as they think of it as an “all or nothing” process.  Either you’ve got to be in a place to spend a ton on expensive consultants, or don’t do it all.

But you’re not just any small business owner, you’re a bootstrapper – and I’m here to help.  Here’s the short story on how to conduct market research:

1.  Put together the objectives you want your research to meet.  You can do that by asking three simple questions:

  • What the purpose of doing the research? (i.e. I want to introduce a new product/service)
  • How will the information be used? (i.e. see if there is a need, figure out how to price, determine if there is a local market for my product/service)
  • What kind of information do I need? (i.e. check out the competition, demographics of prospective customers/clients)

2.  Research and collect information that already exists.
3.  Collect information that doesn’t exist (i.e. surveys, focus groups.)
4.  Review and analyze the information you’ve collected.  (This is a fancy way of saying:  Look at what you found out; assess how it impacts your objectives; use that    assessment to create and then implement success strategies.)

The place where many small business owners get stuck is #2.  Here are some online resources to help you locate existing information:

http://www.sba.gov/community/blogs/conducting-market-research-here-are-5-official-sources-free-data-can-help

http://www.library.wisc.edu/guides/govdocs/census/econ.htm#countbus  (Great for local business – You can check out business patterns in your county on this one.)


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What’s Love Got to Do With It?

(Note:  I like my title.  It’s even more clever if you happen to be old enough to remember Tina Turner’s hit “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”)

For some people the number 13 is unlucky.  Others like to think of the number 13 as a  lucky number.  But “luck” doesn’t have anything to do with success.  But then neither does any notion you may harbor of being “unlucky.”

That can be hard for small business owners to swallow during times like these.  The economy has taken a huge hit on small business.  Hundreds and thousands of people have lost their jobs.  As a matter-of-fact, there’s a really good chance that you are one of them.  There aren’t any hard and fast statistics on just how many of those who have been laid off in the last few years have started their own business – probably because it is hard to count as it’s likely that a ton of us count ourselves as “freelancers” versus “small business owners.”

However, no matter what you call yourself, small business owner or freelancer, and no matter what the economy, your success is mainly limited by two things:

  • Your attitude
  • Your actions

Sure, when the economy sucks it doesn’t make things any easier.  Sure, when you have limited (or maybe even no) resources that sucks as well.  It would be a whole lot better if you were operating your business in a healthy, expanding economy.  It would be a whole lot better if you had unlimited resources to fund your business.  But I guarantee you – even if the economy was great and you had unlimited resources, unless your attitude and actions matched your desire, you’d still most likely fail.

Recently publisher and internet marketing expert Jim Kukral wrote an article on the National Federation of Independent Businesses’ website entitled “13 Reasons Why You’re Not as Successful as You Should Be.”  And I have to say that he pretty much hit the nail on the head.  I highly recommend you read it (after mine of course.)  Just as we should periodically examine our conscience to ensure we are living authentic, honest lives, small business owners can use Kukral’s “13” as a means to examine whether or not their attitude as well as their actions are limiting the opportunity for their (your) small business or freelance venture to succeed.

Once you finish reading Kukral’s article here’s a link to Tina – feel free to dance around your office or living room http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGoLq3c4SDc


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Pancakes, Prospects, & Planning: Hmm Good

We’ve talked about the fact that a whole lot of networking and prospecting can be done in the process of putting your strategic plan together in the past.

We need to talk a little bit more about the difference between prospecting and networking – as well as the fact that when you engage in either of these activities you are NOT selling.

But I also want to tell you exactly HOW you can network and, at the same time, work on your strategic plan.

Not to mention we need to talk about what a strategic plan actually IS — as well as how to go about creating one.

Sounds like I want to do too much.

Maybe if I’m smart enough I can tell you a little story that contains the whole enchilada.  Well, I love a challenge, so here’s my story and I’m sticking to it:  (I just love to say that!)

Once upon on a time there were two women,  Sally and Patty.

Sally Seamstress owns a small business tailoring clothes that she runs out of her dining room slash tailor shop.  Sally started her business when a friend lost a few pounds and complained that none of her work clothes fit her anymore.   You guessed it — Sally fixed her right up and her friend told her “You should start doing this for money.”

Although she’s home-based, any time you see Sally during the work week you’d swear she was the CEO of your local savings and loan — even at the grocery store.  Needless to say her clothes are tailored to the nines and fit her like a glove.  It doesn’t take too many brain cells to figure out that she’s aiming to sell her services to business women and men.

Patty Present owns a small business creating gift baskets that she also runs out of her dining room slash gift basket factory and warehouse.  She started off making her baskets simply because she loved making them.  Patty’s really good at what she does –  she loves to shop, she’s extremely creative, and has an innate sense of design.  Patty went into business for herself after being repeatedly told “You should start a business selling these to people too busy to buy presents”.  Patty decided she’d sell her baskets to busy “I work an 80 hour week” professionals.

Neither Patty or Sally has absolutely any experience running a business.  Neither one of them has a strategic plan — never mind a business plan.  Neither one of them had any money to invest in their business.  They’re like us — bootstrapping it.  But they have so little experience they don’t even know this is what they’re doing.

They both want to sell to business professionals.  Problem was, they didn’t KNOW any business professionals.

Luckily there were both smart enough to realize that the easiest place to meet business people was to join their local Chamber of Commerce.

SMART move on both their part.  Membership fees were really low — lower than a dollar a day in their case — and they could both afford to take that out of the family budget.  (Even if your business is Internet based, if you don’t belong to your local chamber, get on said Internet and JOIN NOW!)

At first it seemed like the Chamber was the magic trick.  They got to stand up and give a brief “Elevator Speech” about what they did.  People were really nice and introduced them around and a few jobs started to trickle in without any further effort.  Much to their surprise, after attracting these few jobs things dried up.

The Honeymoon was over.

As you can imagine by now both Sally and Patty are worried that their businesses are going to fail.  The dream of working for themselves doing something they love will never be anything more than a dream.

Cut to the next Chamber monthly breakfast meeting.

Uh oh – this post is getting to be way too long.  I know you’re all busy people, so I’ll just have to turn this into a series of posts in order to respect your time (and keep your interest!)

Stay tuned for more on the adventures of Sally and Patty as they build their business out of very little or nothing.

“I see Blog people”  

Do YOU need to see a ghost?  Ghost writer, that is.  BBD offers ghost and content writing services for blogs and other social media, website content, article writing and more.  Email me at:  bootstrap.business.development@gmail. com


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Like Nike Says: “Just DO It”

I just get so jazzed when something I say or do makes even a small contribution to the success of another.  On one my group forums (Small Business Online Community at Linkedin.com) a woman posted a discussion topic related to overcoming price objection.

Here was my comment:

The first thing I do is find out if it’s really price they are objecting to. Quite often when you hear ‘price objection’ from a prospective customer or client it can simply be masking the fact that the prospect is not truly ready to buy. This is a time to start asking questions to find out exactly where your prospect is along the buying decision continuum. It can be as simple as your prospect wouldn’t be ready to commit even it were free for any number of reasons and they’re ‘hiding’ that fact behind a cost objection. If you end the conversation now, you may have lost a customer ready to buy in the future.

If, after asking probing questions, you determine that the cost is simply to high from the prospect to bear, or even if they simply are not willing to meet your price, have a couple referrals to a quality lower cost competitor to give to them. These are wonderful relationships to create with your competitors. For instance, I look for my competitors who have higher rates to refer to me. I am ready, and more than willing, to send clients to higher cost competitors when I’m not able to meet their needs.

Why would you want to do that? Great word of mouth marketing. You will be talked about as an honest business person with the goal of meeting the PROSPECT’s needs. That prospect you referred out because they didn’t want or couldn’t meet your price may end up referring clients back to you.

I recommend you read: Customer Centered Selling by Robert L. Jolles. I don’t know your background – but if you’ve never sold for a living and you are now responsible to sell your services, this is an excellent introduction.

May you prosper beyond imagination.
–Annie Kile

I was absolutely delighted to receive an email follow-up comment indicating that the woman who’d posted the discussion had just established a relationship with a competitor who will refer her those customers who can’t/won’t meet their price point.

I’m posting this because it is SO important to share stories of Bootstrapping success!  This business now has a referral source that did not cost her a dime to create – that’s just so cool!

As a startup one of my main networking activities is introducing myself to higher-end competitors for just this reason, trying to meet a goal of introducing myself to three such competitors a day.  This can be done via social networking as well as via an old-fashioned cold call.

OK – now you know it works, so just like Nike says:  “Just Do It”

Bootstrap Business Development:

Building Your Business One Step at a Time

bootstrap.business.development@gmail.com



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Preaching to the Choir

I’ve made a boo boo, and I’m here to correct it.

I’ve been going on and on about the how much we tiny small businesses need to do two things at once:  create a written strategic plan and network/prospect for business.  About how either/or thinking gets us into the trap of not getting our plan done because we need to be out there snagging paying customers in order to make a living.  We went over how you’ve got to start thinking fuzzy rather than thinking either/or — that these are two separate things that you can’t do at the same time.

I sort of got ahead of myself.  You see I made a very common error:  I was preaching to the choir (myself.)

I mean, certainly I know you need a strategic plan.  I assumed everyone (I’m a natural optimist, I anticipate a vast readership) also not only knew this — but also knew what I was talking about as well as agreed with me.

Somewhere along the zig zaggy roads of my career I read the following statement (or something like it):   “People like to do business with people they know, like and trust.”  Very true.

I’m thinking that perhaps I might take at least a post to get you to trust me when I say you need to create (and manage) a strategic plan.

A little history here:

A long time ago (well, I left a couple years ago) in a far away galaxy (California) I worked for a local chamber of commerce.  My boss, otherwise known as my CEO, was a very smart guy.  So he naturally held annual strategic planning sessions.

I’d never been to a strategic planning retreat in my life.  I’d heard of strategic planning, but never participated.  What it meant seemed a bit self-evident.  A strategy was something you did to get something you want.  Planning simply meant we were going to make a plan.

Eleven years of Catholic school kicked in and I did my research and ramped up on strategic planning for business.  I went blind surfing the web.  I went to very famous bookstore franchises, bought countless cups of coffee and read books on strategic planning for free.

(Letting me do this worked out for them as I usually also walked out having actually bought a book – now that sort of marketing strategy deserves a future post.)

By the time I left for the retreat I felt fairly confident I wouldn’t look like an idiot to our Very Important Corporate Top Officer board members.

And then I got really lucky.  I was assigned the task of acting as Retreat Recorder.  Even more fortunate was the fact that the consultant they’d hired to facilitate the retreat was exceptionally good at what she did.

After our weekend retreat I bounced back into the office the following Monday really hyped up and excited about this wonderful strategic plan that was being written for us.

Then I found out I was the one who was going to write it.  Yup.  Back to hours googling my brains out – clerks at the aforementioned bookstores started calling me by name.

Short story long – throughout the remainder of my tenure I became more and more intimately involved in the process of developing, facilitating, and managing our written strategic plan.   I found out two main things regarding strategic planning:

One, I’m extremely good at it.

Two, it works.

OK – hopefully after reading that when I say I’m “preaching to the choir” you’re at least considering becoming a member of the choir.

Stay tuned…

Bootstrap Business Development

Building Your Business One Step at a Time

bootstrap.business.development@gmail.com


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The Lady or the Tiger?

Remember the story “The Lady or the Tiger?”

It’s a story where the King finds out that his daughter loves a commoner.

This is, of course, a definite no-no in Lady or the Tiger Land.

The king decides a good punishment is to make the poor guy choose between two doors: behind one is a tiger who will eat him on the spot, behind the other is some gal commoner who he’ll have to marry on the spot.  Either way, the king wins because there’s no chance of his daughter riding off into the sunset with some guy who works at the carwash.

Meanwhile, the Princess has figured out which door will be which and spends the night in a tizzy wondering what she’s going to tell lover boy.  Thrown into the mix is the fact that, being a princess and all, she’s pretty used to getting what she wants.  She doesn’t want her boyfriend to get eaten, but then she doesn’t want any other girl to have him either.

Seems like she’s stuck.  No matter what she decides, she doesn’t get what she wants. 

I know how she feels.

As I’ve said in previous posts, for many of us there is a distinct sense of urgency in getting our businesses up and running.  For the most part its because we need to make a living.   We’re bootstrappers and working without a net.

I knew there were two things I needed to do NOW:

First, I absolutely required a written strategic plan.  Not having one makes as much sense as thinking I can drive to the store blindfolded – I know where I want to get to, I can see it in my mind, but I have no idea of where I am at any given moment or where I need to make the next turn.  Ironically, if I’m able to drive there blindfolded, it would be by accident, not intention. The far more likely result is that I’m going to end up kissing a telephone pole.

Second, I needed to be doing all those things I need to do to muster up some clients.  I needed to make some money.  I needed to network and prospect.

The Lady or the Tiger?  Do the work and go through the process of creating a formal, written strategic plan OR put the infrastructure I need to start my business up together (create my website, blog, hardware, software, working space, etc, etc, etc) and then jump right into drumming up business?

Seems like either way I decided to go I’m not going to get what I want – because I want, I need, both.

And here lies the twist – turns out I’m not trapped like the Princess.  I’m not in an “Either, Or” situation.  I can stop thinking “The Lady OR the Tiger” and start thinking “The Lady AND the Tiger”.  I don’t need to pick one over the other because I have a secret weapon.

What is that weapon?  It is something I call “The Power of Good Enough”.

 

Don’t have a comment, but want to get in touch?

Email me at:   bootstrap.business.development@gmail.com

 


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Something from Nothing

Many small business owners and small nonprofit organizations already understand the “what’s” and “how’s” of bootstrapping their business – because that’s how they are/have built their business or organization.

This blog is not for them.

This blog is for those of us who are actually in the process of bootstrapping our businesses – we just might not know it.

This blog is for those of us who have always dreamed of starting our own business but never did because we “can’t afford” to.

This blog is for those of us who have been laid off, have sent 100’s of resumes and been interviewed ONCE in the last four months and our unemployment and savings are quickly going bye-bye…

All right already  —  if we can’t find a job then we’ll just have to create one for ourselves.

It’s what we always wanted to do anyway.

Bootstrapping a business isn’t rocket science – one thing I’ve always been great at is ramping up quickly.  The purpose of this blog is to share everything I know – and everything I learn – with other bootstrapper startups.

I am not a professional bootstrapper – I’m one of you — out here creating a job for myself by starting my own business -and I’m going to bootstrap it right here in front of God and everybody right here on this blog.

And, hey, we’re in this together.

Stay tuned…

Don’t have a comment, but want to get in touch?

Email me at:   bootstrap.business.development@gmail.com