Stay Strong When Business Gets Rough

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Some business people consider quitting when things get rough, and sometimes they do just that… for a while. But then they find a way to bounce back and stay strong through difficult circumstances by staying apprised of valuable resources that encourage outside-the-box thinking to foster business solutions.

A research report offered by Dane Stangler of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation ("The Economic Future Just Happened,” June 9, 2009), cites the following findings:

1. Recessions and bear markets, while they bring pain and often lead to short-term declines in business formation, do not appear to have a significantly negative impact on the formation and survival of new businesses.

2. Well-over half of the companies on the 2009 Fortune 500 list, and just under half of the 2008 Inc. list, began during a recession or bear market. We also find that the general pattern of founding years and decades can help tell a story about larger economic trends.

3. Job creation from startups is much less volatile and sensitive to downturns than job creation in the entire economy.

The report further states: "While these data are far from conclusive and can only hint at broader trends, they do illustrate a more fundamental economic reality: each year, new firms steadily recreate the economy, generating jobs and innovations. These companies may be invisible, or they may one day grow into household names. But they constantly come into being as individuals bring forth their economic futures.”

SCORE (http://www.scorecommunity.com/) is an online community for small business entrepreneurs run by a nationwide group of executives and business owners. Expert sponsors donate their wisdom, and members can ask for advice, connect with other businesses, and locate for-sale businesses. There is no membership fee to participate in the services.

At some points, many businesses experience feeling overwhelmed by paperwork, whether they operate from a physical location or a virtual office. Using web-based technology can easily solve hours of frustration and wasted time by delegating such tasks either to software applications, or by hiring a virtual assistant (VA) to perform thankless tasks.

By the way… if you don’t have a VA, then you're probably not maximizing a resource that can save you time and money, particularly if you think Time Is Money. If you think your business isn’t ‘big enough’ or that you ‘can’t afford another person’ in your business, realistically access the time and effort you spend to get the results you're getting. And if there is a disconnect between your time and your results, then rethinking the benefits of having an assistant may be a solution to your problem. Run the figures to be sure if you can afford a VA.

Business growth presents its own issues and can result in unexpected rough times. What business owner ever thinks that a growing business will be a problem? Not many, but it happens and can cause disastrous effects if handled in the wrong way. Reaching new growth levels requires extra hours by everyone, and sometimes work standards are scrutinized as added pressure to produce and missed deadlines come into play. It takes a strong will and determined focus to remain on course, even as the course is altered. But by remaining firm to your goals and initiating new problem solving resources through creative thinking, rough times can be conquered.

Perhaps the biggest asset of any business is to maintain an exceptionally high quality of products and services, especially when things get rough. Businesses fail every day, and to avoid yours falling into that category, take these measures to keep your business strong:

1. Stay alert to changes that need to happen now, vs. getting side-tracked with past mistakes and feeling overwhelmed.

2. Avoid negative ideas and thinking patterns that don’t add value to your business vision.

3. Respect all members of your team and listen to their ideas.

4. Keep products and services up to date and websites in good working order, so that when clients find you, transactions follow.

5. Ask for assistance when you need it and get it from experts.

Successful business people will tell you that rough times can be overcome by paying attention to what’s happening in your business, despite undesirable influences and the economy.

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CYNTHIA BULL (http://www.cynrje.com/) is an internationally published writer and editor who helps international authors, marketers and speakers add greater value to their products through her top-quality writing, editing and transcription services. She is the author of How To Be A Medical Transcriptionist and Winning At Work While Balancing Your Life, a contributing author of Walking with the Wise Entrepreneur (Mentors Publishing House), cited in Make BIG Profits on eBay (Entrepreneur Press), and Managing Editor of Mentors Magazine Think & Grow Rich Edition. Cynthia has created over 200 book products in the past two years for her clients and, as mentor, helps clients reach their goals through her products, experience and genuine caring. Cynthia writes this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (http://www.artisanbusinesses.org/), an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.

Stay Strong When Business Gets Rough

By: Cynthia Bull

Keep ‘Em Coming Back for More!

By: Charlene Davisphoto


There is an old saying, "You only get one chance to make a first impression.” That could not be truer than in the life of an artisan. And it’s equally important to maintain that good first impression to keep ‘em coming back for more.

One of the best secrets to an effective marketing campaign is learning how to generate repeat business. Research shows that it costs five times more to attract new clients than it does to keep existing ones. So, it makes good business sense to maintain those existing relationships. Here are some ideas to turn a new customer into a satisfied, long-time customer:

Under promise and over deliver. There’s nothing like just good, old-fashioned customer service to enhance and build strong relationships. One of the best ways to ensure repeat business is by developing your own brand of customer service that inspires people to keep coming back for more. Treat your customers as if they were your only customer; let them know their opinion counts; don’t promise more than you can deliver; and smile! Smiles are highly contagious, as are good attitudes, which can be reflected in handwritten notes, email messages, and face-to-face.

Expose yourself.  Metal sculptor, Sue Seeger (http://www.sueseegersart.blogspot.com/), says that a great deal of her business comes from returning clients. In fact, at her gallery show in October 2009, more than half the purchases were made by repeat customers. "To develop a relationship with a client, you first need exposure to them,” says Seeger. She does this by participating in gallery and individual shows and letting her existing clients know via email where she’s going to be and when to come.

Seeger says that over time she’s developed relationships with many of her clients by getting to know them personally. "I know if they’ve just had a grandchild, have moved, taken a major trip, or are having health problems,” she says. "It’s all about listening and simply getting to know them.”

Communication is key.  Carrie Morey, owner of Charleston-based Callie’s Biscuits (http://www.calliesbiscuits.com/), offers her customers the personal touch by communicating in person or by hand. "We hand write thank you notes for repeat purchases, as well as annual notes reminding people it’s time to order again,” says Morey. "We also keep a file on anyone who has ordered more than once and either write special notes to them or call to say, ‘thanks.’ Sometimes we’ll also send them a gift of honey.”

Communicating with your clients can also be done through a blog, social media, direct mail postcards, email, and newsletters. Morey communicates with existing clients by sending out a bi-monthly newsletter that always contains a recipe.

Hold special events.  As an artisan coffee roaster, Christa Duggan of Portola Handcrafted Coffee Roasters (http://www.portolacoffee.com/) says their best strategy to get clients coming back and purchasing their coffee are the special cupping events that are hosted for free. "This helps get our clients involved, as well as educate them about coffee,” says Duggan. "As our clients learn more and become more intimate with the coffee roasting process, they become loyal to our company, look to us to answer questions, and want to try any new coffees that we roast.”

Misty (Mimi) Rudolf of Preen Studios (http://www.preenstudios.com/) maintains her client base by holding open houses every other month or so at her studio in Chicago, Illinois. "I serve wine and cheese while people view what is new or what is not available on the website, and try things on at their leisure,” says Rudolf. "It's like a ‘mini’ night out! Plus, everyone is encouraged to bring whomever they would like, which is a great way to meet new customers.”

Say "thank you” with style.  It’s essential to acknowledge how much you appreciate your customer’s patronage which can be done in a myriad of ways. Morey often sends regular customers a dozen biscuits on birthdays and/or holidays as a way of saying thanks. One internationally known artist used to send his clients a bottle of Dom Perignon if they spent over $25,000, but now he implements a more personal touch by taking them out to dinner. Other ways to express appreciation are by offering private viewings, discounts or specials, holding open houses, sending cards on special occasions, sending a gift basket, or taking them to lunch.

Offer referral incentives.  Even with all of the advanced technology we have at our disposal, word-of-mouth advertising still remains one of the most reliable ways of promoting your business. The more you can get people talking about you and your art or craft, the better this form of "buzz” marketing can work for you. Encourage existing customers to refer you to their friends and family members by offering gifts or discounts as a reward. This win-win situation lets the client know you appreciate and value the business they bring to you, while providing you with positive referrals.

Ask for feedback.  Get to know your customers by finding out how your services or products can best meet their needs. This means keeping an open line of communication by building rapport and maintaining relationships. Morey says they often use their repeat customers as sounding boards by sending them samples and asking what they think. Provide a customer feedback section on your website and/or offer a small incentive – even if it’s nothing more than a link back to their site – to customers who leave testimonials on your site.

One of the most desirable aspects of any business is customer loyalty. Take good care of your repeat customers as they can be instrumental in helping you to build a solid customer base, grow your artisan business, and ultimately increase profits. Be accessible, be genuine, be yourself, and they will keep coming back for more!

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About the author:

CHARLENE DAVIS (http://www.thewriteessentials.com/) is a nationally published writer specializing in business, e-commerce, parenting, and food. She has written Design and Start an Online Travel Business in a Week, Start Your Own Photography Business, Start Your Own Clothing Store, and How to Sell Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories on eBay, as well as two additional books co-authored with Jacquelyn Lynn, Make BIG Profits on eBay and Start Your Own Senior Services Business (all published by Entrepreneur Press). Charlene wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (http://www.artisanbusinesses.org/), an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.

Organize Your Creative and Practical Sides


Start the New Year on the Right Foot: Organize Your Creative and Practical Sides

By Marcia Passos Duffy


Creative minds are not often associated with being fastidiously organized. But right and left brain need to coexist if you are to have a successful business, particularly when it comes to your business’ finances.


To do this, experts say, you must first give up the notion that being creative means you are incapable of focusing on the practical nuts and bolts of running a business.


"I find most artisans focus on their craft, but not on their back-end,” says John Sanpietro, a certified business coach based in upstate New York who specializes in advising paper craft, rubber stamping and scrapbooking business owners. (http://www.stampingismybusiness.com/) "They often lack systems, which makes the day-to-day operation of their business more difficult,” he says.


"Artisans frequently make the mistake of thinking that being organized will hamper the flow of their creative juices. Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Alice Price, a professional organizer with Organize Long Island (http://www.organizelongisland.com/). "Being organized reduces worry and anxiety and frees the creative juices.”


Now that the New Year is here resolve to integrate your creative and practical sides to keep your business organized – and running smoothly.


Here’s how:


Establish Systems


There are three key systems that need to be set up, says Sanpietro: Customer, financial and time management.


1. Customer systems. Set up a system that works for you to keep track of your customers and prospects and following up (which is key to repeat business). This system could be as simple as a tickler file, or can be an Excel spreadsheet. January is also the perfect time to take inventory of your products, says Carol Hagan, CEO of Curatorial Management System (http://www.curatorialmanagementsystem.com/), which sells a series of art business products. "Photograph and document finished artwork, progressing art and new purchases (art, tools, and equipment) stowed in the studio and at home,” says Hagan. Determine if your insurance coverage is sufficient. "Taking an inventory shifts your focus back into the studio and ensures that your business is adequately protected against loss,” she says.


2. Financial systems. Keep track of your income and expenses every day. "If you wait until the end of the week or month or year it takes disproportionately longer to do it…which means you’re less likely to do it,” says Sanpietro. Also make sure that your business and personal finances are kept separate, advises Robert W. Hampton, CPA, an accountant with Impart Financial, LLC (http://www.impartfinancial.com/) of Fort Worth, TX. "Separate checking accounts and credit cards make sorting things out a lot easier,” he says. And don’t forget taxes, says Hampton. "Self employment taxes – which are on top of income taxes – can really bite the unwary in April,” he says. If you find you don’t have the mind – or stomach -- to keep up with the finances of your business, hire a bookkeeper or an accountant.


3. Time management systems. Do you have ‘office hours’ when you work your business? "If not, then you’re probably working your business all the time, which leads to work-life balance issues,” notes Sanpietro. If you do have office hours, are you using them properly? Do you use to-do lists? Do you prioritize those lists? "If you don’t have a time management system in place, even if you have the other two systems, you’re probably not using them or getting the most out of them,” says Sanpietro.


Take Time to Organize


Debra Baida, a professional organizer with Liberated Spaces (http://www.debrabaida.com/) says that artisans should take time in the beginning of the year to set up a calendar and filing system to make customer, financial and time management systems work more efficiently.


For example:


• Write down the entire year’s major events – such as trade shows and festivals – into your new calendar at the beginning of the year.


• Set up new folders and files to collect and record tax information. Take the time to create folders (one each) for invoices/income, receipts/deductible expenses, investments, and key vendors. This will make filing and accessing information easier throughout the year.


• Start each year with a new checkbook register. This way you can file each year's register with that year's tax papers.


• Prepare for last year's taxes. Tax-related documents will begin landing in your mailbox this month. If your 2009 papers are in disarray, schedule tasks in your calendar now so you can tackle them before April.


Resolve to Get Control of Clutter


"Most artists I know have a lot of clutter around them,” notes Kathy Peterson, a lifestyle/design expert, television co-host on Lifetime TV, and founder of Craft for Health (http://www.craftforhealth.com/). "Some artists have product that is too old to use anymore which takes up space. Get organized first by throwing out what is no longer any good,” she says.


Take time to organize our work space into five zones, suggests Lorraine Kimmey, president of Simply Organized Solutions, Inc. (http://www.theorganizingservice.com/): 1) Creative Work, 2) Business Work, 3) Technology, 4) Reference Material, and 5) Archive/Storage.


"Remember that when you are sitting at your desk or in your Creative Zone, you should have everything you need within easy reach,” says Kimmey. Items that you don't use regularly -- such as reference books or archives -- should not take up valuable real estate on your desk.


Make sure that this year you use technology to eliminate clutter, rather than complicating your life, advises Victoria Tillotson, a jewelry designer (http://www.victoriatillotson.com/).


"Use your blackberry/iphone/other device to keep track of your schedule, act as your phone book and retain important information about your accounts/vendors. If you use Facebook or Linkedin, spend time bringing your profile up to date and review your contacts.” If people on your social networking circle are no longer applicable to your business, delete them, she says. "Too many unrelated people make mental clutter,” she says.


Take Time to Focus on Your Day


Before she begins each day Tillotson spends a few minutes writing in a journal to get her thoughts organized. "The journal not only lets you free-write and vent, it also provides a concrete piece that you can go back to when you feel you've lost your way, which happens a lot with artists!” she says


At the end of the day, spend some time clearing your work space and returning tools of your trade to their respective "homes” to help you start your next day organized.


Update (or Create) Your Business Plan


Lastly, don’t forget to look at your business plan. Don’t have one? If not, take some time to create a simple plan. There are many good templates online to follow.


"It’s important to know what you’re going to be working toward this year. Ask yourself, ‘what would I like my business to provide for me and/or my family that it’s not currently providing?’ If you can answer that question, you gain clarity of purpose… which, in turn, gives you clarity of action,” says Sanpietro.


If this seems like a lot to do in a few days (it is!) take each step in doable chunks each week. For example, take a couple of hours this week to set up your filing system for 2010. Next week set up two hours at the end of the week to purge clutter from your workspace. In a few weeks time you will be on your way to a more organized – and even more creative – business.
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MARCIA PASSOS DUFFY (http://www.backporchpublishing.com/) is a freelance business writer based in New Hampshire and is a member of the state’s artisan and business organization, NH Made. Marcia’s articles have appeared on Yahoo Finance, CNBC, Bankrate.com, NFIB.com, Smart Business Magazine, The New York Times Lifewire, The Weather Channel, among others; she is the author of the book, Be Your Own Boss. She also publishes two online magazines, Home Office Weekly.com (http://www.homeofficeweekly.com/) and The Heart of New England.com (http://www.theheartofnewengland.com/). Marcia wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (http://www.artisanbusinesses.org/), an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.