RUNNING A RETAIL BUSINESS


This article is not about starting a business.  The information presented here assumes your business is already up and running and you’re looking for tips on how to keep your business running smoothly.  While this article is oriented toward small businesses, the same principles apply to most businesses regardless of size.

While starting a new business is difficult enough, running it efficiently presents even more challenges, especially during tough economic times.  These ideas are common sense and fairly easy to implement, but sometimes get lost in the heat of the battle.

Inspiration
No one knows your business better than you since you’re the brains and inspiration behind it.  It’s
important that this fact comes across when dealing with suppliers and customers.  Your business has value, and you want everyone you deal with to understand the value you bring to the table.  How your business is perceived by others is critical to your success.  View your business through their eyes without your emotional attachment, and make sure they appreciate what creates the real value in your business and how that benefits them.

Connections Give your customers reasons to come to you.  Make your business the ideal place to get what they’re looking for.  The key to this is an intimate understanding of the customer base you serve and their personal obsessions.  You can tap into those obsessions by creating a website and marketing campaign that caters to them on a personal level.

The Internet is a dynamic environment so you can’t simply build a website and assume you’re done.  Keep it fresh by updating frequently and integrating social media into your communications strategy.

Delegation
If you’re a sole proprietor who built your business on your own and works alone, delegation may not be an option.  If you find yourself pressed for time, especially around the holidays, consider outsourcing some of your work if you don’t want to hire anyone.  This allows you to focus on important things while others take care of the more routine tasks.  Possibilities include bookkeeping/accounting, administration, tax preparation, and other tasks suitable for contract labor.There’s a temptation to think that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.  That approach won’t work if you want to grow your business beyond a one-person operation.

Branding You want to own the go-to brand, and that extends well beyond a great logo and catchy sales pitch.  You want your brand to stand out, and you should view the price of accomplishing that as an investment, not a cost.  Your brand may be your most valuable asset, especially during difficult economic times.  Keep your brand relevant and updated to changing consumer tastes, and include money in your budget for sufficient advertising to carry your message.

Protect your brand with appropriate patents, trademarks, and copyrights.  This may create downstream opportunities to exploit your brand through co-branding and licensing of rights.  The potential financial rewards from this type of exposure can be immense.

Finances
Your company’s survival depends on good financial planning and fiscal discipline.  Create a monthly budget and track your progress against it.  If you’re missing your financial goals, don’t wait to analyze what’s causing the variances.  The longer you wait, the harder it will be to dig yourself out of trouble.  It’s important to understand everything from cash flow to return on investment.  If you’re not already thoroughly familiar with those terms, enrolling in a basic finance course.
Develop a close relationship with a local bank.  Make sure the bank executives understand your business and your operating plan.  The time may come when you need their financial support, and a solid personal relationship may mean the difference between securing that support or not.

Technology & Automation
Stay up to date on the latest technology trends and don’t let your suppliers, customers and competitors get ahead of you.  If you fall behind, you’ll find it difficult to maintain strong business relationships.  If you’re not tech-savvy, consider hiring an IT consultant who can recommend an optimal design for your automation suite.  This should include computers, networks, software, website design & hosting, telephone system, information security, and a top-notch mobile strategy.

Getting the most out of technology is key in today’s competitive marketplace.  Use online training
resources such as Media Bistro and Grovo to improve your knowledge and expertise.  Use analytics to
monitor website traffic and create benchmarks to measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
Figure out what’s working and what isn’t.  Understand the importance of Search Engine Optimization
and update your website as needed to achieve the best search rankings possible.

Monitor your competition
You’re not paranoid if you’re up at night wondering what the competition is doing.  It helps to be aware of new innovations, price changes, and other developments at companies offering products and services similar to yours.  Use this information to fine tune your product and marketing strategies.
If something is working for your competition, consider emulating it if it fits into your overall strategy.
Improve on it if you can.  Perhaps more importantly, learn from their mistakes.  Do whatever it takes to raise customer satisfaction to the highest level possible.

Bottom Line
Consumers are still feeling the pain of the recession and they’re spending their money more wisely than ever.  They have their own technology that enables them to comparison-shop, find the best deals, and
negotiate discounts.  If you want their business, you need to understand how you can position your
company as the preferred source for what you’re selling.

One way to do that is to frequently survey your customers and encourage their feedback, whether positive or negative.  Find out what scratches their itch and take appropriate actions to respond to their suggestions.

Understand your customers intimately as their complete satisfaction is paramount.  Work hard for their
dollars and you’ll be rewarded.

Geoffrey Michael (www.geoffreymichael.pro) is a freelance writer specializing in business, marketing, personal finance, law, science, aviation, sports, entertainment, travel, and political analysis.  He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and is also licensed to practice law in California and New Hampshire.  Geoffrey wrote this feature article exclusively for DebbieMay.com, an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.

HOLIDAY REJUVENATION TIPS FOR THE BUSY ENTREPRENEUR


When we go into business for ourselves one of the primary goals is to create freedom; financially and personally. So how are you doing so far?

The quest for freedom is certainly an uphill battle at times. Small business owners sacrifice more time and energy in exchange for flexibility and the opportunity to make their own choices on their own terms. And life balance, what’s that?

Yet, just as we give of ourselves to those we love, we continue to invest wholeheartedly in our dreams. This investment can take a toll, however; especially when we add the stress of the holidays to an already demanding schedule. And when entrepreneurs forget that it takes a healthy body, mind and spirit to bring their dreams to fruition, they often fail – or pay a very high price.

So begin this holiday season with a gift to yourself: a commitment to yourself to indulge in a few small, yet manageable, rest and relaxation practices. Not only will these R&R tips help you to feel a step closer to the freedom that you are working hard to achieve but they will actually make you a more effective and productive entrepreneur and help you to enjoy life that much more!


Take naps.I know, I know. Who has the time? I once interviewed ten highly successful business women to see what they all had in common and I wasn’t surprised when most of them confessed to a ten to fifteen minute afternoon nap on a daily basis!  It clears the mind, helps to minimize challenges by allowing a fresh perspective, and physically energizes the body. A great habit to pick up on going into the New Year.


Bonus: Not only will you feel better after a quick nap, you will look more relaxed and in control; a sign of a true leader.


Take the time to look good.People often make the mistake of believing that it’s only what’s on the inside matters. Wrong! Human beings are highly visual creatures by nature; like it or not, people respond to your physical appearance.  If you want to be successful you must look and feel the part. Take a little time to get a new look at the hair salon. Do your nails for the holidays, and toss out those old “mom” jeans!


Bonus:  When you feel successful your confidence and productivity levels will rise. The few extra minutes that you spend on yourself in the morning will easily find their way back to you later in the day.


Eat breakfast.An interesting fact about metabolism: If you don’t eat a bit of protein shortly after you wake up in the morning your body will begin to store fat. This makes you sluggish and can add to your waistline. Guess how bears gear up to hibernate; they stop eating breakfast! Try a few bites of protein (animal protein is the best) within 30 minutes of opening your eyes every morning and add energy to your day.


Bonus:  A touch of protein will make weight loss easier if you want to keep those holiday pounds off!


Take a few extra steps.Business owners are notorious for rushing everything, even things that are supposed to be fun! Purchasing holiday gifts is meant to be a meaningful experience and if you’re going to take the time away from work you may as well slow down and enjoy it!  Give your shopping excursion some extra oomph by adding a little workout routine instead of taking short cuts. Try walking across the long parking lots instead of moving your car from store to store. Also, take a stroll around the entire department store instead of the shortest path to your destination.


Bonus:  Some of the most interesting gifts are found where you least expect them. You may find a little store that you didn’t even know exists or the most fabulous present for your husband in the ladies department!


Forego the shower for a lovely bath.There is something about relaxing in or around water that brings out the most creative side of us. Instead of rushing through your morning shower, lock the doors, add your favorite essential oil and soak in the tub for twenty minutes. Allow your mind to effortlessly wander; you may be surprised at the ideas that pop up!


Bonus: Beginning your day with a bit of relaxation will change your state of mind from the intense,
problem-solving mode to the creative, allowing mode. The creative brain actually excels at resolving challenges with far less stress so don’t think you are slacking off when you calm your mind! 



Marla Tabaka is an entrepreneurial coach who inspires entrepreneurs around the world to attain what she calls, The Million-Dollar Mindset. As a result, many of her clients have achieved – even surpassed – the million dollar mark in annual revenues and are living the life of their dreams. In addition to running a thriving practice, Marla is a columnist for Inc. Magazine on-line, and hosts two international on-line radio shows, The Million Dollar Mindset and Million Dollar Mindset Tapping. Marla wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (http://www.debbiemay.com/), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed. If you would like to consult with Marla to learn how she can help you grow your business and better your life, contact her at Marla@MarlaTabaka.com.

4 WAYS TO CAPTURE HOLIDAY CUSTOMERS


Holiday shoppers are low-hanging fruit—if you take the steps to capture their dollars. Here are four ways to attract more holiday shoppers to your business. 

Plan your creative for the whole holiday season. Use template-style designs to create holiday-themed landing pages and emails that allow you to easily adjust promotional messaging, and allot additional space to address customer service issues like out of stock products, or shipping deadlines so you can focus your energy on providing the valuable customer service that makes customers refer you to others, and come back for more. Record a few short and simple “how to” videos that you can post on your website, on YouTube, and on Pinterest, that offer holiday- smart tips and techniques to generate traffic to your site. Remember that the holiday spending frenzy lasts even after the gifts have been opened and ornaments packed away . According to Jim Davidson, manager of marketing research for Bronto Software, major retailers in 2011 didn’t stop marketing holiday-related promotions until well after the New Year.

Take a cue from the top dogs. You may have limited marketing resources, but there’s nothing wrong with imitating the winning strategies of major retailers to promote your business. According to Davidson, retailers had success in 2011 by  sending customers emails in the middle of the night before key shopping days, using a landing page to entice sign ups for “VIP only” holiday offers, and visually previewing merchandise with dates of  sale promotions.  Keep interest alive in social media channels with sweepstakes, special social media-only promotions, and fun holiday-themed events that encourage interaction. For example, crafters might invite social media followers to post images of their holiday d├ęcor and vote for favorites, offering a grand prize of a gift certificate to a major retailer to help ease holiday spending. 

Give them a reason to buy. Holiday shopping season is not the time to hold back on promotions. Include premiums like free shipping on a minimum order amount, rush shipping at a discount, free gift wrapping, or a free stocking stuffer. Make sure all messages have a sense of urgency and relevancy to help cut through the barrage of holiday marketing messages.

Get creative with media coverage. Think creatively about what your business does and how you might spin your product or service into some holiday media coverage. For example, you might pitch your local news station on airing a segment that uses some aspect of products you sell or services you provide to help consumers save money or time on holiday spending or party hosting (or recovering from it)! As holidays draw near, think about how to tie your products into new habits that coincide with common New Year’s resolutions, like improved health, stress-reduction, and organization.


Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer turned stay at home working mom, yoga instructor and freelance writer covering personal finance, small business,consumer issues, work-life balance and health/wellness topics for ForbesWoman, Minyanville , SheKnows , Mint , Intuit Small Business, Investopedia and several other online properties. She is also the founder of Wellness On Less and Om for Mom prenatal yoga. Stephanie wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (www.DebbieMay.com), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.