Friday, March 25, 2011

5 Excellent Small Business Blogs To Learn From

A company blog is a useful tool for small businesses hoping to give others a glimpse into the company while also promoting the company's products and services.

While it's never a good idea to spam readers with irrelevant promotional messages, there are plenty of ways to provide valuable information and resources to existing and potential customers.

Here are five small businesses that are using a blog to reach local communities and showcase the company's experience and expertise. We've outlined exactly what they're doing right as a guide for other small businesses to improve their own blogging activities.

1. Cure Thrift Shop: Showcase products with visual creativity

Cure Thrift Shop is a non-profit organization in New York City that donates 100 percent of proceeds to the Diabetes Research Institute. While the company focuses completely on philanthropic endeavors, it sets up a great example for other retailers hoping to create successful blogs.

Multiple times daily, Cure staffers update the company blog with creative pictures of new furniture arrivals, standout antiques, fashion inspirations and sale alerts.

Cure hosts its blog on Tumblr, which is known for fostering a community that appreciates beautiful photography. The thrift shop's quirky photos of one-of-a-kind objects fit right into the Tumblr mix while also letting followers know what's new at the shop.

2. The Brooklyn Kitchen: Say it with a video

Small business owners usually have a fair amount of expertise to share with the world. A blog can be a wonderful place to flaunt all of that pent-up knowledge—incorporating videos, though, can take your advice to the next level.

The folks over at The Brooklyn Kitchen understand the virtue of nicely-produced videos. The team creates how-to videos for its cooking-crazed fans. Whether they're showing viewers how to shuck oysters or clean a blade grinder, The Brooklyn Kitchen crew focuses on providing useful and targeted information in a high-quality format.

One of my favorite videos they've produced is a gem on how to saber a champagne bottle, as demonstrated by co-owner Harry Rosenblum. This is the type of how-to you'd only expect to get from a group of passionate foodies. Readers value that type of expertise, especially when they feel they can't find it elsewhere.

3. Sweetgreen: Think big

With seven locations in the D.C. area and one outside Philadelphia, Sweetgreen is a restaurant that offers all-natural salads and frozen yogurts—it's a healthy, sustainable business that immerses itself into local culture. The company's website explains, "We don't believe that you can have a successful business in an unsuccessful community."

Based on that idea, Sweetgreen's founders aim to make a positive difference in their community. The Sweetgreen blog captures all of the community activities that the company is sponsoring and taking part in, along with the usual day-to-day activities of running a restaurant. You can find the team throwing music festivalshosting nutrition classes at local schools, or just concocting mouth-watering seasonal salads.

The blog acts as a central place where all company activities can be followed. The team maintains a great balance between community-focused posts and product-driven updates.

4. Birchbox: Invite guest writers

Birchbox, a startup subscription service that enables customers to sample beauty products before buying them, updates its blog multiple times per day, focusing on beauty and health tips. To keep content fresh, Birchbox editors bring in guest bloggers from top beauty and health companies and blogs to share their recommendations.

So far, the guest blogging program has included the likes of Dorothy McGivney, founder of travel newsletter Jauntsetter; Grace Atwood of beauty blog Stripes and Sequins; and Elizabeth Dehn, founder of beauty and wellness blog Beauty Bets.

Creating a guest blogger program is a great way to diversify content and bring in writers with experience and perspective in areas that the company's core bloggers may not be specialized in. Consider inviting guest writers to blog on your site if you're looking to expand into content areas that your company isn't as familiar with. For example, if your company hosts a blog about cooking, but would like to pair those dishes with tasty cocktails, consider inviting a mixologist to help kick off that venture.

5. Emerson Salon: Get social and personal

There are plenty of blogs out there that are good at integrating social media, and there is another subset of blogs that excel at identifying the people behind the cog. But there aren't too many sites that manage to blend those two successfully. Emerson Salon, a tech-savvy hair salon in Seattle, is one small business that has tackled that formula and come out on top.

Salon owners Matt Buchan and Alex Garcia run their business with the goal of building a community, both online and offline. On the salon's website, users see a thorough overview of the company's digital footprint, including links to its FacebookTwitter and Yelp pages.

Social pages for the company are to be expected, but Emerson Salon also highlights each of its employees with bio pages for each of its stylists. A typical page includes information on a stylist's professional experience, favorite local spots and interests, along with links to social profiles and a feed of his or her latest blog posts on the site. Each stylist blogs about the latest hair trends and tips, showcasing his unique thoughts on particular topics.

Personal touches on a blog, like adding profile pages and social contact information for individual specialists, make a business seem more approachable.

Your favorite small business blogs

Because small business blogs usually service local communities, finding their blogs on the wider Internet can be difficult. We know we've missed a slew of wonderful, locally-run blogs, so let us know which are your favorites in the comments below.

By Erica Swallow
Erica Swallow is an Associate Editor, Partner Content at Mashable, working primarily on writing, editing and managing supported feature content, with a particular focus on business and marketing. Erica is an international speaker, having most recently spoken at WOMMA Summit in Las Vegas, Social Marketers Summit in Prague and Social Media Brasil in São Paulo.

Image courtesy of FlickrRobert S. Donovan 

Monday, March 21, 2011

10 Essential Online Resources for Preparing Your Small Business Taxes

With record-keeping and quarterly payments, tax planning is a year-round event for the small business owner.

Tax-related activities, though, inevitably take on a new sense of urgency as April 15 looms near. While tax time can seem overwhelming for the time-pressed small business owner, there are many online tools and forums available to make the process a little easier and stress-free. Here are 10 of our favorites.

Preparing and Filing Your Taxes Online

Sitting down with a professional who specializes in small businesses is always a smart idea, particularly during the first year or two of operations. However, not every business owner wants to shoulder the costs of hiring an expert to help fill out relatively routine fields on their Schedule C.

If you opt to use an online or software-based tax preparation tool, be aware that not all solutions (particularly the free tools) accommodate business tax filers. Before you sign up for any service, download software, or invest time filling out your information, make sure that the service supports the common business forms.

The following is a selection of tools available for small businesses:

  • IRS e-file: The IRS offers electronic filing options for Employment Tax Returns, Information Returns, Partnerships, Corporations, Estates & Trusts, plus Exempt Organizations.
  • TurboTax: A popular tool for personal income filers, TurboTax from Intuit also offers software to guide small businesses through the filing process. The software helps you make sure you're taking advantage of every business deduction and write-off. A sole proprietor, consultant, 1099 contractor, or single-owner LLC should use the Home & Business version; S Corps, partnerships, C Corps, or multiple-owner LLCs should use the Business version. Free e-filing is included in both versions.
  • H&R Block Tax Software: Two versions are available for businesses: Premium & Business (LLCs, S-Corps, C-Corps) and Premium (sole proprietors). Even if you decide not to pay for the tax filing software, check out H&R Block's small business tax preparation checklist as a great starting point to get organized and make sure you're thinking about every possible expense and income source.
  • Tax Act Business: Tax Act has separate federal and state editions for business tax forms 1065, 1120S, and 1120.
Managing Your Paper Receipts

Whether you're a road warrior or work strictly from the home office, you'll probably find yourself overwhelmed with the amount of receipts accumulated throughout the year. All too often, receipts are stuffed into pockets, end up on the car floor, are run through the washing machine -- every lost or illegible receipt represents a missed opportunity to deduct a well-deserved expense for your business.

If manually managing paper receipts in a file system and spreadsheet isn't working out for you, here are two alternative ideas:

  • Shoeboxed: This service takes the paper receipts off your hands. You can scan your receipts and upload them to your Shoeboxed account. Or, you can mail in the paper receipts and they'll handle the scanning and data entry for you. There's also an iPhone app (as pictured above), or you can take images of receipts with a digital camera. Online, you can sort your receipts, create charts and graphs, and export data to Quicken, Excel, or PDF. There are different monthly and annual plans, as well as a free trial. There are a number ofexpense report and receipt tracking apps out there, so definitely shop around to find the one that fits your needs.
  • NeatReceipts: You can purchase your own portable scanner from NeatReceipts which lets you scan receipts (up to a full-sized document) to your PC or Mac. You're able to export data to PDF, Excel, Quicken, QuickBooks, and TurboTax.
Getting Help Online

Whether it's your first or fifteenth year as a business owner, you're bound to run into tax-related questions from time to time. Does deducting my home office really increase my chance of an audit? How can I deduct my health insurance? When traveling for business, are there limits on the amount I can deduct for my meals? Can I deduct the parking ticket I got while visiting a client?

If you haven't hired a CPA or tax preparer, don't despair -- you can still find answers to your specific questions online. Browse through community forums and post your own questions online. You'll get answers from business owners just like you. Of course, as with any online community, the quality and accuracy of answers may vary. But hopefully, the "wisdom of the crowd" will filter out the incorrect or less than helpful information. Here's a short list of various online forums catering to the small business owner and self-employed individual.

  • Small business and self-employed tax center at the IRS: The IRS has been beefing up its online resources -- the small business tax center offers FAQs, tax tips, help videos, and more. Most importantly, it offers highlights of the year's tax law changes -- for example, a new deduction for health insurance costs in computing self-employment taxes for 2010 (part of the Small Business Jobs Act), is outlined. It also includes helpful information on home office deductions.
  • Business Taxes: While not a community forum, this site compiles some useful information, definitions, and articles for small businesses.
Of course, trying to get your head around all the deductions and forms is not easy, particularly when you're just starting out. The IRS estimates that filing your own business taxes will take approximately 52 hours. Keeping your finances in order throughout the whole year can help immensely come tax time. If this is your first year filing business taxes, be sure to learn from the experience. For example, if gathering the details and documentation for a section (like your mileage deductions) is particularly time-consuming, take some time to think about what you could do throughout the year to improve the situation when it's tax time next year. And then, of course, you can turn to the Web for guidance when the time has come.


Image credit: Pgiam 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shortcuts On How To Increase Increase Your Bottom Line With Government Contracts

By Lourdes Martin-Rosa

When a slow economy forces most businesses to reduce spending, one enormous customer continues to spend: the federal government. Just in 2009, the U.S. government spent $96.8 billion on products and services supplied by small businesses, including $33.5 billion with small, disadvantaged firms and $16.4 billion with women-owned small businesses.

Given the government's procurement goals of awarding 23% of their spending to small businesses and 5% to women-owned businesses, federal contracting is an important avenue of growth for many small businesses--and now more than ever women-owned small businesses--to consider.

The Small Business Administration's (SBA) long-awaited Women's Procurement Program to expand federal contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses takes effect Friday, making federal contracting a more viable revenue booster for women business owners.

According to American Express OPEN's government contracting survey of small business owners, two-thirds of women whose firms do business with the federal government generate more than $1 million in sales, despite taking nearly two years, on average, to land their first contract.

There are, however, important steps you must take to pursue federal contracts. Following are key steps, plus useful tips that can improve your chances of landing your first government contract.

Introduce yourself
As with any client, the first step in seeking a federal contract is to make your business known. That means registering your company's information to the Central Contractor Registration (CCR)--the primary vendor database for the federal government. Registration is free. (Currently, there are close to 80,000 women-owned small businesses registered to do business with the government.)

When registering, there are a few important tips to keep in mind. First, make sure that the small-business owner is registered as the primary point of contact. Second, be sure to identify your company's industry categories or NAICS (North American Industry Classification Codes). Third, explore if your business qualifies as a small business on the SBA websites.

If your business is owned by a minority, woman, service-disabled veteran, or located in a particular area, for example, you may have an edge in government contracting.

Also seek any possible benefits offered by the 8(a) Business Development or HUB-Zone programs from the SBA. The 8(a) program was created to help small disadvantaged businesses compete in the American economy and access the federal procurement market. The HUB-Zone program provides federal contracting opportunities for qualified small businesses located in Historically Underutilized Business Zones areas.

If your business qualifies for either of these programs, you may be eligible for sole source, "no bid" contracts up to $4 million in products and services and/or $6 million in manufacturing.

Know your customer

Once you're properly registered in the CCR database, the next step is to learn about the government as a customer. Successful government contractors routinely peruse Fed Biz Opps, an online listing of government contracts that detail all contracts with a value exceeding $25,000. Small business owners can search for contracts that are designated as small-business set-asides and peruse all contracts to better understand what the government is looking for.
When you find a good match for your company, you can bid on contracts directly.

Another valuable resource is, where you can research contracts by state, industry and several other categories to obtain information on where the money is going. Create a summary search and you can find out who are the largest government contractors within your geographical area, how much the contracts were awarded for and how long the contract will last.

Narrow down your search

The federal government has over 60 federal agencies and thousands of sub-agencies underneath it. From Acquisition Central, you can view upcoming future contracts and learn key insights on creating a strategic marketing plan. The site also provides contracting officer contact information.

An additional resource is the General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule Program. The GSA acts as the "purchasing store" for nearly $66 billion in federal spending, accounting for more than one-fourth of the government's total procurement dollars.

The Amex survey of small business owners found that getting on the GSA Schedule could be an important strategy for winning government business. Under the GSA Multiple Award Schedule Program, GSA establishes long-term, 20-year government-wide acquisition contracts with commercial companies, providing government buyers with direct access to more than 10 million products and services. This program accounts for more than $40 billion in sales every year.

Want to know how much the federal government is purchasing your products and services for? Explore the GSA eLibrary where thousands of GSA Advantage Pricing Catalogs are posted to help federal buyers with their procurement orders. Viewing these prices and services can be a valuable tool to determine your pricing strategy.

Seek out potential partners

An effective way many first-timers gain entry into the world of government contracting is to work as a subcontractor for a company that has been awarded a federal contract. To learn of opportunities with larger firms who have already won contracts, keep an eye out when perusing Fed Biz Opps. Any contract for more than $550,000 in products and services and $1 million in construction should have a small-business subcontracting plan.

Business owners can also search for potential teaming partners based on industry, geography and other specific attributes by registering on Once your company profile is complete and you are logged in, you will be able to search for potential teaming partners anywhere in the U.S.

Business owners that team or subcontract to procure federal contracts are far more likely to win those dollars. Compared with active small contractors overall, the survey found that small-business owners who employ teaming or subcontracting strategies win 50% more contracts.

Do your homework

Gaining entry into the world of government contracts can be complicated and time consuming, but by following the steps above and continuing to research and pursue opportunities, you'll be well on your way to landing your first federal contract.

Lourdes Martin-Rosa has over two decades of experience in helping small businesses navigate the procurement landscape. In addition to being an American Express OPEN advisor on government contracting, she is also the president of Government Business Solutions.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Post-Recession Success: 7 Actions for Small Business Owners to Take Now

Feb 18, 2011 -

Have you heard? We're slowly moving out of the worst financial crisis many of us have ever experienced toward an optimistic time of recovery and eventual growth.

As a small business owner, this is the time you've been waiting for. Now it's time to position you and your business for post-recession success by doing these seven things:

1. Invest in education

Without spending too much, invest now in any education you need to make your post-recession business a success. Attend seminars online and in person, read books and trade magazines, and make sure you're reading what's on the cutting edge in your industry.

2. Pay off debt

If you can pay off any debt, now is the time to do it. Taking on debt during a recession is common; however, now that the recession is lifting, don't add to it. Pay cash for everything you need. Put your credit cards in the freezer.

3. Go "Zen" on extras

Now that money may be flowing a little more, resist the urge to splurge on extras you don't need. Think before you add all the bells and whistles to your business or cell phone. Think before you buy new technology. Do you really need that Starbucks' latte twice a day?

4. Follow the market

Read the papers or watch the news. Know what is happening and stay on top of it.

5. Renew contracts

Have your new clients sign a long-term contract and your current clients renew or extend their contracts with you.

6. Hang on to your property

While it may seem like a good time to sell your home or business property, don't. At this moment in time, you won't get top dollar and may still end up losing money. Instead, begin projects that will improve the quality (and eventual selling price) of your home or office
7. Don't cut prices

Right after a recession, it is common for small business owners to think that cutting prices will help them attract more clients and customers. Don't do it. Keep your prices steady, while offering your customers a coupon or a rewards program, to reward them for sticking with you during tough times.

These are exciting times we live in. Finally, we're seeing evidence that the U.S. economy is starting to recover. Now is the time for small business owners to jump to action. Don't wait.

Susan L. Reid

Small Business Expert and Business Catalyst
Susan Reid brings the gift of inner vision and insight to spiritually conscious businesswomen ready to run their business confidently, effectively, and fully aligned with their deepest inner principles.

Twice award-winning author of "Discovering Your Inner Samurai: The Entrepreneurial Woman's Journey to Business Success, Dr. Susan revolutionizes the way women do business in the world through the transformational process called discovering your Inner Samurai.


Friday, February 4, 2011

3 Small Businesses to Watch in 2011

There's no dearth of predictions, trends and watch lists this time of year. Here is my nomination of three small businesses that have been making the news recently, along with a few thoughts on what makes them noteworthy.

ICON Aircraft, Los Angeles

In 2004, the FAA introduced a dramatic change in regulations by creating the Light Sport Aircraft category, a pilot license requiring just half the 40 hours of flight time for a private pilot license. Niche created!

Shortly thereafter, in 2005, ICON Aircraft was launched by Kirk Hawkins, a graduate of Stanford Business School, accomplished engineer, former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot, and long-time motorsport enthusiast.

ICON Aircraft’s sole purpose has been to bring the freedom, fun and adventure of flying to all who have dreamed of flight. One look at the stylishly elegant A5, and it becomes clear that ICON is fulfilling its purpose. The plane is amphibious, with foldable wings, and easily stored in your garage. The plane was designed, engineered and developed by famed Scaled Composites, which created such record setting projects as Voyager, Global Flyer, the X-Prize winning SpaceShipOne and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.

Want your own? Place a deposit by credit card online at the company's website.

Key success factors:

    * Great team: In addition to deep design talent, ICON counts IDEO's David Kelley, Mastercraft CEO John Dorton, and Boeing CEO Phil Condit among its advisory team.
    * Design simplicity: The A5 keeps gadgets and gizmos like dials and levers to a minimum, favoring intuitive and user-friendly design.

    * Quick reflexes: Recognizing the opportunity to fill a niche, the ICON founders moved quickly and gathered an incredible team.

Indie Energy, Chicago

Solar and wind power as renewable energy are all the rage. Except at Indie Energy, which has in four short years built a thriving business and leadership position around the neglected stepchild known as geothermal energy. Indie creates investment-grade geothermal systems with its innovative engineering, construction and metering technologies, and won the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy funding award for transformational technology.

To make a transformative impact for businesses and the environment, entrepreneur and CEO Daniel Cheifetz knew he needed to break old patterns and challenge conventional thinking. He recruited a diverse team of leaders that blend expertise from the worlds of technology, engineering, product development, construction, finance and business.

"Reducing the amount of energy used to heat and cool buildings is one of the most meaningful ways we can increase building energy efficiency, lower operating costs and reduce our carbon footprint," states the company's website. "While geothermal systems have been used in rural locations for decades, the technology did not exist to implement systems in larger commercial buildings and in urban areas, with proven return on investment."

Added bonus: Indie Energy's Smart Geothermal systems also make it possible to utilize American Recovery and Reinvestment Act incentives to make geothermal systems affordable for most buildings.

Key success factors:

    * Close collaboration: Indie systems designers and engineers work closely with other professional resources involved in each building project, from architects, engineers, general contractors, to owners themselves.

    * Leverage constraints: Indie pioneered the production-scale harvesting of geothermal energy in space-constrained, highly-structured and tightly-regulated environments. Their innovative drilling system allows drillers to effectively harvest clean, renewable geothermal energy in spaces as small as 100 square feet. Not only are Indie geothermal drills are much smaller than traditional drilling rigs (12 feet in length vs. a typical 40-foot drilling rig), but they are track-mounted and remote-controlled to navigate better in small spaces.
Omhu , New York City

Omhu is Danish for “with great care.” Omhu is three people: Susy Korb (President), Rie Norregaard (Creative Director) and Susan Towers (VP, Sales & Marketing), along with freelance support. Founded on the belief that life is imperfect and beautiful, Omhu offers groundbreaking designs to support people’s abilities as they change throughout life.

As Susy says, “We started Omhu after searching in vain for well-designed products for relatives and friends who needed help with simple tasks such as walking, bathing or reaching overhead. Pooling our collective experience in design and fashion, we’ve created a brand for people like us—caregivers who want more inspired and inspiring choices for the people they love.”

Omhu celebrates good design because it’s life-enhancing, and fun. By creating more exciting choices of things that help, Omhu hopes to help change the way people feel about aging and ability.

Key success factors:

    * Understand market dynamics: let's face it, everyone grows old, and more of us are living much longer.

    * Product availability: In addition to buying on their site, Omhu products will be widely available at retail.

    * Inspired design: Omhu taps the talents of folks like Allen Zadeh and Ted Muehling.

Add these eight success factors to your company's arsenal for 2011... if you haven't already!

Tags: the shibumi strategy, best practices, matthew may, 2011, success, small business

By Matthew E. May
January 21, 2011 -

Matthew E. May is the author of The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change (Jossey-Bass, 2010), In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing (Broadway Business, 2009) and The Elegant Solution: Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation (Free Press, 2006). Matt works with individuals, teams and companies to guide change through a focus on design thinking and problem solving. He spent nearly a decade as a fully retained advisor, master kaizen instructor and jishuken leader for Toyota, a company that implements over 1 million new ideas each year. Matt is a graduate of the Wharton School and The Johns Hopkins University, but considers winning The New Yorker Magazine Cartoon Caption Contest among his proudest achievements.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day: 10 Mistakes that Small Businesses Make Over and Over

Feb 02, 2011

By Barry Moltz
In the movie, Groundhog Day, Phil, played by actor Bill Murray, is forced to live the same day over and over again until he learns where he is making lifelong mistakes.

Many small business owners are also doomed to make the same mistakes over and over and over again. Here are the top 10 mistakes that are repeated by small businesses and how they can be solved.

1. They focus on profit not cash. 
We learned during the great recession that company financial statements can be pure fiction. Profit at the bottom of the income statement is meaningless if your business does not have the cash to pay its obligations. Your profit could be “stuck” in your accounts receivables, inventory, or work in process. Understand the cash flow statement to learn how "profitable” your business really is and how much cash it has to invest, save, or distribute.

2. They don’t diligently collect the money that is owed by customers.
Customers that do not pay aren’t really customers; they are collection problems. Have a strict process on how your business operates in this area. This includes setting mutually-agreed-to prices and payment terms, checking with the customer when your invoice arrives, and asking when it will be paid. If it is not paid on time, call to find out where it is. Remember, the squeaky wheel always gets paid first.

3. Lack of focus on what your business does. 
Many entrepreneurs early in starting their company want to be all things to all people. They believe they should not turn away any type of business from any customer. However, the successful company focuses on solving one pain first profitably for customers. They don’t expand too quickly to solving other related problems. To build a strong company, get boring and narrow real fast.

4. Expanding too quickly by increasing fixed and overhead costs. 
Many entrepreneurs hear that bigger is always better. After some initial success, they want to have more office space. This is only a way to “grow yourself broke." In order to grow profitably, keep as many expenses variable and available as possible. This will ensure that expenses only increase when sales grow at the same time.

5. Hiring the wrong people. 
Many small business owners have big egos. They routinely hire the wrong people for all the wrong reasons. This includes employees that are friends, relatives, or just not as good as themselves. This comes out of a basic fear that they will be overshadowed in their business. It is critical to hire people that are complementary to your skills. The only way to build a profitable sustainable business is to find leverage with people and processes.

6. Not firing employees quickly enough. 
Every business owner’s mantra needs to be “slow to hire and quick to fire." If a mistake was made in the hiring process, this will be evident in the first 30 days of employment. People have a hard time changing within a company. What is worse is that everyone knows who the non-performers are in the company and this holds the business back. Fire your non-performing employees today.

7. Knowing when to quit. 
The most successful entrepreneurs know “when to hold them and fold them." Will Rogers said that “if you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do, is stop digging.” It is time to shut down your company if you run out of your passion and cash. In this case, there truly is not a way or a reason to turn the business around.

8. Not focusing on marketing and distribution. 
The biggest error in thinking for many entrepreneurs is that “if you build it, they will come." The reasoning goes that if “I build a better mousetrap," customers will automatically buy it. There could be nothing further from the truth. The most successful businesses execute a superior marketing and distribution strategy that finds the customers that have the money to buy the product that solves their pain. Unfortunately, the best products don't always sell the most.

9. Failure to systematically do marketing even while they have “too much work." 
We actually can’t sell anything to anyone; we just need to be there when people are ready to buy. This is why having a systematic and constant method to building relationships with customers, prospectors, influencers, and connectors is critical. Trust is built over a long period of time. Build relationships by consistently giving value freely. As a result, when a prospect or their friend has a problem your company can solve, they will call you.

10. Not consistently seeking help. 
Small business owners are a stubborn group. We want to do it alone and not ask for help, until it’s too late. Get one or more mentors for your business early on. This can come from hired professionals like bankers, lawyers, or accountants, or organizations such as SCORE or SBDCs. Better yet, join a mentor group and talk to other business people who have been where you are right now. You will be surprised how many will volunteer their help.

What other mistakes do you think small business owners make over and over again?

Barry Moltz

Small Business Speaker, Consultant, and Author Barry Moltz gets business owners growing again by unlocking their long forgotten potential. With decades of entrepreneurial experience in his own businesses ventures as well as consulting countless other entrepreneurs, Barry has discovered the formula to get stuck business owners out of their funk and marching forward. Barry applies simple, strategic steps to facilitate change for entrepreneurs, and get’s them growing their business once again.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Small-business advice: How to make more international sales

By Karen E. Klein
January 3, 2011

Quantcast Quantcast

Dear Karen: I want to make more overseas sales in 20011. Do I need a foreign distributor?

Answer: It certainly helps, said Kathleen Brush, an international business consultant based in Seattle. "Finding a good local partner in the country you're targeting will help you understand business and legal details you would have tripped over," she said.

Brush recommended using the Gold Key Matching Service offered by the U.S. Commercial Service. "They do credit checks, criminal checks, they walk you through the distribution process and advise you about what you need to look for" in any country where you want to start selling, she said.

It is important to take your time and make sure you have found a good distributor before you ramp up international sales. "Small businesses often make mistakes because they are anxious and they want to make money right away. Be patient and get everything set up properly before you start," she said.

• Turning holiday customers into regulars

Dear Karen: My business was up over the holidays. How can I extend that momentum into this year?

Answer: Create incentives in the form of gift cards or discounts that encourage customers to return in 2011. Encourage those who are redeeming gift cards to reload them.
"Offer a bonus for customers who reload their gift cards after redemption. For instance, a free drink with a $25 reload or a $5 bonus on a $50 reload," said Barbara Roeber, senior vice president at electronic payment firm First Data.

Small-business questions? E-mail Karen at