Monday, September 1, 2014

Success Story: Iowa

Dina Stroud Faith owns The Best of Floyd County Hometown Value Magazine, an advertising magazine coming out in August 2014 that focuses on local businesses and activities in Floyd County, Indiana. The local publication will be sent to higher income Floyd County residents only.

Before becoming an entrepreneur, Dina started her direct mail career 25 years ago,spending the first 10 years selling advertising for Val-Pak.  Dina has also sold advertising for a couple of local direct mail coupon magazines and has spent eight years selling database-driven and targeted solo direct mail products to businesses on a national level. 

When asked why she chose this business to get involved in, Dina answered, "I've enjoyed all of the products I've sold, but there was always "something I would fix" about each program, so I decided I would take the best that each product had to offer, include some added value aspects, and create what I think is the best possible product for local businesses to reach the consumers in the local area."

Dina's mission for her business is to provide a high quality, affordable direct mail magazine for local businesses to market their brand, products and services to residents of the local community while apportioning proceeds back to a community development, educational or charitable organization. 

Dina really enjoys the positive feedback she has received while meeting business owners and creating her magazine.  She is proud that most people she meets with and talks to about her magazine express that they believe she has a great, well thought-out product to offer.


Sometimes, however, Dina's business can become frustrating when people do not give her a chance and learn about her magazine. She believes that if she is given time to talk with the business owner, he or she will enjoy the magazine and realize what is has to offer for local businesses. While the magazine may not be a fit for them at that time, it may be something down the road that would benefit their business.

Because Dina's business is at the start up stage, she hasn't faced any severe road bumps yet. Her challenge moving forward is being able to personally survive financially for the first few months until her publications reach the number of pages that she needs to not only cover production costs, but to draw a salary.
 

After designing and printing her marketing materials and making decisions such asmailing area, frequency, mail dates, etc., Dina was ready to open her business and start talking to business owners and Floyd County residents. Dina has not been able to measure growth yet, since the magazine's first issue comes out in August 2014, but she is looking forward to August and is excited to get feedback from business owners and consumers who receive the magazine. If Dina decides to expand her business, she plans to hire more employees along with develop a website.

Dina enjoys working with the community and looks forward to helping out local businesses and organizations. For Dina's first year of business, she is giving her front cover to Develop New Albany at no charge to promote community events and a portion of the total sales will be donated to them as well. 

Dina, a client of the Southeast ISBDC since March 2014, says of her Business Advisor, Blayr Barnard, "Blayr was extremely encouraging and gave me the added confidence to move forward.  She has been great with the follow-up and making sure that I have everything I need to be successful."

Blayr Barnard, Southeast ISBDC Regional Director, says of Dina, "Dina is taking her years of experience in marketing and direct mail to provide a unique service in Floyd County. She has already partnered with one local business association and is moving forward quickly."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Success Story: Alaska

"Although I've been a small business owner for 20 years, since I began working with the
SBDC my confidence and knowledge as an informed owner has increased” - Cover Ups
owner, Teresa Roy.

Roy began Cover Ups out of her home twenty years ago as a custom drapery fabricator. Her business grew and in 2000 she opened a retail location in Palmer and expanded her
offerings to include unique refurbished furniture. In 2012, Cover Ups was awarded “Small Business of the Year” by the Alaska Chamber of Commerce. Last year, Roy was accepted by Costco as a window coverings vender which has caused business to
increase exponentially.

As Roy began the process of submitting her business for consideration to Costco, she knew
that the contract would mean changes for Cover Ups so she approached the Alaska Small
Business Development Center in Wasilla. Previously, Roy had taken a Profit Mastery course
with Julie Nolen, Mat-Su Director, and planned to use the Profit Mastery toolkit, along with
the confidential one-on-one business advising, to manage the growth the new contract
would bring.

In their advising sessions, Nolen and Roy discussed ways to increase staff while maintaining
company culture and reviewed tools to keep a finger on the financial pulse of the business.
About a month into the contract, Roy reports that business has been booming thanks to the
added Costco sales. Because of this, she was able to hire additional staff and expand her
offerings.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

3 Ideas to Help Turn Social Media Engagement Into Profit

If you are like many small businesses, then you've already begun to integrate social media activities into your marketing efforts. But marketing on social media and driving results through social media do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. It’s entirely possible to grow an active following online- with lots of Facebook fans, Twitter followers, email subscribers, and even good reviews on Yelp- without seeing an increase in your businesses’ profits. When this happens, I often advise businesses to take a step back to make sure they are adhering to the most important elements turning social engagement into action:         

1. Focus your messages.
You may offer a lot of products and services but if you focus on your differentiation, you’ll be able to demonstrate your expertise and dominate a market segment.

For example, a retailer specializing in tennis gear can show customers how to use the latest equipment, offer tennis classes, and write about topics such as “what to look for when buying new tennis sneakers.” These actions will draw in customers looking for specific equipment and while they’re shopping, they’ll discover other products and services offered by the retailer.

2. Be responsive to everyone who engages with you. 
It’s human nature to respond to the most positive and the most negative comments yet the majority of your customers are going to fall in the middle of those two extremes.

Knowing this, you should always respond when a customer engages with you – even if they’re making a small gesture such as a “Like” or re-tweet. Your actions can be as simple as thanking them for sharing your content, responding to their comments, or sending a brief, personalized note when they subscribe to your newsletter.

3. Ask for referrals.
When a satisfied customer raves about your business, that’s the time to ask if they wouldn't mind letting their friends know about you or if they’d be willing to provide a quote for your website or newsletter.

As a more proactive tactic, identify your long-standing customers and vocal fans and ask if they wouldn't mind helping spread the word by forwarding articles from your newsletters or commenting on your Facebook page.


Remember that many social media participants read more than they post. Yet if you are focused, responsive and transparent about growing your business, you’ll be able to transform your online presence into profit.


Looking for more tips on social media success? Check out my session at this year’s ASBDCconference. 

Constant Contact's Ron Cates and is one of the country's top email and social media marketing experts. He has supported small business for decades and has an extensive background in financial development and marketing for non-profit organizations. A digital marketing pioneer, Ron has educated nearly 100,000 small businesses on behalf of Constant Contact, and has presented at hundreds of high-profile conferences and events. Millions have read his written articles, and his radio shows on email marketing and social media are among the most popular on the Internet.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Success Story: Alaska

Alaska Premier Services, owned by Mike Anderson, is an Anchorage based
business that focuses on providing high quality services that make homeowner’s
lives easier. Services offered include landscaping, lawn maintenance, snow
plowing and housekeeping by an experienced and detail-oriented crew. Alaska
Premier Services has over ten years of experience delivering high quality services
to the Anchorage area and was even voted the 2013 Best Lawn Care Company in
Anchorage!

Anderson first approached the Alaska Small Business Development Center in September of 2012. Along with meeting with our Business Advisers, Anderson found the workshops extremely helpful especially in creating a marketing strategy for his company. Alaska Premier Services is now very active on several social media platforms, including Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn and has a comprehensive, easy to use website. Anderson is able to utilize both his website and social media to provide homeowners not only with updates on the business but also with information that will help them maintain their homes. Alaska
Premier Services is also the only business of it’s kind in Anchorage to offer instant
pricing for it’s services directly through their website.

"The SBDC has played a key role in furthering my business knowledge which has
greatly increased both our growth rate as well as our success so far” said
Anderson, “I've attended a dozen different SBDC classes, all pertaining to different
business topics & have learned more than I could have imagined."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Successful event planning: 3 tips to increase attendance at your next event

  1. What is your objective? Each event should have a strategic objective, whether it’s to introduce members, raise funds or network, for example. By establishing the objective up front, your team members will better understand how their efforts contribute to the big picture and your attendees are more likely to say yes to your invitation.
  2. Did you scour local event calendars? Along with checking for competing activities on the same day, look for related events scheduled within a week of yours.
  3. Does the cost of attending reflect the perceived value? Make sure the registration fee is proportional to what attendees will gain from participating. If your event is free, consider charging a nominal fee and donating the proceeds to charity. Believe it or not, charging as little as $5 can make a big difference.
Once you've defined your objective, cleared the calendar and assigned a value to the event, you’re halfway there. Here are some additional ideas on how to maximize attendance.

Use an event planning tool

Event planning tools are great time-savers because they organize and track all event activities including registrations, email and social media interactions.

Take social media engagement to the next level. Go beyond posting event information and use social media to get to know your audience, introduce attendees before the event, and tailor your program to their interests and needs. Use these ideas to get pre-event conversations going:

  • Initiate regular discussions by asking interesting questions.
  • Take a mini-poll and share the results.
  • Give sneak peeks to event activities.
  • Have your keynote speaker take part in in the conversation.
  • Create a Twitter #hashtag for the event and use it every time you’re talking about it.
  • Create an on-site meeting place for your social media followers to catch up in person. This can help alleviate the anxiety of walking into a room full of strangers.

Develop ‘must read’ and ‘shareworthy’ email content

Anybody can send an email reminder about an event, but you want people to read and share yours.
  • Gather anecdotes and quotes from previous attendees and be specific about their experience. Include tangible benefits from attending. Example: “I met 30 new contacts and had three follow-up meetings the very next week.”
  • List all the possible reasons people may have for not attending and address them. Example: Send out a “Top 10” reasons for not attending with responses ranging from “My dog ate the invitation” to “I don’t know anybody there.” Just remember, don’t give attendees reasons to say no.
  • Feature unique content and include a social sharing bar to make it easier for readers to pass along your email.
Applying these email and social media marketing best practices to your event planning will help boost registrations and fill the venue to capacity.

Looking for more tips on how to ensure event success? Check out my session at this year’s ASBDC conference

Constant Contact's Ron Cates and is one of the country's top email and social media marketing experts. He has supported small business for decades and has an extensive background in financial development and marketing for non-profit organizations. A digital marketing pioneer, Ron has educated nearly 100,000 small businesses on behalf of Constant Contact, and has presented at hundreds of high-profile conferences and events. Millions have read his written articles, and his radio shows on email marketing and social media are among the most popular on the Internet.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Leave only green footprints: 7 ways to conserve at work

It’s not easy being green, or so we’re told, but take a look around your office and consider: How “green” are you?

It’s no surprise that an increasing number of companies are working toward becoming more environmentally conscious: constantly introducing programs to reduce both costs and their carbon footprint. Typical areas of opportunity are employee telecommuting, lighting, recycling and paper usage.

Here are some suggestions that you might use in your green movement at work:

1. Telecommute to reduce and produce

It could be argued that people working from home face more distractions and are often less productive. In reality, reports indicate that the opposite is true—not only does productivity increase, but there is often reduced stress on the employees. Gone are endless hours sitting in traffic, and the stop-go of a slow car creates a lot more pollution than a car that never leaves the house. And what does it mean to ROI? Well, for the company, approximately $11,000 per year per employee, in addition to the savings made by the employee, and the not-to-be-forgotten oil and greenhouse gas savings. And in case you need to ask, yes—I am sitting at home writing this, and it’s past 5 o’clock. How’s that for productivity?

2. Taper the paper

Here’s a fairly obvious one: use both sides of the paper when printing! Not only are you helping save trees but, from a dollar point of view, you are looking at a 50-percent reduction in paper costs. And don’t throw away those sheets with one blank side. Gather the half-used sheets together, put them back in the printer, and use the blank sides for printing draft copies of documents.

Only print what you actually need at the time—avoid the “I’ll print some spares ones…” attitude; extra copies may become outdated and are then wasted. Mixing paper with regular waste might leave it contaminated and unsuitable for recycling, so leave a dedicated paper recycle bin next to the printer and encourage people to use it.

3. Taking going green literally

You can promote a work atmosphere that’s healthier for mind and body by adding live plants to your workspace. Vegetation such as the Snake Plant needs little maintenance (water once a week) and, along with English Ivy, is extremely good at improving air quality. Gardenia‘s scent is purported to stimulate the brain -- and is an attractive addition to the corner of a desk.

4. Equip to save

When purchasing new office equipment, be sure to check the operating costs. Even if a printer can only boast a small savings per page, those savings quickly add up when you consider the lowly printer’s workload.

And don’t skimp on the watercooler. Great tasting filtered water—the water people actually don’t mind drinking—will encourage people to stop wasting money on bottled water, reducing the need for those pervasive plastic bottles. Avoid stocking up on Styrofoam cups, which are particularly bad for the environment.

5. Food for thought...and productivity

Replace the buckets of candy on desks with buckets of organic fruit. The dropping costs of organic food makes healthy eating easier for the budget-conscious, yet still we snack on candy and other sweet goods that always make their way from the home to the office, especially in first weeks of November. Encouraging your staff to eat healthy can also help reduce the overall amount of sick time taken each year.

If you have vendors visit your business every day at lunchtime, talk to them about providing healthy eating alternatives to those always-available fudge brownies, and drop hints about supplying food in environmentally friendly containers.

6. More bins + less waste

Provide bins marked for recycle only. If your office is small, you might consider getting together with other nearby businesses to help with cost-efficient collection. GoDaddy even has bins set aside for batteries; usually thrown away but perfectly recyclable, you’d be surprised how quickly the containers fill when people drop in the odd AA every few days.

7. Encourage more time in the dark

Where possible, replace those energy-sucking light bulbs with more efficient ones. The initial cost might be higher, but long-term you’ll save. You might also swap out the regular light switches for those with the built-in motion sensor that will automatically turn off the lights after a set amount of time. Of course, if you are the type of person who sits motionless in front of the computer for long periods, this might mean you’ll occasionally have to stand and do the Harlem Shake until the lights turn back on. But then, a little exercise doesn’t hurt, once in a while.

Don’t be shy when it comes to spreading the word about your “green-ness.” It’s no surprise that companies actually gain respect for their green efforts, and a caring company is a beautiful thing to work for.

Organic food for thought.

Bio:

Peter Dillon was transplanted from Wales, UK, about 10 years ago and joined the GoDaddy family in 2010. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and cat, who adopted the couple last year and has allowed them to live with her since. A specialty trainer at GoDaddy, Peter loves education and enjoys being on both sides of the desk—knowing that there is not only always something to learn, but there is always something that can be taught. The world’s largest domain name registrar and Web hosting provider, GoDaddy gives small business owners the tools to name their idea, build a beautiful online presence, attract customers and manage their business. To get more tips for your small business—including articles, videos and webinars—check out the GoDaddy Training Hub.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Success Story: Illinois

Custom Bat Manufacturer Hits Home Run as Entrepreneur 

Swansea resident Todd “Dutch” Eschman is batting a thousand as the first-place winner of a regional business plan competition that is driving his entrepreneurial venture toward success.

Eschman, 44, is the sole proprietor of Old Dutch Classic Bats (www.dutchbats.com), a manufacturer of custom bats for vintage baseball players. Vintage baseball is a rapidly growing sport that recreates the game as it was played in the 1860s by replicating rules, period uniforms, style of play, language and equipment – including bats.

The entrepreneur’s business idea to manufacture and sell custom-made bats came from his passion to play vintage baseball, which began three years ago.

“I’ve always played baseball and have coached my kids’ teams,” said Eschman, whose day job is as general manager of community publications for the Belleville News-Democrat and who began his journalism career as a sportswriter. “In August 2011, I got wind of a vintage baseball game between the St. Louis Unions and Lafayette Square Cyclone BBC and decided to check it out. After watching one game, I was hooked.”  A year later, Eschman and friends formed a team and started competing in local leagues. 
Eschman and his friends were not the only ones fascinated with vintage baseball. The game’s quick growth led to the formation of the Vintage Base Ball Association with 161 member clubs across 26 states, most of which include multiple teams of 15 to 20 players each. This surge in popularity motivated Eschman to take his passion for the game to the next level. 

“There was something unnatural about players using modern bats with the logos sanded off,” Eschman said. “To be true to the sport, I purchased a basic lathe in 2012 and started making my own authentic bats. Before long, the word got out and my friends’ wives began asking me to custom-manufacture bats as gifts to their vintage baseball playing spouses. A year later, I’d sold enough to buy a high-quality, diamond-tipped lathe and have been busy ever since. I love playing and making bats. Each bat is very personal because every player has a unique swing and feel for their own bat,” he added.
Seeking assistance with the state-required paperwork to officially launch his company, Eschman found the Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Center Director Patrick McKeehan and School of Business grad student Luther Cameron provided expertise not only on the paperwork but also on how to forecast and manage the growth of Old Dutch Classic Bats.

“The Illinois Metro East SBDC had a lot of valuable advice for my start-up,” Eschman said. “Through their experience and objectivity, Patrick and Luther provided a vital business perspective and encouraged me to consider the important, strategic questions along the way.”

McKeehan also suggested Eschman consider entering the Metro East Start-Up Challenge, a brand new regional business plan competition. Despite being a newly formed company without a business or marketing plan, Eschman submitted a first round executive summary for Old Dutch Classic Bats.  Two rounds later using the guidance and support of SBDC staff, Eschman walked home with the $10,000 first-place prize. 

“Todd is a classic garage startup entrepreneur translating his passion into a business success.  In four months, he went from what he thought was a hobby to a viable startup with real potential to capture a sizeable market share of the growing demand for vintage baseball bats,” McKeehan said.