Grow Your Small Business
Been There, Done That
This page was inspired by an interview I had with Robbie Motter on her show Weekly Diva Strategies on blogtalkradio. You can listen to the 30 minute interview here. While I gained extremely valuable skills in the corporate world, the long hours, travel, and company politics took its toll on my psyche and energy. Off and on over the years, I plotted my escape from the corporate American rat race. In February 2011, I bought Earth’s Natural Clay, which I operated on a part-time basis. In the midst of preparing my escape once and for all, I was laid off in February 2012 and have since devoted myself full time to this business. Since buying Earth's Natural Clay, I have learned a tremendous amount about growing a small business on a limited budget. This page recaps some of the highlights that may help you start or buy a business and find freedom yourself.
What To Look For In A Business
Off and on over a period of nearly 15 years, I'd gotten frustrated with the corporate American rat race and would look to buy or start a business. Resources I recommend when it comes to buying or selling a business:
- Buying and Selling A Business by Robert Kleuger. I have referred to it many times over the years.
- How To Buy and Sell A Business by Robert Kiyosaki.
- Willard Milchin, CPA, for a coach and mentor through the process. I never had the opportunity to hire Willard (yet!) but I took one of his courses in Seal Beach and should I need someone to vet a business, he will be my go-to guy. Let him tell you a couple stories about the hundreds of thousands of dollars buyers lost because they didn't do their due diligence before the sale. Worth his weight in gold!
Giving it thought and looking at business after business, I came up with my own requirements (listed here) that a business would have to meet in order for me to consider it. I highly recommend you come up with what's important to you and run any business you are considering through that filter. It will save you time and money!
- Could be operated from anywhere in the world
- Would create jobs
- Had good potential for growth
- Was something I believed in (not fast food, for example)
- Would accrue equity and be an asset I could sell after growing the business and ready to retire
- Was not something that people would sue me over (think child care, senior care, driving, tanning)
- Was not tied to a retail location with retail hours (nights, weekends, holidays)
- Could be home-based so I wasn’t slave to a landlord
The picture to the right is taken in front of an obviously ginormous cow outside a hotel near Death Valley, California in April 2012. My husband, mother-in-law and I went out there on vacation for a few days to see where our wonderful calcium bentonite clay originates from. I highly recommend a trip to Death Valley and while there, the Eastern Sierras in California if you've never been (shown below).
Skills Needed To Run An Online Business Like Earth's Natural Clay
It helps to be comfortable around technology. And with all technology, PATIENCE is required. It’s good to be able to get educated on some basic functions of content management so you’re not entirely dependent on a developer to make changes. But you can certainly pay someone to do every technical tweak and update needed. I just wanted to be able to change things on the fly. You need to be able to move fast in today’s global economy. No joke. A long time ago I heard a quote attributed to Henry Ford “You don’t need to know it all, you just need to know who to ask.” That has served me well in corporate life as well as this business. Know who to ask! The answers are out there! I love LinkedIn groups especially for this reason.
SCREEN FULLY AND CAREFULLY. Call previous employers, not acquaintances and friends. Find out why they left their position. It will be hard to get employers to tell you this, but ask if they are eligible for rehire. One of our company values is to pay a living wage, so I was starting people out at the top end of an entry level job and didn’t end up with reliable help. Now I start help at minimum wage and give a 25% raise after 60-90 days and then another 25% raise after that if they still cut the mustard. And we’re not talking rocket science here. I now have an AWESOME employee (#5) – Buffy - that I hope to bring on full time in 2013. The last person I had to let go was because it took him 90 minutes to do a task that should have taken 30 minutes. By doing a task yourself initially, you will know how long tasks should take and you can use that as a benchmark for others once they have the task mastered. It turns out this young man was texting while on the job. If you are going to let people work independently – which you need to be able to do so you don’t have to babysit! - you REALLY have to make sure they’re working when they’re supposed to be. This task time method works for me. Look for maturity. During the interview process, find out how they spend their free time. That says a lot about the kind of person they are – and the kind of employee they will be. Don’t let your compassion for people needing work cloud your judgment. I did and wasted time and money as a result.
How Important is Social Media in Small Business?
Earth’s Natural Clay is ONLY an online business but nonetheless I frequent brick and mortar businesses pretty much daily. IMO, it is critical for all businesses that not only want to grow but just SURVIVE have an online presence. The world changes so fast and customers really are in the driver’s seat and for these reasons, small businesses cannot afford to keep a pulse on their market. Social media is a great way of tuning in. Having an online following can be a competitive advantage for brick and mortar businesses. Think of the popularity of Yelp, for example. Millions of people use review sites like Yelp to find places to eat, shop, play, get their haircut and everything in between. Having a website is a good start, but having a social media presence helps build your offline search optimization and can help businesses get found by new customers. Of course, an online-only business with no social media presence to me is an oxymoron. Social media can DEFINITELY be overwhelming, but the key is to start with one platform and do that well and regularly. Schedule time – perhaps 30 minutes or an hour a day – to do social media. Once you get the hang of it and learn the platform you’re using, you can add a second platform. I am on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest and Google +. My only posts on Twitter come from my Facebook updates and I’m good with that. I’m not very active on Google+ but when I see something I like that has a Google+ share icon, I click it. There are a lot of free resources to learn about social media but there’s also a lot of noise. I like Amy Porterfield for learning about Facebook. She co-authored the book “Facebook for Dummies.” For LinkedIn, I like Lewis Howes’ Linked Influence. And for Pinterest I like Andreea Ayers of Launch Grow Joy. She has an excellent online course all about Pinterest. These are all inexpensive online courses that you can access at your leisure again and again. Many of these have closed Facebook groups where you can ask questions and interact with other people learning the same subject, which is also an awesome resource.
Blogging has definitely helped my business. Like social media, it doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s the key way to deliver fresh content, which is what Google LOVES LOVES LOVES. My goal is to write one post a week minimum. This may not sound like a lot, but given everything else on my plate, it works for me. Find what works for you and stick with it. Don't let it be an albatross around your neck. If you're brand, brand new to blogging, the Dummies books are a good resource. For learning about blogging and related disciplines, I also like Derek Halpern of Social Triggers. Let me rephrase that. I don't really like Derek. Actually, I find his style annoying. But he has KILLER FREE CONTENT. So I look past his irritating accent and in-your-face style and follow his blog posts and videos.
Other Blogging Tips
- Be sure to use a picture in every blog post and use a Pinterest button so others can share your posts.
- Share your posts on your business Facebook page (which is linked to Twitter) and LinkedIn groups you belong to for more search optimization.
- If you’re on WordPress, get the plugin Magic Action Box to put at the bottom of every post with a call to action for readers; in my case to be notified of new blog posts. Grow your followers!
Doing Business Internationally
Our clay is unique – from the Death Valley area of the Mojave Desert – and is sought by people all over the world. Since Earth's Natural Clay is an online business, people globally are able to find me and it’s true what they say about the Internet leveling the playing field in this regard. I ship 99% of my retail orders via U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail. Like with my domestic orders, I enter the customer information and print the labels online. The only difference is I have to hand the clerk the package rather than drop it off at the post office. But that’s no big deal. We're happy to do what it takes to get this clay into the hands of people that are interested in using it!
Other Helpful Tools
The telephone! You would be amazed how surprised people are when they call and get a live person. They really appreciate it. I answer the phone 9 AM til 9 PM. Most people use email to communicate with us so the phone doesn’t ring off the hook all day long. That makes this tactic very doable for me. Not to mention we live in a 24/7, 365 day global universe! There is SO MUCH NOISE on the Internet. Like everyone else, I have a pretty limited attention span, so when I’m listening to someone or reading their newsletter or blog post, if it doesn’t have at least one good idea that I can act on and will help me or otherwise resonates with me, they’re off my list. Learn from other people, but be extremely selective in who gets your attention. I've mentioned some people I like above. I have learned about several awesome tools like the Magic Action Box from Nathalie Lussier. She is all about tools. You will get great information by following her!
Keeping From Being Overwhelmed
When you’re “doing everything” it is easy to be overwhelmed. It’s very important to prioritize. For example, if there are revenue-generating tasks to be done, those are a priority. That includes not only responding to customers and fulfilling orders, but also making sales calls on potential new affiliates or wholesale accounts. This too doesn’t have to be overcomplicated. At the end of each day, make a list on a piece of paper or a whiteboard of what tasks need to be done. I have an “immediate” list and a “near term” list. For example, on my “immediate list” for the Diva Weekly Strategies radio interview was to think through the answers to these questions. On my “near term” list is to implement responsive design on my site for readability with mobile devices.
No Prize For Doing It All
Unless you are a service business where you bill your time for services rendered, you cannot -nor should you– do it all! Even as a service provider, there are some administrative tasks you should probably outsource. In 1990, Michael Gerber wrote The eMyth. What I remember so well from that is the concept of working “on” your business versus working “in” your business. Know where your strengths are and what the high value activities are. Get help with the things you are not good at and are low value so you can concentrate on tasks that will grow your business. Yes, this will take funds, but if you don’t do this, you become trapped in your business and you wind up with another j-o-b. Another tip about hiring professionals: Don’t buy the cobbler’s children line with graphic designers, social media gurus, web developers, photographers and the like. If a website developer doesn’t have their own website, pass. If a social media provider doesn’t have much of a presence, pass. Ask for references and examples of work. Graphic designers that do brochures are probably not good at packaging and labels. Photographers that shoot people are probably not good at product pics. That's what I've learned - the hard way.
Connect With Me
You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest. (Good Lord!) You can also reach me by telephone at 619.840.8467 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your feedback, comments and questions. Sign up below to be notified when this page is updated.
I am fortunate to have been interviewed on radio several times. Here you'll find links to the interviews, covering both entrepreneurship as well as the nuts and bolts about calcium bentonite clay.
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