New Business Expectations vs Reality

What can a new business owner expect?

How did you expect things to be when you started your new business? Did you expect it to be effortless, fun, empowering? Was failure part of the plan? What about clients who don’t want to pay? Every person who starts a new business, has an idea in their head about their future work life and how it is going to be. Unfortunately, the expectation does not often meet the reality.

Here are some of the expectations that a new business may have and the reality behind them:

Expectation 1 – Clients will beat a path to your door

Stop the world – my new business has arrived! I offer such an amazing service that clients will be falling over themselves to hire my services! The phone will be ringing, the email will be filling up and my bank account will be growing fat.

Reality: Most new businesses rely on friends and family to begin with. Unless you are excellent with Facebook marketing, you will find likes, shares and follows difficult to come by and there will be long periods of boredom, followed by (hopefully) frantic rushes where everyone arrives at once!

What to do: Market yourself constantly. Build a profile on Linked-In, set up a Facebook page, build Twitter and Instagram accounts. Reach out to past colleagues, contacts, anyone who might have an interest in what you do. Decide on a strategy that you will actually feel confident carrying out and get on it. Paid advertising can work, but it can also be a black hole for your money, so should be approached with care and preferably with sound advice.

Expectation 2 – Clients will always pay on time

You always pay your bills on time – so why doesn’t everyone else!

Reality: Sadly it is not uncommon for large companies to postpone bill-paying for up to 3 months! How can you keep your cashflow going?

What to do: The answer to this is in your initial communications with a client. When it comes to buying a product, most people expect to pay before the product is shipped. Buying services is a little different, and it can seem as though you don’t want to raise the delicate subject of money. However, the client expects to pay you and you expect to get paid. In order to ensure that you are paid in a timely fashion, the best thing to do is to expect clients to sign a contract with you before starting work. This way, you can state how quickly after delivery of the product that you expect to get paid and the client understands it too. I f the client pushes back and says that this is not possible, then you can either negotiate or walk away.

Expectation 3 – Your website will fly to the top of Google in no time

Such a well put-together website will surely be recognised by the search engine for the artistic masterpiece it is!

Reality: Search engines work off a series of algorithms in order to rank non-paying websites in response to a search request. This means that you need to ensure that your website follows all the principles of good SEO.

What to do: Keep adding fresh content and optimise that content for SEO or search engine optimisation This means making sure that your blog posts are written with good SEO principles in mind. If your website is on WordPress, there are some good SEO plugins out there which will help you manage the SEO. Length of time helps too.

Expectation 4 – Clients will always love the work you do

Reality: Unfortunately not all clients are able to explain or even know what it is they really want. Some business owners are left to give it their best guess.

What to do: Find ways to pin down what it is your client wants before starting work. You can use a questionnaire, a telephone conversation, ask for examples of other websites that they admire – all these things can help them to explain to you what they want. This is not a guarantee that you will get it right first time, but it can help. Also always emphasise that the first piece of work you turn ij, can be raft which can be changed.

Expectation 5 You will always have polite customers

Reality: Unfortunately not!

What to do: Keep your cool. Working for someone in your own business does not give them the right to abuse you or get angry with you. Stay calm but don’t take any rubbish from them. If they regularly get rude or abusive then it is best to end the relationship. As a business owner, you do not have to experience that kind of thing.

Business owners, how did you negotiate your expectations over the reality of your experiences? Comment below.

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#Hours on Twitter – a great way to get known for Business Owners?

30 Day Blogging Challenge – Day 2

#Hours on Twitter can be a great way to meet with other business owners in your local area and other business owners who are not necessarily in your line of business but who might be local to you.

 

 

 

 

 

The process works through adding a hashtag to your tweet that enables the #hour to pick it up and retweet it to its followers.

Sounds complicated? Not once you get the hang of it.

Continue reading #Hours on Twitter – a great way to get known for Business Owners?

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Five Good Reasons to Maintain Your Blog

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website ideas (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Many businesses consider having a blog an essential part of their website. Blogging offers a chance to connect with your customers and enable them to see a little of what you do. Blogging brings fresh content to your website and that is a good thing when it comes to search engines.

Deciding to have a blog is a regular commitment. How often you update it is up to you, but updating it regularly ensures that visitors to your website can see that you use your website and that you still have a valid business.

1. Adding fresh content to your blog ensures that your website stays fresh and current. Coming across a website which has not been updated since 2007 says ‘I don’t care’ or even ‘I’m no longer in business’.

2. Finding new subjects to write about helps to expand your own learning and enables you to keep up with trends and learn more about your own business. It will also help you keep your brain active and engaged in your business. You might even get some new ideas to help your business.

3. Putting up a new blog post gives you the opportunity to promote your website and your business using social media. Keeping in touch with customers through social media is becoming increasingly important. You want your business website to be well-known through social media, although spam is not a good idea.

4. You can use your blog post to promote special offers or to offer other promotions designed to increase business and encourage return customers. This can be a great way to use a blog post. Design it carefully so that links leading to products or services are visible and easily accessed.

5. Regularly updating your blog will help to reassure your customers that you are a trusted company for them to do business with. Trust is increasingly important on the Internet. A trusted company will bring more repeat customers.

Regular blogging can bring many benefits to you and your business website, so stop reading this post and go and get writing!

Sarah Charmley is a UK-based writer who offers blogging as a speciality. If you would like a carefully crafted blog post on a topic of your choice, use the contact form to get in touch or email sarahthecreativewriter (at) gmail.com.

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How to Keep Your Business from Failing

It’s a scary thought – you came into business, excited at a new idea, buzzing with the possibilities that lay ahead and laughing in the face of failure.

Six, twelve or eighteen months on, the realities have hit: you have experienced the ups and downs of running a business: you have got to grips with accounts, day to day expenses, marketing, invoicing and perhaps stock flow. You have discovered the bad bits of running a business.

Of course it’s not all bad: sometimes your invoices will flow, your customers will pay you on time and you can enjoy being a small business owner and think that all’s right with the world. It seems to be the case, however that business can be feast or famine: either everyone wants your services or no one wants your services. There seems to be no steady flow of work.

First of all, you need to keep a steady head. Take an honest look at your business. What are the good and bad points? Where are problems arising and how are you dealing with them? Check the invoices, check the cash flow and check the customers that you are talking to. Are you doing all you can to keep your customers happy?

Once you have taken stock of your business, then think through what you need to do to improve the bad points. Do you need to increase your marketing? Do you need to set time aside regularly to chase up invoices? Do you need someone else on board to take on the little tasks that are filling your day when you have more important needs to take care of?

Decide on up to three points of action, write them down, pin them to the noticeboard and put them on the calendar then act on them. Do what needs to be done to keep your business afloat. Take the action you need to take and get your business back on track.

It’s your business. Whether it succeeds or fails depends on you alone. You can choose to take the steps to improve it and move it to the next level, or you can choose to let it fail. Sometimes events happen that are beyond our control and in that situation things change and there may be little you can do. Where you have it in your power to instill a change for the better, then do it.

Your business may thank you for it.

Sarah Charmley is a freelance copywriter, editor and proofreader who can use her skills to improve your website and give it that professional touch. You can get in touch with her by using the form on this website.

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Should You Start Your Own Home-Based Business?

 

Image Copyright David Hawgood

Many people have job uncertainty at the moment and the option of working from home begins to look more attractive. You can’t fire yourself and the prospect of giving yourself a disciplinary warning seems unlikely!

 

Joking aside, however, the decision to start your own business cannot be taken lightly. You would be well advised to look into the idea thoroughly before taking any steps to become self-employed. If you need the wage you earn to cover the costs of day to day living, then you will need to consider carefully what you need to live on and what you will need the business to make a month. You need to consider a pension, National Insurance and tax. The tax office in the UK requires you to register within three months of setting up in business. You will be responsible for finding your own customers and clients and you will need to keep your cashflow going.

If you are still reading this, undaunted, then you truly have got the bug and there may be no hope for you. Here are some of the things you will need to consider when setting up your own business:

Competition

Check out your competition. Is there a need for your kind of business and what are you going to do to compete with them?

Make That Sale

The hardest part of any business is getting the customers through the door or on the website. You will need to be your own sales person, so get used to talking on the phone, designing leaflets and buying business cards.

Get a Website and Your Own Domain Name

Having your own website is essential. It is best if the domain name describes what you do in some way although the more obvious names will be taken. Try to find a name that your customers will search for when they are looking for a business like yours. Bear in mind that a website is a long-term investment and that unless you employ an expert, you are likely to be blogging to yourself for a while.

Sell, Sell, Sell

After getting customers through the door, the hardest part is getting that sale. Make sure that your shop or website is bright and appealing. Don’t forget promotional offers can tempt customers to buy and make sure that it is as easy as possible for a customer to buy from you. A website should include big 360 degree pictures of products and accurate descriptions. Logical departments for products and a search facility can also help.

Get Feedback

Offer great customer service to keep your customers coming back for more. Ask for feedback and post reviews. Keep in touch with customers via a newsletter so that you can offer more promotions.

Keep Up-to-Date

Keep your website fresh and up to date. Don’t let yourself get in a rut. When you can afford it and the business is bringing a little money, hire a graphic designer and have some custom designs made so that you can build your brand.

Starting up a new business is an exciting decision. When the excitement dies down, make sure that you have thought everything through and planned thoroughly to ensure that you will be a successful business owner.

I have written some articles on this subject on Suite101:

Five Reasons to be a Home-Based Worker

How to Find a Home-Based Job

Five Qualities of a Successful Home-Based Worker

 

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Some Ideas for When Running a Small Business Gets Tough

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I loved the Royal Wedding last Friday. The family sat down together to enjoy the day. The bride was beautiful, the dress was gorgeous, the groom was handsome in his uniform and the bridesmaids were cute. The bride and groom appeared to thoroughly enjoy their day and the beginning of their new life together. Most of the people I know sat down and enjoyed the wedding as I did.

Starting a new business can be a little like a wedding.

It’s a lot of work, but you are looking forward to the end result. There’s the excitement of the new ideas that can come tumbling out barely fully formed, there’s the joy of the fun stuff like researching new products, designing new websites and perhaps looking for new premises. There’s the not so fun stuff such as visiting the banks and informing HMRC. Overall it is a time full of promise, full of adventure and full of trepidation.

Then you have to deal with the day to day stuff of running a business. In the service industry, you have to continually find new clients. On an e-commerce website you have to keep your search engine optimisation working as well as you can to bring clients to your website. If you have opened a high street shop, then you need your customers to come through the door. You have to keep your cashflow going and your overheads paid. The shine begins to wear off.

Before you know it, you are struggling to find clients, the website is failing to meet its targets and you are not ranking for any of your keywords in the Google top ten pages. Or you’re faced with a sink full of dirty dishes while your new husband goes off for a sulk over the way you cooked tea…! (It could happen)

What Can You Do?

What you do next will show the stuff you’re made of and whether you’re really cut out to be a business owner. You need to find a way through the slump times and discover a way to bring customers thronging to your door once again.

You can share your problem on the business forums and ask advice from some of the old hands there. You may be able to find a customer or two lurking there as well.

You may wish to read up on your problem. Subscribe to one or two recommended blogs and see what the experts suggest.

Linking and networking with like-minded people can bring help so that you can get your head clear and understand the steps you need to take to remedy the situation.

You may decide to hire somebody like a copywriter or a web designer to ensure that your content and your website are as fully optimised as they can be.

Proactively seek clients, especially if you are in a service industry. Go where your clients hang out and join in discussions. Post your availability and let people know that you are able to help.

Use social networking to increase your customer awareness. Tweet, update your status on Linked-In and keep your Facebook page up to date.

Use a promotional offer to encourage people to buy. Use leaflets to target customers.

Check that your e-commerce website is working as well as it can. Ask friends to check it out and follow up on their comments.

Try a website such wecandobiz.net which encourages networking.

Many of these ideas suggest asking others for help. It can be so encouraging to talk to someone who has gone through this before and is able to share their experience. It can be lonely to be a small business owner, particularly one that is a sole trader. By seeking others out and getting involved in communities then you can find a place to share your problems and also help others.

Don’t give up. Keep going and use every bit of your resources to keep your desire to work for yourself alive. Try and remember a little of the excitement of the first days to help you find the resources to get through these dark days. Every business has its ups and downs – that’s what keeps most of us interested.

Good luck.

Oh – and never burn the dinner when cooking for your new husband!

Have you had some difficulties with your business recently? Perhaps you have just come through a difficult patch or you are feeling low at the moment because things are not going the way you would like. Comment below for a sympathetic ear.

 

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How to Have a Good Holiday as a Small Business Owner

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There’s something about being a small business owner that makes it difficult to stop being a small business owner. Even when you’re at dinner, taking the kids to school or even on holiday, then you still have a million small jobs to do: marketing, improving your website or even actually working. How do you manage to switch off and relax when it is time to take a holiday?

Taking a holiday is a must every year for every working person. Time to relax and spend time with your family will help to cement your family relationships and bring you all closer together. Whether you shut down your business completely or whether you have staff on which you can rely to keep your business running, when you work for yourself, taking time out with no holiday pay can be difficult.

Here are some tips for trying to relax even when you can’t:

– Plan ahead. Make sure that all orders and accounts are taken care of before you go away. Schedule jobs for after your holiday and if there are clients who just cannot wait then offer them to other small business owners you can trust. Tell all your clients that you will be away and give them the dates that you will be back.

– Ask a good friend in the same line of business to be a contact for your customers in a time of emergency then do the same for him. Make sure that you trust each other, though.

– Leave the mobile at home. If you have a separate work mobile and personal mobile then that is so much the better. You can leave the mobile at home and deal with any issues when you get back. Don’t forget to set an ‘I’m out of the office until xxx date’ message and your clients will be waiting for you when you get back.

– If you really can’t go a full two weeks without checking email, then why not log into an internet cafe just once halfway through the week? Then you can be reassured that everything is fine and that you can continue enjoying your holiday.

– Sometimes when your brain is enjoying some downtime, then fresh ideas and problem solutions can occur to you. Don’t get stressed that you are nowhere near a computer, but take a pad and paper to jot them down to explore when you get back.

Planning and determination are the key elements of switching off when you go away for a holiday. Everyone needs to relax and your business will be the better for you having had a good time when you are away. You will come back refreshed and ready to face the small business challenges again.

 

  • Small Business News: Latest Business Plan Tips (businessinsider.com)
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Should Your E-Commerce Website have a Membership?

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It’s a difficult one. On the one hand you want to collect email addresses for a mailing list (always giving your customer an opt-out clause) allowing you to send special offers, promotions etc. However there is evidence to suggest that the more screens that you send your customers to the less likely it is that they will buy. How often have you been frustrated by a retail website that insists on your registering with it even before they will check the stock for you?

At the most extreme case, one catalogue website insisted that they had the item in stock all the way to the checkout at which point it refused to process the sale because the item was out of stock in that particular colour. In itself that was annoying: I had registered purely to buy the item in question. However the icing on the cake was when the bills arrived! I had three or four bills, each announcing that I owed them precisely nothing! What a waste of paper! It has so put me off the website that I am most likely never to buy anything from them ever. However I remain a registered customer. At least I could unsubscribe from the emails.

This experience has put me off registering for websites and I am far more likely to buy from a website that allows me to buy as a ‘guest’ rather than a member. The majority of people have not had my bad experiences, though and if it is the only way that your customers can receive your goods or services then of course they are going to join.

You still need to examine your landing copy carefully and monitor the statistics from your website. If the landing page is not successfully converting visitors at a high enough level then you might need to tweak it so that it works more successfully. The thing to note is that you are unlikely to get it right straight away. The important thing is not to give up.

Some websites split test. They set up two landing pages and send traffic to each. They then monitor the results and go with the more successful page. If this is important to you, then this is a route that you may want to take.

It is not just the ad that is important, but the page on which the ad directs the customer. Make sure that the E-commerce side is simple for a user to navigate – a shopping basket which is visible and shows the contents, a list of items in the shopping basket and a big ‘Checkout’ button all help your customer to buy easily from you. Make postage and packing charges clear and transparent. Make sure that your customer can get all the information they need from the first page and ensure that any product photos are not only clear and easy to see, but include an enlarge option and even a 360° view if you are feeling extra techie.

Collect reviews from your customers, family and friends, find out what works and implement it – these are the key ingredients for a successful E-commerce website.

 

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What to include in your email newsletter


iContact.com - Email Marketing Service

 

Emailing a Regular Newsletter is Good for Your Business
Keyboard Keys with Light on Creative Commons by Ysangkok

A previous article on this website gave reasons why you should have a business  newsletter. Here are some more ideas of what to include when writing your newsletter.

 

Collecting an email list is a great idea from a business point of view. Allowing people to opt in means that you are gathering a list of people who are expressing an interest in you and what you do which can only be good for your business.

Simple Opt-In is Best

Make it easy for potential customers to opt in to your newsletter: include a big opt-in at the side of your blog posts. You can offer free giveaway e-books to encourage subscribers, or offer email courses. Do include some form of validation to ensure that the sign-up is genuine. This can include ‘Captcha’ code which asks the person subscribing to type in a code. This is in order to exclude automatic web crawler programs. Other forms of checks can include your email program asking the subscriber to click on an emailed link to complete their subscription.

There are some great email programs out there such as mailchimp and feedburner. This article is more about the kinds of things that you can include on your email newsletter.

Items to Include in Your Subscription Newsletter

The idea of the newsletter is to keep your business to the forefront of your customers’ minds. Use your logo at the head of the letter and keep it easy to read in an email window. Use a clear font which is a reasonable size. You can post a short contents section with links at the beginning. Include any special offers fairly quickly. You can offer vouchers to print off or special coupon codes which can be used at checkout. You want to encourage people to visit the website and buy.

Next include some hints and tips. It can be a brief article about some aspect of your business – something that adds content value to your newsletter. You can talk about new products coming soon and perhaps mention an exclusive introductory offer for customers receiving your newsletter. Do include low resolution photos which are clear and self-explanatory. No customer will wait forever for a newsletter to load and they may get impatient if it is blocking the rest of their email, but pictures can add extra interest as well as demonstrating the product.

Encourage Feedback on Your Service

Finally, you can encourage customer feedback by posting a survey and asking for client recommendations for your website. Including client recommendations on your site helps to validate the site and offers encouragement to other potential customers browsing.

You should always include an opt-out clause on any newsletter and your privacy policy on your website should clearly state what you do with the email addresses that you collect. The email programme that you choose to use will offer you more information on how these programmes work and how you should use them. You should never use them to spam your customers. Nothing is more likely to put them off your business.

Photo Link: Photo on Creative Commons by Ysangkok

 

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Keep Your Clients Happy and Your Business Booming

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Finding good clients and customers is can be difficult. Small business owners have to work intensively for their leads and to gain new clients. The most important thing to do to make sure that all your hard work does not go to waste is to cultivate a relationship with your client and keep them for a long time.

This is not a hard thing to do, but it can take a little forethought and planning. Looking after your clients is a way of looking after your business so here are some ways to help you keep your clients.

Be Polite

The way you treat other people says a lot about you. Treat people nicely – all the time, not just when they are potential clients. Try not to get pushy about sales, chill out and relax and make sure that you maintain the same easy tone when writing emails as well as on the phone. It is incredibly easy to be misunderstood on email, so make sure that your emails send out the information that you want them to, professionally and with courtesy.

Return Calls Promptly

There is nothing worse than sending an email or leaving a phone message and being left hanging. This is especially important if someone is waiting for important information. Try and get back to clients promptly with information as soon as possible. This can be difficult if you are waiting for a third party to come back to you. Even so, you should keep your client informed as to what is going on and do your best to press your person to get back to you asap. Keeping communications open keeps your clients happy.

Establish Project Parameters

Know exactly what it is your client wants. This applies particularly to businesses that offer a service such as copywriting and web design. Some business people ask clients to fill in a questionnaire to help explore their needs for the project.

Deliver Products and Services Promptly and on Time

This is one of the most important things that you can do related to customer service. If you can consistently deliver your work on time, or deliver your products quickly, then you will get a great reputation and recommendations from other people. When estimating service times you should include extra time to make sure the work is done.

Ask for Customer Feedback

If something went wrong, then you need to know about it. Encourage your customers to talk to you about your services and products. Hopefully you’ll pick up some nice comments and references. If something went wrong, then make sure you put it right.

  • 5 Smart Ways to Find Clients (blogs.sitepoint.com)
  • The caveat of a happy client. (xemion.com)
  • Client Retention is Easier with This 5 Step System (bettercloser.com)
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